Monday 18 July 2022

Pickett up the pieces

During the week the club asked for your favourite moment from the Alice Springs games. The attached highlights package included eclectic moments from Jeremy Howe taking a screamer (obviously in a loss) to Heritier Lumumba doing the Adam Goodes dance after a goal. Sadly no sign of my selections, sending Don Pyke off the deep end, or making a couple of million dollars flogging home games there while we were struggling to stay afloat..

All previous happy memories of Traeger Park can move back one spot in the queue and pay their respects to the best crumbing forward game we've seen since god knows when. After a year where he's randomly bobbed up to wreck teams before disappearing for hours on end, Kysaiah Pickett went absolutely hog wild bonkers here, kicking goals from literally every angle, and single-handedly saving a forward line that was sliding towards 1890s St Kilda level potency.

I don't know if anybody else on the planet is called Kysaiah, but more performances like this and there will be hundreds of them in the future. It'll be the Australian version of the basketballer whose completely made up first name became the hottest thing to call your kids because he was a good guy at sports.

Thank god for the small forward masterclass, because that's about all there is to recommend from this game. Given that they were calling it off the TV from Melbourne, Channel 7 should make a direct contribution to the Northern Territory's economy by paying to have the master tapes buried in the desert. Just remember, a proportion of any money that the NT government receives back to us for playing there, so give that we may grow. I'm still not sure they're getting value for money, but keep writing cheques and we'll keep turning up.

Despite it being 2nd vs 12th, there were various warning signs about this game - our misfiring forward line, Port's reasonable recent form, and the potentially Brownlow costing absence of extraction machine Clayton Oliver. Fox Footy tried to pretend there was relevance to losing our only three meetings with Port in Alice, but considering that the last one was in 2016 I'm not sure the five players left in the side from that day would have given half a shit. 

Seems weird now that the careers of Colin Garland and Christian Petracca briefly intersected, via a series of detours and false starts, eventually passing the baton between the #fistedforever and #flagforever eras. On the scale of likely events I'd have ranked the chances of bouncing back to a flag at that point below a global pandemic. As they say at Old El Paso, "why don't we have both?" I still say the flag doesn't come without the Corona, so the usual million thankyous to whoever ate the bat/brewed it in a laboratory/made the whole thing up (delete as per your views).

Now we're the hunted, and even after keeping up with the hottest side in the competition for most of last week, Port must have fancied their chances of an upset. This was good news for their fill-in coach Nathan Bassett, the latest ringer due to their boss going down with the big one, and surely the first ever MFC reserves only player to coach against us. 

By my half-arsed count, exes who have taken charge in a game against Melbourne are George Haines/Heinz, Bernie Nolan, Gerry DonnellyBert Chadwick, Col DeaneBill Adams, Len Smith, Noel McMahenRon Barassi, Norm Smith, Brian Dixon, Ian Thorogood, Stan Alves, Peter Rohde, Chris Connolly, Alastair Clarkson and Luke Beveridge (+ Len Insigneri and John Lewis, who played for us after coaching elsewhere, and Cameron Bruce in a pre-season game), all of who played somewhere between a handful and shitloads of senior games. And if I'd known there were so many I wouldn't have started adding links to each one. So Bassett, part exchanged for Matthew Collins after one season, seems to have done something unique. Wonder if he had any thoughts back to an injury plagued 1997 campaign with us when called on to replace Kern? Probably not.

I'm sure he counts as the coach of record, but Port obviously didn't have complete faith given that Hinkley was wired up to give instructions all day. The way their fans talk about him it might have been better if somebody pulled the internet cord out and let the former #3 rookie draft pick do his own thing. I'm sure he was making plenty of decisions but every time the TV cameras cut to him, Bassett was sitting there looking on like a spectator. If I was only going to get one shot at senior coaching I'd make it memorable and go into full Clarko phone-breaking mode.

Like most opposition coaches, Bassett's best hope was that we'd kick a criminally low score that the defenders couldn't cover. For most of the day that looked a live chance. The opening 15 minutes were like our first meeting this year, except this time both sides were entirely incompetent in attack. The key difference was that while their multi-pronged attack was running aground against a very good backline (including Hibberd and Tomlinson having their best games of the year), we were merrily handing the ball over without a fight at the other end for want of any convincing targets to kick to.

Symptomatic of our issues was Ben Brown, who took a few very good grabs up the ground then had nobody to kick to. And when he was the target he had multiple defenders to deal with because they all knew where we were going to aim our inside 50s before they came off the boot. He had a purple patch in the third quarter but otherwise failed to do much at the important end of the ground. People want to drop him, but I say he was let down by not adding a second tall. Considering Gawn's about 9% fit it's unrealistic to expect him to maraud down there Prelim style, so who else are these optimistic dump kicks supposed to land with? He's not in great form, but leaving him alone is akin to when we ruined Weideman's promising start to 2020 (and ultimately, probably, his career) by shelving McSizzle. This time McDonald's absence is enforced but it's doing our chances of kicking bumper scores just as much harm.

Also the subject of much angst when things were going badly, Bayley Fritsch, who burnt Spargo to a crisp for what should have been an easy goal. Now that content-hungry journalists have highlighted it everyone's jumping on the bandwagon about him being hungry, but given that a few weeks ago we were upset about players passing instead of having instinctive shots the reaction is clearly tied to the outcome. If somebody kicks goal of the year with three opponents hanging off them and a teammate standing on their own at the top of the square nobody will care, but if the same kick falls five metres short he's a shit bloke. Some have even gone haywire and want him dropped as some sort of political statement against selfishness, which sets new standards for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

I'm backing Bayley, even if it comes down to just me and him fighting the rest of you Melksham style. He ended up kicking two goals, but missed one when you could tell he got the guilts halfway through a shot, tried to change to a pass at the last minute, got half of each and gently put it through for a point. Later he tried to play on immediately after a mark, not realising a defender was standing right behind him. So be it, like so many other forwards before him you take the good with the bad. Besides, he kicked six in a Grand Final so he could invade Lithuania now and still be a hero to me.

After pulling down everything that came near him in a wet reserves game I thought this might be the week to take a punt on van Rooyen, but he couldn't even make an extended team that included half the list. When Weideman was amongst the 500 prospective inclusions I thought surely they'd realise the Bedford plan stalled after Brisbane and go back to playing with two key position players. Not in the slightest.

I know Weid floats a diminishing number of boats with every appearance but with McDonald no chance of returning before next year it seemed worth a go. Instead poor old Tobes was left struggling again, taking a quarter and a half to get a touch. I'm sure he was doing some sort of defensive job but you've got to get a kick at the same time. Meanwhile, Brown would mark on the wing and have stuff all to aim at ahead of him. He hasn't dominated a game since Round 1 but I'm not writing him off until he's given some cover, whether that's Weid, van Rooyen or OTHER. As long as they're tall and can provide an aerial contest I'm willing to talk, because you're not going to get this much crumb every week.

After 10 minutes of our forward entries falling apart like a Taiwanese alarm clock, Port decided they'd had enough and kicked the first two goals. If you thought we could go a week without the obligatory Alan Partridge reference, the second came from "What, Todd? Seriously?" Marshall. He got it by beating Tomlinson in a marking dual, but otherwise our man was very good. In fact the whole backline were, even with the odd heart-in-mouth blooper kick. 

The only problem with a great back line is that you also need to generate scores at the other end, and other than a couple of wonky set shots we didn't look likely to score in groups of six. Melksham came in for Oliver (while Luke Dunstan sat on the bench all day wondering why he'd joined in us in the first place if he couldn't get a game at this point), put on some good pressure and both kicked and set up a goal later but looked as unlikely as anyone to get a goal at first. 

I'm genetically predisposed to thinking everything's going to end badly so while I wasn't yet ready to turn the couch over and crack shits, unkind words may have been said about not altering a forward structure that's done relatively bugger all for weeks. The Jurrahcane was pictured in the crowd sinking cans while wearing excessively prominent headphones and I'd have been willing to sub in him if it was legal.  

Things turned out alright, but not without some nervy moments, including them kicking their third goal to nil not long after the restart. I was now ready to enter a death spiral of doom, especially as Gawn somehow looked even less fit than he did in Geelong. Didn't stop us aiming every kick out towards him, where he was not only trying to get his colossal frame off the ground but had multiple players jostliung him in every contest. One of them later brought back the Round 1, 2019 spirit and belted him behind play. I'd like to say Max was better for the run(s) but he looked stuffed. Plenty of time to get right for the important bit of the year but I miss screaming contested marks down the wing that nearly bring opponents to tears of frustration.

Finally, once we realised there was no hope of kicking goals the conventional way, it was time to cross the Pickett line. He got the party started with a goal from outer space, ducking and dodgy around the boundary before snapping around the corner. That was more like it, as was Fritsch toe-poking a loose one through soon after. After weeks of treating leads with contempt we decided to reinvigorate the spirit of that great night against Brisbane by coming from behind, and after Viney did a fancy over the head handball to Jackson for the third all Port's hard work had been wasted. Bad luck. 

Well done to whoever yelled "sign the contract Luke. SIGN. THE. CONTRACT. LUKE" straight into the effects microphone. Even if it's quite likely that they were Freo fans, he wasn't to know that at the time, so hopefully he thought "I've just kicked a goal, yes I would like to stay at Melbourne". Well done to Steven May here for politely not thanking the Dockers for trading in Jesse Hogan and allowing him to win a premiership. 

Remember how if that trade fell over they were going to play Hogan back and Weid forward? How many minutes would that have lasted into 2019?

Just when you thought Port might realise that they're a mid-table mediocrity and piss off, some Scandanavian looking fellow kicked an outrageous banana to put them back in front. Which was bad. Then Petracca set Fritsch up (a great opportunity for the sharing and caring crowd to hang shit on Bayley again), which was good. Until we doubled down with the worst sequence after winning a centre clearance in history, first Trac had one of his few blemishes by turning it over, then Gawn gave away a 50 and goal by knocking the ball out of Charlie Dixon's hand post-mark. 

I know Dixon did his absolutely best to spill it once Max made contact but you're in high risk territory putting your hand near the ball in the first place. You'd want to carry our players off on your shoulders if they did the same thing, so no hard feelings towards Charlie for taking advantage of kindly umpiring. Now things were getting nervous again, and we reached half time ahead care of another class in crumb from Pickett. 

Even if he'd pulled up there (and we'd still won), it would have been a memorable performance but there were four more to come. They didn't arrive quickly, and for the first 15 minutes of the third quarter we looked like going tits up again. I've vowed to get through this season without losing sight of the fact that we just won a flag, but my stomach was still turning over like a faulty car when they were two goals ahead. We were playing ok but that wasn't going to count for much without booting several goals.

Thank god then for Sam Powell-Pepper going the Reverse Pickett and missing about four close range snaps. Down the other end your hero and mine smacked one out of mid-air, then threw in a boring old set shot to equal his career best and help quell my squelchy guts. Enter Brown, who kicked one from three shots in quick succession, but I was happy just to have the ball at our end. Also to get his hands on it a bit in case that sparks a confidence boost for the next few weeks. Remember when midway through Round 1 he looked likely to win the Coleman in a canter? Would be good to get a spot of that against the same opposition next week.

Port looked to have died in the arse when we kicked the first three of the last quarter, but just when you thought it was safe to cancel your September holiday plans again, they whopped through three quick goals to make things unnecessarily tense across the last three minutes. The nominal visitors only had the tiniest sliver of hope but that was enough to nearly make me lose my lunch. It would have needed absolutely everything to go wrong for us from there, but fortunately our old love of losing games in comical fashion has been transferred to Richmond and we held on to our dignity/premiership points in the end.  

The good news is that as grim, gritty and at times shitty as it was, the game ended with us almost mathematically certain to play finals. I know that after last year my aspirations should be higher than falling into the eight by any means necessary but old habits die hard and I'm genuinely excited just to qualify.

Let's revisit this when we know the circumstances of our death, but I can handle missing out on a second flag, just not the shame of missing the finals entirely from a 10-0 start. With a lot of the fringe contenders falling over unexpectedly you may find by the end that 12-10 is enough to get you in, but ending the regular season on a 2-10 run didn't bode well for our finals aspirations. Now we can't do worse than 3-8, which is nice (?). Considering everyone we play from here is either good this year or has been very recently it would be a good time to lay the smack down on some contenders and re-establish our alpha team status.

It wasn't a performance befitting a premiership contender but looked better than losing to the Dogs in the same round last year - a week after we'd drawn with a putrid Hawthorn. Perhaps tellingly for our future, that night the forward line also looked dreadful, leaving me to all but give up on any chance of glory. Then we unmercifully humped Gold Coast and were off to the races. I'll have a repeat of that thanks. 

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Brayshaw, Brown, Fritsch, Harmes, Jackson, Jordon, Langdon and May, any of who could have snuck in for 3-2-1.

Oliver's enforced absence allows Petracca to eat further into his lead, but a two BOG lead should still be enough to see Clayts home if his thumb doesn't fall off. Variety with the other votes means no significant changes to the leaderboard, with all the minors untouched. The good news for Toby Bedford is that while his season has gone tits up all of a sudden, he's got one more vote than touches in a fortnight of first quarters and retains a lead in the Hilton.

44 - Clayton Oliver
36 - Christian Petracca
30 - Jack Viney
25 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
19 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Ed Langdon
15 - Steven May
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen, Harrison Petty
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd
2 - Adam Tomlinson
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
Obviously Pickett wins this in a landslide, but in a week where he could nearly have had all three of the AFL's Goal of the Week nominations, the heat's on me to pick the best one. I'm going for this, the running away from goal first, and the "who, me?" celebration put it over the top. 

Kysaiah wins a $1 million voucher to Headband Warehouse so his magnificent barnet remains in good condition year round.

That will also adjust the overall leaderboard, I was tempted to confuse the whole thing by promoting his mid-air goal to third but the GWS one was still bloody good so it retains a spot on the podium.

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

Next Week
The nightclub tunes derby against Footscray is back, and if any of their players mention that bloody song again their licence should be given to Tasmania. With their finals hopes hanging by a thread we should do the honorable thing and free them from their misery. I can easily see us winning but not winning easily. There's certainly no expectation of another unprecedented massacre like 25/09/21, or even the various runs of free-scoring from Round 1. I'll be happy just to win via low key sludge. 

Helpfully for the prospects of the senior side, our Reserves side that plays in a competition with about 32 teams had the week off. For that reason I'm only picking players who can come in fresh and know what they're doing straight away. As much as I'd have taken one of Laurie or van Rooyen this week it's optimistic dropping them into a senior debut after a week off. Bowey played his first game in Round 20 last year, why not wait a week and try the same thing this time? Then whichever one does play can do  17 straight wins, get a flag and two Rising Star nominations then suffer delayed second year syndrome and be dropped late the next year.

You don't need a seconds game to know that Oliver (surgically reconstructed thumb) and Petty ('cron survivor) are immediate re-entries. Melksham gets credit for having a red hot go but must have known he was just filling a space for a week, but I'm losing Tomlinson with the greatest regrets. This was his best game in ages but Petty is the future of that backline and I need him in my life as soon as his immune system has recovered. Obviously if Lever's shoulder isn't right then you play them both.

More controversially, I want to bring back the Weid and offer some mystery about who we're going to kick to inside 50. Brown can't do it everywhere, so give Weideman his final chance to cement a spot going into finals. Alternatively we could do something completely off piste, restore Petty to the emergency forward role he did semi-successfully in 2019 and keep Tomlinson in defence. Either way, they've got to get another tall target down there because we're not going to be kept afloat by crumb every week.

If all goes well I should be there, returning to Docklands for the first time in three years. Can't wait to reacquaint myself with surly staff and potentially deadly crowd crushes on the way out. They've got a fancy new massive screen but that's about as relevant to me as a set of electrified nipple clamps. The last two games I've seen in person have been losses, and I might not get to another game before the finals so if we go down here I'm considering a month of self-imposed isolation at a monastery during September.

IN: Oliver, Petty, Weideman
OUT: Bedford, Melksham, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: Spargo
UNLUCKY: Hunt, Laurie, van Rooyen

The All New Bradbury Plan

There will be a slight tilt back to a top eight plan if Footscray win, but for now let's be optimistic and look through double chance eyes.

Richmond d. Freo
Adelaide d. Sydney
Port d. Geelong
Gold Coast d. Brisbane
GWS d. Carlton
Essendon d. Collingwood

Your 'who gives a toss' game of the week is North/Hawthorn, and in the event of us losing I'd also like West Coast to beat St Kilda on Sunday if possible.

Final thoughts
Every win is sacred. We've all been sooky in the middle of a shit one, but if last year taught us anything it's that once the points are in the bank you should move on because it probably means nothing long term.

1 comment:

  1. The final 6 minutes had me screaming at the TV as Port seemed to collect uncontested possessions at will and slam on 3 goals when the game should have been over. What had me sicker though was seeing Lever’s shoulder crumple underneath him then head straight to the St John’s Ambulance tent. Tomlinson did a great job for Petty, but I’m not sure we can convincingly cover Lever in the finals (or most matches for that matter).

    The last 6 or 7 weeks have highlighted just how important McSizzle is (was) to the forward set up. The Weid investment hasn’t paid off. Mitch will provide us more of a contest assuming his head and neck have been re-aligned after the Crows game. Anchor Mitch near the goals and Ben can roam up the ground.


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