Sunday 29 May 2022

Narrm flashbacks

You won't be surprised to hear that most of my time is spent thinking about the post-1996 history of the Melbourne Football Club. 
The black and white stuff is interesting (plug), and one day we'll take an in-depth look at the 1970s and 1980s, but it's what I saw/suffered through/finally relished as an adult that really floats the boat. 

You may recall (double plug) that this once ruinous lifestyle could have been avoided at the end of 1996 when I wasn't having a bar of the Melbourne Hawks and planned to flounce off and follow Freo. I don't know if you can be nostalgic for something that didn't happen, but I always think about the alternative history when we play the Dockers.

It's not about what would have happened on-field, because once Melbourne and Hawthorn no longer exist separately the entire course of footy history changes (e.g. when tedious Hawks fans used to taunt us about not merging, as if the same conditions would have existed post-merger to draft Franklin, Roughead, Hodge etc...), but about how different my life could have been based entirely on cheering for a different colour jumper. 

If you put any emotional investment into the game there are people you bond with and opportunities you get just because of the team you follow, switch the team and everything is different. In 1996 most simulations of my life would have had me floating the down the Yarra by age 20 so the MFC route was probably the right one, but I'd still like to live long enough to have a crack on the virtual reality machine that shows me how things would have turned out.

This round of self-indulgent introspection is brought to you by my week in health and safety protocols, finally let down by an immune system that had previously offered stern resistance to the pandemic. No point wasting a week of isolation, so I went through the 1995 papers looking for Demonwiki content. Reading about Victorian clubs being lined up for the Grim Reaper to knock over made me appreciate our rebirth even more, especially as we spent the next year standing at the end of the bowling alley yelling "pick us!". Thank god, as always, for Don Scott tearing a velco Hawk off a Melbourne jumper.

The point, and surprisingly I've got one, is that after all the agony we've been through, the pieces finally dropped together like the world's greatest game of Tetris and set off the greatest run of hour lives. Then, Then, in an hour of 25/09/2021 style insanity, the 17 finest non-consecutive weeks of my life were over. I didn't rush home and introduce my head to the oven, now we can properly appreciate how good life has been for the last nine months. 

What odds would you have got a decade ago that we'd be involved in the equal eighth longest winning streak ever. At that point the only record streaks I was interested in were when we'd finally beat Hawthorn, North, St Kilda or win anywhere west of Docklands. So, in comparison, what a grand old run it's been. There will be good times in the future but none will ever match the feelings between thumping Gold Coast on Sunday 1 August, 2021 and falling in a hole just before half time on Saturday 28 May, 2022. You'll be reminiscing about it on your deathbed.

Over the time it takes to make, bake, and birth a human we have been practically unstoppable. I've been too scared of it ending to properly enjoy things as they unfolded, but now the big run is over I can look back it at fondly. Could have done without the end coming via a blown five goal lead (that should have been extended to six), but we've ridden our luck enough times that it feels ok for a side stripped of key players before and during the game to be obliterated by top four contenders that unexpectedly engaged Harlem Globetrotters mode.

Even though I've expected to lose about 13 of the last 17 games, this was one I really did see coming. For proof please refer to being one of only two people to tip against us in FMI Play. I can't understand why everyone was so sure we'd win, Freo had a shit one in the rain last week but have otherwise been good. Still thought we were a big chance but I've seen enough weird losses to them at the MCG to be wary of something NQR happening. If nothing else, it was still nowhere near as flattening as Modra kicking 10 or being Kingsleyed by the Unmade Bed in 2017.

I'm even keener on confirmation bias than I am on the butterfly effect, so when Freo whipped the ball out of the middle and parked it at their end for the first few minutes alarm bells were going off in my head. This was premature, we've seen plenty of games recently where the opening minutes haven't defined the rest. When we burst clear and fanged down the other end at warp speed for a point it seemed sanity was about to be restored. They had plenty of shots, but given that the only one they converted was immediately wiped out I wasn't that worried. Maybe if they'd converted earlier we'd have been scared into action and you'd be reading the Dees Go To 11 post now. Either that or don't go five goals up then collectively duck out for a hamburger before the game is won.

We were already without Langdon and McDonald, then lost the arguably most important player in the structure when May was concussed. Remember when he first played with Lever and they were always threatening the biggest mid-air collision since (deleted on legal advice - aviation editor)? It took a few years, a lot of wins and a flag but they finally stacked, costing May three quarters here and the full four next week. Petty proved an admirable replacement more than once last year, but consistent with claiming everyone in our side is carrying an injury I don't think he was physically capable of shouldering the Rock of Gibraltar sized weight.

You could tell from the replay that the concussion was going to finish May's afternoon but they had to catch him first. Like the good old days (!?) when injured players would tell the runner to GAGF, he wasn't interested in coming off the ground for assessment. At one point he took off towards the Southern Stand side wing for no obvious reason other than getting as far away from the bench as possible. This tactic had a short shelf life, somebody with authority captured him and Steven was never seen again. If the quarter time break counted in the 20 minute assessment time it would have been better to go off quickly but try telling him that.

I don't think anyone's picked a key position sub since John Longmire in R1, 2011, and the lack of a McSizzle to drop back and help left us with a cavernous gap to cover in defence. Ironically, in the week Bedford got a start and Chandler was still suspended, having one of them come on and force a change to our forward structure might have helped. Instead we got Dunstan, who had a bash but was an extra midfielder we didn't really need.

Losing the heart of our award-winning defence wasn't ideal, but we'd gotten away with May's face being caved in by Tom Hawkins and his hammy semi-exploding in the prelim so it wasn't an instant death sentence. As demonstrated by the latter, it's easier to cover the loss of a key defender when you're pulling goals out of your arse like magicians at the other end. This time there was no five goal Gawn rampage, just Weideman having a Queen's Birthday 2021 level shocker and Brown toiling in a way that suggested he could have played eight quarters without a goal. You don't need tall forwards to win but it helps. Not just for the goals, but the invitation to forward pressure if the ball goes to ground.

The few minutes where everyone else ran riot was fun, but the key positions were operating at MFC 2014 levels, and the backline eventually cracked like an egg too. While he was still there May's key contributions were a couple of turnovers, but his true value is not captured by the stats. Freo was so keen to try and nullify him that they tried a move that would have had Kent Kingsley sitting bolt upright at the Manor, sending a defender with one goal in 52 games to full forward. 

When the improbably named Griffin Logue jumped right into the May sized hole to mark 20 metres out on a nothing angle Kent would have had his hand hovering the big red button. Griffin flubbed his set shot in classic backman fashion, but within an hour we had 22 players depositing logues in their pants up and down the MCG. 

Their delicious crumb and fancy tap-ons will dominate the highlights packages, but I saw danger in my favourite KPI - the contested mark. Given how much of any game is spent hopefully booting the ball towards a pack, there's nothing purer than beating multiple opponents to a mark, then turning around to see teammates pouring forward for the next kick. Did we take any between the arcs? Maybe Gawn did one but I won't be seeking a replay to confirm.

Even before they got rolling we were showing signs of structural fatigue. Things weren't helped by the absences, and the in-running loss of May, but Spargo on the wing was a bomb and I've got no idea how Melksham got picked again for any reason other than them not wanting to strand him on 199 games. You can't pull a rort to get Jordon on in the last five minutes of a Grand Final, but this is where sentiment kicks in? Of the players who were where they belonged, take your pick on who was most off their game. It had to happen one day, and after missing so many of the 17 wins it's appropriate that we'd lose my first post-protocol outing. That's what I call a return to traditional values.

But for now, things were going well. We'd withstood their initial barrage and the first goal of the second quarter was premiership level gold. After the ball was romped from the backline at thrilling pace, Bedford ran onto a loose ball in the middle and lobbed it through from 50 to general excitement from the crowd. After wasting half his season on the bench everyone wants to see Toby do well, and things got better when he kicked the next one as well. The problem is that he was probably only filling Spargo's spot and is likely to be dumped again next week. As we discovered Charlie doesn't wing, and while I don't blame him for failing in a role he wasn't suited for, if Langdon comes back is there an outside argument for picking Tobes instead of Charleston? Perhaps a touch extreme, but they might need to adapt from the book of Mobutu Sese Seko (coach of Zaire 1965-1997) and execute a premiership player to show the rest that nobody's safe.

For a while it looked like our key 2022 tactic of trying to win games via one big quarter was going to come off again. When a Pickett goal was followed literally straight after by Fritsch snapping from 45 metres we were five goals up and flying. It should have been more, I'm not blaming Petracca for missing a set shot because that's what he does, but am moderately haunted by Fritsch not realising that he had hours to snap and trying to kick the cover off the ball 0.001 seconds after gathering it. 

What happened next isn't Bayley's fault, and indeed he got our only other goal of the game, but I do wonder if that would have nuked them. Instead Freo went down the other end for their second goal. Which wouldn't have been a problem if they'd succeeded in wasting Rory Lobb's second goal as fast as they did his first, with the Weid putting in a quick cameo to mark over two players 20 seconds later. He hit the post, ended the game in defence and has to be a serious chance of being dumped at the end of the year for anything we can get. It saddens me but will ultimately be better for him. After this, I can't see how he plays again without pushing McSizzle in front of a tram, pouring tacks on Jacob van Rooyen's chair or letting Mitch Brown's car tyres down.

Conceding before half time wasn't good, but we were still four goals up on a side that had struggled to two goals until then. I'm always worried about a shock reverse but fooled myself into thinking that even without May we'd made scoring look so difficult for them, with much improvement to come from our forwards, that they weren't going to overcome the deficit. They did with some emphasis, and the comeback started right after half time. Goodwin must have taken the theme of the week too far and delivered his instructions in Narrmanese, because the moment the game restarted we were walloped from pillar to post in the air and on land. This would be a good time to bring back his learnings and connection mantra, including asking several players to learn where Casey is and connecting a VFL fixture with their hand.

Now, for something completely controversial. I guarantee you there are few people on the face of the earth less enthusiastic about Oliver's 20 something touches in the first half than me. Last week I was ready to go across broken glass for his 46, but as much as they were won by effort these possessions barely had an impact. At one point he might have been on track for the most disposals ever by a player with 0% kicking efficiency. He's a godlike figure, and 36 possessions by the end prove that his heart was right in the contest, but don't be an umpire and just hand out votes based on who touched the ball most. Viney was wiped out with everyone else after the break but if everyone else is going to fall over themselves to vote Clarence our BOG I'll quietly sneak in and buy Jack's game on the cheap.

Regardless of what my uncultured eye thought, everything Oliver did in the first half was better than his third quarter, where he was tagged into the ground so hard that he nearly had to be extracted by machinery. Teams have occasionally managed to blanket him, the problem usually being that it leaves Petracca free to dismantle them. Refer to previous comments about him looking about 25% fit, now he apparently had the flu, was visibly hating life, and spent the fourth quarter randomly chundering.  He's irreplaceable but surely there's a point where you just accept that there's no point sending a great player out there crocked.

After they got the first two of the quarter, Fritsch kicked a lovely steadier from a weird angle, then we floated into the Bermuda Triangle. It wasn't a classic Gawn game but he deserves some credit for getting us out of jail with a few big marks, and Brayshaw made a couple of crucial stops in defence but otherwise everything was turning heave-ho. By the time Maggie Taberner was provoking a clearly outmatched Hunt into giving away a free in the square you knew that we were in tremendous trouble.

Despite being nowhere near it, we held onto the lead for 20 minutes. The Hollywood portion of the afternoon began with the bloke who was too far out for a set shot then casually legged it around Rivers to put it through on the run. The same guy set up another straight out of the middle and we may as well have not been there. I was ok with going behind, and still reasonably positive when the margin reached double figures. If we could get to the break only that far behind there was a chance to regroup, instead they snapped another one out of their arse in the last minute and the margin was the best part of three goals. Cripes. As you know, a 17 point lead nothing but a one point loss waiting to happen, so I half fancied our chances of making it interesting. 

Weid had been tragically bad, so I could understand them throwing him into defence at the end of the third quarter. He might be completely untrained in that role but there was logic in trying to stop the tide, even if it wasn't coming from their talls. We conceded another two goals after but in a rare bit of good news neither was his fault. What I didn't get was leaving him down there when we were chasing a three goal deficit in the last quarter. What part of Brown being multiple-teamed all day without going near a major suggested that leaving him down there on his own was going to help us now?  

Even the injuries went their way, with Maggie T blowing his hamstring just as they didn't need tall forwards anymore, allowing a running player to give them extra leg for the last term. Meanwhile here we were trying to work out what to do with a journeyman midfielder while suffering disarray inside the arcs.

We had a golden opportunity to pinch a crucial goal at the start when the Anal-Bullet charged inside 50, looked up to see a paddock of space ahead of him and tried to drill a wonky low kick to Petracca with two defenders all over him. This probably prompted his first spew. It was about as upset as I got for the rest of the game because it would have given them something to think about. Based on what came next I doubt we'd have won but anything that could provoke the wobbles is welcome. Not long after Spargo took a screamer but he missed as well so in the circumstances it was basically worthless. If Mark of the Week had free voting I'd send in the ballsy, probably goalsaving mark Brayshaw took in front of goal. File the Spargo hanger alongside the 97% of Jeremy Howe's career highlights that happened when we were 87 points down.

After the Bullet/Spargo misses we never looked likely again. For now we'd stopped them scoring (didn't last) but weren't kicking any ourselves, and it didn't look like a Mad Minute was likely to break out. I was interested to see how the players were going to react to playing from behind for the first time since the Grand Final but they just didn't have it in them. I suppose it's not easy after being up for so long, so I'll hold any serious criticism until we see what happens in the next few weeks. Contrary to popular belief you can't actually win them all. 

The jig was finally up when two of our defenders crashed into each other, allowing them to crumb another goal from close range. This prompted half the Melbourne fans in the stadium to do a runner, which was a bit cowardly in my book. Considering how good we've had it recently there's never been a better time to stay until the siren and cop your medicine. They might have been intimidated by the crowd, which either featured a cavalcade of Freo fans or neutrals delighting in our misfortune because their goals were greeted with a fervour not seen since The Beatles. No hard feelings, I'd have gone off my nut for it too, if I'd been to a non-Melbourne game in the last 15 years.

And that was it. For the record streak, the perfect season and Jake Bowey's flawless career record. It's counselling for Jake as not only did his career record fall to a mere 17-1 but he played the worst game of his career. Not great timing with Hibberd and Salem on the horizon but it's no long term reflection on him. Probably still seeing stars from being walloped against West Coast. He should get a United Nations award for pulling up one short of equalling old Albert Lauder's record. Albert won three flags in 36 games he could have given up an obscure record that he wouldn't have known existed while alive. But he didn't, and probably never will. Still, no matter what happens from here Jake's got a cracking story to tell.

Stiff shit if you were hoping that was the end of Narrm, now that the rugby leaguists are doing half-arse versions [Update - like winning premierships in colour, Storm did it firstthere's a 99.9% chance that the entire league will rebrand for a round or two next year. At least then nobody will be able to complain that social issues cost them a win. On an afternoon where everything from the 15 minute mark of the second quarter slurped pond water, it wouldn't have helped if we'd played as Narrm, Melbourne FC or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Certainly a better class of vanquisher than the rubbish that beat us in the middle of last year so give it a few weeks and we'll have a better idea of what it all means. 

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Toby Bedford

Apologies to Fritsch. Everyone else can swivel. 

When Oliver loses the overall award by three votes feel free to point out that every media outlet under the sun named him our best player. It'll be my version of Greg Williams having 45 touches and not getting a Brownlow vote. No serious changes in the minors other than Gawn tightening his grip on another Stynes, and Brayshaw making the Seecamp interesting. But the Hilton has arrived, with Bedford becoming the first person to benefit from the games based eligibility rules. More power to him.

28 - Clayton Oliver
23 - Christian Petracca
20 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Ed Langdon, Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
12 - Angus Brayshaw
11 - Jack Viney
9 - Jake Bowey
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Luke Jackson, James Jordon, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes, Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I suspect Bedford was trying to kick over the top to a running Brown but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the result. Very enjoyable at the time, bit discredited by what followed. Nothing to trouble the top three for the season. If you think I'm in any mood for comedy weekly prizes you're kidding yourself so he wins good intentions and a game next week.

Current podium: 

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

Next Week
We're out of the witness protection program and back to our traditional name. Stick the novelty comments about Melbourne still being unbeaten up your chocbox. The opposition is Sydney, another fringe top four side who veer from good to ordinary on a weekly basis. Who knows which version will show up, but the good news is they won't be bringing Lance (never Buddy) Franklin. Given his disappointing figures against us you'd almost have wanted to see him one-on-one with May, but if our man isn't going to be available theirs can stay at home too. Now wait for somebody you'd never heard of to kick seven.

Assuming Langdon is good to return but Harmes isn't, I'm opting for all the obvious inclusions + my random obsession Bailey Laurie. With obvious ins come obvious outs, along with giving Bowey a week off to decompress. Call it 'managed' out of respect for his previous deeds. The problem with these selections is that I want Bedford to play again but refuse to name a debutante as sub. Let somebody else work it out, as if they're going to make any change beyond Tomlinson for May. However, if McDonald isn't right there's no way they can play Weid, JVR isn't ready so it might be the emergency Brown O'Clock call-up for Mitch.

Other than automatic inclusion Tomlinson not much good seems to have come out of Casey's battling win over the might of Frankston. Baker seems to have had a good game so could get a run if they need a wingman but forgive me for not doing a cartwheel down the street in celebration if that happens. He doesn't look like a marauding biker anymore, rather a 1980s TV character actor who did all the popular drama shows before reappearing for a stint on All Saints 15 years later. If selection policy shouldn't be determined on sentiment, nor should it be on who looks most likely to have shot at Lizzy Birdsworth during an escape attempt on Prisoner.

IN: Tomlinson, Langdon, Hibberd, McDonald, Laurie
OUT: May (inj), Bowey ('managed'), Melksham, Dunstan, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Rivers
UNLUCKY: M. Brown, Chandler, van Rooyen

I might clamber off the bandwagon and say we'll lose, if only to try and engineer a reverse mozz. If we do, clickbait factories like Fox Sports and SEN will be putting extra staff writers on to come up with unbearably smug articles about how we've been found out and will be lucky to make the eight. Hope they're all hacked by the Russians first.

Final thoughts
I'm as philosophical as you can be under the circumstances. Safe in the knowledge that we were going lose again at some stage I'm glad it came via the sort of second half blitz that allowed me to revert to my safe place and start thinking about the Grand Final. Here's to this particular streak fizzing out at one.

Sunday 22 May 2022

Calm your Narrm

Cast your mind back to when things started to go tremendously wrong in early 2019 and the simple act of putting mean tweets on the banner was held up as an example of a footy club stepping out of its lane. "Why don't they practice how to get a kick instead?" etc... Even I was annoyed (albeit not until we'd lost) and I've absolutely, never in all my years been one for wild, knee-jerk reactions.

Now we're the hottest footballing commodity under the sun, and could get away with changing the name of the club for two weeks without the people who would usually get outraged about this sort of thing (i.e. recognising the indigenous community) having a hissy fit. Maybe it's just because I hang out with teal people, some One Nation fuck was probably apoplectic about it. I sure hope they didn't have anything else bad happen to them on Saturday (🖕).

I'll let somebody else discuss the social impacts of Narrm, but as a previous-life marketing wanker it was a triumph for whoever came up with the idea. It was unique, made us look like top citizens, sold merchandise, and even the broadcasters joined in wholeheartedly. For the purposes of getting away with it, we weren't hurt by part one of Indigenous Round fixturing us against a side who are - let's be fair - not very good. It's no reflection on David Noble, who was asked to pick a turd up by the clean end, but he's now one loss behind dear old Mark Neeld at the same stage of their coaching career. 

For a side everyone's always trying to shut down (and while I wish them good health, it would be terrible to leave Arden Street empty in the event of their relocation, and we do need an inner city base...), North Narrm still lack a Melbourne 2012/13-esque sense of chaos where you feel like the place could be shut down at any minute. There are still parallels with our rancid teams from that era - veterans doing their best to drag everyone along, promising kids who we just assume will be good after 50 games, and players who have no place being in AFL sides but are holding a spot until somebody better comes along. No idea if they'll come good anytime soon, but good luck with remaining solvent if they do a cover version of the #fistedforever years.

But enough about them, let's talk about a team that's won 17 games in a row. For those who like to calculate with Melbourne Maths, that's four 2014s and a 1981. The game wasn't pretty, and at one point the NAR on Fox Footy's scoreboard matched how I felt about it, but once again all was well that ended well. They can't all be classics, St Kilda bought out a DVD of their 2009 streak but they can't have all been rippers. In fact I know they weren't, because I remember us sludging our way to a six goal loss despite not kicking a goal in the second half. And it still made me want to "fill my pockets with rocks and walk into the ocean." Look, I was in my late 20s, staring down the barrel of a premiership-free life, watching St Kilda seemingly romping to one before us, and copped a $75 parking ticket for watching, can you blame me for being overly dramatic?

Now, 13 long years later we've won so many times in a row that people are starting to get bored of it. Not me, I sat through enough slurry that this will do me every week for the next decade if possible. Still, there was a point in the third quarter when even the surprisingly large Adam Bandt wing of our fanbase would have been getting ready to complain about wearing colourful jumpers instead of concentrating on winning footy games.

Of course, other than Tom McDonald looking more uncomfortable in long sleeves than any player in the history of the game, changing our name and jumper contributed bugger all towards taking three quarters to get rid of North. There were plenty of factors at play, it was nowhere near our best team performance, without crucial players, and plenty of others down on their best against a cohesive side playing with nothing to lose.

The massacres are more memorable, but we played plenty of games like this while rubbish. Effort helped harass superior opposition for a while, but without something bizarre happening there was never going to be enough in the tank to carry them through four quarters. The only upset from that era that would have gone remotely close to losing here was winless Melbourne vs top of the table Essendon, and that came with an assist from rain. No such luck for North under a roof, but they did enough to keep it interesting until the third quarter.

Obviously, it would have been nice to pay back some of the trauma the Roos inflicted on us during the misery years, but like last week you're asking for trouble by expecting bumper margins. I'm just happy to emerge from a fortnight of banana skin games in front by a combined 121 points. That's heaps more than our combined winning margins for some complete seasons, no need to be upset.

The good news - other than not having lost since July 2021 - is that we've successfully navigated our way through the flotsam and jetsam end of the ladder this time. As much as I'd give my left knacker for any 10-0 start, the real work hasn't started yet. But you can only beat who's in front of you, and this was as close to a win/win scenario as you're going to get when somebody wins by 50. We're undefeated, and they know they could match it with the premiers for an hour before the natural order was restored.

Due to finally being captured by the famous health and safety protocols, I was shafted out of one of my rare live appearances. Double stitch up in that it cost me a spot in what was by far the lowest ever crowd between Victorian teams at Docklands. This would have gone nicely alongside being part of the worst attendance at the Fortress full stop. Instead, for the first time in history I watched parts of a game with all three other members of my family. This ended in tragedy when Melksham slaughtered a kick into the 50 and my reaction caused the one year old to burst into tears. Oops. Suffice to say 2/3rds of the co-viewers swiftly departed, leaving only the older kid, who has spent 12 months waiting for a repeat of my tantrum after losing to Adelaide.

If North has anything going for them it's decent tall forwards, so it helped that for the first five minutes their teammates incinerated every kick towards them. They had opportunities but shizen delivery played right into our hands. Teams break down going forward against us so much that you've got to give credit to our award winning system, but it doesn't hurt having the holy trinity of Lever, May and Petty down there when the ball arrives. Only May is playing at anything like his level from last year but they're still a formidable unit.

When McDonald got a free at the other end (opposition fans, commence whinging) it seemed we'd punish their wasteful delivery. Alas, tugging at the sleeves like he was wearing a jumper made of poison ivy, the future Liberal Democratic Party senator for Victoria kicked off our odd day in front of goal by missing what he would usually eat for breakfast. He still ended up with three, continuing the slow road to a career average of one goal per game. Even he's not as invested in reaching that mark as I am for him, though I fear without a few tremendous Lockett-esque bags time might be running out. Still a long way since that 'magical' night where he kicked his first two in quick succession against North and we were happy just to score over 80 once for the season.

I had some sympathy towards North for the free that led to our first goal. Langdon was caught in a mid-air tackle, and because he landed on his back it was somehow deemed a free. Not the opponent's fault that Docklands is a thinly veiled concrete surface with snooker table style green felt stretched over the top. NFI what the tackler was supposed to do. Could have let go of him mid-air, which a) goes against the instinct of tackling and b) could have ended with Ed landing on his head. It was a bullshit free but I wasn't going to turn back the shot on goal. With his headband popped off by the impact Ed converted. Turns out his ribs popped too, and he was soon substituted out of the game. I don't want to be a "game's gone" type, but if the North bloke even gets a fine for that then the competition should be shut down. In fact, do shut the competition down - it means we'll go out as the last ever premiers, on a 17 game winning streak.

This stroke of good luck encouraged us to go on and... concede the next two goals. While I had every faith in grinding them down before winning comfortably, we still didn't need to offer any unnecessary hope. We certainly weren't playing well, other than Oliver hoovering up possessions at a near record rate, everything else was just meh. Still shat on how we used to play, and by the time Rivers was gifted a 50 for the most self-destructive post-free return of the ball you'll see this year you felt things were tilting in our favour. Until we immediately gave the goal back. And what a reply, if this was Kangablog it would have been a clear goal of the week, with the charismatically named Zurhaar absolutely barrelling through Brayshaw before scooping the ball up and thumping it through from 40 metres. 

There may have been a technical push in the back but refer to previous 'the game is not as good as it used to be' sooking. I'm comfortable with big bastards barging through opponents. You can't trust the umpires to adjudicate it the same every time, but as Booker T used to say - don't hate the player, hate the game. 

Fritsch burying his opponent with one of the great forward pressure tackles should have been all we needed to run away with it, and had Petracca not unleashed the worst set shot of the season just before quarter time they might have been demoralised. Trac's set shot shots have been rank this year, but he remains a handy player in every other aspect. His kick was only marginally worse than Brown's at the start of the second term, forming part of his good old-fashioned mileston game shocker. He's got runs on the board but this was by some distance the worst game he's ever played for us. Unlike the club itself, you can't win 'em all.

For a time we lost the lead, and like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin I was left holding on to my belief that Simon Goodwin's Narrm Smith system would ultimately get the job done. In another great umpiring moment we got a leg up from McSizzle being gifted the pissiest marking contest free of all time, and some of the handful of North fans present were ready to climb over the fence. But you can't blame everything on umpires, while we were playing about four short collectively between all the players miles down on top form, the Neeld Principle holds that a shit side will eventually do something spectacularly stupid. And here it was: 

The kick came off the boot so badly that it's lucky Fritsch was paying attention or he'd have been knocked flat on his arse, allowing the defender to regain his dignity by gathering, stepping over the corpse and getting on with things. It reminded me of my youthful indoor soccer days when you'd get a free kick in a tense game and would just hoof it at maximum speed into the wall out of spite - except he didn't mean it. 

Pickett got a real one straight after and that should have been enough for the Roos to give it away. To their credit (patronising?) they wouldn't go away, and midway through the third quarter it was an uncomfortably Round 10, 2021-esque. A year to the round since our winning streak ended against inferior opposition because we let them stay in the game too long it looked a chance of happening again. The margin was less than a kick and I was sweating up a treat. Of course they barely scored from there, but how was I supposed to know that at the time? Win as many games in a row as you like (no, please do), I still reserve the right to be nervous about losing in farcical circumstances.

After a horrid day, Brown's best contribution was the mark and kick that sat perfectly for Bedford to run into an open goal. It was either super-sub Toby's first or second touch after being on for a quarter and a half, but a good one. Minus style points for the celebration, where he booted the ball into the upper deck then fell on his arse after getting too close to the fence. Clearly too much to ask for a stadium to provide a non-deadly surface all the way around. Or in the middle of it if the number of players going arse over tit was anything to go by. Bedford also did a ripping chasedown tackle later, which unlike Chandler's infamous one last week didn't end in fatality and suspension. Poor old Kade, I thought two weeks was horribly excessive but he wasn't considered important enough to launch an appeal over. 

While all this was going on, Oliver was finding the ball wherever he went. 45 touches may have only been one better than his previous best, but given that we lost that game by 80 this will do me for the highlights tape. That was also the night we had 70 inside 50s for six goals, proving it the most useless stat in football. Didn't stop the callers here flogging themselves over how many we were having. Mind you, these were the same people giving fun facts about Greg Wells not getting a Brownlow vote after having 48 touches in 1980, in an era where the league didn't reveal votes for individual matches.

After Bedford's goal, the boa constrictor style strangle job was on. It wasn't pretty, but certainly effective. Even Melksham, who I'd been very unkind about earlier, cropped up for a nice goal from distance. They got two more points, we put on four last quarter goals and won by 47. Talk about not hitting top gear, I think we just pulled the handbrake off and rolled down the hill. What it means for the future I have no earthly idea, but we're 10-0, four games clear inside the top four and unless you're my immune system or Scott Morrison, things are going quite well.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Tom Sparrow
2 - Steven May
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Apologies to Dunstan, Lever, McDonald, Rivers and Spargo

Oliver has been stitched up royally by this voting system, his five was so far ahead of Petracca's four that it's not funny. Bad luck, we've been doing it this way since he was eight-years-old (!?) so he'll have to wear it. In the minors, May extends his lead on Brayshaw to a full BOG, and the yet-to-commence Hilton remains the most shambolic award in AFL football.

26 - Clayton Oliver
23 - Christian Petracca
16 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Ed Langdon, Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
4 - Luke Jackson, James Jordon, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes, Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Not a great collection this week, certainly nothing that's going to challenge for the podium. Against all odds, and with apologies to Pickett's set shot, the Milkshake wins our weekly nomination for this:

I haven't got it in me to come up with a weekly prize, but whatever it is he's going to have to collect it in Cranbourne.

Current podium: 

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

Next Week
Freo at the MCG will test the theory that how we play against shit teams doesn't have any bearing against contenders. Worked pretty well last year, but considering how many times the Dockers have dicked us on our own ground I'm not taking anything for granted. We may very well lose, leaving everyone's mate Jake Bowey with just the equal second best start to a career, but I'll try not to put my head in the oven over it.

At the time of writing it doesn't look like Ed Langdon came off too badly from being powerslammed on concrete so I'll assume he plays. Likewise, if Jack Viney's hamstring has remained at 'awareness' (cliche) level and not torn off the bone before whipping around and slicing his ACL off he automatically comes back in for Dunstan. NFI why they picked Melksham in the first place so he's got to go. I know it's not like-for-like, but let's finally give Bedford four quarters instead of dragging him along every week just in case. 

Still hoping for Laurie to get a game, but refuse to engage in the stupidity of giving somebody their debut as a medical sub, so either he plays instead of Bedford or waits for another week.

IN: Bedford, Viney
OUT: Dunstan, Melksham (omit)
UNLUCKY: Laurie, Weideman

Final thoughts
Not for the first time, but because it got a surprise run on the election coverage later in the night may I say with the utmost sincerity...

Monday 16 May 2022

Discreet sixteen

When you literally win every week they're not all going to feature swashbuckling end-to-end football that strikes terror into hearts around the nation. This certainly did not, finally answering the key life question of "what's the least exciting thrashing you've ever seen?" Which is just the sort of Alan Partridge-esque hot topic I'm hoping to discuss on my deathbed. 

As far as 74 point wins in Perth go, it lacked the razzle-dazzle of the last one. I'm not mad, fast approaching the anniversary of the debacle against Adelaide, and not much over a year since we gave 0-7 North a big start, it's been scientifically proven that we're not a scoring juggernaut. Even against a glorified WAFL team, with three late withdrawing premiership players, the method of execution was slow strangulation rather than a gloriously sparking, probably inhumane electric chair. 

We've lost to worse opposition with better sides, but no matter what state the other lot is in, expecting to win any game by triple figures is asking for trouble. I learned my lesson in 2011, when sooking over 'only' beating Gold Coast by 90 was put into perspective a few months later by 186. They all count. This might have ended in a bigger margin, and it sure looked like going that way for a few minutes during the opening quarter, but if you're not satisfied by beating the Eagles by more than ever before, you've got to be pleased at keeping them to their lowest score against anybody in Western Australia.

This time last year I thought flat performances against lowly teams (and to reiterate, we did win by 74, so 'flat' is a bit harsh) would reflect poorly on us when the important stuff began. The conclusion of 2021 says otherwise. So everything is going along swimmingly, we've started two seasons in a row 9-0, Jake Bowey has now won his first 16 games, and what used to be a horrifying interstate trip has become a victory lap for the greatest night of our lives.

I'll admit to secretly hoping for a landslide win but wouldn't have publicly wished for anything beyond a battling, mediocre, six goal margin. It was close to the first time in my adult life that I've ever been sure we'd win, but the 11% chance of losing still made me queasy. Wackier things have happened, even against an opposition fielding the first player called Greg for about 20 years and one who looked like somebody called Greg who was going to a 1980s WWF-themed costume party. But they didn't, and thank god for that. No matter the result here you can't take away the memories but I still didn't fancy providing even the smallest comfort to enemy sides.

West Coast were sans Gaff, Hurn, Kennedy, Naitanui but sadly still retained their dignity. Still, now that their percentage has fallen below 50 it's about time Eagles fans got a dose of humility. Most teams have had times where a 12 goal loss seems like a decent performance under the circumstances, it's about time theirs. Now we've just got to wait for Geelong's geriatric list to fall over and the set will be complete. A patronising well done to Eagles fans for turning up, if only because their families were sick of them walking around the house wistfully booing things like the good old days.

The parallels to last season continue to stack up (though now we've reached the week the winning streak ended they hopefully go away for a bit), the difference being that we're rotating our big quarter from week to week, and that the key forwards are taking it in turns to lead the goalkicking. This week the lucky combination was unexpectedly quarter 1/Tom McDonald, with assists from Fritsch, Brown, and West Coast finally running out of steam at the end.

It was not pretty, especially in the middle, but was another comfortable win on the road to double flag glory. Also helped not to come back looking like cockheads for losing to a makeshift side who'd probably only met at Thursday training. After unnecessarily stressing about an upset, or at least it being so close that it caused legitimate fear, all week, the best thing for my health was to have it won by quarter time. 

That we did, but not before keeping it interesting by conceding the opening goal. It wasn't worth being scared about, refer to the scoring progression against North in 2013 as discussed last week. Anything can happen, but there was no way they were going to hold us at bay for four quarters in perfect conditions unless we had nine injuries and an illness. Perhaps if it pissed down, or if gale force winds allowed them to keep the score down via heroic, Stalingrad-esque defence, but not on a perfectly normal afternoon in front of a friends and family crowd.

As expected, the Eagles couldn't hang on, collapsing in a tremendous heap by the end of the first quarter. It wasn't that we played that well, but they were so undermanned we just chopped away at them death by a thousand cuts style until the margin was beyond anything they could realistically catch. Their remaining attacks for the quarter plumbed the depths of ineptitude. Josh Kennedy would have helped, but I still don't think they'd have fed him enough to make any sort of difference. 

You knew everything was going to turn out alright when our first goal came as the result of a tremendous defensive blunder. Then the second one came from two players colliding mid-marking contest. It really lacked a third player unnecessarily getting involved like this classic, which goes to show how much further the Eagles have got to go before they reach truly tragic levels.

If they're going to become a truly dreadful side, conceding the last six goals of the quarter was a godo start. By the time Jackson hit Brown directly on the teet with a lace-out pass even I was starting to think an apocalyptic porking was on the agenda.

Nobody mentioned a howling gale, so I was confident we hadn't benefitted from a mystery six goal wind. Mind you, only one of the commentators was in the same state as the game so they hardly had a handle on conditions. Or, in the case of Kelli Underwood referring to "scuttlebug", the English language. She's still refusing to say the line and refer to 'Slick Fritsch' again. There's no need to be embarrassed, we're all dying for it to get another run. They could at least pretend to be at the ground instead of having the same commentators doing a halftime show from the studio. No need to waste money on airfares, the guy in Perth was the best of the lot, let him do it solo with Pavlich on special comments.

Even with one side wishing for the sweet release of death and the other thinking about what they were going to watch on the plane home, the game hadn't degraded to total grime and grit yet. In what would otherwise have been the most tedious quarter since some 1968 mudbath at Moorabbin, the sides livened things up with the best comedy slapstick since the Marx Brothers. First Oliver randomly booted the ball straight out of bounds in the pocket, allowing the Eagles to play on and fail to score. Later Jackson attempted a mark on the goal line despite half his body being behind the post, accidentally keeping the ball in and leading a West Coast shot on goal... which they also missed. This sort of comedy caper was literally the last reason left to be watching if you didn't follow either side. Perhaps you were gagging to watch The Bounce, in which case the doctors had an entire second half to finish your frontal lobotomy.

Having already waited until 5.20pm AEST for this fiasco to start, well done anyone who came back after half time instead of ducking out for a Zinger burger. You may have missed West Coast's best period, including an arsey goal from the boundary line and... err... a missed set shot. To say there was nothing happening would be an understatement. Perhaps there's a highlight I've forgotten, don't think I'll be watching the full replay/anything beyond 'All The Goals' to find out. Somebody tried to assassinate Bowey but even an elbow to the head couldn't keep the undisputed Demonweight champion down for long.

In the years where we'd have been on the other side of the six goal margin, unconsciousness would have been preferable to watching the rest. But I'm so grateful to be in a position of power that I'd still have clambered over a barbed wire fence to watch the rest. One day we'll be the shambles again and you'll look back at walk in the park games like this fondly. I'm not waiting. Imagine a world without Gawn, Petracca, Oliver, much less the rest of a list chockers with premiership heroes? Horrific, let's just revel in it now.

Which is not to say it was even remotely good viewing. I was just mad for what it represented. Like us getting the sort of wonky decision that the Eagles would never have conceded at home when good. Poor old George McGovern is already watching his career ebb away while his brother inexplicably heads for finals at Carlton, now he had his personal space invaded by a clearly not standing Christian Petracca and was forced to play on, then pinched for deliberate. This is what happens when you basically take over somebody's ground for your own. Insert meme of that Somali "I'm the captain now" chap saying "We're the home team now".

The margin fell short of Chris Sullivan Line proportions at the last change, but under the circumstances I was prepared to concede there was no possible way they could beat us. It would have taken more than random lightning, aliens would have needed to fly over and whisk our entire lineup off to their home planet.

With memories of their twin capitulations in Perth still fresh, Geelong and Footscray fans would have been pouring tears watching us make scoring look difficult against a WAFL side. I was fine with it, considering the torture we were putting them through at the other end. The Eagles occasionally busted clear and could very well have found a forward target if any were playing, but either stuffed things up waiting for one to appear, or panic bombed it straight to a defender. Our best chance of winning by 200 would have been lots of stoppages, their best chance of survival was wasting time by running the ball away from our 50 as fast as possible.

The only sizzle on offer was Tom McDonald, but people watch boxing for explosive knockouts, not grinding unanimous points decisions so we did our bit for any remaining neutrals by banging on another seven goals at the end. I was lucky to see any of it, the moment the ball was bounced Kayo started persecuting me with extreme buffering. Probably payback for trying to get in on that 12 months free scam a couple of weeks ago. If there was ever a day for a fourth quarter to be interrupted by internet trouble this was it, if that happens during a thriller I'll torp my internet-connected device from one side of the room to the other. 

It took a few minutes to get the party started, but we took advantage of the situation to moderately clobber them. Seven goals to two landed the margin exactly on what it was on that one day in September (Contrary to what De La Soul reckon, the magic number is obviously 74) and everyone went home as happy as can be. The commentators talking sadly about how our forwards missing a chance to fill their boots were welcome to piss up a rope.

There wasn't much more to be said. I might be in an obscene hurry to get this review out and never think about the game again, but there was as little fizz as you could possibly get from a high scoring quarter. Again, let's be quite clear, there are no complaints here. Every goal is sacred. 

Adam Simpson compared the different methods of dealing with Ed Langdon over the last two weeks and said "I'll 'ave 'alf", keeping him to 24 possessions but opening the door for Jordon to do what he liked on the other side. Nice of him to finally get a run at the Theatre of Dreams after spending most of September tucked up on the bench waiting for a teammate to fall over. We mention this because, on 25/09/2021, James Harmes generously proposed throwing an injury to allow Double J to get on the ground (and considering he grew up a Melbourne fan when we were SHIT, giving away your chance to be on the ground at the final siren of the impossible dream is the most underrated good guy moment of all time) and his karmic reward was to go down with an actual injury this time.

This opened the door for 10 minutes of super-sub Kade Chandler to show what he could do against demoralised opposition. The answer involved a great chasedown tackle, unfortunately ending in him pulverising the bloke headfirst into the ground. You've got to feel for Kade, there wasn't a hint of malice in it, but given how many players had fallen on their arse it was clear there wasn't much grass to cushion the fall. It's quite the kill ratio for Kade, who has only been on the ground for about 8% of his AFL career.

On a night when the camera seemed to switch angles at random, Chandler was seen reacting with horror to the replay. He probably wouldn't have stayed ahead of Bedford in the tracksuit race anyway, but he's running out of time to have an impact at senior level so this won't help. His natural reaction should have been worth a discount at the tribunal, who took the outright piss by giving him two weeks for a careless tackle and Liam Ryan one for trying to knock Bowey's head off. He was probably hoping for a week instead of a fine, given that Casey has the bye anyway, but two is bonkers. Now that we're aristocrats we should appeal just to make a point.

And so, in the most comfortable way possible, that was 16 straight wins. which is a lot. Our run is now statistically eight times and morally 100000 times better than 2013. This year's portion of the streak doesn't mean dick if we don't end the year with a flag, but live in the now and revel in how ludicrously well we're doing.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Alex Neal-Bullen
3 - Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Brayshaw, Jordon, May, Oliver, Sparrow, and pretty much everybody else.

Just when you thought Oliver was going to charge to a massive, uncatchable lead, a week of even performances squeezed him out, and vaulted Petracca back into the race. No changes in the minors, Gawn has seen off the early Jackson challenge in the Stynes, May retains his lead in the Seecamp, and there's still chuff all action in the Hilton.

21 - Clayton Oliver
19 - Christian Petracca
16 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Ed Langdon
12 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
9 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
4 - Luke Jackson, James Jordon
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes, Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I quite enjoyed Pickett leaving the West Coast defender in the dust during the first quarter then booting it into the top deck, and he gets the assist for Brown in the second quarter with a delightful gather, but I've got to go for Fritsch's snap at the end. You can't beat Crumb. It doesn't affect the top three, and there's no motivation for a random prize so he'll have to be happy with our best wishes.

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

Next Week
One banana skin easily avoided, now for the other member of the bottom two. On paper North is just as bad, but for unclear reasons I'm more worried about them. Probably because I've heard of most of them, and still have distant memories of the 3000+ days when they would treat us with contempt. We should win easily, going one better than last year and dragging Bowey a step closer to the all-time greatest start to a career, but even against opposition at their lowest ebb, inside our dear friend Docklands I'm still wary of something silly happening. After that we play a lot of good sides so will be pleased just to bank the 40th premiership point and move on.

We took a chance playing Gawn this week (who tested his knee by climbing atop a white plastic Bunnings chair on the boundary and briefly hanging on to the fence like he was doing a slam dunk), and obviously Lever wasn't nearly as crocked as he looked at the end of the Saints game, but there's no chance we're going to risk tight hamstring Harmes. 

The question is who replaces him - Dunstan had a shitload of touches in a demolition of North's reserves, but he's not really like for like. We could give Bedford a full game and shuffle accordingly. Then there's the chance to plan for the imminent return of Hibberd and Salem by doing something with Brayshaw and/or Jordon, but I'm going for a Bowey-esque Docklands debut for Bailey Laurie. You have to balance his four goals against quality of opposition, and two of them came after North B had lost the will to live, but it would be reward for a few solid weeks.

Usually the hottest competition is for the tall forwards, but McDonald's goals killed that debate off for another week. Bad news for the Weid and van Rooyen, who each plundered North for six. We're beyond the stage of dreaming about trade week halfway through the season, but it's still interesting to think about what we're going to do with the forwards at the end of the year. Mitch Brown is playing out the year before we give him a hearty handshake and thanks for your cotnribution, but I think one of McDonald or Weideman will go. Maybe if JVR looks good by the end of the year they might be more comfortable letting McSizzle go and taking the punt on Weid. We're at the stage where fringe players are going to start falling off the side at a rapid rate - especially if we've got to pay for Brayshaw and Jackson to play - so we can replace them with dirt cheap draftees, I think this will be the start of it.

In a classic bit of VFL fixturing we played North's reserves a week before the seniors, then have the bye, so if you miss the seniors next week you're not playing anywhere. I know Aspley (former home of The Spencil and the Wagnii) pulled out at the end of last season, but if you're going to have a 21 team competition may as well find any warm bodies to fill one more spot and play an even number of games. Bring back The Hammerheads, they can't be much worse than B-sides of AFL teams losing by 110 points.

IN: Laurie, Bedford (sub)
OUT: Chandler (susp), Harmes (inj)
UNLUCKY: Hibberd, van Rooyen, Weideman

I'll go for a six goal margin again. Hopefully they put everything they've got into containing us then go tits up over the next three quarters. I'd still feel better if they could lose a couple of players to random misfortunes during the week.

This is also the week where we're rebranding to Narrm for the artist formerly known as Indigenous Round. I still say we could have made a unique, permanent contribution to the cause by adopting the sick rear of last year's indigenous jumper on our playing strip but this hurts absolutely nobody so play on. If offended I recommend looking around the world in which you live.

Final thoughts
Don't take anything for granted, but I reckon we're going to make finals from here. Play them all in Fortress Perth again.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

15 love

When you're a middle class suburban dickhead it's hard to understand why rich, talented and successful people fall off the rails. How, you wonder, can anyone go to pieces when they've got all the riches in the world at their disposal? Halfway through the third quarter here I discovered the sporting variant. Through no talent of my own except 33 years of staying power, I've wound up following a reigning premier that has won 15 games in a row, and the pressure is surprisingly immense. 

Amanda Heard might have shit in Johnny Depp's bed because [reasons], but I'd hate to see what she'd have done when we briefly looked like torching a near 50 point lead. We've got to lose again eventually, I'm just heavily invested in it happening under fair and reasonable circumstances, not as the result of a miracle comeback or earth-shattering upset.

I'd rather go on a Tinder date with Squeaky Fromme than live through the #fistedforever years again, but there was a lot more scope for carefree self-depreciation when wins came by surprise. Now I've got the greeds for endlessly hoarding wins. Maybe the big run won't properly be appreciated until it's over but I'm willing to wait and find out. For now, it felt like another in a long line of professional, solid wins, in a decade we'll look back at another component of a streak that has now reached the all-time list.

Tell you who doesn't go for fear and self-doubt, Jake bloody Bowey that's who. The man who has played every game of the great run, and who now outright owns the greatest winning start to a career in MFC history. Jake Spencer, Dean Terlich and Jimmy Toumpas also won 15 times, it just took them a combined 100 games. At a time where we need relief at the Bowza, I reckon he'll get more write-in votes at the election than some official candidates.

Even if Bowey finishes his career below 50%, few will be more closely associated with this era. The mere mention of his name will transport you back to a magical time. I'm not waiting, every time he touches the ball I think flag. I've never been one for taking it a week at a time (see various versions of the Bradbury Plan), but as he got within range of a record that none of us had ever thought about before April 2022 I found myself desperately wanting him to break it. Doesn't hurt that we all win when he does, but even though he doesn't get a medal, and the club doesn't get premiership points I acted as if it would be final proof that everything is awesome.

It's appropriate that Jake became the undisputed owner of that hotly contested (?) record on the same day 2011 survivor Tom McSizzle played his 200th game, uniting both the shit and shit hot eras of our recent history. McDonald was the first MFC debut after 186, and if you want to feel old please review the list of who he lined up with - and against - that day. Between players who were Melbourned and Gold Coasted you've got two full class actions there.

Think of all the water under the bridge since 28/08/2011, both in football and life. They were the years when I'd do anything unethical or immoral to go to games. Engagement parties avoided, family reunions dodged etc... And here I was on Sunday afternoon in or around the CBD, available at the perfect time to cart my arse to the MCG for the greatest show on earth and... pulling out due to fatigue. If you kept the same hours as me you'd be worn out too. Still, of all the midlife crisis content nothing gets me down more than a waning commitment to seeing every game live at the best time to be a Melbourne fan for 60 years. 

There were extra pangs of regret when Level 4 of the Ponsford was open (ironic if my whinging complaint helped then I didn't turn up) but not surprisingly they were absent when the final siren went and I didn't have to cart myself hither and yon to get home. It was also nice to dodge Dwayne Russell shrieking like he's on a plummeting plane. Fox Footy treated this interesting game with top four implications seriously and sent Anthony Hudson, unlike the AFL fixturing it with the respect usually given to Hawthorn vs GWS in Launceston.

I still treat every goal like a gift from the gods, so was thrilled when Pickett swung the door open with crumb after 30 seconds. Even when our man Jake's kick inside 50 landed in the middle of all available targets things are going so well for him that it sat perfectly to be scooped up and slammed home. This was good, but I've seen plenty of games in a previous life where we'd snatch a goal out of the middle and things looked wonderful until the other team got a kick. We're supposed to be patronising towards North's current plight, but I remember getting the first against them, then conceding 22 of the last 25.

Tactics will depend on available players, but whatever the paid experts at St Kilda saw in the review of our last game they missed the bit where a) you try to stop Ed Langdon having a million touches, and b) your best chance of catching our backline out is to get the ball down there quickly but not recklessly. Their effort was unquestionable but back with a comical lack of patience. Bad news for next big thing Max King, whose two goals came as third quarter consolations on either side of May battering him in every contest while teammates blindly hoofed the ball in his general direction from 60 metres. 

The squeezing of life from the opposition at one end usually translates to scoring at the other, but we like to keep things interesting. For instance, try to pick the quarter where we win the game in 10 minutes of glory before cruising to the final siren in Rancho Relaxo mode. But it's the small things around that that make the difference, in this case Harmes' Wayne-esque efforts at keeping the ball alive to set up Spargo. It was the same spot where we eventually cost ourselves a goal by unnecessarily doing the same thing against Hawthorn, but there was a big difference between blindly knocking the ball back into traffic and disposing of your closest opponent before using acres of space to kick towards a free player in the square.

Two goals to nil means nothing, and it's not like we were steamrolling them. In every aspect other than scoring, the Saints were fine. Having two good rucks helped calm Gawn down, and they were perfectly competitive around the ground, the problem was the attacking with blind optimism that usually ended with the ball pinging back the other way. Usually via the wing where Langdon was enjoying freedom of movement after a snap one week lockdown.

Without ever being truly great, the quarter just got better and better, and before you knew it we were basically five goals up. Pickett missed a couple of chances, but you win some and lose some with players who sometimes go so fast they don't know what they're doing until it happens. Strangely, after a red hot start he didn't get a touch when we were running riot in the second. Nice to have depth.

After doing so well to restrict them to a couple of shots and no goals, all my warm and fuzzy feelings went straight out the window when we seemingly gave a goal back in the red hottest of DemonTime. It was a fair bet that a mark at the top of the square with seconds left was going to end in agoal, and as I was watching on a quarter and a half of delay there was no time to waste. As ball hit Tim Membrey's boot I dived for fast forward to start catching up. 

The last thing I heard was Anthony Hudson saying something like "hold on a minute", assumed he was referring to their belated comeback in an attempt to stop viewers turning off, and scanned straight to the start of the second. I only realised he'd flubbed it when they were still on 0.3 after the break, rumbled by the video replay for kicking into the man on the mark. What makes it even more remarkable is that unlike future Hall of Famers like Jack Riewoldt, Lance Franklin and Josh Kennedy, Membrey has kicked more goals against us than any other opposition. Didn't get one here though, and I'm a bit sad not to have seen it live.

If you were a St Kilda fan and survived the 2009/2010 Grand Finals you're probably immortal, but I'd still have been wrecking inanimate objects when McDonald found Brown in acres of space for the opening goal of the second quarter. You get the easiest shot in history to bring the margin back to under four goals, stuff it up, then almost immediately let one in at the other end. You'd be ropeable. I loved it.

This prompted the Saints to finally kick a goal, which we responded to with the next four. This was our contractually obligated nuclear blast of the week, opening an ultimately matchwinning 45 point gap. At that point we looked absolutely irresistable, McSizzle got two milestone goals to slowly edge closer to the one goal a game average we've been craving for years, on either side of Brayshaw kicking a pearler from the boundary, and Brown doing some plus-size crumb. Christ knows where Bayley Fritsch was, but it didn't matter. You'd never have guessed that we'd concede the next five and would be forced to find a settler at the end of the third quarter to ensure things didn't get ropey. Though if you're of a nervous disposition like me there might have been some suspicions.

While they conceded defeat on Langdon patrolling the wing like he was travelling by helicopter, the Saints finally decided to stop going forward like maniacs and it changed the composition of the game. Now we were under some pressure in defence. Most of the time it was turned away, but now they were getting serious opportunities. On the topic of backmen, a word for somebody who isn't one but is doing a decent job of pretending. 

Angus Brayshaw's disposal is about as heart in mouth as McDonald's used to be (and didn't we all love the Sizzle paying tribute to where he's come from with an old fashioned ludicrously optimistic kick that across the ground?), but his ability to find the ball, and courage to get in the way of it on ground or in area is brilliant. He remains one solid blow from major concussion issues but throws himself into everything. The coaches would love that stuff so much that I could see him leading the B&F at this stage - and not just as a Chris Grant style rort to make him feel bad about leaving. If our salary cap is screaming so loudly that somebody's got to go, and it ends in round one compensation I can live with that. Even if the AFL has one of its unpredictable changes of heart, scraps compo picks and leaves us empty-handed I'll have no grudge against a premiership hero. He is also welcome to make all that irrelevant, take a fair wage and be part of something special for the next few years.

After 45 minutes of rubbish forward delivery not even remotely befitting an unbeaten premiership side, we calmed the farm with a goal plucked directly from the arse. Brown marked a touched kick, then wheeled around like David Schwarz 1994 and snapped it through anyway. There can't be a team in the league that marks as many touched kicks as us, it happens about five times a week. At least in this case the player on the end was aware enough to get on with things, and surprisingly nimble enough to make his 

At the time it looked like weird goals were all we'd get, because the artfully crafted, sensible ones had dried up. You do wonder how we can turn into a merger of Hawthorn '89 and Essendon '00 for a few minutes every week, then go back to making goals look more complicated than splitting the atom. You can't get away with it forever, but as long as the band is tuned up by September I'll cop a few random losses midway through the season. But for god's sake not just yet.

In a scenario slightly more realistic than Bob Random mysteriously going down for Richmond when they needed fresh legs, a real injury allowed the Saints to throw Marcus Windjammer on for the last quarter. I wouldn't know him if he knocked on my door, but at this point of Success Stress Syndrome (if it's not a real thing it should be), anybody could be the assassin who ends our run. On the day when Bowey and McDonald's milestones drew two decades together, being turned over in dramatic style by a fifth game sub would been an unwanted flashback. 

Sadly for windjammers everywhere he goalled with his only kick but couldn't inspire a dramatic coup Meanwhile on our bench it was feet up, tracksuit on, crosswords and a nice cup of tea for Toby Bedford, who achieved the goal of all young footy players - being the unused medical substitute more than any other play in club history. I think Bowey's got him covered in a game of rock, paper, accomplishments.

With our returning 'cron victims showing no signs of flagging, a 28 point lead three quarter lead should have been safe against opposition who'd just played in tropical slop.Instead of treating this as a sign we were going to win without exiting second gear I convinced myself a great comeback was still on the cards. Because I am, at heart, a panicky idiot. The sort who celebrates a failed bounce because if runs two seconds off the clock. Plenty of time for that during this game, with the ball flinging off at all sorts of angles. At one point Max did his famous 'thump it forward anyway' trick, which was not nearly as much fun as when it annoyed a bald man.

Looking for any excuse as to why the best team in the competition might go to pieces against a side made up 50% of finals calibre players and 50% who might get a game at West Coast if nobody else was available, I was heart in mouth when they got the first clearance. Like so many other times recently, an opposition attack worked in our favour, leading to a quick first goal that should have killed the game. Ironically it started by nearly killing Ed Langdon, who risked pulverisation to go back with the flight and defuse a centre clearance. Next thing you knew Fritsch was wandering through defenders with the ball in one hand like a rugby leaguist before snapping over his shoulder from close range.

After a year of doing enough across the middle quarters then easing off, dishing out a little dollop of wallop to a title aspirant would have been welcome but I was happy enough to put down an unbridgeable gap and float to 15-0 atop a big fluffy cloud. When the Anal-Bullet lined up for a shot not long after I was ready to clamber aboard nimbo cumulous and call it a day. He hit the post, they went down the other end for two in quick succession and even if nobody else in the world thought they were a chance - even the St Kilda players - I did.

The tension of whether we'd blow the lead or not - and unless you're mentally broken like me there was no suggestion that was ever going to happen - was temporarily interrupted by some world class handbags at 20 paces action between Oliver and the less likeable Jones brother. The footage is like one of those 'what colour is the dress' wankfests, only instead of finding out what side of your brain is dominant it will demonstrate how much of a Melbourne nuffy you are. No doubt there was contact to the chest, but he probably didn't need to go down like JFK in Dallas. 

The good news is that Jones' passive aggressive whinging at him was 100x more fun than Jack Riewoldt sooking about Bowey allegedly diving. I'd also be more inclined to punch on for the Hamburglar's reputation if he hadn't gone down like Ricky The Dragon Steamboat at Wrestlemania III that time against the Eagles. It made me uncomfortable, but anything that annoys opposition fans is a good thing. Let them hate so long as they fear. The afters also took the heat off him setting Langdon up to be flattened in the first place. 

St Kilda fans had been going spare about the umpiring all day, and not without justification at times, so after the Jones incident it was delicious when we killed them off for good via Pickett giving it maximum Dial-A-Duck in a tackle. It's no coincidence that things started going better for us when we introduced these sort of murky shenanigans into our game. If it's good enough for everyone else there was no point trying to be so pure we practically levitated above the ground.

The payback for this was lesser small forward Jack Higgins turning up for the first time all day and having his back barely pressed on by Petty 99% of the way through a tackle. It's been a while since I've whinged about these frees, I don't care how technically correct they are, if it's not dangerous and the ball has already been wrapped up then it should be treated as an occupational hazard of playing a sport involving tackling. But it creates goals, which help ratings, which will allow the AFL to sell the broadcasting rights to for a mint so good luck changing anything. Apparently, dissent was fine again though, including the St Kilda bloke inviting the umpire to review the scoreboard without penalty. Now, I know nobody expects consistency but... wait, I'm just getting an update here.... actually that's exactly what they want.

Once Harmes lobbed through a couple of the junkiest junk time goals ever seen I was ready to call time and go home with the points before somebody got injured. Then they cut to Lever hobbling to the bench with obvious leg concerns. It came so late that Bedford wasn't even woken up, and far too late to be a factor in the game. Might not help in future weeks, I'm sure he was doing an exaggerated funny walk at the end but still looked like somebody wandering into an emergency department and saying "million to one shot doc..."

So, nothing to complain about here. We might have gone on from the eight goal lead and buried them, but after 15 (fifteen) wins in a row I'm not going to moralise about they happen. We've got a fair distance to cover before qualifying to polish the boots of the Norm Smith era but there are some parallels - a forward line that shares their goals around, and a lot of very good players who will all get Brownlow votes but ensure that none is dominant enough to win the Brownlow. Somehow they've both only won this many games in a row once each. These are delightful times.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Angus Brayshaw
4 - Steven May
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Christian Petracca

More apologies than most to Harmes, Jordon and Pickett

Not sure 'any other player' has ever scored one of these awards but Angus Brayshaw is now a red hot chance of a Seecamp boilover. However, if you're betting on shadowy mid-season markets based in the Cayman Islands be wary of him going back to the wing/midfield when Salem returns and being disqualified. Otherwise, no new vote getters again, and only the slightest increase in Oliver's lead. There are many, many games left so plenty still to play for.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There's a few potential winners here, none worthy of dethroning the current top three but very enjoyable nonetheless. Apologies to either of the contributions by Pickett or Brown, and Rivers nine ironing his kick home, but it's the coveted five votes/Davey nomination for Brayshaw. For the weekly prize he wins a new helmet. To claim please sign this piece of paper where I'm definitely not holding my hand over the bit showing it's a new contract.

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

Next Week
Alright, we're playing West Coast at the gloriously lowest ebb in their existence, will go in the reddest hot favourites, and some parasite bookmaker who wants free publicity will set the line at 99.5 points. In theory this means we should - and probably will - win, but settle down on predictions of apocalyptic beltings. It might happen, but plenty of people thought we were going to steamroll the Crows last year and look how that turned out. 

If you prefer a comparison with a happy ending, see MFC vs Essendon 2012. The Bombers weren't reigning premiers, but were pinging off the walls on Mexican harness racing drugs so a major munting was on the cards. Enter leading goalkicker Colin Garland, Sam Blease bursting his grundle, a bit of rain and what was to that point the biggest ladder position shock in AFL history. I'm not saying it's going to happen again but don't spend the week wondering which forward is going to kick 12. Sure, Essendon won our next meeting by 148, but we didn't know that at the time.

I don't think we're at the stage of arrogantly resting players yet, and hopefully never will be, but Lever was absolutely crocked by the final siren so there's no point carting him to the other side of the country. That's good news for Adam Tomlinson, who is better than 'break in case of emergency' but has the misfortune of being stuck in the queue behind some bloody good players. He lost his first 21 games (and let's not talk about the victim of the first win), once their careers are over he and Bowey should do a Yobbos Up The Guts style pub tour of Australia.

There's also some concern over Max Gawn's knee, and I know the most sensible thing to do is rest him but in the moment I'm terrified by this idea. Sanity will prevail and they won't risk him on what should be a non-event, but I reserve the right to nervously adjust my collar until it's proven not to be the decisive move that leads us into the biggest upset for years. The Sizzle proved a highly competent replacement for Gawn five years ago, but given that they preferred Weideman as #2 against Hawthorn I'm not sure the coaches see it the same way. Maybe that was an Yze thing? Either way, I'm ready to give Daw a spin. He's not going to be there next year, but this is no time to throw part timers in and assume everything's going to be alright.

IN: Daw, Tomlinson
OUT: Gawn, Lever (inj)
UNLUCKY: Bedford, M. Brown, Weideman

Here's to the memories of our last visit to Perth spurring on a great victory. I'll still spend the week quietly filling my shorts at the prospect of losing, but not in the same psychotic way as last year. Still can't hear Midnight Train To Georgia or Regulate without having reverse PTSD about how wound up I was that week. Have probably never been that stressed over several days than that in my life, which is a) a sign that things have gone pretty well so far, and b) a good explanation as to why I'm comfortable taking a slight step back now.

Final thoughts
Tracking BoweyMania on the records of boxers, Rocky Marciano has knocked out Jimmy Walls in 1949, Mike Tyson has TKO'ed Mark Young in the first round in 1985 and Floyd Mayweather has stopped Miguel Melo in 1998. But none of them won a world championship as quickly so they can all get stuffed. Hail to the chief.

Sunday 1 May 2022

Adem Yze's Red and Blue Army

Now, let's cross to the Melbourne Football Club COVID ward:

Yes, it's the week when the pandemic finally got to us. Until now Pfizer has been the only organisation to have done better from it, but our luck finally ran out when AAMI Park was (not for the first time) declared a total cluster. After dropping a couple of players here and there throughout the year, a veritable COVID plague ripped through the side, knocking out five players in three days. A reminder that each was our premiership player - which makes no difference to this discussion, it's just satisfying to talk about winning a premiership.

Having never followed the alleged standout team of the competition before, this game offered a brand new viewing experience. I'm used to stressing about losing now (instead of considering it a default starting position), but the combination of the ongoing greatest run of our lives, and the prospect of it all going out the window in the middle of a rampant viral outbreak was too much for my central nervous system. Either that, or the four quarters of chills were a hint that I'm also about to 'enter Health and Safety Protocols'. Which makes it sound like the victims are going to the world's worst nightclub. And as for Yze replacing Goodwin after Round 6, well I was a year out on that prediction but all's well that ends well.

Anyway, whether sports or the immune system were to blame, this game caused me to have a physical shocker. Win a flag they (I) said, you'll never worry about losing again they (I) said. Maybe once we finally do lose again I'll be able to dial back to an appropriate level of post-flag tension. Until then I'm risking dying in my seat. If that happens I'd like to update the instructions for my ashes - stuff the MCG, cart them across the country and scatter in the exact spot at Perth Stadium where Petracca started the Mad Minute.

So, that's all a bit morbid. Not my fault that Melbourne's glory era is intersecting with a midlife crisis. I also didn't want to lose in the week where clickbait fanatics up and down the media went nuclear suggesting nobody would beat us. No sane person takes this sort of thing seriously, but they're happy to bring it up if it helps hang shit on you. See, for example, the Hawthorn fan on the train who opened his post-match comments with "Well, I thought they were supposed to be unbeatable" before following with a perverted sounding laugh. Well, unless we go 22-0 and there's a finals rematch your lot won't be the ones beating us. And you're wearing brown in public. Which is what I would have said if I wasn't too old to publicly joust with the lowest rungs of society.

Anyway, look at this result however you like, we're 7-0 for the second year in a row so there's not a lot to be upset about. The difference is that this time it's not such a novelty so we're expecting better, but have a look at the run of wins at the start of 2021 and identify which ones were siren to siren rippers. Between our selection handicaps, and an opposition that held us for 7/8 quarters last year before recovering to mid-table mediocrity this season, it was never going to be the weird Saturday afternoon timeslot pulverisation of your dreams. We'll clobber somebody for four quarters again eventually, for now just be happy with random malicious outbursts. Against the Giants it lasted 20 minutes and carried us to a big win, here it lasted 10 and we'd probably have lost if the game went another five. Sunrise, sunset. Or more accurately - eat, sleep, win, repeat.

Yes, Hawthorn had been thumped by St Kilda a few weeks ago, and fell apart like a Russian tank in the last quarter against Sydney, but it was still a flashing 'red light spells danger' game. The losses of Jackson, Neal-Bullen, Petty, Pickett and Sparrow, were somewhat offset by Lever and Viney coming back from their own trip to Protocols, and experience like McDonald and Melksham being recalled from Casey. We weren't exactly relying on kids, VFL players, and players recruited through Facebook Marketplace. 

This was still a side that should have been able to take care of largely anonymous, or well past their prime, opposition. But with memories of them almost beating us via scrappy, 'any means necessary' kicks into the forward line last year, I wouldn't have had 10 Zimbabwean dollars on winning easily. Fortunately we covered for another fourth quarter flop with another half decent third quarter. As long as you're in front at the end...

As much as I respected Hawthorn for taking it to us last year, and was secretly scared by our outs, when they chose this week to 'manage' two young players part of me hoped that was the raising of white flag in an attempt to get the inevitable loss out of the way without losing too much percentage. They certainly went in for option B, providing a handy template on how to keep Langdon quiet and alternatively tagging either Oliver and Petracca. This kept one of them relatively quiet at a time, but allowed the other one to collect possessions out the yin yang when left alone. Get set for another 15 exciting weeks of this.

If it wasn't already obvious that this was going to be a weird day, unrepentant poker machine barons Hawthorn ran through a banner imploring us to enjoy the game not the odds. Every Victorian club has shamefully fleeced the vulnerable out of their lolly (and I would have guiltily kept the pokies if required to save the club), but there's something extra sinister in reminding everyone that the bad form of gambling is the one you're not getting a cut from.

The Hawks were well within their rights to adopt negative tactics, you'd be idiots not to, and in a dream result against a superior side they not only worked but had us on the run. If international tourists turned up because a guidebook told them to see an AFL game while in Melbourne, 100% would have suggested they were the competition's defending champion. Gawn was doing what you'd expect against the most uninspiring ruck division since Brett Goodes contested Footscray's centre bounces, but once ball hit ground we were running around as if in quicksand. Like a repeat of either game against us last year they were legging it around the ground in numbers, free as toilet coloured birds.

As we've learnt to both our benefit and detriment this year, two goals leads at the start of a game are almost worthless. So at 12 points down I wasn't gathering my Coronavirus related excuses and Googling for trauma counsellors, but when they had a shot for three in a row there was a bit of heart in the mouth 'is this the night?' tension. A miss from 30 metres in front was welcome, but we had clearly not shown up. See, for instance, a string of uncharacteristic May clangers that suggested he had COVID of the leg, the worst being the kick over Gawn's head - which looked extra comical considering how high you've got to miskick it to totally miss somebody that large.

On days where we look like toiling and struggling to kick goals, the answer is usually a piece of lightning transition. Indeed it was again, with Langdon and Fritsch combining for the first before both disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle for the rest of the afternoon. That looked good, but things were still not going well. If I thought Petracca was short of 100% I'm convinced Lever is. Whether it's related to foot or virus, he wasn't moving like the man we know and love. 

Somehow we weathered the various storms and were just two points down at quarter time. No idea how. McDonald kicked one, then another that was taken off him because the umpire waited about 20 seconds to pay a free, and Bedford got the heartwarming first of his career after 'playing' more career games as unused sub than those where he's stepped on the ground. He's no Pickett, but it was still a positive performance. There was one ripper tackle on the outer wing, and a crumb to set up a goal for Brown that should lead to further opportunities. 

It had been grim and gritty, but no real harm done. The only question was which of the sides that have shown a deep love of the early finish would be ahead when the game prematurely went to junk time after three quarters. Because I worry about everything, the fact that Hawthorn has won a thriller this year and we haven't scared me. 

Nevertheless, things started to look up when McSizzle either a) made sure of a goal or (delete as applicable) b) absolutely thieved one off Harmes at the start of the second. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was running back towards goal, saw the ball dropping towards him, and marked it out of instinct. Instead of either paying the goal, or the mark from a range that was only ever going to lead to a goal, the umpire wasted a minute going to the video to decide what had happened. I'm usually pro-McDonald, but had the replay shown that he juggled it over the line I might have tried to trade him to Gold Coast.

When Gawn did another one of his long distance mortar goals shortly after, it seemed we were finally on the verge of putting them away. Oliver was now being tagged into the ground, after being on pace for about 48 disposals at quarter time, but that allowed Petracca space to do whatever he liked. Because nothing comes easy for us, defending premier or not, we couldn't shake them off, and things remained uncomfortably tight for the rest of the quarter. 

Apparently only one of our forwards can fire at a time, and the Wheel of Footy spun in favour of Ben Brown this week. Hawthorn fans will be screaming about him getting goals from frees, but it's nothing personal, it's what he does in the weeks where we kick to the advantage of his robo-arms. It's even funnier that Sam Frost was giving away the frees, not because I have anything against him, but because you know he'd love to unleash so much dissent that he'd be standing the mark in Federation Square. For fans of old school Frostball there was even one of his mad, ferret up the legs, no idea what he's going to do next, runs out of defence. It was thrilling when it used to happen for us, but I think I'll stick with May, Lever et al if that's ok.

Just as we were veering towards "I love you but you're boring" territory, the big, ultimately match-winning break came midway through the third. After conceding an end-to-end goal at the start, when we should have just taken the ball out instead of trying to play like the Harlem Globetrotters, what floodgates there were opened in our favour. Brown from frees, Gawn with another long bomb, and a lovely Bedford goal on the run should have ended the game on the spot, before the Weid cropped up for the first time all day for his first. 

I'm all for recreational Weid, but he didn't have a great day. I hate it, because he is a very likeable character so I want him to do well. However, while neither is perfect if we're still in the business of trying to win flags I think McDonald is more reliable, versatile, and physically imposing. Sure he picked Harmes' pocket, and is nowhere near the player he was a year ago but I think he's got more strings to his bow. May Sam prove me wrong in spectacular fashion then triumphantly spit in my face on Grand Final night. I will squeeze the slag into a commemorative bottle.

After royally cracking the sads at our inability/unwillingness to kill the ball in the pocket 20 minutes earlier, I had a hypocritical backflip when Fritsch did the same thing and it led to the goal that should have left us 30+ ahead at the last change. Which it would have, had we not kept things interesting by giving away a free and goal in the pocket. There wasn't much to it, but the decision had an element of square up after they'd missed an obvious decision against us in the same spot about 10 seconds earlier.

Being the dullest game we've played in ages, there isn't much to say about the last quarter. We wobbled along but ran the clock down for long enough to win, and Joel Smith was injured again. This saved Kade Chandler (remember him?) from reclaiming his old record for most tracksuit time 'appearances', and blessed us with the sight of all joint record holders him, Bedford and Jordon on field at the same time. He didn't do much when he came on, but to be fair he was trying to be enthusiastic amongst 21 teammates who'd mentally checked out. He's never had a decent chance, but I think it might be curtains for Kade now, having to get past the likes of Pickett, Spargo, Bedford etc.. for a game. Let's get him to parity between real games and fake games at least, he's now on four sub appearances out of seven. No doubt we'll delist/trade him, the rule will instantly change to allow teams to do subs whenever they want, and he'll come of the bench successfully every week for somebody else.

Despite looking like we wanted to be anywhere but the 'G, there were various chances to put the game away. Oliver won a free but missed from close range, and Melksham failed to make sure of it from one of the most slapstick kicks across defence of all time. It kept the door open for a fiasco, but sadly for those of a brown persuasion, there wasn't enough time left to run us down. 

We had excuses out the yin yang, but the finish was still flatter than a plate full of piss. Thank god for a friendly radio station revealing how much time there was left, so I knew only the most ridiculous double goal scenario could sink us in the dying seconds. An obscene number of people want the 'five minute warning' scenario of hiding the clock, but I implore you to show some respect for those of us who may have an aneurysm during a thriller. Once the technology exists to press a button and remove the clock you're welcome to it, until then stop prioritising spectacle over my chances of survival.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Jake Bowey
1 - Christian Petracca

Apologies to Brown, Jordon and Brayshaw.

Nobody new in the votes for once, but Gawn and Oliver clear out at the top and the undefeated king of footy takes the outright lead in the Seecamp. Still nothing in the Hilton, but we're pleased to say that as unused sub games don't count, Toby Bedford and Kade Chandler's long-term campaigns for the medal remain alive.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Definitely nothing for the top three here. In fact, you'd struggle to find three goals worth remembering. Fritsch's tap/Dunstan's lucky connection to boot to set up Petracca deserves a mention, but only because we did bugger else of interest. By default, and because McSizzle cost Harmes the nomination, the winner is Toby Bedford on the run in the third quarter. For the weekly prize Tobes wins a pillow and book of crosswords for his next four quarters awkwardly sitting on the bench waiting for a teammate to fall over.

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

Crowd Watch (incorporating First World Problems)
Given that the Cluedo passage between Olympic and Ponsford was locked, I gathered that the tightwads in charge of the former People's Ground didn't want anyone in the top level of the latter. With no time/energy left to scan out and back in at Gate 1, I settled for the second best option and gazed longingly at the handful of people who were up there. Then halfway through the first quarter I looked up and they were all gone.

According to their website it was supposed to be shut, so the person who caught me trying to go up there for the Giants game must have deserted her post. So, instead of waiting for a break in the game they realise halfway through the quarter and send security guards up there to disappear the fans like a South American dictatorship. I'd have risked ejection by refusing to go until the break. I don't ditch my family to rush to the ground, sit in the cold and risk a heart attack from stress just to miss parts of the game being herded around like livestock.

So, instead of having the minimum 10 comfortable rows of space in front of me, I was reduced to three at best. For the second half this meant kids running up and down the aisle in front of me, one who had clearly shit himself, but never went close enough to his parents for them to realise. Obviously they thought my various disgusted faces were related to the footy. No wonder people aren't doing a hammy to go to live games anymore. How much extra did it cost them to open the top level on the day there was about 20 of us up there against Gold Coast? Is the stadium with a 29 year waiting list for membership (but who'll be happy if you start giving them money them well before that) under such financial stress that this will push them over the edge? Maybe somebody's emptied their bank account and put it through Hawthorn's pokies? 

Either way, I know it only affects a handful of people but it's shithouse for those of us with what we'll politely describe as issues. Remember when they were whacking off about having 'Sensory Rooms' at the MCG for people who don't like crowded areas? Who knows if that's still a thing, or some token effort that was quietly shelved post-COVID, but I don't need a whole room, just the option to park myself as far away from people as is humanely possible. I sent in an official whinge to the MCC just to confirm it would come back with a 'thank you for your valuable feedback, we have passed it on to the relevant department' cut and paste response, and it did. Hopefully somebody takes the bait and calls me to discuss, just so I can have a real life whinge. ot that it'll change their mind, ultimately they're free to do whatever they like with their ground, but if you're going to copy crowd management techniques don't steal them from Docklands.  

Next Week
Based on the way we've coasted over the line in fourth quarters, the numbers of players returning from illness, and my general fear that the rug will be irreversibly pulled from under us at any moment, I'm going to assume we lose to St Kilda. The counterbalance is that they just played (and lost) on soggy tropical ground, in 88% humidity. Still, it's all pointing to that win against a big team that makes everyone slide off their seat in joy, only for the same people to turn on them for 'getting ahead of themselves' when they lose.

The ins are all obvious, as we bring back anyone whose immune system has come good. And as far as I'm concerned, so are the outs. They might stick for the Weid considering he's kicked a few goals recently, but until a dramatic change of heart in the next few weeks I'm rejoining Team Sizzle. The Milkshake didn't set the world on fire, so I might go for a Bedford/Pickett double and see what happens. We could very well win, but I'm expecting to have a torrid time. 

IN: Jackson, Neal-Bullen, Petty, Pickett, Sparrow
OUT: Smith (inj), Melksham, Chandler, Dunstan, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: Dunstan, Weideman

Final thoughts
I don't think we ever need to discuss this again. You may have gathered from the rest of the review that I wasn't particularly keen on starting. The only incident of note is that Jake Bowey is now 14-0, capturing a share of the all-time MFC record alongside 2x premiership player Bryan Kenneally. I can't see us winning five more on the bounce so he beats the all-time VFL/AFL mark, but it's still quite the achievement. Otherwise, bury the tapes of this game in a landfill and move on.