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.


  1. Gawn in the votes twice, you can put me on the payroll if this keeps up mate

  2. No mention of Petty blowing his knee out at 3QT? That was the death knell. He saved us a heap in the first quarter.


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