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:

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