Saturday 25 June 2022

Faithless man believes

Back in my day things were easy. You'd show up expecting a loss, get one, and go home to moan about it on the internet while listening to Finey's Final Siren callers melting down (and drink a cup of sulphuric acid). Winning 17 straight games and a flag raised expectations a bit, after losing on Queen's Birthday people were preparing to set themselves on fire out of grief.

Of course I'd never get involved in such knee-jerk reactions, but in a complete coincidence I did rediscover the joy of ladder predictors during the week. Doing them this far out is stupid because you basically pick the favourites in every game while criminally underrating your own side to the point where they're barely hanging inside the eight by Round 20, and go into the last game needing to win in Brisbane and rely on other results just to fall into an Elimination Final. 

Suffice to say my predictive skills didn't stretch to winning a top two clash by 64 points. I may be the defending FMI Play AFL Division 1 champion, but some things are beyond my powers. Anybody who saw this coming should be hired by the rozzers to locate missing persons. We could still pull off the best mid-season implosion by a defending premier since 1965 but after Thursday night it's a little less likely.

Try telling me... err... nervy people when they were scouring every angle for proof that things weren't as bad as they looked. A few weeks ago the Bradbury Plan was a historical curiosity, then I started thinking about a top four version, now the vast array of mid-table mediocrities in the competition left me emotionally reliant on flotsam and jetsam sides beating contenders. For god's sake I was even happy to see Essendon win last week. It's one thing failing to defend the premiership but the relative humiliation of bombing out from 10-0 would be unpleasant. Mind you, even if we win 12 games and miss out the darkness can never reach the 'Sylvia Plath trapped down a coalmine' darkness of 2017. 

I still wouldn't be happy, so the alternative to looking like idiots on a grand scale was to start beating good teams again. That we did, and how. After a rough start the win was so comprehensive that anybody who relies on clickbait for a living will be find/replacing 'Melbourne' with 'Brisbane' in their 'can they still win the flag?' articles. 

You can't blame people for wandering the streets with 'The end is nigh' signage. After three weeks of a forward line that looked destined never to kick a decent score again, we lost Gawn just in time to play the team that recently deposed us at the top of the ladder. This left our attack with three players who have kicked more than 10 goals for the season, and between them Pickett and Brown had about six in a month. 

With all this against us I haven't been so surprised at a final score since September 25. It was the football equivalent of a seemingly exhausted James Brown throwing off his cape and coming back to life. Maybe we were inspired by fence advertising for the Billy Joel tour? I don't think Stretch and Smith are going to fill the MCG, but I'm looking forward to seeing them back together.

After two years waiting patiently for somebody to fall over in front of him, Majak Daw's chance to become our oldest debutante from another club since 1936 was thwarted by a blown pec. It's questionable whether they'd have picked him anyway, having missed the last VFL game and going through courtroom turmoil during the week but that all became academic when his award winning rig exploded like Nigel Mansell's tyre

With Daw's chances literally blown, and no other ruckmen on our list, the task of replacing Gawn's Herclulean output was left to new #1 seed Luke Jackson, with Weideman as his red-hot-go deputy. If only we'd been short a ruckman three weeks ago they could have redrafted The Spencil from Doncaster East, but freed from to justify his existence with goals the Weid filled-in admirably. The only bags he went close to were the ones under his eyes, but as an emergency replacement he did just fine. The poor bastard must have howed in anguish coming off the ground after an encouraging performance only to hear Gawn say he might be back in two weeks.

The most important inclusion was Steven May. I reject the simplistic idea that all our problems in the last three weeks stemmed entirely from him being absent, but there's no doubt we're a better side when he's out there. As much as the media, and some of our fans, wanted to treat May like the antichrist I was ready to provide the same sort of rose petal treatment that Essendon fans are lining up for James Hird's comeback. Unlike them I won't bottle samples of my idol's wastewater, but he'll always be a legend to me. He did one satanic turnover that cost a goal but I put that down to the delayed effects of being belted by two teammates (first accidentally, then on purpose) within 12 days. More importantly, May's comeback encouraged Lever's best game of the year, levitating around the backline and intercepting everything that came near him again.

Things turned out wonderfully in the end, but I wasn't the only one activating civil defence measures halfway through the first quarter. After three weeks of blowing every lead we could get our hands on, we tried hard to execute an Ali-esque rope-a-dope and let the Lions kick all the goals instead. The only problem was them embracing the spirit of their replica Fitzroy jumpers and kicking like they were about to go into liquidation. 

Still, when they got their first goal from our defenders doing brown shorts handballing under intense forward pressure I was a bit terrified. After that, our chief finals adversary Charlie Cameron met Michael Hibberd and entered the witness protection scheme. More accurate to his September form was Joe Daniher. He was one goal better off than the night Melbourne played Brisbane in Adelaide (yes future readers, this was a thing), but way down compared to his form against everyone else this year. In the spirit of other top key forwards doing nada against us, he's now added 4.17 since sinking us with five straight in 2015.

The closest we got early were a couple of speculative shots from Brown, but all Brisbane's effort went out the window when Charleston Spargo (now wearing in a late 90s David Beckham style headband) fired off a lightning mid-air handball (also known as incorrect disposal) to Sparrow (Spargo/Sparrow) for our response. Or so it seemed, until it became the textbook case of a goal you wind up regretting because it leads to two at the other end.

Maybe the free for the first was there and I preferred to believe Daniher had willingly flown forward as if clubbed in the back with a baseball bat because it meant not blaming May. If I'm willing to overlook his off-color comments to teammates covering up for holding the man is nothing. To be honest I'd probably put my fingerprints on the knife if he did a murder. It was a shame Brisbane fans didn't boo him more, if only so commentators got confused as to why they cared about his restaurant antics when they were really reacting to his various assassinations of their players.

Even if the free was deadset bullshit, it showed that rocketing the ball to a contest at head height was far more likely to create opportunities than bombing it at a pack via cloudbusting heights. After weeks of that for little reward, a smaller forward line delivered our pound-for-pound best score of the season. Even if McSizzle doesn't come back I'd like to find a second tall forward by September but replacing Bedford for M. Brown and freeing the Weid to roam further afield was a roaring success. I'll be interested to see how it goes now that the opposition know what's coming, but we'll always have a lovely Thursday night of running riot to remember them by.

For now, the successes were less roaring, and while I could handle giving one goal back, letting another through straight out of the middle was taking the piss. I'm so quick to wave the white flag that I'd be shithouse in a war, but this was the point I'd have put my weapons down and negotiated favourable surrender terms. I might be a spineless poltroon but you can't pretend things were going well at this stage. I couldn't decide what said more about our plight, being thrashed in the middle, or falling to bits when we went forward. The backline looking uncharacteristically nervy was a bonus. 

The bad times soon passed, and within an hour we were scoring freely, Jack Viney was playing a vintage game, and the defenders looked unbeatable again. Makes up - a bit - for three weeks of starting well then comically plummeting into a ditch. We still hadn't come to terms with kicking goals the conventional way, so it took Harmes doing something NQR to get us going. His speculative snap wobbled for a bit mid-air, then dropped like a bowling ball tossed down an elevator shaft, falling just over the line. There a defender did his bit by forgetting to step forward, raise his arms, and stop it from going through. Thanks for that.

Being within a goal at the break was almost certainly undeserved but after three weeks of opponents clinging on long enough to eventually beat us I wasn't arguing. Harmes' reward for his aerial assault was being sent to mind Lachie Neale. This was great for those of us who cherish the memories of him playing a similar role in late 2018, and he well and truly fixed Neale up, collecting a second goal on the way.

After a few nervy minutes to open the second term, the game gloriously flipped on its head. Finally, after several forward 50 entries, Jordon levelled the scores, and not long after we were ahead. Now it was deserved. With Viney charging around to get involved in everything, and the restoration of pressure levels that hadn't been seen for weeks, the Lions visibly didn't fancy it. They weren't helped by a rotating cast of players going off the ground for treatment, but for the first time since St Kilda this was your actual premiership outfit on display.

Now we were the ones piling on the pressure, and while missed chances are always frustrating the impact was lessened by Brisbane's attack comprehensively dying in the arse. Even when they got it down there one of the big three was usually in the way, with Hibberd playing a vintage game at ground level. Salem still hasn't hit top speed, but given that he was gingerly riding an exercise bike halfway through the first quarter I was content for him to survive until full time. 

The peak of our wastefulness came with Bedford charging the 50, having an attack of conscience and trying a pass that was never on. At the time I thought he was playing for his career, by the end of the night you could imagine list managers from a lot of clubs ringing his agent and saying "well if they're not going to play him every week we will..." See, for example, his Pickettesque crumb from contest and running checkside from the pocket almost straight after. Based on the sample size of one game I want he and Pickett to play together and scare the shit out of teams.

There were more misses to come, but soon enough they were all absorbed by a party atmosphere. First there was an unmissable gift courtesy of headquarters, featuring Cam Rayner being pinged for 50 after wandering somewhere in the vicinity of Jordon's mark. He didn't have any interest in being involved with the kick, or impede it in any way, but apparently that doesn't matter. This sort of thing didn't concern anybody in the days when footy was apparently a million times better than it is now, but at the time all the players know the rules so stiff shit to him. Between this and hitting the post from 20 metres out directly in front, you can only imagine how certain other #1 picks would have been treated. Yes, I will go to my grave punching on to protect Jack Watts, thank you for asking.

With two minutes left and the Lions having registered nothing goals zero for the quarter, about the only way they looked likely to score was from a massive blunder. Enter your friend and mine (but perhaps not Jake Melksham's), Steven May with an attempted switch that came off his boot like an out of control firehose. Even pre-concussion some of his kicks this year have been *insert collar tugging GIF here*, but as previously discussed I'm so wound up in defending him that I'll write this one off as harmless misadventure.

The good news for everyone involved is that there was no Harmes done, because a few seconds later Oliver fed him to dash off on a desperately trailing ex-Brownlow Medallist and kick the reply. Then Brown lobbed another one on top of that and a half that started with Brisbane looking like they'd build a lead for us to chase down ended with them five goals down and wondering what had just happened.

Sucked in to everyone who wasn't there to see this pandemonium live, including me. It was time to switch the phone to 'do not disturb', get in the car for an hour and pick up the third quarter on delay at about the time - adjusted for skipping quarter breaks - where everybody else was halfway through the last quarter having the time of your 2022 lives.

It wasn't good for road safety or my mental health to have to drive in a 100km/h zone while worrying about a) how we were going to slaughter another lead, and b) what Petracca had done to his face. The last I saw of him it looked like he was trying to hold his shattered head together with a footy jumper, so I had that to fret about as well. Then I get back the Demonblog Compound and discover him happily carrying on like nothing had happened. It's not right, if people can bring pot-bellied pigs on planes for emotional support, addicts like me should get government support to watch every game live.

As you can tell I made it home alive, but with a lead somehow both comfortable and precarious it felt like tempting fate to fire up the Megawall. Instead I resorted to the 'late rounds in shit seasons' tactic of pulling a blanket over my head and watching on a laptop in bed. I wasn't the first man to have a good time on his own under those circumstances, but most don't get the full hour of enjoyment I did.

Like the first two quarters, we kept things interesting with a few goalless minutes. Then things got very good very quickly. Unlike the Freo game, Fritsch took the opportunity to extend our lead to six goals, and while Brown only kicked one himself, this piece of play demonstrated the importance of him being in contests and creating holes for other forwards. This was a good position to be in, but I was still worried about another collapse. Turns out fitness is good, but confidence is even better.

It should have been obvious we weren't going to lose when Pickett escaped a tackle via spinny magic before shhhing some poons in the Brisbane cheersquad. If Weideman had got his boot to a loose ball in the square straight after it would really have killed the contest stone dead. Instead, Mitch Robinson got their first goal in christ knows how long, and the man with the most pissweak rat's tail since the early 90s celebrated his tilt at a Brent Harvey Award nomination by jumping around like he'd just kicked the winner. 

When they got two in a row I forgot everything that had gone right until now and began to shit myself at the prospect of a humiliating reverse. Again, the Lions responded to their late goal by giving it away seconds later. If we'd been in their position I'd have thrown the computer through the window at that point. 

I know 6-6-6 means you can't stack the backline and ride out the last few seconds of a quarter (ask Footscray) but you can jump on the first guy to touch the ball and try to run the clock down via stoppages. Easier said than done when Viney was in volcanic form, with Oliver doing his usual hoarding of possessions. Throw in Petracca playing his best game in weeks, albeit still with suspect disposal, Harmes' attacking tag masterpiece, plus another good game from Sparrow and good luck stopping them. Even with Langdon practically shut down again, the good times were transferred to Jordon's wing, and he carted himself up and down the ground collecting touches in Ed-esque fashion.

We almost did a double reverse DemonTime, but there can't have been anyone in Australia who expected Petracca to land his set shot after the siren. We know he can kick these, because he's done it before (remember 2017, when he had 26.6 and was landing them from everywhere?), but this year anything from a standing start has looked like Earl Spalding genetically spliced with Ben Holland and amputation below the knee. 

This miss left us just short of the Sullivan Line, so I was ever so slightly worried about going to pieces in the last 30 minutes. Deep down I knew we weren't going to lose, but I didn't even want it getting too close for comfort. There was no scientific reason to be worried after three quarters of absolutely torturing their forwards - including Eric Hipwood and hair that makes him look like a surly teenage tomboy. I still instinctively clenched when had the first shot of the quarter. It missed, and while we temporarily stopped scoring, Brisbane went back to having absolutely no idea how to create chances, leaving time increasingly on our side.

Enter Luke Jackson for a reminder of why somebody will break the bank signing him. He doesn't yet possess the colossal aura of Gawn, but does very well for a 20-year-old with years of development ahead. At the moment he's more Jeff White 2.0 than a significantly upgraded Mark Jamar style power player like Max, but in every aspect other than pulling down huge marks from kick-ins he did well. 

Jacko didn't have much in the tank by the end, but the best way to avoid running out of gas during a tight finish is to win by heaps. Here, in a moment that would have caused West Coast and Freo to slide off their seats, he took a ruck contest 30 metres out, stayed in the contest long enough to win a handball, then kicked the cover off a snap and took off in celebration like a chemical free version of Maradona at the 1994 World Cup. 

As much as I've appreciated Brayshaw's performances this year, if we can only afford to keep one of them I want Jackson. Who knows if Angus will do as well in another system, especially if he just follows enormous money to play for a rubbish side, but I can see us finding somebody else to play a similar role. Jackson flies a rare brand of freak flag on field, and appears to be a top-notch comedy nutter off it. He's probably more likely than anybody else on our list to get into a scandal after doing something NQR on social media but I'll risk it for moments like this. Let's turn both of them off joining Perth clubs on our trip to WA by showing highlights of Jesse Hogan at Freo while savagely rocking the plane from side to side. 

Now, at nearly 50 points ahead, the game was won, Brisbane's spirits were crushed, and the only remaining question was whether we'd power on to a huge win or let them take them a bit of shine off with cheap and nasty late goals. We didn't run up the score at a Grand Final rate, but did enough to fill the lifeboats with people clambering off the Lions bandwagon. According to the usual dickheads one bad loss means they're the ones in disarray now, with their flag credentials in tatters. We could play anywhere up to three times more this year, I'm not expecting them to enter terminal freefall yet.

There was nearly something to get upset about when Viney hit the deck looking absolutely knackered. Brisbane paid tribute to the great man's death by leaving Pickett in 10 metres of space inside 50. After the goal it was revealed that Jack was alive, well and had just been crunched in a marking contest. You'll have to work harder than that to put him out. I suggest attacking the only vulnerable spot on his body, the foot. It was a good enough tactic to bring Achilles down, why not another hero of great wars?

Once he was back on his feet Petracca gave Jack a helpful back massage while Oliver almost grabbed him on the grundle 2020 style. Considering how he'd played until then I'd want to lay hands as well. This incident inspired great things, two minutes later he set up a goal with one of the most clobberous tackles you'll ever see.

Still not as good as the one Sydney Stack did on him a few years ago, but a thing of beauty nonetheless. Somehow our all the goals video includes 20 seconds of the video review for Harmes' first, but cuts straight to Spargo converting instead of showing the decisive walloping that set it up.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any better, Bedford ran inside 50, turned a defender inside out with a fake pass that rugby leaguists would applaud, and belted through another. Other than the goal itself the two most enjoyable elements were Pickett screaming at him to kick it as he ran in, and Oliver's casually joyous, arms aloft reaction on the bench.   


It's one thing to see a player go nuts during a close finish, but after all the time Bedford has spent wearing a tracksuit on the sidelines this year you'd like to think it was a genuine expression of joy for him. More likely Clayts just enjoys pouring misery on the opposition. Don't we all.

No matter where you were, there hasn't been this much home and away fun against the Lions since Matthew Warnock decked Fev and a fan in the background lost her will to live. Though we still wait to extend the all-time record win against them from 1998, it just beat R9, 2016 for the largest this century. I was at all three of those games, now I'm reduced to watching under a doona. 51% of me hates what I've become, the rest appreciates the convenience of staying indoors.

Based on seeing two losses in a row, maybe it's better if I don't turn up? According to the latest fixtures I could go to Geelong, but at this stage of life would rather climb into the polar bear enclosure at Melbourne Zoo. As long as we keep playing like this, the only day I'll need free is the last Saturday in September. Now, watch us lose to the Crows.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Luke Jackson

Major apologies to Brayshaw, Fritsch and Petracca. Also something for Bedford, Jordon and Sparrow please.

It's almost all over here, with the Hamburglar jumping to a near three BOG lead on his nearest challenger. I'm not calling it yet, but it will take something outrageous to beat him from here. No moves in the minors - Jackson and Lever just hold on in their categories but have both probably left it too late. Despite the fact that I've fallen deeply in love with him, Tobes remains vulnerable in the Hilton. 

39 - Clayton Oliver
25 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Jack Viney
16 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Ed Langdon
14 - Steven May 
9 - Jake Bowey
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Jake Lever, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Kysaiah Pickett
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
Sometimes I'm left scrambling to find one half interesting nomination, this time there were seven that could have won any other week. With apologies - in reverse order - to Spargo (via Viney tackle), Neal-Bullen, Bedford pt. 2, Bedford pt. 1, Jackson and Pickett, I'm going with Harmes' aerial bombardment. How much he meant of if I'm not sure, and it was assisted by the worst decision from a Tunstall since Arthur criticised Cathy Freeman's flag, but it looked good and that's all that counts.

For the weekly prize Harmes takes home a pair of handcuffs, which he can opt to use during his next tagging job or the bedroom. 

Meanwhile, for the first time in week's there's an update to the top three. I've gone sour on Petracca vs Essendon so have dropped it out of the top three, promoted Pickett's turbo run against the Giants, and made space for Harmes as the clubhouse bronze medallist.

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

Crowd Watch
I thought there would be so few people there that you could drive them home in a minibus, so 37k was pleasantly surprising. Not enough for people who get paid to turn up and sit behind glass, but a reasonable turnout considering the timeslot. Live attendance isn't a dead duck but it is ill, so I don't know what you expect us to draw for a midweek game against a mostly interstate club. For selfish reasons I'll admit it's a shit crowd as long as the AFL promises not to give us any more Thursday night home games.

The All New Bradbury Plan

Temporarily suspended!

Next week
We couldn't possibly come off an eight day break and blow it against the Crows could we? On paper no, in reality I draw your attention to a particular fiasco on the same ground, against the same opponent last year. Any shock element to Weid on the ball and Bedford hoovering around like a robot vacuum will be gone, but surely (SURELY) we beat them by any margin from 'comfortable' up, and go back to focusing on top eight sides. It would render this great win meaningless if we didn't, so get out there and (not literally) thump somebody.

Unless there's a mystery injury, or Petracca's suffers delayed face fractures, I don't see too many reasons to change a winning formula. Somebody who gives more of a rats about other teams than me (e.g. everyone) might have a horses-for-courses change but I'm satisfied there's not many better options in the seconds. The bad news for Jayden Hunt is that he's a very good sub because he can play at either end, which will probably lead to him being pigeonholed for the job Bedford/Chandler style. Even worse news for Kade, who may never been seen again now.

We might get some clues when Casey plays the glamour VFL fixture against Gold Coast B at 'Austworld Centre Oval' (me either) on Saturday. In the most optimistic ticketing scenario ever, they expect the most loyal of fans of the second-worst supported side in the competition to pay $10 for entry. Best of luck with that. 

I can't see anything happening there that will put selection pressure on the incumbent 23. Still fanging for a bit of Laurie (if only for gags about his partnership with Fry) and van Rooyen but they might have missed their opportunity for at least a week. Best roll one in at about Round 17 and see if they can beat Bowey's unbeaten streak. 

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
UNLUCKY: Chandler, Hunt (returning as sub), Laurie, van Rooyen

I think we'll win, but you wouldn't tempt fate by flying a taunting banner across the Adelaide CBD on Saturday afternoon.

Final thoughts
Never doubted them for a second:

Wednesday 15 June 2022

First Club > Fight Club > Farce Club

If you thought losing two in a row represented a return to traditional values a throwback to the days when we attracted scandal like a magnet much have been comforting. First there were desperate attempts to pin plummeting crowd numbers on us for not suddenly finding 15,000 match-going fans under the couch, then [snip! - defamation editor] leaked text messages in a 'dig up stupid' style attempt to discredit the incumbent President, before two players engaged in Fawlty Towers-esque slapstick physical comedy at a fancy French restaurant. While all that was going on, Daisy Pearce signed a contract to eventually join Geelong's coaching staff under a program that we don't appear to have bothered participating in. 

Just as it was about to be revealed than Josh and Corey are running the Russian army's Wagner Group, the scandal baton passed to Footscray due to 'footy players bloody love gear' shock revelations. Just like Mick Malthouse was eventually proven right about Steven Milne, this Collingwood fellow certainly knew what was going down at the Western Oval. The good news for the Dogs is that nobody seriously gives a rats about players taking drugs, so by immediately fessing up Smith has come out looking like a victim while Steven May continues to be treated like OJ Simpson.

The main event of #fistedforever flashback week was, in all senses, Jake Melksham lamping May. The story has changed so many times that I don't dare take sides, but the accepted version seems to be Steven getting on the gas while injured, then saying stupid things to teammates until Melksham came up with the innovative idea of getting him to stop talking by sticking a hand in his mouth. Bonus comedy points for the punch ending with Melk having to undergo two surgeries. They even crashed into a table during the fracas, which earned the bout a full five Michelin stars from French restaurant wrestling purists.

Under the circumstances, May's suspension for drinking while injured (nothing, apparently, for distributing hurtful zingers to teammates) was inevitable, while Melksham relatively got away with it. I know he probably wouldn't have been picked anyway, even without the surgery, but it's refreshing to know that in an era where HR departments are swamped by hurt feelings reports there's still somewhere you can clobber a colleague and come out with the lesser punishment.

The obvious cinematic ending is for them to end up on a podium together after the Grand Final but for now that seems a fair way off, so we had to rely on small wins like the world constantly being reminded that we did indeed just win a flag. Try telling this to the odd people who spent the week trying to distribute May-esque zingers about us. 

Those who tried it on me couldn't compute why I didn't go into full siege mentality. Once I took every scandal personally because it felt like another reason we wouldn't win a flag, now I'd have been happy to hand the licence back so WTF do I care if we're in 'crisis'? The highlight was undoubtedly the stereotypes save time "look, even their players eat at expensive restaurants. LOL, ROFL", as if North Melbourne players buy roast chickens at the supermarket then tear them apart by hand while sitting in the park. 

I suppose there's something to be said for our players harassing each other instead of women in nightclubs. This almost brings us to Collingwood, but not before a red-hot whinge about ticketing/seating arrangements. Until now I refused to get involved in the national panic about crowd numbers (see Cheryl from some mysterious AFL Fans Association being wheeled out to discuss the price of chips once a week), but if my experience trying to get a kid into this game is anything to go by I can see why people are becoming pickier about when to turn up.

I'm always asking my kid if she wants to go to the game because the refusals provide good comedy value. So when she said yes this time I dead set panicked about what to do next. It's not like the days where you could buy a general admission ticket from Mavis behind the window 10 minutes before the bounce and get on with your life. Now you've got to pre-plan it like you're going on an international holiday.

I know it was an optimistic to go this week when there will be entire stands available at some of our upcoming games, but if you're not going to encourage kids to the biggest games what's the point? Good thing I went to the 1989 Elimination Final before the game we lost to North by 120 or I might not have come back. In the end she pretty much lost interest once him from Lego Masters and Ash Barty went down the slide, but that's fine. Best she gets into something more wholesome than footy anyway. I'll have another go with Junior Junior when she's the same age in 2028 and I'll practically a senior citizen. 

So I log into Ticketmaster, put my member barcode in, choose 'member guest ticket 6-14 years' and pay a $3.50 extortion levy only for her to be assigned a spot in what seems to be a completely different part of the ground to the one my digital membership is telling me to go to. This couldn't immediately be confirmed, as according to the app I was in the fictional 'GA42'. Obviously 'general admission' something, but unless the 42 was a tribute to Disco Turner it didn't offer any hint on where to actually go. 

Under 'entry gate' it said 'see below for details', which linked to a page that didn't say anything about a gate. Apparently there was an email from the club earlier in the week telling us to ignore the assigned seating and go anywhere we liked in general admission. It's my bad for missing that, but doesn't detract from a farcical process. If your system can't offer a GA ticket without assigning a seat then put my $3.50 towards a new one.

Once we finally got in, our biggest crowd since the 2018 Semi meant being forced to sit right at the top of the Ponsford. This is usually my dream result, except Row MM was occupied so I forced to sit in LL, leading to the nightmare scenario of having people left, right, forward, and behind. It was a balance of our fans and theirs, but all the types I've dedicated the last decade to avoiding. They ranged from "that's good from you knackers" style men who may as well have had 'BANTER' tattooed across their foreheads, to a dad who tried to explain everything to his kids whether they wanted to know or not, (but comically froze up and had to deflect when asked which draft we got Turner in), the traditional angry old man, and a lady in front who reacted to Pies goals by bouncing up and down like she was on a spacehopper while squealing in delight. 

I didn't want any part of this, but there was no escape. I don't know how you lot do it every week. Crowd figures suggest most people only want to come out for the big games but I'll be satisfied if we're down to friends and family by the end of the year. Under normal circumstances I'd have coped by putting on headphones and turning the call up until my ears bled, but I thought it a bit rude to do that after dragging a semi-interested kid all the way to the ground. The lack of audio also meant I was out of the loop on injuries. Mr. Sportsbet Ad behind me finally came in handy when he started talking about Gawn being off the ground. Apart from Brian Taylor screaming like a traumatised Vietnam veteran, there is definitely something to be said for watching on TV. 

I'd probably have taken to the seating arrangements better if we'd won, but at this stage I've got more trust in emailed business opportunities from Nigeria than a Melbourne lead. The good news is that against Freo we torched a 30 point start, then 26 last week, and only 21 here. If this trend continues we should eventually just flat out lose from the first bounce instead of being taunted with a thumping, statement-making win before falling over.

The obvious way to end a week of turmoil would have been to cast off the shackles and pulverise the old enemy on a national stage. See 2011, when we were still fringe finals aspirants, they were the reigning premiers, a bumper crowd turned up... and we lost by 88. Or 2018, when both sides were knee deep in finals contention and our six game winning streak swirled down the plughole. We've beaten the Pies a few times in recent memories but comfortably QB victories are few and far between. 2006 and 2016 were good (party time in four years then?), otherwise the game we used to react badly to being called our Grand Final - but actually was - has ruined more public holidays than Jeff Kennett.

Valid for reasons for being concerned about our chances were, a) half the side's putrid, and b) Collingwood being reasonably good. Our regular shitting of the bed in this fixture as both favourite and underdog shouldn't have had anything to do with it. But the trend continued, and suddenly we're ankle deep in rising shit and scrambling to find a plumber. 

Unlike the last two weeks, you couldn't even argue that our lead looked solid before dissolving. Better to be in front, but the goals came severely against the run of play. So after the Pies incinerated a couple of golden chances, Fritsch going down the other end for the opener was welcome. He got more possessions than he has in the last few weeks but kicked less goals, so overall not his finest hour. Still, deserves a week off after keeping the forward line running single-handedly for a month.

Oliver was obviously very good, but do you think it's a bit suss that opposition coaches are allowing him to rack up so many possessions? I know he's busted a few tags in Herculean fashion over the years, but I'd be interested in a proper, scholarly analysis of whether they got more value from shutting Langdon down than they would have keeping Oliver to 25 touches. Maybe you just let him get it in the middle as much as he likes, safe in the knowledge that the rest of the side is going like a busted arsehole and won't capitalise.

Fritsch's goal set off a few more flubbed chances, and I was hoping the day would end with some rock-bottom simplistic "if only they'd kicked 22.7 instead of 7.22" analysis of the Pies. It looked that way when they hit quarter time on 0.5. Meanwhile, despite being beaten in almost every other aspect of the game we were finding goals. Even Ben Brown - and this will almost certainly be the last time we've got to draw a definition between him and Mitch - got his first in a month. As part of the evidence that the drought hasn't entirely been his fault, he had to work hard to pull down a shithouse kick. The good thing was, for now, the bad forward entries were creating a contest. In the third quarter the Browns may as well have been in Cleveland for all the help they were getting from the midfield.

Then Jordon was gifted a 50 for the player on the mark going for a wander (a rule that didn't make it all the way to the final siren) and we had three to nil. You might have been excited but I was sitting there thinking "oh god, it's going to be embarrassing when we throw this away". Apologies to those who believe that good vibrations can help influence a result, but I was right. With all their misses the lead was only two goals and didn't seem built on solid foundations. 

Other than Oliver, it was hard to find anybody who was playing really well. Brayshaw came alive after half time, but for now we were just battling to keep the Pies at bay. So it was no surprise when they got their first goal straight out of the break. We had the chance to cancel it immediately but Neal-Bullen hit the post and the rot was considering setting in. Not before we teased another breakaway, because that's what we do in first halves now. Oliver added a goal to his 20 something first half possessions, and Harmes missed a golden chance for another straight after. I don't know whether he was having a shot, or trying the selfless pass, but after ANB missed one in similar circumstances against the Swans I'm glad they weren't the players bursting out of the middle during the Mad Minute.

Ludicrously, we did get another goal before switching off. And it was a lovely, gift-wrapped, tribute to Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee in the form of a handball straight to Brown at the top of the square. I was very much aware of our chance of blowing this (might go on Hard Quiz with failed MFC leads as my specialist topic), but we were actually in a good position. After not playing particularly well, the lead was over 20 points and we'd absorbed a lot of their punches. Turns out they had plenty in reserve while we were finished the day covering up and taking damage like early 80s Muhammad Ali. 

Speaking of 'punches', there was a light round of manly jostling where absolutely none were thrown. On the balance of things this is probably a good thing, but it does come off as pantomime behaviour. Unlike the days when Nathan Jones used to treat fines like a tax deduction, it was our first remotely serious wrestle/melee in a long time. Probably not required when you're playing well. The crowd liked it, probably because they'd seen stuff all else of interest to that point. I know the MND fundraiser doesn't leave much space for extra razzle dazzle, but I miss Collingwood home games where they put on the most gaudy, pointless content possible just to remind you they're a big club. I certainly do NOT miss the years we a) let a ski resort dump fake snow outside the ground, or b) sent the Scotch College marching band out to establish posh credentials before the footy team were shat on from a great height.

Brown's goal was our last for the quarter, and we went back to watching Collingwood miss chances. You can't do this forever, and surprise surprise we couldn't hold out until half time. The lead was still eight but wobbling like a jelly. However, as negative as I can be at times there's also nothing I enjoy more than being sucked in. So after a first half when his disposal efficiency was about 5%, I was mad for Viney pouncing on a botched handball to thump one through. 

Maybe we were going to turn the tables on the previous two weeks and play a decent quarter at the end of a game? I doubt we would have even if Petracca hadn't been flummoxed by a bouncing ball while miles free in the square, especially because we got the next goal anyway. Considering how that came from another massive blunder I was ready to believe. A few minutes serious thought was given to throwing myself down the Ponsford Stand stairs. 

The guy next to me almost had his hat fly off from anger when Lever was done holding the ball right in front but it was a free every day of the week and twice on a public holiday. Both Lever and old mate had plenty more to worry about shortly after. Between Gawn's injury and our forward entries being reduced to hit 'n hope, it was a great day for David Schwarz's American cousin Mason C. Ox, who had done rock all since the 2018 Prelim but turned up here to pull down marks at an industrial rate and kick a vital goal. I went in terrified of a repeat of the day he booted six and became the first international Kingsley but didn't expect us to assist the second nomination by aiming the ball at him 38 times. 

For anybody considering starting, Mason joins Brad Dick as one of a handful of two time inductees, and alongside double Dick and Adam Oxley's intercept marking masterclass is the fifth from Queen's Birthday. By comparison, the closest I can find to an out of box performance on our side is Dean Kent kicking three from 23 touches in 2016, and I'm sure Collingwood fans aren't still thinking about that six years later.

Nobody appreciates a cult figure like me, so if we had to be turned over by anyone I'm glad it was the international beanpole dressed like Kieran Perkins rather than Generic Australian Rules Footballer #3627. And didn't the crowd go bonkers about it. I'm surprised he didn't emerge from the three quarter time huddle like Kenny Powers. By the reaction of players and fans alike, I thought his goal must have been the first since the near career-ending eye injury. Turns out he kicked one two weeks ago so god knows what that was all about. It was certainly consistent with the crowd acting like a Make A Wish kid was living his lifelong dream every time the ball went in his general direction. They can get stuffed, but I personally wish Cox well. The more interesting players in the league the better.

Things were starting to go south, but no matter how many easy chances the Pies had missed, our defence deserves credit for keeping things tidy for so long. May would obviously have come in handy, but his absence is far from our biggest problem. I doubt anyone would have stopped the Freo riot, but we've twice kept the opposition to a coverable score that couldn't be covered due to shite forward play meeting shite forward entries. 

Lever didn't have his best day, and Turner was nervy but far from disgraced on debut before being knocked loopy, but may I reiterate my love and admiration for Harrison Petty. He turned up sticky taped together like Bruce Reid in Still The 12th Man and nearly held together a defence at its most vulnerable since Si zzle Jr, Frost and Smith were wiped off the table by West Coast in 2018. It didn't help that he also had to go off for a concussion assessment, but since Lever accidentally clobbered May our backline has been the most dangerous place on earth so nothing comes as a surprise now.

According to the AFL website match report we were already behind at three quarter time. For those of you not living in Cloud Cuckoo Land this was incorrect. In the week of Hall of Fame inductions, here's another reminder that the league are the last people you'd trust with the game's history. Maybe the reporter was queuing for a whizz and came back to find us behind, because it didn't take long to after three quarter time. Considering the same writer was at the centre of the post-match voting controversy he might have been in there since half time.

Due to a) not listening to the radio, and b) handing my phone over to a kid who had completely lost interest, I wasn't across losing Petty temporarily and Turner permanently. Given that they don't even announce substitutions at the ground anymore it wasn't until I saw chasedown assassin Kade Chandler on the ground that I wrested control of the mobile back and worked out what was going on. 

The idea of Chandler bringing another dimension to our wonky forward line appealed. Suffice to say that didn't work, he took one mark 80 metres from goal, looked up to see no decent options to pass to, nothing came of it and he didn't get another touch. I feel sorry for Kade, he's now up to nine games, four where he didn't set foot in the field, and three where he's had about 25% game time combined. When his career fizzles out and the AFL finally change the rule to allows subs at any time (which I dislike, but is better than the current system), they should tack on an apology for butchering his career. Having said that, he's done nowt in all three cameo appearances this year and was only there today because Bedford needed a full game in the twos, so NFI what to expect if we pick him again. We're in trouble anyway, just give the poor bastard four quarters and write him off if it doesn't work. 

As much as luck had run in our favour earlier (including Howe unleashing one of his famous turnovers out of defence), it was all over now. See for example Jamie Elliot running back with the flight into the square and somehow marking while facing backwards. It was a very impressive feat but you wince when comparing with Petracca's fresh air shot from the same position.

Our literal last gasp came via Luke Jackson, who must have been seeing dollar signs in both eyes after Gawn came back on hobbling like the elderly. He marked, he goalled, and we were back within six points. How we'd let it get to chasing was no longer valid, there was a red hot chance of building 60,000 people's hopes up then crushing them. And in the end the only thing I want nearly as much as Melbourne wins is for opposition fans to be unhappy.

It didn't matter because Jacko kicked it anyway, but surely Cox's jumping up and down on the spot was a violation of the stand rule. Even if you land in the same place, pogoing as if in a moshpit is not standing. There's no way the umpire could have missed it. Surely if Jackson missed they would have blown for a 50, simultaneously nuking the brains of Pies fans who were already feeling hard done by, and possibly changing the course of the game so we didn't turn our second chance in a 26 point loss.

Despite continuing to have the worse connection since Togo Telecom I tried to convince myself there was still a chance. With Mitch Brown forced to play in defence, possibly ending his senior career in the most journeyman fashion possible, I knew who I'd have had my money on from there. And while we couldn't work out a way to put the ball in the Inspector Gadget hands of a former Coleman Medallist at one end, they found a kid running into acres of space 40 metres out directly in front. Would have been a good time to catch a case of nervous leg, but he held it together and we were all but stuffed. 

After showing zero interest for a quarter and a half my daughter looked up from the phone and said "Well, this is going badly". I had to concur. And she was right, the team with properly functioning forward delivery and a full complement of key position players ran away with it. 

If staying in the game for three quarters despite kicking a pitifully low score, then falling apart halfway through the last quarter sounds familiar, you may be remembering a similar fixture at the SCG 12 months ago. The "we just can't play the SCG" and/or "they were emotional about Buckley" excuses were always ropey, and as far as I'm concerned this proves it. Let's see what happens when we play Collingwood again in a few weeks but for now I'm convinced they've got our number.

Suffice to say I didn't stay for the presentations, but the same people who ERUPTED into sooking when Pendlebury was booed by Essendon fans didn't think much of Oliver winning the medal. In the best footy awards moment since Robert Klomp, two of the three judges had Cox BOG but the other didn't give him a vote and allowed Clayts to sneak through. If it didn't have the name Neale Daniher on it he'd probably have lobbed it into the crowd (or preferably at them) Peter Moore style. Now our fans are outraged, but are probably the same ones who were booing Ginnivan one touch into his first career start against us because the media told them he's bad. Good luck getting any sense out of footy fans, I'm just happy Pies supporters have progressed from beating the piss out of player's parents outside the ground.   

Somehow, despite all this, we nearly finished the day atop the ladder. This means 99% of stuff all unless the wins start again soon, forget top two or four, the gap to eighth is only two games and percentage now, with a cow of a run home. Anything could happen, but at this stage I'll eat my hat if we finish top after playing Brisbane x2, Geelong, Footscray, Freo, Carlton and Collingwood again. At this stage I wouldn't even be pencilling in wins against Adelaide and Port. 

Mind you, if we escape from that fixture with a double chance something will have gone right, and it should set us up for another serious crack at the flag. Until then we suggest reverting to that classic piece of pre-2021 wisdom, when it comes to following Melbourne always expect the worst. You'll either be right or pleasantly surprised.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Angus Brayshaw
--- Blinding daylight ---
3 - Harrison Petty
--- Mildly irritating sunshine ---
2 - Jack Viney
1 - James Jordon

Apology to Petracca, who might have snatched the last one by default just for getting touches, and to Salem who was quite literally better for the run. 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Week
I liked Oliver's one, but it's got to be Viney in the third quarter. And as this is literally the last part of the piecemeal review that I'm writing that's as much analysis as you're getting out of me. Weekly prizes are suspended until we either start winning again or there's a decent comedy setup, and the top three remains unchanged. Now, on to some other nonsense that I wrote two days ago... 

Next game
First the bye, then a return to serious crowd chat after nobody turns up for a top four game against the Lions on Thursday night. If there's ever been proof that live attendance has been neutered to suit Channel 7 this is it, because even with half the state now 'working from home' on a Friday there will be stuff all people there. Back in the day I'd have moved heaven and earth to attend, now I've got no interest in carting myself back and forth to the city several times within 24 hours so without the slightest shame, TV will do me nicely thanks.

I saw the first half of the Casey game and the Pies put up such feeble resistance that it's hard to tell if anyone is worth picking. Dunstan got 38 touches but doesn't cure what ails us, Rivers was ok, Weid only kicked one goal but was in the play enough to pass Mitch Brown by default, and while JVR looked very good forcing a first year player into our forward line at the moment would be like handing a learner drive the keys to his first car while blindfolded. 

The obvious Bedford for Chandler substitute switch aside, there was nothing from my half-arse viewing that suggests blood dripping Game of Thrones style insanity at the selection table. And in shithouse timing, just as Gawn's injury offers the chance to Bradbury his way to a senior game Majak Daw was nowhere to be seen. I tried to check the website injury report to see if there was any reason but at the time of writing they hadn't updated it since May 23. Either way, it doesn't look like we'll get a Majackson ruck combo. I guess it would mean Jackson as #1 and Weid as #2? People who subscribe to Moneyball theories can tell me statistically how far they fall short of Maximum combined, but it will be a good chance for Jackson to take the lead and have a look at what his life will be like if he stays after Gawn retires.

Obviously May comes back, sure he's guilty of distributing the shittest zingers since Vince Sorrenti but this is no time for morality, we've got a top four position to firm up. And I'll certainly be firming up if we bounce back off the canvas to KO the Lions for the second year in a row, especially if it's another gutsy, come from behind win like 2021. As if we'd have the scoring power to overcome any sort of decent lead at the moment, more likely we boot a few goals at the start then hit the waterslide towards Elimination Final weekend. How the allegedly mighty have fallen. 

IN: May, Bedford, Chandler, Weideman
OUT: Gawn, Turner (inj), M. Brown (omit) and choose your own adventure on the sub,
LUCKY: Plenty who could do with a spell if there was an obvious replacement
UNLUCKY: Rivers, van Rooyen

Last September
Without the aid of Back To The Future style time travel shenanigans, no scandal can detract from winning the flag. Even if we have to give it back in five years due to Storm style rorting of the salary cap, you can't rebottle the outpouring of emotion that night. Don't care that I wasn't there as long as it happened. Took me a long time to find any negativity about that night, but the effect on Nathan Jones' while watching it from afar left me a bit flat.

It would have been bad enough missing out in Perth, and nobody can blame him for going home, but I did think at the time how it was sad it was that after everything he'd gone through he had to sit at home elbow deep in crappy nappies without the company of anyone who really understood the emotion. It was hard enough for me as a fan, I can't imagine how it felt for somebody who lived the quest 24/7 for 15 years. 

His wife has obviously been a tremendous support over the years, but in an ideal world some Lynden Dunn, Jack Watts style figures would have bee, joyously patting him on the bald head Benny Hill style as we ran up the score. I hope they did and are just keeping it quiet to avoid public scandal. Once everything went quiet and he was on the other side of the country from the party he'd probably still have felt the same pain, but the idea of him being removed from the joy of the night hits me right in the feelings. By late September the rozzers had given up policing lockdown, somebody who lives 100km closer to him than me should have pulled up outside the house and reminded him how loved he is. Might have woken the kids up but it was a special occasion.   

Anyway, I'm glad he's come to terms with it now. And in the off chance that he's reading, Jones can take some comfort in the fact that he'll always be a hero to me, and many others. There's 57 years of other legends whose careers aren't defined by how many flags they won, and not many of them put in the shift he did along the way. What a man.

Final thoughts
It's all a bit shit at the moment, and nobody likes losing to Collingwood, but whisper it quietly I'm struggling to be outraged. I respect the right of anyone to blow up and call for mass sackings, but I’m just not that bothered. As far as Queen’s Birthday annoyance went, it ranked on a par with the year we had three goals at the final change and were still a half chance of winning.

It helps that I didn't think we were that good in the first place, but everything seems frivolous after last year. More power to you if you're bleeding from every orifice, but when joyous Collingwood fans were getting chirpy after the siren - as if we're not used to losing this fixture - I wasn't even considering arguing back. Let's have a really thrilling loss and see if it ends in a brain haemorrhage, but for now results don't seem to matter as much as a year ago. Which helps now that we've started losing again. Might be time for a succession plan, where somebody younger and more vigorous takes over and skirts the boundaries of defamation/good taste again while I hug tapes of old wins.

Monday 6 June 2022

The Brown note

Ever since Ben and Mitch Brown ended up on our list together, top men at Demonblog Towers have been working on novelty headlines for the unlikely event of them playing together. On Saturday night Brown O'Clock finally struck, was not Golden Brown, and all leftover gags about their surname have been confined to a warehouse Raiders of the Lost Ark style, never to be seen again.

It's tempting to go into Crisis Special mode, but I'm remarkably relaxed about our predicament. Mostly because my emotional state has been permanently altered by a flag, but also because we weren't playing like a side that was going to keep winning forever. Every year people try to pretend the last unbeaten side won't lose a game, and every year they look silly. Losing two in a row is shit, but it's not like new life has been discovered on Mars, we lost two and drew one in a month 75% through last year and didn't lose another game for nine months, this is hardly fatal. 

Now we're in a position of either learning valuable lessons, or being reduced to a very good side that randomly turns greatness on when you least expect it (e.g. in finals) but occasionally shits the bed when least expected. Mind you, we've barely played four quarters all year, and wobbled unconvincingly past Sydney in 2021, so losing to them is not the seismic shock some want it to be.

Just because we never reached "if it bleeds we can kill it" levels of mysticism doesn't mean you retrospectively write off the big 17 as irrelevant. Some were against shit teams but three were great finals wins, just because you're not Essendon 2000 doesn't mean you can't be very good. Having said that, look how they went the next year...

Like Freo, I can handle losing but not after blowing a substantial early lead. I haven't trusted any margin below the Chris Sullivan Line since 1992, but a fortnight of Stranglewank losses is a bit much. For once a coach can have credit for his Plan A, any chance of going on with it next time we're that far in front?

But, other than spending five goal margins like drunken sailors in a Tijuana whorehouse, are we any worse off than last year? At half time of Round 12, 2021 the blockbuster crowd of 3772 at Sydney Showgrounds saw us 20 points down against a Brisbane side that had won seven in a row. That night we got nine of the last 12 goals and won easily, this week we kicked two goals in the entire second half. There's your simple difference. May's absence doesn't help, but we still kept the Swans to a score that any decent forward line should cover. 

When we looked like going down to Brisbane I was getting my "premierships aren't won in June" excuse ready. Fast forward a year, things are a tiny bit grim, and the same cliche applies. Even with injuries out the wazoo compared to last year, if we beat Collingwood (and that's a significant 'if' at the moment) our record will be the same after 13 rounds. That means there's a real mid-season slump yet to come, so don't waste your energy on the unusual scenario of losing two in a row. 

When things go wrong I'm usually the equivalent of Panicky Idiot #2 in a disaster movie, pushing women and children out of the way to get off the bandwagon first. After the Hawthorn/Footscray games late last year I'd have bet my house we weren't going to win the flag, and that ended with Angus Brayshaw smoking cigars in the middle of Perth Stadium so I'm not making that mistake again. I didn't think we were a clear premiership favourite in the first place, so I'll keep my expectations in a tight band between 'hopeful' and 'quietly confident'. 

Unlike last week, you can't write this off as an aberration against opposition who got on a tremendous roll. This time we blew the lead, put the brakes on, briefly looked like recovering at the start of the last quarter before falling into quicksand, botching numerous chances, and eventually being run down. The last two goals came through contentious decisions but you get what you deserve - again - for not putting teams away. 

One obvious comparison to the Freo game is that we built the (seemingly) winning margin while the other lot missed chances left, right and centre down the other end. Seven days earlier I thought we'd punish them, now I've got trust issues. Didn't mean I didn't almost fall out of my seat in joy when Gawn kicked a snap so hard the ball nearly disintegrated like a bird sucked into an plane engine, but the possibility of them running down the lead was front of mind. As it should be for everyone, the best policy when following Melbourne is to expect the worst and hope you'll be surprised. Just like the good old days.

There's not much worth reviewing from this game, but I'd like multiple angles of the outright glee on the Anal-Bullet's face when Petracca's pass hit Langdon's teet for the second goal. Even before Ed, complete with rib protection so bulky it must have skirted the bounds of legality, converted ANB was as happy as a dog with two dicks. And he has every right to be, for somebody who survived having shit hung on him every week for years, he is a key contributor to the side. It's nice that he got so much joy out of the success of others. Bet he wasn't doing much smiling two hours later.

Rumour has it that underground betting markets in South East Asia are doing huge business on which quarter every week we'll turn up. Like St. Kilda, this week's winner was the first. Unlike St. Kilda we did chuff all after and paid for it. While they were torching chances at one end we had Jordon kicking running goals, Jackson snapping from the pocket, the aforementioned Gawn ball-burster (with, it must be noted, a very nice handball assist from B. Brown), and Fritsch making it five to nil shortly before the break. So far, so good. I didn't expect to win by 120, but you'd hope that a 26 point gap offers enough buffer to get you to the siren in front. Even we couldn't give away goals quick enough to be behind by quarter time, but the lead was gone by the half.

If the definition of a Kingsley is being turned over by a player who has never previously done anything, it's debatable whether somebody who has kicked seven goals in a game can be eligible. The Ronke Tonk Man has done bugger all since, but when he was subbed on in the first quarter I was worried about a career-saving haul. He barely touched it, instead we saw a rare Brent Harvey Society induction, where a player winding down a successful career enjoys one last day out at our expense. 

Lest we forget Brent (never 'Boomer', sometimes ***** *******) waiting until his 412th game to beat us with a career best haul of six. Now Sam Reid can keep Brent company at branch meetings, after kicking three and generally giving us the shits all night. There was a local Kingsley touch, he'd only kicked less goals against one other side in the competition, now here he was stepping neatly into the position vacated by Lance Franklin's suspension. 

Considering Franklin's iffy record against us, maybe it would have been better if he played, May or not. One Sydney fan I workplace mingled with claimed he was happy when Franklin's appeal failed, because they were too one dimensional with him. Wish I'd known that last week, I'd have been outside AFL HQ like one of those cockheads at the Johnny Depp trial dressed as a pirate. In the end, the AFL might have done Sydney a favour, Reid and next big thing McDonald booted six between them. This despite a heroic effort from Harrison Petty, who probably turned up injured, then had to go off with knee trouble, before momentarily doing his shoulder then returning to get involved in every contest imaginable during the second half. If fit he's an adequate May replacement, that's far from our biggest issue.

Despite keeping the score to a manageable level, Petty and to some extent Brayshaw were the only highlights in defence. Lever wasn't intercepting anything, Hunt may as well not have been there, Bowey has gently rolled into a wall over the last few weeks, and the idea of throwing Salem straight in after nine weeks out was optimistic at best. He got plenty of touches but was nowhere near his old self. Better for the run etc... etc... but one warmup week in the VFL wouldn't have hurt.

Reid's late goal, which came much to the wide-eyed disgust of a returning Adam Tomlinson, barely survived 30 seconds into the second quarter before being wiped out. Somebody was probably throwing a tantrum about starting Jackson in the ruck, but if the ball is going to ping straight down to Gawn for a goal I'm into it. Better judges than me will ask how a gigantic ruckman got service like that the Browns couldn't get near it inside 50 all night. 

I don't know if it was all the delivery (much of which was shite), or them not being in the right position, but the number of aimless long bombs that landed in the uncontested hands of a defender was offensive. Even if you don't mark, at least be there to make them earn it. There's no crumb if the ball is instantly being hoofed back over your head, and you won't win a Wheel of Umpiring free if you're not in the contest. Until three weeks ago this was the Ben Brown method, getting into the contest and scaring defenders into giving away frees. Now he's not getting anywhere near it, and as McDonald's foot has allegedly fallen off we'd better either work out a way to get him going or look for a credible replacement.

For once against the Swans we kept the guy who looks like Justin Trudeau quiet, but it only took 20 minutes of the old 'team effort' to be in front. It didn't help that Petty was on and off the ground like the runner with his various injuries. We can survive without May (see Final, Preliminary), removing his understudy left a lot of the remaining defenders doing things they didn't want to be doing. You will note that while Petty was on the ground we barely conceded goals from anything other than frees. Bit redundant saying about it about a premiership player but I reckon he's ace.

We finally stopped some of the rot at the end through Fritsch, but things had come a long way since ANB was smiling broadly, Viney effortlessly walked through opponents, and Pickett did a combo fend-off/spinny move thing to escape a pack. Now it was a real game, and after what happened last week I was shitscared about what was going to happen after half time. 

Curiously, and in a massive up yours to Channel 7 for putting us in an important timeslot, we won the quarter one goal to nil. You can blame light rain, gutsy defensive efforts or farcical forward entries, but as far as the host broadcaster cared that was one ad break in 30 minutes. No wonder they've put Essendon on the next two Friday nights, it fulfils their key criteria of a popular team that is likely to be involved in a lot of goals, and whose fans will provide great NuffyCam content. We're 0-3 on that front, so once this run ends it'll be back to 4.40 Sunday for us.

In another 30 minute block of toil and struggle, Fritsch was our saviour again. While other players rack up disposals for the sake of it, he has a ridiculous goal per disposal ratio. Shame about the massive shank when things were hot in the last quarter, but given how poor we've been forward recently I'll throw rose petals in front of anyone who contributes three goals every week.

It was still anyone's game at three quarter time, but I had deep suspicions about how long we could hold their forwards. Petty came back with so much strapping that he may as well have borrowed Langdon's rib protection while he was at it, and was trying his heart out to keep us going, but we needed goals to make sure of it. Enter Gawn, who got the first again. It helped that the defender was lured into a proper contest for once, shat himself, and gave away the free. Some more of that would have been good. Then we didn't kick another goal for the rest of the night.

The general misery of losing is one thing, but it's unfortunate that defeat means Gawn's performance will quickly be forgotten. We've seen a few massive efforts in losing sides over the years, and this was at the top table. After a night of being beaten from pillar to post in contested marks around the ground (that old chestnut), Maximum took it on himself to grab everything that went near him. He patrolled up and down the ground pulling down everything that came near him like a magnet. 

Nathan Jones' red and blue tinted special comments would have been giving Swans fans the shits, but there's never been a more appropriate pundit to cover Melbourne's captain risking serious back injury by carrying 21 teammates. Sure, Max missed what would have been a vital goal from the pocket but he was probably missing having some mutant Essendonian yelling filth at him over the fence. Just taking a mark in the forward line instantly puts him ahead of most of our list, no matter the result. If we'd won he should have been chaired off the ground.

Given how things had gone since half time another goal might have been enough, but from there we made scoring look more difficult than flying the space shuttle. Gawn's goal was quickly wiped out, and they almost got another straight after that. Cue 20 minutes of them slowly overhauling the lead while we put on a horrendous show of attacking. The footage should be sent to all junior clubs in Australia to show them what not to do. I will give credit to Mitch Brown, who spent the night trying his heart out despite knowing it could have been his last game. If Muppet Labs (where the future is being made today) could splice his competitiveness with Weideman's age and natural talent we'd be laughing. 

Somehow we got to the last six minutes ahead by a point. I had a sick fantasy about nobody scoring from there, allowing us to cling on to the sleaziest win of all time. The way things were going it might have happened, if not for a free against Bowey that embarrassed the code. Still, the umpire's red hot guess about a hole wouldn't have been an issue if we'd already kicked a decent score. The kicker had such shifty eyes that I was hoping he'd stuff it up trying a pass, then the bastard lobbed it through from 50 like he'd meant it all along. I'd have put my foot through the wall if we hadn't just spent 10 minutes scrambling to find goals as if blindfolded.

You never know if somebody might have scrambled a lucky one off the back of a pack, but it looked like we could have played until midnight and not come away with an artfully created winning goal. The umpires did their best to give home fans something else to complain about with another controversial free. Sadly, the way the rules are Langdon probably did technically infringe against the guy who leapt under his knees. Refer to years of previous whinges about how it shouldn't count if the contact is incidental or initiated by the victim, but I blame the league, not the umpire. 

We were still an off-chance if they missed, but the Swans picked a fine time to start kicking straight, leaving us with the fattest chance of kicking two in a minute to snatch a famous one point victory. We didn't come close, setting off open pisstaking season for fans of teams who didn't just win the flag. Considering what happened at this stage last season it's a risky tactic, and I hope to end the year with my arm stuffed halfway down the throat of our critics. 

Hopefully the ingrates who were getting bored with winning every week are enjoying an outbreak of chaos. Still top of the ladder, so I suppose we've got that going for us. Meanwhile, after winning 17 in a row under Scomo, we're 0-2 since he got the arse so I might follow Luke Darcy into the Liberal Party

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 – Max Gawn
--- It’s been a while since the top vote getter was so far ahead of everybody else that he was practically operating on another planet but here we are ---
4 – Jack Viney
3 – Clayton Oliver
2 – Ed Langdon
1 – Harrison Petty

Apologies to Brayshaw, Fritsch, Jordon, Neal-Bullen, Pickett and Petracca.

Considering the disarray this page has been in recently (thank you anonymous tipster in the comments for a couple of saves), I thought it prudent to do a full review of the leaderboard. I can confirm all scores are correct. That means Oliver is now more than a game clear at the top and well on the way to his fourth Jako. No alterations to the minors, but I'm one game off declaring Gawn the provisional Stynes winner. Predictions of Jackson giving him a scare have gone south, Max remains almighty.

31 - Clayton Oliver
25 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
16 - Ed Langdon
15 - Jack Viney
14 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
12 - Angus Brayshaw
9 - Jake Bowey
6 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Luke Jackson, James Jordon, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, James Harmes, Harrison Petty, Kysaiah Pickett
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
Like Spargo winning Mark of the Week for something that led to a point in a loss, I don't particularly want to acknowledge any of the goals on a night where we were so poor in attack. The non-sour view is that the one Fritsch rolled in from distance was very nice, and the nearest thing to decent crumb all night so may as well pick that one. Apologies to the thumping Gawn snap.

Bayley's weekly prize is a gift voucher for another forward to contribute goals alongside him. Or a midfielder. Any bloody body will do, can't rely on Maximum playing six positions every week.

Current podium: 

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

The Wank Files
Reminder - a Stranglewank is defined as any game where a team goes 24 points up, then allows the margin to be dragged back to less than a goal. The name is derived from the popular practice of going as close to dying as possible while having a Sherman in order to heighten the sensation. See - allegedly - Michael Hutchence, David Carradine, and Her Majesty's Government.

Here's an updated list of all the times we've been involved in a near death experience - one way or the other - since Paul Roos took over. As you can see at the bottom of the table, we kept the blown four goal leads to one a season, stopped for three years and have done it twice in a row. Now that we're five years in the distance, gaze in wonder at rounds 7-11, 2017, where every game had a comeback one way or the other. Pure insanity, befitting a truly odd season.

  • Round 13, 2014 vs Essendon (-33 at 3m Q3, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2017 vs St Kilda (-24 at 4m Q2, +30 FT)
  • Round 8, 2017 vs Adelaide (-28 at 17m Q2, +41 FT)
  • Round 10, 2017 vs Gold Coast (-24 at 20 Q2, +35 FT)
  • Round 11, 2017 vs Collingwood (-28 at 9m Q2, +4 FT)
  • Round 3, 2018 vs North Melbourne (-24 at 13m Q1, +37 FT)
  • Round 23, 2021 vs Geelong (-44 at 18m Q3, +4 FT)
  • Round 11, 2014 vs Port Adelaide (-26 at 13m Q1, +10 at 17m Q3, -20 FT)
  • Round 15, 2014 vs Footscray (-35 at 11m Q2, +6 at 6m Q4, -6 FT)
  • Round 19, 2015 vs North Melbourne (-34 at 29m Q1, -2 at 26m Q3, -35 FT)
  • Round 3, 2016 vs North Melbourne (-42 at 20m Q1, -5 FT)
  • Round 10, 2016 vs Collingwood (-24 at 24m Q1, +5 10m Q2, -25 9m Q3, level 19m Q3, -25 FT)
  • Round 15, 2016 vs Essendon (-24 at 30m Q3, -2 at 17m Q4, -9 FT)
  • Round 7, 2017 vs Hawthorn (-27 at 29m Q1, -3 FT)
  • Round 9, 2017 vs North Melbourne (-26 at 31m Q1, -2 at 13m Q4, -14 FT)
  • Round 1, 2018 vs Geelong (-27 at 35m Q2, -3 FT)
  • Round 12, 2018 vs Collingwood (-26 at 19m Q1, -5 at 13m Q2, -42 FT)
  • Round 18, 2019 vs West Coast (-32 at 2m Q2, +5 at 2m Q3, -3 FT)
  • Round 7, 2014 vs Adelaide (+ 36 18m Q2, +3 FT)
  • Round 21, 2017 vs St Kilda (+39 at 10m Q2, +4 1m Q4, +24 FT)
  • Round 2, 2018 vs Brisbane (+25 at 27m Q1, +6 8m Q4, +26 FT)
  • Round 22, 2018 vs West Coast (+26 at 18m Q1, +6 17m Q2, +27 at 5m Q3, +3 at 15m Q4, +17 FT)
  • Round 16, 2019 vs Carlton (+38 at 27m Q3, -1 27m Q4, +5 FT)
  • Round 2, 2021 vs Carlton (+33 at 2m Q2, +1 FT)
  • Round 1, 2022 vs Footscray (+27 at 21m Q1, -22 at 12m Q2, +26 FT)
  • Round 18, 2021 vs Hawthorn (+27 at 20m Q2, +5 at 22m Q3, +/- 0 at FT)
  • Round 2, 2015 vs GWS (+30 at 4m Q2, -45 FT)
  • Round 9, 2016 vs Port Adelaide (+24 at 6m Q2, -61 FT)
  • Round 3, 2017 vs Fremantle (+27 at 28m Q2, -2 FT)
  • Round 18, 2018 vs Geelong (+29 at 2m Q4, -2 FT)
  • Round 11, 2019 vs Adelaide (+25 at 19m Q2, -2 FT)
  • Round 11, 2022 vs Fremantle (+30 at 23m Q2, -38 FT)
  • Round 12, 2022 vs Sydney (+26 at 26m Q1, -12 FT)
Next week
God help us all, it's an away Queens Birthday game with the Pies on the rise. Would be a fine time to issue a reality check to them but I've lost faith in our ability to wallop teams so the four points will do nicely thank you. If anything's certain it's that our success since the last time we played them in Melbourne (lowest crowd between sides for 30 years, Oscar McDonald kicks goal, virus-laden Wuhan bat not yet served for lunch) will lead to a heightened atmosphere. In order to avoid being kicked to death by opposition fans I might sit in the Redlegs area for the first time in three years. No doubt like Jack Watts Day, this will backfire when there's a corporate box full of pissed Pies supporters directly over my shoulder.

Speaking of forwards who were prematurely rushed into a Queen's Birthday debut, there's a significant push for van Rooyen. Sure he didn't kick a goal in the VFL this week, but that's apparently no longer a KPI for our talls. Even in vastly different circumstances, there's no earthly way I'm risking another Wattsing. I'm sure this collection of teammates would do the right thing and belt the piss out of anyone who tried to intimidate him but I'd be more comfortable playing the Daw(es) brothers Majak and Chris.

None of that helps us find two functioning key forwards for Monday week. Looks like curtains for McDonald, which is shit because the last two weeks have proven our forward structure is way better with him. So what now? Either we stay in Brown Town and hope for the best, replace one of them with Weid (risking a repeat of him struggling to get a kick against the Pies last year), go a tall forward short and make it even easier for our sloppy forward 50 entries to be chopped off, or or do something completely off piste and unexpected that will either be lauded as genius or laughed at for years to come. 

If I can't have premiership winning combo McDonald/B. Brown I'm opting for neither. I don't know what's wrong with Brown but after three goalless weeks he's my human sacrifice. Instead, roll on the VFL All Star combination of Weideman and Mitch Brown. Professional people who run footy clubs aren't as nervy and weird as me so there's about a 1.5% chance of this happening in real life. More likely the B.Brown/Weid combo that failed so spectacularly against Freo. Here's to Sam having an ironic ripper against his grandad's old side. 

Otherwise, I'd like Rivers instead of Hunt. Don't care if it's not like-for-like, I want Riv and the other guy could do with a week off. Maybe play him up front, it's worked before. If not there's always Bedford, who was desperately unlucky to sit on the bench after playing his best game. I'd love to give him more full games but at whose expense? Haven't been all that keen on Spargo recently but I'll stick with him for now. Alas it's feet up on the bench and complimentary match payments again for Toby. And I'm almost tempted to chop Sparrow just for that BULLSHIT handball towards Oliver but fear it will somehow lead to the return of Melksham.

IN: May, Rivers, Weideman
OUT: B. Brown, Hunt, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: Bowey, M. Brown, Spargo, Sparrow
UNLUCKY: Bedford, Hibberd

Maybe we'll win, maybe we won't. 'Darce' and I will be too busy running the state to care.

Final thoughts
Last time we lost two in a row was also against Sydney and Freo. So, now that we've done it again at the home of football, is Cairns officially off the hook? Time to get Preuss back and revisit the idea of playing him as a key forward in unsuitable conditions. Why not also throw May to full forward the next time we desperately need goals? On current trends this will be about 15 minutes into the third quarter, after a promising early lead has disappeared and the entire forward line has been sucked into a black - or if you prefer Brown - hole.