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.

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