Monday 4 July 2022

Zero rucks given

We'll get to the obligatory mention of the 2021 premiership season shortly, but do you ever stop at random during your day and marvel about how we've ended up with so many great players at the same time? It's still not clear if there's a second flag on the horizon, much less a Norm Smith style dynasty, but as you watch North doing their impression of us 10 years ago you've got to appreciate how many solid-gold, future legends of the club are going around the same time. 

 As far as I'm concerned, everyone on-field or off who held the club together across multiple states at the end of last year is a legend (as well as the Chief Health Officer of Queensland), but some names will shine brighter than others in the history books. When I entirely lose my mind - currently projected to happen any time from 2023 - and start babbling incoherently in 24/7 care, the only words you'll recognise will be 'Gawn', 'Oliver' and 'Petracca'.

Those are the biggest three we've had since christ knows when, and courtesy of contract news that came out of nowhere during the week two of the next will be together for many years to come. Petracca was already locked in until 2029, now Oliver is there until 2030, and maybe the chance to remain in the Holy Trinity will inspire Max to carry on until his late 30s.

After a year of tedious contract chat about Brayshaw and Jackson, getting the Oliver news without warning was a refreshing surprise. In an era where the media track every off-field move from takeoff to landing like air traffic controllers, this one mysteriously landed via a mid-morning tweet that caused me to nearly fall off a chair in excitement. If Clayton's second set of seven years is as good as the first he'll go out a member of every Hall of Fame in the southern hemisphere.

Forget players going back to their home state, after 13 Brownlow votes and a finals BOG across his last seven starts at Adelaide Oval, we're lucky Clayton wasn't offered $2 million a year to play there every second week. Even been whacked directly in the mush - to the disinterest of multiple umpires - didn't stop him. He'll feature in the votes this year too, and the only reason he'll miss three is a timely reminder from Petracca that he's also surrounded by an aura of genius. 

We might be running out of money to keep Brayshaw, Jackson, or both, but if you were going to break the bank on anyone it's hard to argue against throwing enormous money at Oliver and Petracca. We'll be in trouble if they go off a cliff Thelma and Louise style in a few years, but there should be enough good times before then to tide you over forever. And if we keep the other two after this without resorting to a 1990s style brown paper bag in supermarket carpark scenario the list manager should get a life membership.

Appropriately, the golden generation combining for a joint BOG went a long to way to getting us out of a game that screamed 'danger' loud enough to cause hearing damage. Thanks to Fox Footy's package of highlights from last year you were reminded that we let them kick an absurdly high score, failed to kill the game off multiple times, and left ourselves vulnerable to being tipped over by the worst non-decision in history. 

What happened there shouldn't have had any impact on a game over 12 months later but I was still worried. But when am I not? As enjoyable as last week's romp was, there was a fear of balancing that surprise win with an equally surprising loss, and the grim feelings weren't helped by the further obliteration of our ruck stocks.

As fans of a team that - in the space of four months - lost to Collingwood in Sydney, won a final against Brisbane in Adelaide, and got the coveted flag via a 3400km detour to play a team from the next suburb over, we should know that weird things happen, but you'd still have scored astronomical odds on Sam Weideman and Mitch Brown forming our ruck combination in Round 16. Maybe if everything had gone horribly wrong 2019 style and we were battling to finish 16th, but not for a side a game clear at the top of the ladder. Fortunately, it didn't stop us winning, and will probably be remembered (if only by sickos like me) as a one week curiosity. 

Americans love a depth chart, and I doubt the Weid would have figured in any serious conversations about rucking before the season started. Always keen to find a reason why everything will go tits up, I saw into the future and generously set him at $150 to win the Stynes in the pre-season preview but realistically you could have put another zero on that and been safe. Sam needed all of Gawn, Jackson, McSizzle and Daw to fall over before being called into service as the #1 man. But here we were, with Maximum a week away, Jackson a late withdrawal, and the other two injured and injured/retired respectively. Austin Bradtke must have been inconsolable, realising that he might have last man standinged his way to a game.

The only other player on our list to regularly attend centre bounces in the past was Ben Brown, but I think he arrived with a contractual clause freeing him from ever having to do it again. Besides, he's flat out trying to get off the ground to do his main role so you wouldn't gain sending him to run around after a full-time ruckman. Next highest career hitouts on our list is Petracca with 13, and there's as much chance of him doing the job as me.

Given that there's nothing to be gained from taking him off our list mow, I wonder if Daw can make a shock return if we find ourselves in an even more dire injury scenario come September? Would certainly give new life to our recently delisted 'It's A Kind of Majak' headline, and would rival May, Melksham and Smith enjoying a Menage a' Premiership Medal on the last Saturday of September for fairytale endings. Either that or by the first week of finals we're reduced to switching between Charlie Spargo and Kade Chandler and hoping for the best.

The good news for Weid and Mitch is that the actual tapping of ball is the most dispensible part of a ruckman's job. Max and Jackson do the odd fancy manouevre over their head but their real value lies in contested marks and being very tall men who convincingly play like extra midfielders. In fact, we were so sure Adelaide would win every centre bounce that when Weideman did have a rare successful tap they were usually first to it anyway. Conversely, if you need further proof that hitouts are the worst stat ever taken seriously, consider that we lost them 57-13 and still won both centre and stoppage clearances overall.

All the backups needed to do was compete enough to stop it being a total walkover in the middle, and that they did. Mitch even chipped in with a couple of goals as well, so while I wouldn't want to go into every game under these circumstances they helped us get away with it here. Having one of the great MFC midfields at their feet can't have hurt.

After five minutes, fears of a letdown seemed exaggerated. Sure, two of the first three goals came from catastrophic defensive errors but you're not going to say no to an 18-0 lead. I'd have felt better if we hadn't butchered even better early leads in all three recent losses. And indeed, within a few minutes scores were level. It was nice while it lasted. 

The second most memorable thing about last year's loss was the Crows momentarily unlocking the secrets to an awesome defence and making us look easy to score against. It's a credit to our system that we didn't concede a similar score for another 53 weeks, and still haven't let in over 100 since this fan offered sincere congratulations to St Kilda in late 2019. 

On the rare occasions we've been troubled since, the defence has done their job but the forward line not being able to kick a winning score. Even the Freo wipeout could have been short-circuited if we'd gone on with our early form. Last week we found some success by spreading goals out instead of trying to go through the main forwards, and there was more of the same on offer here. Doesn't mean there weren't some ropey moments where it looked like they'd found the secret code again. Then everything kicked back into gear and we lured them into turning the ball over about 30 times going into attack.

I'm not even sure we were all that good early, but if they were going to hand over easy goals it was on us to take advantage. We did not, leading to two legitimate goals at the other end and one from a ruck free plucked directly out of an umpire's colon. Now that the game is won nobody's going to care enough to examine what technical breach Brown, M committed at the ruck contest. Looked a lot to me like somebody desperately trying to stand his ground in a contest where he was completely outmatched, then being jumped on by a larger man who has been to a thousand more ruck contests in his life. Apparently by allowing himself to be leapt on, Brown was guilty of a block. You be the judge:

Yes, the man with his neck getting adjusted like he's at the world's most brutal chiropractor was the guilty party. Cobblers. But through it went, scores were level, and another decent lead had turned to dust. 

You'll fondly recall that much of last year's disaster stemmed from letting Walker carry on like he was in his prime. There was a bit of that early here too, and he got the next goal as well. At this point May was looking as ropey as any time since their last battle, but ended up winning the Controversial Comments Derby in a landslide, spending the next three quarters pulling down saving marks like they were going out of fashion. He turned out to be one of our best players while Walker barely got a kick after half time. We were helped by some of the most hit 'n hope forward kicks since intercepts records have been kept, but I choose to believe that's another win for our defensive method rather than Adelaide just deciding to have a random meltdown.

Here's hoping for the sake of Taylor (never 'Tex') and the state of community relations in Australia that comparisons to his 2021 season end there. I won't lay the boots into him for doing a racism because our fans would go into full defensive siege mentality if a top player did the same thing. However, it does happen one day you could launch a better defence than this:

Crows fans weren't happy about Tay Tay's indiscretion being raised, and seemed to have forgotten about the night Alex Neal-Bullen bounced one of their players off Adelaide Oval like a basketball, but they remain less than fond of Jake Lever. This is good, because if there's anything footy needs it's more blood feuds. Forget letting the kids in for free, get people back to live games by giving them the chance to go nuts at opposition players who they think have done them wrong. It'll go too far when an angry fan clambers on top of the interchange Carlton vs Darren Milburn style, but until then sit back and enjoy the bitterness.

Even if I didn't believe in the old pro wrestling ethos that 'personal issues draw money', it would be hypocritical to have a go at anybody else considering my behaviour after you-know-who left. There's not a lot of genuine great memories pre-flag, but beating that person was always a highlight.  Also, he might have made enough money to have me killed but there's some comfort in his career ending with FUCK ALL in the trophy cabinet. Sadly (for them), Adelaide fans are stuck with the same problem as our fans who couldn't handle James Frawley leaving, there's no comeback from the knockout blow of the dearly departed winning a flag at his new club. I hope they maintain the rage for the good of the game, but do understand that he couldn't, shouldn't, and wouldn't give a toss what somebody sitting in the front row necking Farmer's Union Iced Coffee thinks.

Appropriately, one half of the golden twins saved us from the wobbles, with Petracca shoving an opponent off and turning around to drop a pass right on a miles-free Harmes inside 50. Meanwhile Oliver was collecting possessions at an industrial rate, and unlike the Freo game where people got upset that I said it was just accumulation for the sake of it, this was Classic Clayts. He hunted the ball high and low and literally barged through opponents to keep us moving while Adelaide were at their freshest and most enthusiastic.

Oliver's kicking efficiency suggests you wouldn't bet your life on him hitting a target by foot but it doesn't matter. Like Viney his entire life ethos is about spelunking through the tightest spots imaginable to get the ball, of course he's going to rush kicks out of packs. Every once in a while he gets the ball in space and hits a delightful kick that makes you wonder what life would be like if he wasn't our best inside midfielder since that became a thing.

If you want crisp disposal by a player in acres of space, look to the wing with Ed Langdon flying back and forth like he's on rails. Now that teams have realised his importance it's a lottery as to whether he'll be given the freedom to do whatever he likes or not, but it was Free Range Ed here. And if he doesn't get it, Jordon is having a breakout season doing a moderate paced version on the other side. Winning makes everything look better so come back next week for some doom and gloom but at the moment I'd mass marry our midfield if it was legal.

If you're into a spot of Langdon/Petracca you'd have loved our last goal, where Ed legged it around the outside of the ground and found your man free for a mark. This season hanging shit on Petracca's set shots has become the new hanging shit on Gawn's set shots, so we'd all mentally put it down for a point at best. The good news was that he'd developed a taste for blood from the goal crumbed off a defensive shambles, and to everyone's immense relief, Trac landed one from a standing start for the first time in god knows how long.

Now we were - relatively - rolling, and almost got another straight away via a rare centre bounce exit. This time their backline blunder - handballing straight to Fritsch 30 metres out - went unpunished but it suggested we were back on track after throwing away the hot start. Considering neither Bedford or Pickett had a touch for the quarter there was also improvement to come from our forwards.

Then, after 30 minutes of action packed, high scoring (by modern standards) footy where both backlines seemed intent on helping drive up average scores by any means necessary, the game did a 180 degree turn and went back to a defensive arm-wrestle where nobody looked likely to kick a goal again. To be fair we looked extremely likely when Harmes picked the ball up at the top of the square a minute in, and with nobody ahead of him somehow contrived to kick it out on the full. It may have been the worst miss of all time, until Bedford ran into an open goal in the third quarter and kicked it OOF from 15 metres out. 

It's one thing giving 14th placed suckers an even break, but you wouldn't want to be doing that in the big games. Mind you, if I'm rigid with my philosophy that every piece of play sends the game off in a different direction, which means you can't draw a line between individual incidents and the final result, Adelaide might have kicked the next eight and caused me to introduce fork to toaster.

This was around the time Adelaide switched from seeing forward targets on radar to just hoofing the thing in the air and waiting for any of Petty, Brayshaw, Lever or May to send it back. Forget what odds you've have gotten on Weid/Brown in the ruck, what chance Brayshaw being inducted as a fully fledged member of the Jurassic Pack? His intercept bravery is commendable when he's permanently one concussion from doom. I'm basically resigned to him leaving, but like Jackson I'll apply the premiership player rule and wish him (if not his new club) well. It will be interesting to see what role he plays at elsewhere, given that they can choose between third in the Brownlow as an inside midfielder, premiership player on the wing, or intercept king in the greatest defence ever put assembled. Won't be much help for us but should ensure he goes home with a multi-million dollar prize pack.

I wonder if there was an injury concern over one of the defenders that led to the unusual selection of Adam Tomlinson as substitute, or whether it was just recognition that this season our backline has been the most dangerous place on each. He's versatile enough to play various positions, even forward at one point with the Giants, but it could be the first time we've picked anything approaching a key position player as sub since embarrassing Brad Green by making him run through the banner as captain then sit on the bench in a stupid green vest post-186. I hate the medical sub on several different grounds but at least they've realised how unnecessary the vests were. As if the guy highlighted in green was otherwise going to slip onto the ground unnoticed and get a kick.

When Brown, B went off hobbling it looked like a random Tomlinson forward cameo was on the cards. If we were shitloads in front I'd have sent Lever forward just to further torment the locals. Stat fans note that Jake is now up to the third most MFC games of all time without a goal, what better time to get on the board than in a way that will give an entire stadium the shits? 

Sadly it never came to that, but I'm happy that Brown remained fit, even if his form continues to be sketchy. I know Weideman will be able to go forward again when either Jackson or Gawn return (though he might be going to the VFL if they both come back at the same time), but as close as travelling emergency van Rooyen is to playing it seems optimistic to throw him into the side now. I probably said the same thing when we picked Bowey last year and look how well that turned out, but it's different for a key forward. Maybe Geelong without intercept machine Tom Stewart might even suit him, but I can't see it happening. Bet heavily on a fate-tempting Alice Spring debut against Port.

There was a second Tomlinson tease when Hibberd had to go off for treatment, but it never got close enough for him to remove tracksuit, ending in a Chandlerish night of relaxation and match payments. Not the worst idea for a sub next week either, any further injuries in defence and Hawkins/Cameron/some random you've never heard of will go nuts. I cherish the memories of getting away without having May for large parts of the Prelim, but everything about that night was once in a lifetime, this is a totally different challenge.

The first 10 minutes of the second quarter were purely for fans of rugged defensive footy. And of Walker being given frees in ruck contests. This one was probably there, with the Weid all hands while trying to get some control in the contest. Thanks to Taylor for having an attack of morality, this time without a poorly acted apology video, and making up for the first quarter rort by missing his sitter. They got the next two anyway, but just as I was getting ready to jump out of the window like a stockbrocker in 1929 we were saved by your heroes and mine Oliver and Petracca. The latter set the former up to thump through his third and restore the lead, allowing us to rech half time a point ahead. About 59 short of what I'd have been comfortable with but better than the alternative.

There was more dour defensive struggle in the third before Trac hit the returning Bedford with a wonderful pass to open proceedings. This gently prised the floodgates open, Mitch retook the Brown Cup lead with his second, before Pickett dashed onto a loose ball and toe poked it through for a four goal lead. 

Alas, Kysaiah will probably be resting with the feet up on Thursday night due to an unnecessary whack to the guts of an opponent. He's big on line-ball clobberings of opponents as they dispose of the ball, and we love him for it, but will be in trouble for this one. 

Later, Lever was on the end of similar from a standing position, and gloriously riled up the locals by going down like he'd been kicked in the Lou Rawls. He was so invested in the 'annoy Adelaide fans' gimmick that he unnecessarily rushed a ball under no pressure when it was going through for a point anyway. For all the NQR decisions we suffered during the night, he was probably lucky to get away with this - as ridiculous as it would have been to nab somebody when it was always going to be a behind. Lever clearly enjoys extreme sports in his old hometown, having been rolled for handballing through from close range in the same fixture last year - an incident I only remember for the comparison with the cowardly umpiring squib at the end.

We could have been five goals up without Bedford's rancid miss, so when the Crows got a late one I was teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Winning a flag should have made all the bad feelings go away but it's clear that I'm somewhat scarred by turning a 17 point lead into a one point loss last year. For that reason, you can imagine how things were going for me when they got another 20 seconds after the restart, then a second via a holding the ball free that you could politely be described as abject bullshit. 

My comprehension of the game was affected by having four hours sleep, and by 4.25pm AEST all I wanted to do was go to bed. Had we gently pulled away I might have nodded off on the couch. Instead once the margin was back under a goal and we looked like chucking two leads in one game against them again I was wider awake than a mid-binge ice addict. Thank god for a bit of 2/3rds Mad Minute action, where first Langdon, then Viney, did their bit for finding alternative sources of goal. Langdon does so much running that they should harness his energy to provide green power.

That should have been it, and ultimately was, but not before a scare courtesy of the guy who kicked five debut and has done nothing since. The All New Brent Heaver failed to provoke an uprising, as his hard work was instantly destroyed by us plowing out of the centre for Sparrow's goal. Good to see a local boy doing well in Adelaide. If either SA side was smart they'd be looking at how they can use our future salary cap squeeze to nab players like him. He's not going to win a Brownlow anytime soon, and I'm still haunted by that ratshit handball towards Oliver against Sydney, but he's established as an important part of our side now. Mind you, I thought the same about Rivers and he's dropped off the face of the planet so what do I know?

Other than the obvious gags about tap water and serial killers, how come all these South Australians are content to play out their careers with us but WA kids are desperate to sign up for flights across the country every fortnight? I've been to Perth for non-Prelim purposes, it was very nice, and I'd live there if somebody gave me a free house but the idea of flying back and forth 15 times a year for roughly the same money - or less - you'd make in Victoria makes me ill. If I was drafted to a WA club you wouldn't even get Jeff White level service out of me, I'd be on the plane for good faster than Tom Boyd leaving GWS.

That goal was, at last, the death blow. Fritsch and Brown poured on a couple of junktime specials to make the margin more impressive but Adelaide's life force flushed away when their second comeback was sunk. 

It was hardly a performance to make you take weeks off in late September, but several significant steps better than the rubbish we dished up against them on the same ground last year. In the end, Round 16 is over, we're a game clear at the top of the ladder all but assured of playing finals, and still have the best defence in the league. If umpiring's the best thing we've got to complain about things must be going well. 

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Brayshaw, Jordon, Lever and Salem, who went close for the one vote. Partial credit to Weideman, who did his best in an impossible job.

Petracca climbs back into the second but it's still how far the Hamburglar in this race. Barring the sort of calamity that end in me being coaxed off the roof by a police negotiator, good luck making up 15 votes on him from here. If anybody's keen on launching their bid, there's still 55 votes on offer. Brayshaw still holds the shock lead in the Seecamp.

43 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Christian Petracca
25 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
24 - Jack Viney
19 - Ed Langdon
16 - Angus Brayshaw (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
15 - 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
In honour of signing both Oliver and Petracca for life (or until there's a salary cap crunch and one of them is given away for peanuts), it has to be Clayton's set up for his mate's big roost in the second quarter. No change to the top three for the season, and they're rich enough to buy their own weekly prize but thanks for the goal anyway.

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

The All New Bradbury Plan

The science is almost settled on the top eight plan, so for now I'll focus on holding off anyone with hopes of a double chance. Win, lose or draw on Thursday, your Round 17 bingo card is:

Footscray d. Sydney
North d. Collingwood
Gold Coast d. Richmond
St. Kilda d. Fremantle (reverse if still concerned about making finals)
Essendon d. Brisbane
West Coast d. Carlton

.... and no remote interest in Port/GWS or Hawthorn/Adelaide. Hope they all have fun.

Historical curiosity corner
We've got so many champions at the moment that mere life memberships aren't going to be enough to recognise them all. Here's a free idea for the MFC - given that the idea of a Hall of Fame has all but been abandoned, what about expanding the 150 Heroes list by one every season? Have one bumper induction to cover 2009-2022, then make a big thing of adding a new Hero at the B&F every year.

By my count we'll need 14 new inductees to catch up by the end of this season. No offence to Paul Hopgood, but if he's in the originals then Gawn, Jetta, Jones, Oliver, Petracca and Viney are certainties. I'll argue the case for Fritsch and T. McDonald, along with D. Pearce and Paxman as AFLW legends. As the original version ignored coaches and administrators (and if they've been involved in a flag they're heroes to me), I'll also have Cardwell, Goodwin and Checker Hughes thanks.

That's 13, leaving us with one spot to punch on over. Off the top of my head you've got Neale Daniher, John Northey, Percy Page, Dick Wardill, Matthew Whelan, or anyone who pole vaults their way into immortality with a Fritsch-esque Grand Final performance. 

The idea of having an annual vote sends my nerd gene into overdrive, so if the club don't want to do this I will. It can replace Demonbracket as our pre-season tradition.

Next week
It wouldn't be the AFL Premiership Season without us going to Kardinia Park. May as well have the team called Melbourne playing there, considering how our taxes pay for the joint to be upgraded every 20 minutes. I'm sure the latest cosmetic touches are lovely, but my favourite version will always be the one where Gawn lobbed the minor premiership-winning kick into a construction site with nobody there to see it.

The Prelim was such an out-of-the-box performance that I'm not even considering it as part of whether we'll win here. Have never rewatched it in full, as if the result might somehow change, so might rectify that if I get two spare hours before Thursday night. The Round 23 game is a better guide, where even winding up to our peak, with a full side, we had to pull off the miracle comeback of a lifetime to win after the siren. Now that crowds are back good luck getting another 50 if somebody unnecessarily belts the ball over the fence.

I don't think we'll win, but that's not to say we can't. It'll be a good test of whether tonking one top side by 10 goals means anything in the wider scheme, or whether the Lions just had a shit night and went to pieces when the game was lost. For what it's worth my latest ladder predictor shenanigans have us playing them again in the first week, so feel free to interpret the results as either a) an important psychological blow for the future, or b) lulling them into a false sense of security, depending on how you're feeling on Friday morning.

IN: Chandler, Gawn, Jackson
OUT: M. Brown, Weideman (omit), Pickett (susp)
LUCKY: Bedford, B. Brown
UNLUCKY: Hunt, Laurie, van Rooyen, Weideman

There may be a future stage of my life where going to Geelong on a Thursday night seems like a good idea but this isn't it. May all you brave travellers get some value for whatever portion of your income went towards paying for the seat that's just cost you $50 to sit in.

Final thoughts
This was a win to be endured rather than enjoyed, but they all count in the end. The more the merrier.


  1. Possibly the best heading ever

  2. “Do you ever stop at random during your day and marvel about how we’ve ended up with so many great players at the same time?” Yes, every day. Let’s hope the admin guy has set up the salary cap spreadsheet correctly so we don’t face a Collingwood-style fire sale in 3 years’ time.

    There must be a way of shoehorning one A.Jakovich into the expanded Heroes List.


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