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.

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