Monday 25 July 2022

A series of unfortunate events

In the increasingly unlikely event that Saturday 24 September ends in back-to-back flag glory I will absolutely piss myself thinking back to this game. There's losing, there's losing a thriller, there's losing a thriller with excuses, then there's losing a thriller in farcical fashion where the only reason you can't hear Benny Hill music is because opposition are drowning it out in glee at pulling off a brave, come-from-behind upset.

For a side that's won a lot of games in the last 2.5 years, we sure hate to do things conventionally. This was a rare occasion where we were decided to try and chase down a big score instead of winning via skull-squeezing defensive efforts. With Ben Brown a late withdrawal, replaced by Weideman in the same lone tall forward role that killed his career in late 2020, I didn't think we were qualified to participate in a shootout. Somehow, via wacky twists and turns that must have had neutrals quivering in glee. 

Had we held on to win I'd have suggested air-dropping promotional DVDs of it across the northern hemisphere. Instead we survived the highest-scoring first half of the season to hold various comfortable leads before our most buffoonish loss at Docklands since forgetting how time works. You can stuff the digital video disc up your jumper, I just want to vent my misery via the medium of keyboard walloping then pretend none of it happened.

When you've seen so many losses over the years, the dropping of premiership points isn't so bad, it's fumbling them in slapstick fashion that gives me the shits. The only consolation is that like the Adelaide 2021 fiasco, this game is in no way representative of us so you can go into the shell and pretend it's an out of the box result unlikely to be repeated. We could play Footscray nine times more in a row and this style of contest wouldn't happen again. Doesn't mean we'd win every time, but there's no way you'd get another (relatively) free-scoring extravaganza, and we'd probably have made some sort of interchange in the last 10 minutes.

Like that infamous afternoon in Adelaide, if we bounce back it won't be anything more than a memorable bump in the road. Whether we will is anybody's guess, and it's going to take beating one or more good sides to avoid falling into the eight in shithouse form - or turning a 10-0 start into missing entirely. And what value will we provide if we get there? Even during the momentarily wobble 12 months ago we looked to be heading towards September in better physical and mental shape, with a shitload of players in career best form. Now we've plateaued, injuries are piling up, the element of surprise has disappeared, and it looks like our Plan B envelope is empty. After catching fire out of nowhere at the end of last year you'd be mad to write us off, but maybe take the lid off the pen just in case. I'll be happy just to make it and have a ticket in the 'anything could happen' lottery.

Of course the mood would be brighter if we'd taken any number of chances to win. It would have been patronising "well done for getting so close" for the opposition and renewed optimism about storming through a month of finals contenders and into September on a high. Why I should lose faith (again) when I've just outlined when the game means nothing long-term is a mystery, but changing your mind at the drop of a hat is what being a fan is all about.

Despite a week of being exposed to every illness other than COVID and Simian Haemorraghic Fever, I managed to get to just my sixth and last home and away game of the year (including having to leave the opening round at half time). Adam 2012 has sent a message via the Kaspersky Lab time machine labelling me a "softcock", which is probably correct. I'm going to fix the prick up by sending back nightmarish visions of helping a child barf into a disused ice cream container at 2am. My last two appearances were losses, so I could easily have finished a week that was rancid in more ways than one with a stirring victory. Instead we showed as much composure as the poisoned guts and carelessly discarded another four goal lead.

My theory that a half-full Docklands is a better place to watch games than the MCG these days was given a boost when nobody turned up. Suppose we'll be blamed for that. Even the giant screens I was so dismissive of last week were, I have to admit, impressive. Usually the lower capacity means you have to put up with some numpty talking shite two rows in front, but this time I had several glorious metres to put my feet up and mutter under my breath. Of course just when it got hairy in the last quarter some lone Bulldog wandered in and gave me a box seat view of his glee, which was not appreciated.

This was, to put not too fine a point on it, an odd game. Both sides did things ranging from spectacular to spectacularly ugly, doing their best to keep it interesting for as long as possible. Our individuals didn't play badly, but it was a classic example of a lot of decent performances that didn't collectively stretch across four quarters. Some did their best work early, some turned up in the middle, some randomly spent the last 15 minutes on the bench while their teammates were about to die.

If I didn't give you the score and said Fritsch/Weid kicked seven combined, May had five contested marks, Gawn created goals out of the middle with fancy backhanded taps, Aaron Naughton was reasonably well held and Josh Bruce may as well not have turned up you'd probably think we won. But that's because you're missing the bit where we failed to take advantage of the opposition's suicidal tendencies, allowed them to roam up and down the ground unchallenged during the second half, and allowed a #1 draft pick to have his first great night in front of goal.

That also leaves a lot out of our story. For example, Petracca taking mercy on the Dogs after carving them to shreds in the Grand Final. He got plenty of touches, and did a couple of nice things, but his overall effect only rated about 2/10 on the Perth Stadium Mental Disintegration Index. And as hard as Gawn battled I'll still be rooted sideways if he's fit. The trend is going in the right direction, he was much nearer to 100% than last week, but is still in no condition to be his usual dominant force. As much as I hope he stays and becomes the future ruckman of our dreams, Goldenballs Jackson is not the man yet, and we let Tim English Muffins have far too much of an impact.

Given how leads are being carelessly thrown away across the league, I wasn't going to start sulking after conceding the first two goals. Nothing in the opening minutes suggested our new look/no aerial presence forward line was going to kick a decent score, but any team can reel in a lead of that size - it's just a matter of how long they can hold after. We did for about 111 minutes, unfortunately expiring shortly before the final siren.

To be unfair to what turned out to be a decent performance by the forwards, Footscray's defenders looked ripe for the picking. Even the Anal-Bullet steered through a set shot, and by the time Melksham Mania broke out via a goal, then a kick to space for Pickett to run onto, we were not only winning but had them on the run. If only we hadn't been in the same situation before almost every loss this year you'd have called home to put the champers on ice. Then the Weid kicked two in quick succession and I was sucked in by fantasies about this being the night he finally ran riot. 

Other than one ripping lead that created another goal on the stroke of three quarter time he was barely seen again, and his only impact on contests was to be shoved out of the way for the free that lead to his first. Not arguing with three goals though, I still believe in Weideman and think that he could do damage if we gave him space and kicked to him on a lead. Otherwise he's not going to do much consistently. He might have kicked the ton when leading forwards were all the rage but today, and in a team that loves to boot the ball a mile in the air, he's limited back lack of screaming pack mark ability. I appreciated the impact in a couple of forward 50 contests, but he did bugger as a link player up the ground. When I think about Brown pulling down big grabs along the wing last week I'm willing to try them together again once BBB is fit.

There were various collapses in our near future, but I was further sucked in to thinking everything was going to be alright when Fritsch goalled 30 seconds into the second quarter. Then we went missing for a bit. Everything that had worked so well until then disappeared, Footscray belatedly turned up, and before you knew it the gap was back to a kick. Then, in a game that was already trending towards a weird finish, we got four in the next five minutes and were in control again. So far so Grand Final, but without the mystery nose bleeds.

This was the point where Gawn brought back everyone's favourite move, the overhand tap that drops straight to a midfielder steaming past. I know he often had the advantage of playing against Josh Bruce, who was the worst Footscray ruckman since Brett Goodes, but it's been a while since we've seen it. They eventually twigged and began preparing for it but the first time was a thrill. Nothing will ever beat Gold Coast 2016 when he did one at a boundary throw-in that Viney hoovered onto, then belted it through from 50. And it's not often that anything from 2016 can be described like that.

You can't get a radio station to tell you how much time there is left in a quarter, but you can get idiots saying things like "Melbourne hasn't had a statement win, this could be the big victory they need", as if a four goal lead is anything in games between these clubs. And as if we hadn't recently pulverised Brisbane in a top two clash. I'd already turned off one station because they were convinced Ben Brown had been withdrawn in the last hour before the game, it was either stick with this lot or risk ejection by throwing my radio at the playing surface.

The 'big victory' didn't last long, Footscray got the last two goals of the half and went into the break with something to look forward to. These goals need not have happened if Harmes hadn't completely flubbed a kick to Melksham in acres of space inside 50, before Melk's attempts to handball back to Harmes ended in the ball rolling through for a point. It was all a bit undignified.

Never mind that we'd let the Dogs back into it, and were treating scoring opportunities like the Marx Brothers, their fans were having such a whinge about umpiring I was waiting for somebody to climb the fence. This was ironic when they follow a side that's had a spot of luck with decisions over the years. If you're into conspiracies we've had the least frees in the league this season, and were thrashed in the count here, but I'm not leaning on that as a reason why we lost. The game was in our hands twice and we botched it both times. Do - not - leave - it - in - the - hands - of - the - umpires. We didn't do ourselves many favours in the free kick count by being caught holding the ball every five seconds. You'd think that the Geelong game would have been a wake-up call that you can't expect to wade through tackles against good sides with the same contempt as the jabroni sides.

The party briefly reconvened at the start of the third, via an assist from the umpires that even I felt guilty about. Wasn't going to argue a free goal, but the contact on Milkshake in the marking contest was nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly not compared to Petty belting somebody's head off with a spoil later on.

Then things changed for the worse. It's good to be at the ground so you don't have to wait for the TV to show half a dozen players standing on their own along the wings, or the panicked efforts of our players to find an opponent, often leaving two of them running towards the same guy, only to realise they were both heading in the same direction, then both go elsewhere and leave the original guy alone. Here they were joyfully swinging the ball from side to side while all Langdon's running was done trying to find some space. Sam Mitchell hasn't done much as a coach yet, but tagging the shizen out of Ed has been his gift to the rest of the competition. In lieu we went through Jordon a lot, but he usually had sod all targets to aim at so that didn't do us much good either.

In a shocking turn of events other teams seem have studied what helped the premiers win and are throwing roadblocks in the way to stop it happening again. That's probably why only the best teams win more than once, and everyone else has to be content with one off magical moments before falling back to earth. Mind you, Geelong won three flags spaced out two years at a time and we haven't been able to get rid of them since so there's still some hope if this year doesn't work out.

I'm sure they weren't working in such wide open space in the first half. Now every time we went forward and didn't score it was being rocketed back towards our goal, relying on an under siege backline to save us. 

You won't get in-depth tactical analysis here, but I'd have thought two potential methods for combating free running players would be a) don't panic bomb kicks into a 50 without any forwards who can take overhead contested marks, and/or b) put an already wonky defence under enough pressure that they might do something NQR. The first one happened occasionally, the second literally did not, and we ended the game with a grand total of zero tackles inside the forward 50. 

This seemed unusually low, and our round-by-round figures confirm it. The number is so bad that I'm waiting for Champion Data to reveal they forgot to punch a number in. 

R1 - 7
R2 - 14
R3 - 10
R4 - 16
R5 - 9
R6 - 12
R7 - 11
R8 - 13
R9 - 12
R10 - 23
R11 - 9
R12 - 9
R13 - 12
R15 - 17
R16 - 11
R17 - 7
R18 - 6
R19 - 0

Considering we had the best average in the league last year, racking up nil feels like a tremendous blooper in a close game. Mind you, the last time a team had zero in a full length game, Richmond won the match, then a flag five weeks later so who knows how relevant it is. Feels like a few would have helped on Saturday night. We only had six in the Grand Final, but that's probably because Footscray's defenders spent most of the second half looking up at the ball flying over their heads.

As they went into free range mode I started to wonder if maybe there had been something in Bedford doing a defensive job on half-forward flankers last week. Still reckon you need to get possessions too. If there's anything to be optimistic about, it's that we mathematically put less pressure on a backline than any side for three years and still somehow nearly won so it shouldn't be hard to improve next week.

It took a few minutes for things to get truly ropey, but once they parked the ball inside our forward 50 and we couldn't extract it for love nor money things turned sour. Once the first went in their tails were up, and two more brought the margin back under a kick again. Then weird turned to Weid, when he got our second in a row at the end of the quarter, the margin was back into double figures, and maybe we were going to hold on after all.

For the benefit of my mental health I refused to believe that playing in warm weather last week was going to cause a fade-out here. Can't have helped, because by the end everyone looked half dead. Conversely, the Dogs were able to throw on a fresh sub. For once there was no question of conspiracy, Treloar had been their best player so replacing him with Rip McCord didn't offer much beyond the fitness benefits. Meanwhile Bedford was cooling his heels on our bench, looking around and wondering why so many of his teammates were spending half the quarter sitting next to him while players on the ground were screaming for oxygen.

Now that I knew we were in full survival mode, conceding the first seemed like an invitation to roll over and die. To our credit we did not, and Pickett slid through a lovely goal on the run to restore a decent lead. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd we didn't kick another goal. What ammo was still in the shootout was all delivered at the other end, including Ugle-Hagen (🎵 I can't stop this feeling, deep inside of me 🎵) getting a fourth. 

After all these years of helping the careers of mediocre and broken down players, may as well be the first victims of a future superstar. Must have been nice for the Dogs to have him delivered free via the draft, shortly before they changed the rules and anything we spent developing Mac Andrew flew out the window when he was drafted elsewhere, just as we could do with a replacement athletic ruckman to make up for the existing one doing a bolt. Free kicks, free players, free land from the state government. Some have all the luck, except in the third quarter of Grand Finals.

We could very well have still won it from here. Mainly due to being more than a goal in front halfway through the quarter, which is a decent platform to work with. And as many unnecessary points as we were conceding, the backline was holding up reasonably well. Then, in a moment nobody could have seen coming when everyone started bullying him about taking instinctive shots, Fritsch found himself in the pocket, had second thoughts because some fuckstick like Dermott Brereton might be offended, and tried a ridiculous 10 metre squaring kick that was never going to come off. Well done to everyone who contributed to this moment by being sucked in to media bullshit.

Given that we were clearly out on our feet and had fried almost all our interchanges on laughable attempts to put the game away I thought that would be it. Somehow we ended up with two changes left despite not making any in the last eight minutes, and with three of four players spending the final 10+ minutes off. What's all that about? It's clutching at straws to think it would have made a difference, but when half the team looked about to pass out, surely one of Sparrow, Spargo or Rivers would have come in handy? Not to mention Weideman, who'd kicked three goals and finished the game with splinters in his arse. Could we not have made a change after either of the goals? This is the sort of niche content I'd like addressed in press conferences.

Even though they seemed far more likely to score we still managed to blow a couple of chances, first via a wild Petracca snap, then Pickett from a set shot right in front. I'll punch on to protect his reputation but missing a gilt edged chance like that was a blow. Then came the tremendous cock up that changed everything. They might have been running free all over the ground, but still needed two goals to win it. So why not keep things interesting by handing over the first on a silver platter? As much as I love May, and as much as he'd taken a shitload of marks in Lever's absence to keep us in it, his turnover was the worst seen at that ground since a young Jack Viney in that pre-season game against Essendon's reserves.

May obviously thought that after we'd exited defensive 50 via the flanks 97% of the time that this was the perfect opportunity to confuse the Dogs by doing something else. Unfortunately, that was a kick  into the middle of the ground that landed straight on the teet of an opponent 40 metres out. Just to prove it was that sort of night, it was called play on but they still had enough time to steady and kick the goal. I've reached a level of zen post-flag that would have seemed impossible a few years ago, but still greeted this by pulling my hat off and whipping the seat in front of me like Boss Hogg.

The global pandemic and associated lockouts helped, but this was the first genuine thriller I'd seen live since Hawthorn 2009, and other than that post goal tantrum I'd like to think I coped well. Even better the last close loss I'd seen was the Zac Tuohy debacle at Kardinia Park four years ago. It's a mark of how much has changed in the last few years that my blood pressure remained under Chernobyl levels when they strolled in for the goal that finally took the lead. If nothing else it was a less ludicrous way to lose than Essendon.

This had been a truly stupid game, so I couldn't entirely rule out us winning in some flat-out zany way that would be spoken about with reverence for years to come. It wasn't going to be courtesy of Weideman, who left marooned on the bench while we tried the innovative method of recovering a lead in the last two minutes with no recognised tall forwards. As a replacement they tried to send May down there, opening the door to combine with Melksham for the match-winner then fall into a tearful embrace on the Docklands 'turf'. Alas he never got the chance.

Things were not looking good, but while the margin remained under a goal. I was open to anything. Then we were sunk by a cover version of young Bontempelli ripping a goal out of his sphincter to win a thriller in 2014. Obviously this time it had to be Jamarra, unfairly labelled as a Kingsley by some when this could very well be the breakout performance that will springboard him to immortality. Alternatively, if he never kicks five again and his career peters out into mediocrity they might retrospectively have a point. 

It was an insane goal to end a game, even better than the Langdon one that sank Essendon. 12 months ago I'd have been on the roof with a sniper rifle, this time there was just base-level sadness at all the missed opportunities. It's not just this game, we've embraced the Stranglewank to ridiculous levels this year, and for all the valid excuses about injuries and invalid ones like umpiring, they've got to do something about it in the next month. Brisbane seems like the anomaly of the century when you consider the only other teams we've gone on with a lead against were slop like GWS and West Coast.

Bulldogs fans certainly liked it, and why wouldn't you. I'd have been delighted if we'd hung on all night and nicked a win in those circumstances. Surely the level of joy related to general excitement after a thriller/keeping your finals hopes alive, and nobody was seriously thinking they'd delivered any sort of 'payback' for the Grand Final. I have my doubts considering the generally nasty atmosphere in the level four walkway immediately after the siren. 

Sadly I just missed the local biff in my area, but after going back for a look at the commotion did enjoy some Footscray bloke theatrically yelling at a security guard "He should be CHARGED! One punch is not on... ONE. PUNCH. IS. NOT. ON!" while the pissed as a fart alleged perpetrator stood there in his Reject Shop 'Melbourne' hat looking bemused with no actual victim in sight. If only that was the most interesting thing I'd seen at around 10pm on Saturday night our season would be in a lot better shape.

Roll on the week of hearing about how 'hurt' everyone is, then on to the next debacle.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Steven May
3 - Bayley Fritsch
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Hibberd, Jordon, Melksham, Petracca, Petty, Sparrow and Viney, all unsuccessful entrants in the one vote Royal Rumble.

It's advantage Oliver again, and because we look like playing fewer games every week they'll have to surgically amputate his entire arm to stop him from here. As we now have an absolute maximum of eight matches left, that's curtains for anybody more than 40 votes behind. Great news for Jake Bowey, who can still rip through the rest of the year with eight straight BOGs and a Norm Smith and grab a share of the Jako.

In the minors, butterfoot May closes the gap on Brayshaw to two, with no movement in either of the other categories. Regardless of what's good for the team it's on them to pick a rookie next week just to put some interest into the Hilton.

49 - Clayton Oliver
36 - Christian Petracca
30 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win without finals ---
26 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Can't win in one final ---
21 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
19 - Ed Langdon, Steven May
--- Can't win in three finals ---
9 - Jake Bowey
--- Can't win full stop ---
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as I liked Pickett's goal in the last quarter, residual bitterness about what happened next means I'm looking elsewhere. Instead, it's Fritsch kicking the cover off the snap for his fourth. He wins an effigy of 'Derm' that he can clobber with a baseball bat Peter Caven style. No change to the leaderboard.

1st - Langdon vs Essendon
2nd - Pickett vs Port (this one)
3rd - Pickett vs GWS

Matchday Experience Watch
If you remember the days when I could actually go to games regularly, you'll know the standard for dreadful mid-match entertainment was set by 2016's one week wonder Match The Emoji. I've seen some slop over the years, but perhaps nothing ever as NQR as "What Dog Are You?", where random crowd members were compared to craggy bulldogs that looked like they were a few days away from being put to sleep. Makes you appreciate the simplicity of that time Hawthorn wheeled some recovering drug addicts out for a goalkicking contest.

Next Week
After six games against West Coast, and one glorious outing against each of Geelong and Footscray, it's finally time to play Fremantle at Perth Stadium. Here's to them suffering the same sort of virus outbreak (let's just call it 'bad luck' - taste editor) that forced their AFLW side to drag in ringers from off the beach and lose by a record margin. At this point, I'll take their men losing by any margin under any circumstances, because unless we win again there's still a half chance of us missing the finals with 13 wins.

The Dockers cleaned us up like a bird through the engine of jumbo jet last time, but while they remain neck deep in flag consideration they haven't done much to excite in the last few weeks. They'd have lost to Richmond if the Cumberland Sausage hadn't played on at the last minute, and that gives me some confidence about winning here. I'll think we'll give it a decent crack before losing in regrettable circumstances.

If you're looking for changes, the good news is that Casey won again. The bad news is that the best players were Baker and Chandler, both of who could be relied on for honest toil (or in Chandler's case, to sit on the bench all night doing crosswords) but don't strike me as match winners. Unless it's going to give him PTSD about tackling the West Coast bloke to death, may as well waste Kade's time by flying him across the country to be sub. 

On the other side of that equation, if Brown is suffering wear and tear issues with his knees give him another week to recover without the added stress of forcing his plus-size frame into some bullshit airline seat. I cannot be convinced that we don't need a second marking target, so while he may only have kicked one goal in the seconds it's time to go Dutch and unleash JVR. Just give me somebody hungry who will compete in marking contests, and if it doesn't work you've given Brown an extra week to recover. 

Given that Melksham has done better than expected since returning I'm going against everything I believe in and chopping Harmes to create room. He'll be welcomed back with open arms ASAP but somebody's got to make way for the European Union of JVR/Weid. I've been suggesting changes long enough to know that none of this is going to happen. Probably still best to trust the people who are paid to do this sort of thing and not numbnuts from the internet.

IN: van Rooyen, Lever, Chandler (as sub)
OUT: Harmes, Tomlinson (omit), Bedford (sub)
LUCKY: Rivers, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Baker, Bowey, Hunt

The All New Bradbury Plan

We're still three games and percentage inside the eight with four to play so even I can't contemplate the horror of falling out from here. With one notable exception, let's stick with a top four plan. Slim pickings for us here, so best do the right thing, draw up the spirit of certain other games in Perth and look after ourselves.

Port d. Collingwood
GWS d. Sydney
Hawthorn d. St Kilda (really only relevant if you're clinging on to a top eight plan)
Geelong d. Footscray (the Cats are finishing top two whether you like it or not, I'd rather fix up Footscray)
Adelaide d. Carlton
Richmond d. Brisbane

No interest in the Coast Derby or Essendon/North.

Final thoughts
It's not my brand to be involved in winning, so despite following a club that has won a lot of games in Victoria this year I'm going to finish the home and away season with a 2-3 record (+ the first half of Round 1 before I had to leave). Even if finals might boost the number this will easily the fewest live games I've been to since 2002 and I hate it with a passion. 

On the other hand, even though I've never been one for superstition, maybe it's better if I do stay away. Stiff shit, you can have Carlton and Collingwood without me, I'll throw your granny in front of a train to be there in September. I might follow this person's lead and bring an emotional support animal:

1 comment:

  1. Bulldogs were the better side for the first 5% and the last 5%. We were the better side for the middle 90%. No need to slash our wrists. Blinding game from Steven May (excl the short pass at the end).

    The free kicks we didn't get hurt eg. Bontempelli taking on Petracca, getting nailed, throws the ball out but umpire says play on.


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