Sunday 28 August 2022

We shall overcome

Whoever the move to mid-year AFLW is meant to benefit, it didn't take into account the emotional conflict for those of us who have still got neck-deep interest in the men's game too. Sad, middle-aged types like me probably aren't their focus market, but there must be a lot of people who will struggle to focus until their side is knocked out of the original recipe competition. Then TV coverage that could have only been more South Australia focused if Anne Wills interviewed Don Dunstan at half time fired me up to the point where I realised that if you put a Melbourne jumper on my TV I'll lose the plot. Can't guarantee my thoughts will be with the women during the week, but while the games are on it's still real to me.

With respect to the players who have previously had to slog through heat, humidity and, in some cases tropical thunderstorms, I think pitting the early weeks of this league against a finals that will suck the oxygen out of everything around it is nigh on suicidal. Great for people like me who don't want to be involved in finals if their team's isn't involved, but good luck engaging as many people as before. 

Maybe the AFL is happy that they've ticked the box of having 18 teams, can claim the women's sports moral highground, and enthusiasts can enjoy themselves. Unless you're a North enthusiast and your next game has just been rescheduled to before a men's final, offering you the chance to pay through the nose for a ticket to Melbourne/Sydney or stay home. Curtain raisers are already vastly overrated in an era where many people can barely to get to the ground for one game, but to do it before a final is putrid. I'm not complaining about us playing more games on the MCG, but it's a bit contemptuous of the idea of a standalone women's competition.

The season wasn't perfect where it was, and the tight turnaround probably landed us one last season of Daisy Pearce before retirement, but it got several weeks of clear air before running into the pre-season. Now you've got 50% of the home and away season playing second fiddle to a different brand of the same sport and it just seems a bit contemptuous of the idea of a standalone competition. But what do I know? I'll still sit firmly in the centre ground of viewers between the sad men who go out of their way to tell you how much they hate watching, and the people who treat every game like the equivalent to Hannah Gadsby's Nannette.

If you're going to give a competition one week in the sun before treating it like a minor league, I can see why you'd put a Grand Final rematch in the first marquee timeslot. The bad news is that every Melbourne vs Adelaide game is guaranteed to be a massive struggle. Often it's us struggling to kick a goal. Even our only recent win against the Crows came via one of our all-time great defensive efforts, so it was never going to be a free-wheeling shootout. 

If you're bothering to read this you're probably appreciative of players spending four quarters tackling each other into dust, many would not have been. It didn't rate inside the top 20 shows on free to air, and pay TV numbers were lower than Round 1 last year. Neither is a catastrophic figure, but they've not exactly got the comp flying out of the gates. I'm more concerned that the worst game show in history Tipping Point gets 255,000 viewers mid-afternoon. Where do they gather these figures from, mental asylums?

Unless you had a vested interest in the teams involved, I can understand how the South Australian Footy Show coverage might have turned you off. Port Adelaide's introduction got more coverage in the pre-match than we did, and once it started Abbey Holmes had the most fun since she won a flag with the Crows every time they went near goal. Later the mask slipped entirely and she referred to Ash Woodland as "our leading goalkicker".

One aspect of AFLW that everyone can appreciate is the playing at novelty grounds. In this case the originally scheduled Norwood Oval's surface was damper than a Vietnamese rice paddy so the whole operation was shifted *consults Google maps* south to Glenelg. The last minute switch, and as far as I can tell the first time any MFC side has played at the ground, meant they didn't have time to properly cover non-AFL compliant sponsors. They got away with a Holden billboard being covered by a white panel, but gave the game away by failing to adapt to a circular IGA logo on a black background.

Considering the game had been moved because Norwood was damp, it was ironic that Glenelg featured a rock hard surface that all but guaranteed death for anybody caught in a sling tackle. This ended in the ball bouncing like a golf ball down a cart path, adding an extra level of slapstick to proceedings.

Both teams have a raft of new players from the Grand Final (and we must have set some kind of record by delisting Maeve Chaplin, then taking her back with our first draft pick), but the early stages suggested a repeat of the usual formula where Adelaide would squeeze the life out of us, then win it by pinching a couple of goals in the opposite direction. Certainly looked that way when they got the opening goal. 

The backline did a very good job under pressure throughout the night, to the point where you think we could keep one of the rotten teams goalless, but this was a cockup. Birch had the sit for an intercept mark only for Gillard to spoil right into the hands of an Crows forward. Considering how Abbey laughed at Crows goals like she was in the studio audience of Seinfeld, Ash Woodland's four game/zero goal stint with us didn't get a mention. 

After this Gillard was very good. It's a nice luxury to be able to plonk a player inside 50 that most opponents can't get within 10 centimetres of. Once she gets past youthful enthusiasm and learns when to defer to somebody in a better position she may destroy all known records for intercept possessions.

Despite the departure of Shelley Scott, our forward line didn't look much different to last year. Harris was pushing further up the ground, and god knows what Bannan was doing, but otherwise note a great deal of change. Certainly no crumbers, which is where we went as wrong as you could last year while still making a Grand Final. In lieu, enter Kate Hore and the lunar surface to finish what had been our best end-to-end ball movement of the night. 

Don't be distracted by the fact that she was actually trying to square the ball straight to a Crows player, or that said player probably touched it as the ball did the zany bounce over her head. In a competition where goals are at a premium take them however they come. As payback for her good luck here, she kicked three further behinds, including a couple of dead-set sitters from right in front. Still didn't qualify for Miss of the Night, but more on that later.

This set off a decent period for us, and with West, Purcell and Paxman racking up midfield possessions like the Finnish Prime Minister racks up [Deleted on receipt of the test results - international affairs editor] we were matching them more convincingly that any recent meeting. To be fair, West and Purcell's kicking efficiency was about 9% combined but they were working in phonebooth spaces so I'm willing to focus on the positives. Like keeping them to one scoring shot for the quarter. 

Considering some of the bloodbaths they've unleashed on us, a slender lead was worth celebrating. Especially with some of our big hitters - Bannan, D. Pearce, Zanker etc... barely seen. It can't be underestimated how important it was to get off to a good start, the world's second shonkiest competition structure (you'll never beat the VFL having 21 teams play 18 games) has given us a cow of a draw. Of the four expansion teams the only one we play is Essendon, who will be the best of the four, and it's another year missing out on the bye against Geelong. Instead we've got good sides up and down the fixture. Everything changes with extra teams, but a loss wouldn't have killed our finals chances. Last year a 6-4 side made it, but it wouldn't have left much room for error in playing for the top four.

It says it all that the highlights of the second quarter on the AFL site are just people being tackled. Adelaide got one point, and we would have done similar if not for a horror turnover that landed in Harris' hands to hammer through from 40 metres with a minute left. 

Things got going early in the third when the Crows kicked two in a row to take the lead. Meanwhile we were making scoring look impossible, having kicked goals via a) fluky bounce, and b) shizen defending, and completely stuffing up every proper chance created. Their second need not have happened if the umpires, who'd been adjudicating holding the ball at random all night, pinged her for spinning to avoid a tackle, straight into another that couldn't have been anything but ball. If there's a women's game in [insert regional South Australian town] next week they'll be at it.

The way things were going I've got faith Adelaide would have missed the set shot instead of creating a goal from the stoppage, instead our literal old friend Woodland sped past Gillard's tall attempt at a tackle and it looked like they'd sorted us out, until Hanks kicked a rolling goal from the pocket. Then came one of the greatest moments in goalkicking history. 

Lauren Pearce marked at the top of the square, then did one of the worst set shots ever, not even booting it straight into the mark from the top of the square but barely catching her right hand as it veered away at minimum speed, unlikely to make the distance. The Adelaide players might have been distracted by how funny it was and failed to notice Daisy swooping in to pay off anybody who had ANY PEARCE on their next goalkicker ticket. This came to the absolute disgust of the defenders who were convinced somebody had touched it. And by the reaction I'd say one of them did, but the goal umpire wasn't interested so bad luck. This is the sort of exciting situation you used to get before everything was ruined by video replays.

Now, against all sensible odds, we were 11 points in front at the last change. Which, no matter what gender's involved, is a one point loss waiting to happen. Symbolically, the final term started with Pearce, L being clobbered into the granite centre square. Then Adelaide got lucky via their own temporarily dead player. She was on the ground looking DOA, and if anyone had been able to take a mark in the next 20 seconds the umpire would probably have stopped the game to check vital signs. Instead she popped back up like The Undertaker for a goal and it was - sadly - game on again.

I'll never have confidence that a Melbourne side will kick the next goal in these circumstances, but what do you know we held on without conceding another. It ended with Zanker turning up for the first time to mark unopposed at the top of the square. She was set up by Hore, who marked on the boundary line but wisely deduced that based on her earlier set efforts a set shot would have skewed off the boot and killed somebody over the fence. Incidentally, if you need proof that AFLW attracts a more genteel audience, not one person was seen hanging over the fence screaming abuse at her.

Adelaide's last chance went south with what will surely qualify as the funniest free kick of the season. Hore did multiple sidesteps towards an opponent who wasn't having any of her deception efforts, eventually walked into the tackle, and somehow came out of it with a high contact free. Then she went from lying on the ground looking like she'd endured a traumatic brain injury to completely unscathed the moment the free was paid. Very enjoyable stuff, stiff shit locals. Paxy added another, we won be relatively lots, and all was right with the world of women's footy.

Based on that alone I'm not ready to declare us a premiership threat, but it was as good a start as we were going to get. As much as you'd love to rip a lowly team to shreds in the opener it's probably better to get a tough win out of the way and build up some momentum. I'd like to see more of it.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Eliza West
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Maddie Gay

Apologies to Gillard, Heath, Lampard and L. Pearce

Goal of the Week
As much as I loved Daisy's crumb or Hore's novelty bounce it has to go to Hanks from the pocket. Consider those your starting leaderboard for the season.

1st - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide
2nd - Daisy Pearce vs Adelaide
3rd - Kate Hore vs Adelaide

Next Week
Stiff shit North fans, we'll be at the home of football and you'll be trying to get Kayo to work without buffering and/or unexpectedly switching to Korfball. Despite their reputation the Roos have never done anything of note, and I'd like to help them get off to as bad a start as possible. They're also probably the only side in the competition that doesn't have one of our ex-players. The closest we can get is Jake Bowey's sister, who hopefully doesn't offer her new side the same talismanic luck that he did.

Final Thoughts
It doesn't take away the Prelim or Grand Final losses (and framed premiership merch would have formed a lovely double act with the men's equivalent), but it's a start. The Crows may never be the same again now that they've got to share their state, and after winning three flags while we toiled just to make finals I hope this was the official toppling of the first domino in their demise. Not that I'm bitter at all.

Monday 22 August 2022

Thrash 'n Treasure

Last week I threatened to go hee and stay there if we were a premiership team. I'm not entirely convinced yet, but might spend the week doing research on just in case. For the conquering heroes went to a sold-out Gabba and returned having royally stuffed the locals, offering Melbourne fans last round memories from that ground other than collapsing in the last quarter and missing finals. 

There were some less savoury memorable moments too, as we discovered that some people don't know where macho head games end and low-blow personal sledging begins. More on morons later. For now, let's concentrate on absolutely clobbering the Lions. Having already done it once this year I thought there was no chance of a repeat. We'd caught them by surprise earlier in the year coming off a string of losses, but surely they'd learnt lessons that could be applied in a straight win/loss contest for a double chance, in front of a relatively massive home crowd? Apparently not, because as much as the Lions tried to engineer a thrusting, manly atmosphere, they folded like a house of cards under pressure. 

On the other hand, we played as well as any time since that last battering, ensuring that the lofty ladder position we'd set up by winning the first 10 games didn't ebb sadly into the humiliation of an Elimination Final. Now we take a week off and return for another crack at September with our tails up. And after last year, which team would you trust more to hold their form across breaks at this time of the year? We had more byes than the VFL on our to way to the flag and it didn't hurt us a bit. Might be time to lock everyone in a compound again. 

Contrary to popular belief, I was not responsible for Channel 7's pre-match entertainment. You can tell, because I'd have live traded Brian Taylor to TVSN for the Phillips XXL Airfryer. Somebody sympathetic to the cause must have been involved, because it started with Mark Jamar reminiscing about when he and Brent Moloney rooted Adelaide, then switched to footage of Gawn thumping the ball into the face of a GWS comedy wig wanker. Later Corey Wagner was seen hanging over the fence in celebration, and if they'd just been able to work in a mention of that other great Queensland product The Spencil I'd have achieved total ecstasy.

The road to our second consecutive top end finish hasn't always been pretty, and we could have won this by a massive margin that would have rendered Sydney's percentage irrelevant, but if you're old enough to remember Jamar and Moloney then you'll appreciate that these are still wondrous times. If we plummet out of the finals in straight sets you probably won't hear from me for a month but please consult all the final round posts from 2007 to 2017 and tell me this isn't a better way to live your life. There's a different brand of terror in watching your team have to continuously prove that they're still good, but it beats following... just plucking a random name out here... Essendon.

After sneaking over the line in the dead of night last week, this was the little dollop of wallop we needed to kick off the campaign for Flag XIV. It's one thing to do a Geelong 2018 and beat rubbish in your last two games by 280 points combined then melt under finals pressure, tonking a contender in this fashion is as good a setup for finals as we're going to get. Whether it translates to actual success nobody knows, and I don't know if it would have struck fear into the other contenders as much as the commentators would have you believe, but in the immortal words of Greg Champion we've given ourselves EPC - every possible chance.

The game itself will be forgotten because of the extended second half junktime and off-colour shenanigans, but the first 60 minutes of footage will comfortably fit on a compiliation of our greatest home and away hits. Unlike last time we didn't even have to execute the old rope-a-dope and wait for the Lions to blow themselves up missing multiple opportunities first. This was literally good from the bounce, before a second quarter that exploded with the intensity of commandos doing a hostage rescue left us 11 goals in front at half time. If that seemed unusual it certainly was, equalling our sixth largest half time lead ever

I think I've been at more than six games when we've been further behind at the half, so good to not only belt somebody, but to do it in an important game. For obvious reasons the excitement value fell short of the Prelim/Grand Final rampages, but if we're lucky it will be looked back on as fondly as Gawn changing the course of history after the siren at Kardinia Park. Even if we get rompered in straight sets, this will still be remembered as one of the most entertaining first halves of all time once the sooking subsides.

The icing on the cake of our best start since dear old 1998 was steamrolling through an obviously pre-planned, horribly backfiring, and funny for the first three quarters campaign of niggle that was as intimidating as being flogged with a warm lettuce. This may have been why they had pictures of umpires up for players to study, but it wasn't much help. My favourite bit of their entrance was the two blokes holding whiteboards up with tactical information that not one player even looked at while running past. It's good to get your priorities straight.

Brisbane's agitation coordinator was Dayne Zorko, a luxury version of Tom Bugg who has somehow blagged his way into captaining an AFL side for several years. He obviously agrees with our views that the number one thing footy needs is hateable villains, because he led their disastrous campaign to put us off via physicality from the front. Dayne, mate, our players punch on with each other in their spare time, why did you think this was going to get you anywhere? No wonder he turned to the NQR verbal gear when his mates gave up and left him fighting a sad, one man war that had been lost an hour earlier.

If the Lions planned to do half-hearted biff at the first bounce, none of them got a chance before Pickett carried on where he left off last week. His goal 15 seconds in was like taking a wicket on the last ball of one test, then another on the first ball of the next. Hopefully the Lions fan who joined in the racism last week enjoyed this and three more while her team swirled down the toilet. Stick that, and I can't stress this clearly enough, up your arse.

We've been involved in a lot of weird games this year, often ending in us kicking a higher score than usual and still losing, but when Jackson won his own clearance and nearly set Petracca up for a second I was about to kick back and light a cigar Brayshaw style. And didn't we swizz them a treat by bringing Harmes back in to presumably tag Neale, then sending Gus to him instead. That's what you want in a midfield, players who can perform so many roles that opposition coaches are left rifling through Plan B, C and D envelopes 30 seconds into the first quarter. You know who our key defenders are going to, you certainly know which tall forward we're going to kick it towards, versatility in the middle of the ground could be the all-important surprise element when the real stuff begins.

That Jackson clearance kicked off his best game for ages. I'm resigned to him going, but there's time to depart with a) more silverware, and b) an asking price inflated like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. This demonstrated why it would roping him into staying would be unbelievable, even if only for another couple of years. But when he was subbed off as a precaution with a knee complaint during the last quarter I did wonder what would happen if he completely wrecked himself before the end of the year? Do Freo suddenly remember several hundred thousand dollars of unknown salary cap pressure and walk away, or do they carry on with the long term plan and cross fingers that there's no long term damage. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, every premiership player is sacred so I'm wishing that he has the run of a lifetime over the next few weeks, then has a long, profitable career in a side that never wins a thing.

We still got the second goal, and while that's par for the course now our problem is usually what comes next. In this case, many more goals. First we had to survive a set shot from Charlie Cameron, who missed, then went into the witness protection program. His follow up to being held to nothing by Michael Hibberd last time, was being held to nothing by Michael Hibberd this time. His kick didn't even make the distance, and if you can ever judge a team by its first few minutes the Lions weren't in any state to take advantage of our casual approach to keeping leads.

We took advantage of this miss via the most unlikely source in the team. Eric Hipwood - looking even more like a surly 14-year-old girl than ever - clattered into Lever in a marking contest, giving away a 50 that left Jake close enough to justifiably have a shot without the media pursuing him through the streets like a common criminal Bayley Fritsch style. 

As the man who set up Gawn in Geelong, and had a major contribution towards Pickett vs Carlton I wouldn't have cared if Jake had a ping from 65 metres out on the boundary line, he deserved a chance to get amongst the action. 

That he did, landing the ball the barest possible margin over the line, setting up off one of the great goal celebrations, as he nearly had a seizure from the shock of it all. Considering how narrowly it went over, credit to the umpires for not ruining the moment with a pointless video review. 

He'd kicked three goals at Adelaide, but 77 games game without one in our colours was the third longest streak ever. Only one man has ever broken his duck later. The McSizzle brothers have still got him covered between them, taking a combined 134 games to break the drought. One went on with goalkicking, the other plays for Carlton. I doubt Lever will follow either of their paths, but it's nice to know we've got somebody else who can bomb a long kick at goal in an emergency.

Lever's first goal in years was heartwarming human drama, but I was still panicking about the Lions getting their hands on the ball and making a game of it. Not soon enough to stop us kicking a fourth, but when our dominance was briefly interrupted by a Joe Daniher goal from the next bounce I thought that might have prompted them to get involved. After playing against us like he's got a wooden leg for years, this was a rare flawless outing in front of goal for Joe. He made up for it with a shithouse field kick that butchered any slim momentum his side was building after half-time.

That goal was only the slightest resistance against unstoppable tide. After recovering a goal in the shortest possible time, they gave it back almost as quickly. Brown got this one, and after coming in for all sorts of criticism from 'measured' to 'positively stupid' over the last few weeks, I was pleased that he had his best game since Round 1. 

In a measure of how ridiculously this game started - and how badly Brisbane kicked inside 50 - Brown even took a relieving mark in the back pocket at one point during the first quarter. Anyone who still treats inside 50s as a meaningful stat should have already been carted off to the funny farm, but this proved beyond all doubt how useless they are as a measurement. The most inefficient attacking team on the face of the planet had nearly 10% fewer than our season average but kicked goals from every available angle, while Brisbane racked them up by the dozen for no benefit other than padding the stats of our defenders. If somebody tries to make a serious footy point where inside 50s are a key factor, treat them like a used car salesman trying to flog you a 1999 Daihatsu Charade.

It was a big night for Brown trying new things, which nearly ended in tragedy when he tried to glide gracefully through the midfield like Christian Petracca and was cannoned headfirst into the hardest part of the ground. What would otherwise have been an obvious holding the ball ended in the free going the other way, Brown going off for a concussion test with his face looking like it had been sandpapered, and Cameron Rayner suspended. 

I've got sympathy for Rayner, who had no malicious intent, but now that the league's going through the motions on concussion you're rooted for driving anybody's head into the ground. If Brisbane challenge I'd advise not calling the captain as a character witness. I've got less sympathy for said captain, who was mown down by a Langdon tackle, and responded by rolling him into a headlock and possibly having a yank of the hair while complaining to one of the umpires whose profile he'd studied in the rooms. If he'd stuck to that sort of thing it would have been declared 'good for football'.

At this point I thought Brown was finished. My mind immediately went to "thank god for the bye week" so he could run out his concussion period and be back in time for the next game. Maybe his gigantic fluffy hair provided a safety cushion, because he returned after quarter time with no ill effects. Good news for us, bad news for medical sub James Jordon. After playing every game until now, and seemingly confirming his spot on the wing, he found himself having 2021 flashbacks after being relegated to the Chandler/Bedford onlooker role. He got a brief run in the last quarter when we finally joined in the rorting of the sub rule to take Jackson off, and must have been wondering where that sort of courtesy was 11 months earlier in Perth. 

It was almost time to breathe into a paper bag when Langdon did his Melksham impersonation and took a pack mark for the fifth, before a piece of Carltonian time-wasting gifted us another on the siren. Like the Blues, their efforts to casually dink the ball around and take time off the clock were thwarted by somebody missing a simple kick, and Mr. K. Pickett of Woodville/West Torrens extended the margin beyond 30 points at quarter time. This was both outrageous from a football perspective, outrageously fun for non-Lions viewers, and an outrageous strain on my health. 

Imagine being somebody who could relax at just five goals up with three quarters to play. As I was decompressed from the Carlton game by lamenting how close we'd come to disaster, one onlooker said "can't you ever just be happy?" Thanks for asking, the answer is yes. I found perfect harmony with about 10 minutes to go in the Grand Final, everything else is just working towards another moment like that. Maybe this year, maybe when I'm 78, maybe never, but at least it happened once. It will certainly never happen, as enjoyable as this was, at quarter time.

Statistically, there wasn't much chance of losing from here, and if we weren't playing a top(ish) side I'd almost have believed it without waiting to cross the Chris Sullivan Line. Then the Lions belatedly had a go for a few minutes and obviously my first thought was that we'd end the night humiliated, the victims of memorable collapse. We survived Neale dashing out of the first bounce and trying a dainty chip from 40 metres that didn't score, but they got one a couple of minutes later, and when another centre clearance led to a shot straight after, the fundamental orifice noticeably tightened. 

Then the Lions put on a tribute to Fitzroy and Bears of old by giving up. Appropriately the two varieties of lion are the only sides we've had equal or bigger half time leads against since I started watching footy. By midway through the quarter Brown had recovered from his face-first meeting with centre wicket to kick a second, Pickett was hoovering crumbs like a robot vaccuum, and there was a bit of tits up about the locals. 

In a repeat of the 2021 finals, a respectable lead erupted into a massive game-winning margin at the drop of a hat. You didn't really know how it happened until you watched a replay, but you instinctively knew it was good. Against the odds, I've seen a lot of fun games since the 1989 Elimination Final but landslides in important matches stick with you forever. As will Alex Neal-Bullen unloading a power chunder for the ages. For all the scorn poured on Channel 7's coverage, randomly zooming in and out like the director is pissed, they delivered the goods by focusing on him just before the eruption. I thought his guts had been affected by walking into 350 tackles in the last month, but it turns out he'd been walloped behind play by somebody who didn't fancy playing an Elimination Final.

Things were progressing so well that Petracca got one with a novelty bounce that went roughly the only way it could to avoid all the defenders, and we were already effectively in the sheds with top four sewn up. Rather than Mad Minute stuff, this was 15 minutes of tormenting players who looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. Chris Fagan spent the whole time looking on from the bench as if he was about to strangle somebody with a headphone cord. Our former Reserves coach didn't seem to be taking any comfort from his MFC life membership. By the time Fritsch got a piss easy one from close range I ran around the room in excitement.

At this stage of his career, praising Clayton Oliver is like telling Da Vinci that he paints a good ceiling, but this was the perfect example of a game where less was more. I'll take his 30 possessions here over some of the +40s any day of the week. He may have hair like 2 Minute Noodles and a regrettable moustache, but he's the greatest non-mechanical extractor ever invented. This performance could have won him a Brownlow, and if they're going to give them exclusively to midfielders anyway he might as well hang one in the trophy cabinet alongside a premiership, several best and fairests, and however many digital awards with all the value of an NFT that this site will give him before he's done. 

A 10 goal lead late in the second quarter of a game I'd expected to be a 50/50 proposition was scarcely believable, so when Brown beat four defenders before goalling after the siren I was ready to go the airport and throw rose petals on the ground - Bombers fans to James Hird style - when the team got back to Victoria. The bit I liked was how our defenders were marking everything that came within their postcode, while Brisbane's were either spoiling out of bounds, or into positions that set Pickett up to do Picketty things. It was a tremendously disorganised performance from the Lions, and I fear we're going to struggle to find anyone else in the finals with that sort of cavalier attitude to life. 

Conceding an enormous first half score that all but destroyed your chances of winning a flag would be enough to make most players slink into the rooms with tails between their legs. Not Captain Controversy, who kept up the niggle beyond the point where anyone was taking him seriously. For now our players just laughed in his face, while his teammates realised they were following General Custer into battle and tried to avoid being dragged into looking silly. Turns out this was just encouraging him to come up with new material.

Obviously, the night would have been better if we'd gone on with it after half time and won by an enormous margin, but that's a minor quibble. I didn't see it happening at the time, they couldn't have played any worse, so as long as there wasn't mass Hari Kari amongst the maroon wearers I thought the margin would hover around the same area for the rest of the night. And it did, but not before they whacked through a couple of goals that briefly had me thinking about the greatest comebacks in history

Obviously it wasn't going this way, but it was like knowing how unlikely you are to die in a plane crash but still panicking during takeoff. If I know anything about Huge McLuggage it's that he can't kick set shots for shit, so if there was ever a scenario that was going to kick off Miracle On Grass II it was him landing one from an obscure angle. This finally encouraged the crowd to come back to life, giving them something legitimate to get excited about instead of just acting like they were in a Price Is Right studio audience after spotting themselves on the scoreboard.

Even if they'd kicked the next goal from 20 metres out we'd still have been eight in front, but Daniher blowing the pass that set ended in another Fritsch goal was absolute confirmation that nothing short of a North Korean nuclear strike could stop us from here. Given what happened with both the play and the spicy chat, it would have been better for everyone if both sides had just shaken hands and walked off after Petracca improbably squeezed one through a pack.

It was back to 70 points at three quarter time when our old friend Zorko (has won a 'Q Clash') decided to exercise the nuclear sledging option against Harrison Petty (has won an AFL Premiership). It's probably the same sort of uncouth material he does every week, except this time the reaction exposed him. Stiff shit, live by the sword, die by the sword. 

The last quarter doesn't need any description, because the whole thing was a sideshow to the Petty/Zorko incident. They kicked a couple of consolation goals, our players spent 30 minutes telling the opposition captain to modify his behaviour, and ultimately the only damage was to a single reputation. 

By the time you read this there will be 250 versions of what he supposedly said, and 10x as many manly men going out of their way to assure you that NOTHING anybody said could EVER make them cry. I don't need to know the exact words that were said, especially if it violates the privacy of a third party, and if players and clubs are happy to sort it out between themselves that's enough for me, but it still begs the question of how you go on as captain of a club after carrying on like this. 

There's been a lot of "whatever he said must have been bad" due to the emotional response. I'm sure it was, but I wonder what the reaction would have been if Petty didn't have to behave himself on the eve of the finals. Violence is bad etc... etc... but if the same thing had happened to a player with nothing to lose, would the comments have been followed by Zorko flying arse over tit into Row A?

Other than laughing at the idea of a captain being lippy with anyone after leading his side into slaughter, I'm not going to tee off on Zorko like a mass murderer. I wouldn't shake his hand if you paid me, but every fanbase in the competition has turned a blind eye to players saying or doing worse. Let him melt in his own mess. You've got to work hard to be considered a bigger heel than the teammate who thinks the murder of 27 schoolchildren was staged for political purposes. 

The game petered out to absolutely nothing by the end, so the real action surrounded what would happen at the final siren. You didn't need to be Law and Order: Sledging Unit to realise he was in the frame for the Petty incident from the way our players treated him during the quarter. It's comical that he spent the immediate aftermath, especially when bailed up by Steven May, furiously denying his comments, then admitting responsibility anyway. I suppose when you've got form for being a turd everyone's just going assume you're guulty so it's easier just to own up. Other highlights included Trent Rivers treating him like some pisshead who'd tried to shake his hand after jumping the fence.

My interest in other clubs usually begins and ends with the first and final sirens when playing against us, but I'm surprised at how few Lions fans went into siege mentality mode and defended him. It's one thing for a kid, or some Patrick McGinnity-style non-entity to say weird shit, but how embarrassed would you be to have this guy as your captain? The joke will be on me if he leads them to a flag on September 24, but on the most recent evidence there's flying the flag and there's flying your dignity out the window. Usually I'd want any interstate team to win the premiership if we don't, now Brisbane is out of the running due to spite. If they play like this again they'll also be out of the running due to being shite.

Back to the winners. We were bloody good when we needed to be, and coasted the rest of the way home. It would have come back to haunt us if St Kilda hadn't put on a decent show against the Swans, but all was well that ended well. We'll find out on Friday week how much of the first half was down to us, and how much came from the opposition neglecting to turn up. 

The good news for neutrals who just bloody love chaos is that there's a very real chance of us playing the Lions again during the finals, but for the rest of us you've got just under two weeks to imagine a future where things turn out just how you want them. No matter how hard anyone tries, nobody can diminish last year just because it was played in a strange location, but the missing piece of the puzzle is still winning one at home. It might happen in just over a month, and with two entries in the lottery we won't have anyone else to blame if it doesn't. Bring it on as quickly as possible.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Michael Hibberd
1 - Luke Jackson

Major apologies to Fritsch, Lever and May. Lots of apologies to many others. 

There are a minimum of two games to play, but by the time we reconvene this may be over. Regardless of what the contenders do in the next game there's no chance for Petracca if we win. I'm sure he'll be happy to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the team, so I'm prepared to call this one. Congratulations to provisional winner Clayton Oliver, who takes the title for a fourth time, leaving him one short of Nathan Jones' record. I think he'll probably get that in the end.

Likewise, in the minors there doesn't seem to be any likelihood of Petty pulling 14 votes back on May, so unless Brayshaw goes for a Supreme Court injunction this one's finished too. And despite giving one vote back to Jackson, Maximum can't be beaten under any legal circumstances so he officially pockets a ninth Stynes. Can't believe I've been at this so long that Jeff White won the first three. 

The Hilton remains... uninspiring, but there's still some drama on the horizon. Get ready for the fourth running of the Gary Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year. Everyone goes into the pool, we take the totals of the next 2-4 games only and a midfielder ends up winning. Get amongst it.

63 - Clayton Oliver (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- Can't win without four finals ---
45 - Christian Petracca
--- Can't win full stop ---
35 - Jack Viney
27 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
25 - Angus Brayshaw
24 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Ed Langdon
12 - Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Harrison Petty
9 - Jake Bowey
7 - Bayley Fritsch
6 - Luke Jackson, Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - James Harmes, Michael Hibberd, James Jordon, Jake Melksham
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Christian Salem
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
I know junk time had well and truly arrived by this point, but I'm still fond of Petracca doing an old fashioned spelunk through traffic to wobble one home. It gets bonus points for being just the sort of goal that makes you want to self-harm when your side has already put in a rotten performance. It's funny because it didn't happen to us. Apologies to the Pickett one where he changed direction a couple of times before snapping.
No change to the overall leaderboard.  

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

Next week
AFLW gets one week in the sun before men's finals coverage squeezes all the oxygen out of it for a month. I'm sure changing the season so the opening rounds are played against the most eagerly anticipated games in the other competition's calendar suits somebody but I reckon it's shithouse. And I know I've said this year every year, but we're definitely going to need a guest reporter or two during the season - I'm burnt out as anything just doing the men's reports without trying to watch and write W reviews in the middle of a finals campaign. Apply via the usual channels.

The week after that
We've got a semi. For the first time in 3.5 decades it's a final against the Swans, and it's at home. This was probably the most likely outcome of a huge Sunday for fans of the live ladder. I had nightmare visions of St Kilda, who kindly recalled Dean Kent for his 100th and last game then made him medical sub, crumbling under disinterest and allowing them to cover the required margin but they never went close. That was nice of them. There were brief periods during the afternoon where we were in the frame to play Freo and Collingwood, but as much as the latter would have brought the house down it's probably a good thing that Sydney 

As for the Blues, their result ended up having no impact on us whatsoever, so the only reason I mention their tremendous collapse is to say I feel bad for all normally functioning Carlton fans, but hope whoever wrote this tweet after we stuffed up the 2017 finals had the worst Sunday night imaginable.
The best bit for me, though probably not anyone else considering my recent record, is that the game has landed in the one timeslot next weekend where I can go. Had it been played up there I wouldn't have felt bad about not being there live (although I did have a casual look at flights for Thursday - Saturday before their game started, just in case), but would cracked the shits in epic fashion if I'd been unable to see us play an MCG final. Thank you to whoever in AFL land recognised all the nice things I've said about them over the years and delivered this blessed fixture. Added bonus - as Brisbane play before us we'll know if a loss will mean a sooner than expected Zorko vs Everybody rematch. 

I don't know what to think about our chances. We lost to them in Round 12 as part of a fortnight where our forward line had practically ceased to exist and May was recovering from a concussion/thinking about a night out in a fancy French restaurant. I'm sure they've got players who weren't available last time as well, but logic suggests we won't have to rely on a forward line of Gawn/Fritsch/thin air this time. You don't want to say it, but I think we might win. If not there really is always next week.

The first change writes itself, Bowey did very little wrong but if Salem's fit I've got to have him. Otherwise, excepting horses for courses moves that are well above my level of comprehension, do we need to do anything? Despite the joy that his epic barfing has given the world I'm still off ANB, but am willing to accept that he's playing a part in the system that nobody else will replicate. And Harmes stays, now that we've pulled the wool over Brisbane's eyes let's have him tag some poor sap while Brayshaw returns to patrolling the premiership wing.

Long-term, there's an outside chance of a McSizzle comeback. He's going to play three quarters in the VFL finals, and while I doubt they tinker with a winning formula straight away, the option of playing him will be there in later weeks. I wouldn't underestimate how important he was to us in the first half of the year, but at the moment you could argue that Melksham is doing just as good a job from a different perspective. Either way, nice to have options, and nice to have extra games to implement them no matter what happens.

IN: Salem
OUT: Bowey (omit)
LUCKY: Neal-Bullen

Final thoughts
Six months of warmup madness ends, the most important month begins. Despite having just watched one of the best wins of the season, the prospect of playing finals stressed me so badly that I stopped off for a Zinger burger on the way home, then ate another truckload of shit at home, couldn't sleep all night and woke up in a foul mood. The September pressure is getting to me and the month doesn't start for another week.

Monday 15 August 2022

Pickett pocket

It's times like this where I'm tempted to go back and rearrange old headlines so they can be used for games that suit them better. For instance, using 'Blue ROFL' on them nearly blowing a huge lead against us in a meaningless practice match now seems like a colossal waste. 'Funny/Piss Funny' would also apply to the most chaotic finish since Tom McSizzle desperately chucked the ball at his boot in Perth five years ago.

We're world famous for being involved in weird things, but this was the most baffling win in a long time. From the first bounce we did everything right except convert chances into scores and still had to rely on an all-time great pack mark, the crumb of a lifetime, and the opposition melting under pressure to win with two goals in the last two minutes. My vow to never take footy as seriously again post-flag went out the window, by the end I was about to expire. 

Let's not get entirely distracted by the bonkers finish, this was another in a long line of games where we gave suckers an even break and it almost came back to haunt us. The only MFC 2022 cliche missing was not having gone four goals in front before collapsing. That it ended with the very non-2022 scenario of actually winning a close one was the ultimate bonus. In fact, it was our first win by under a goal in front of a crowd since late 2020 - and as that came in front of a family and friends audience of 1204 it doesn't really count. So it's all the way back to 2019 for anything comparable - also against the Blues. Given beat them by a point in an early empty stadium match they must be thoroughly sick of us. by now.

Winning is great, winning thrillers is even better, but as a trial for finals it felt like taking a Melbourne Cup horse to Warburton and having it fall over the line in a photo finish. Maybe it'll be the psychological boost they need to get moving and mow down everyone in the way again but I still wouldn't be arranging to have your front fence painted red and blue in late September just yet. We're not going to get away with flinging the door open for the opposition half a dozen times like this. Eventually it swung back and smacked Carlton in the face, but as wonderous a finish it was we got a huge assist from their suicidal efforts at shutting the game down.

Ironically we probably played better against superior opposition last week and lost, so maybe there is hope yet. I'm just terrified that we're not going to kick big enough scores to beat top sides. Melksham was fantastic here, and we had 20 more inside 50 tackles than against the Dogs (e.g. 20), but at this stage I can't imagine kicking winning scores in multiple finals. Last year turned out ok from roughly this spot but the multiple explosions in the Prelim and Grand Final were once in a lifetime incidents. Another avenue to goal would help, we might have got back in the game courtesy of a hopeful long bomb, but when you do 57 a week it's going to come off eventually.

Unless there's some deep state conspiracy about lulling everyone into a false sense of security on Ben Brown then freeing him up in September I guess we're going with 1x key forward and 1x roaming ruckman from here. Weideman has all but been written off, they're not going to roll the dice on van Rooyen, McDonald's not coming back in time and Mitch Brown is so break in case of emergency that he should play behind a plastic window.

I don't know how to take the incumbent Brown at the moment. Half the time he looks to have one foot in the grave, then you see him halving contests from absymal forward 50 entries and wonder if it's entirely his fault. His stats aren't much different to last year, but considering how halfway through Round 1 he looked likely to challenge for the Coleman things haven't gone ideally. I would argue that he'd thrive with a permanent second tall, but when you review the list of other options I know where we're going to find one short of wrapping McSizzle's foot in the Shroud of Turin during the bye week. Whether you like it or not, Brown will be the focal point we're going to live and die by in September - everyone else can feel free to use him as a decoy and go Grand Final Fritsch style crazy instead.

While we continued to struggle forward, and there's no doubt 'connection' would have had a run in Goodwin's press conference is the game was 16 seconds shorter, you couldn't ask for much more from the rest of the side other than ruthlessly crushing top eight opposition. Which brings us awkwardly to Patrick Cripps, who was allowed to play after overturning a two match ban via the longest court case since OJ Simpson.

If Carlton could afford lawyers to tease out so many technicalities that the AFL will probably have to change the rules to avoid a precedent that's their good fortune, I don't know why any of our fans should care. This didn't stop thousands of them exuding loser Collingwood fan energy by booing him. At least they could - in a roundabout way - find offence at Langdon's comments, this was the most mystifying crowd participation since Blues fans hooted James Hird for calling the umpire a disgrace. As you can see, Carltonians (in Slipknot beanies?) are still keen on protecting the good name of umps to this day.

It's one thing to be theatrical about an opposition player escaping suspension (and as if we wouldn't gone into full #freetrengove mode if one of our players was rubbed out in similar fashion?), but almost everything is a moral step-up above the peanuts who thought the best way to seek justice for their captain was to racially abuse the player who was clobbered while innocently trying to win the ball. 

Considering that, you can guess the response when the Blues were legitimately dicked by an indigenous player at the end of this game. Ultimately we're all massive saddos for whinging about and/or holding grudges against people with the good fortune to be paid shitloads for kicking a footy, but it's nice to think how Pickett, Betts, Walters etc... etc... will still be cherished by fans in 50 years while the bloke dropping racial gear because his multi was ruined will be scouring the floor of their local TAB looking for winning tickets. Don't go too hard in trying to make this an issue about other clubs, there will be a time when some filthy human purporting to support us does similar. May they all have infinitely shitter lives than the people they're targeting.

As good as Cripps is, it's probably best that he played to ensure some random on the verge of delisting didn't show up and put on the performance of their life. Never forget that the last time we lost to Carlton, Dylan Buckley and Nick Graham kicked five between them, so it's probably better to deal with a known factor than wildcards. The counter to them getting their captain back was the late withdrawal of Adam Cerra. I'd like to think he's still sad about not getting to join us at the end of last year and pulled out in respect for his favourite side.

Six years since we blew any minute chance of playing finals by losing to the Blues, our next Round 22 clash with them had a bit more on the line. We were clinging by our fingernails to a double chance, while they were simply trying to make finals for the first time since Bradburying their way in when Essendon were disqualified. Cue what started as a defensive arm-wrestle, went within 15 seconds of being sourer than the Footscray and Collingwood losses combined, and ended in the sort of "remember when" highlight you'll be boring the kids talking about in the nursing home at 86-years-old.

The most frustrating thing about the first half, and indeed much of the second, was that we did everything right except converting. Midfield fine, backline delightful as always, forwards having a go but not looking likely. After moaning about the breakneck speed at the start of our last two losses it would be hypocritical to complain about playing a trench warfare game, but you've still got to score something or face the escalating risk of losing despite keeping the other side to bugger all.

I stand by the anti-fun claim that I'd rather win 60-40 than 160-140, but that doesn't mean games where every goal takes on soccer match level importance aren't stressful. I've got veins pulsating in my forehead just thinking about this game many hours after it finished. Double your panic when trying to win a low-scoring sludge against the side with the last, and likely next Coleman Medal winners. Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow aren't exactly Lockett and Dunstall, and we do have a handy backline, but the longer you go without killing inferior opposition the more vulnerable you are. And don't we know all about that.

Appropriately for what might have been his best game for us, the party started with a Melksham goal. Considering what happened next I won't hold his other rancid set shot in the first quarter against him. Unlike last week we didn't look like simultaneously kicking and conceding 10 goals before half time. Our forwards were so impotent they needed the sort of spray Ian Turpie used to market, but the backline were easily turning back everything Carlton tried. Not that we didn't have chances, but our contentious ruck cameo strategy looked suspect when both Gawn and Jackson both missed shots. 

Then all my pro-Brayshaw in defence propaganda went down the toilet when he was run down in a tackle for their first goal. Otherwise, and allowing for the usual handful of suspect kicks that's he's contractually allowed, Gus was good in the midfield again. Still don't know if we need him there, and think that better sides than Carlton will benefit from him not pulling down intercepts in defence. I know Salem is warming up into that role, and that he's hardly a liability in the midfield so I suppose I'll just cop it. 

The seemingly permanent Gus-to-Guts move doesn't bode well for perfectly capable midfielders like Sparrow and Harmes, who have each dropped one level on the pecking order. In Harmes' case all the way into the Chandler/Bedford Memorial tracksuit. Lifelong Melbourne fan or not, he'd have to be eyeing off opportunities elsewhere. Contract until 2024 or not, he wouldn't want to sit on the bench for the next two years while the richest men in football occupy all the good midfield spots.

If we're not careful Brayshaw might be required to take his premiership winning spot on the wing back, as every sensible coach in the competition has realised that you should tag Langdon into the ground. He kicked a vital goal on Saturday night but is not having nearly the same impact as last year. I know bounces are about as relevant to 2022 as the Model T Ford, but it's still telling that he's only had three all season. It reminds me of the career trajectory of early Jayden Hunt, who thrilled us with his 100km/h turbo runs from defence until everyone realised that the best way to stop them was just stand in his path. Likewise, Ed isn't getting nearly as much space to bolt down the wing like he's on rails. He's still a valuable contributor, just one of many stars from last year who have plateaued since other teams had to start paying attention to us.

It was more of the same in the second quarter, where we had them under control but couldn't land any sort of killer blow. Pickett gave us the forward pressure we've been crying out for with a tackle and well taken set shot, but we were getting nada from the obvious marking targets. Ben Brown's game was like that dress nobody could agree on the colour of. Some people saw him flailing about behind defenders not impacting contests, some saw him making the best of shit delivery. I'll have a bit each way, and as we're going to play him until the death this year will just go on with it and hope for the best.

In a reverse of last week's excessively high scoring first half, I'm sure neutrals were enjoying a tough, contested game. I'll save my enjoyment until the next time we're several goals up in the last quarter of a final, because this was traumatic. Especially when all our good defence was undone by allowing one of them to wander onto a snap with nobody in the same postcode and level scores. This really gave me the shits, I know it's silly to look forward to going into halftime three goals to two in front but we'd done so well to hold them it felt like an unnecessary goal to concede.

Fortunately there was one more squeeze in the bottle before half time and it went in our favour. Technically it came from a downfield free kick for the most pissweak of contact (until about an hour later when it was barely in the top three), but given that Fritsch marked anyway Carlton fans can pack away their Supreme Court injunctions and cop it. In scenes reminiscent of Tom McDonald trying to kick after the siren in the Grand Final with a human pyramid developing nearby, Bayley was not distracted by the manly jostling happening behind him. The highlight of the 'stoush' was undoubtedly Gawn with arms stretched wide, reminding Mark Internet of his place in the AFL's ruck hierarchy. This continued Fritsch's run as the last player in the competition to kick a goal in every start for the year but was about all he did. There was one chance to try and snap a goal out of his arse but he had another flashback to internet bullying, tried to handball and nothing came of it.

Suffice to say the late goal was little comfort, and by the time they hit the front during the third quarter I was about to do my block. We should know what we're getting by now, but it felt - dare I say it - unfair to have played so well without putting them away. Melksham's third recovered a narrow lead at the final change but considering our recent history of a) dying in the arse in the last quarter, and b) losing thrillers because of it, I didn't think much of our chances of overcoming a team playing for their season.

Cue a final term so absurdly ludicrous that I used almost all my limited spare time to watch it again.  This was also necessary becuase I was going through various tension-related out of body experiences so couldn't remember most of what happened until the end. This proves that there's no way I'd have survived close finals last year, so thank you again to all involved for winning in a canter.

Life would have been simple if we'd just plowed through them like an out of control freight train, but the platform was set for a villain if we lost by Brown being beaten all ends up from the first inside 50. I didn't know who Lewis Young was before this but if he was going to play like Steven May then thank christ the Bulldogs left him in the stands on Grand Final day. Probably helps when your entire defence knows exactly where long kicks are going and can migrate four or five on one to Brown the moment the ball launched towards him.

You suspected things weren't going to turn out well when Hunt's chasedown tackle on Jack Martin slipped to his ankles and conceded a free/goal. It was a no win situation for Hunt so we should just be pleased that he got so close. Overall it was a good night for Mr. Owl Energy, who has probably fixed up old 17-0 Bowey for the time being. For once there was an instant reply. Gawn cannoned a kick inside 50 that Brown nearly pulled down, then regathered to snap for Langdon to snatch it off hands and toe-poke through. An unnecessary video review confirmed it and we were back in front.

It was nearly a combined Mad Minute, when they missed a chance to go back in front straight out of the middle. Oliver provided the dinkiest possible contact to a player as he disposed of the ball, he went flying, and the free was transferred down the ground to McKay. He missed but our efforts at clearing it were agricultural at best, and the pressure was on both at the MCG and inside my skull. Even after a shizen forward pass landed straight on Hunt's teet we were left struggling to find any avenue to the other end. Brayshaw and Salem combined for a turnover and we were only saved by Petty's slight touch as their kick sailed through. 

Even though it was reviewed to all buggery and the player on the line immediately put his hands to heads, Carlton fans thought they'd been rorted. For the enjoyment of viewers everywhere, Channel 7 used one of the boxes on the replay screen to focus on one doing his block. I'd like a director's cut with footage of the same guy reacting across the next 15 minutes. 

At this point I'm sure guest commentator Phil Davis called Charlie Curnow "Curnover", and as we continued to make transitioning from one end to the other look near impossible they pulled a goal out of their arse. It was made by a brave mark, then finished with Lever hanging off the back of Jack Martin for dear life and two players occupying the square. Lever's reward for trying his best to save a goal was to go off wearing the crimson mask after copping a back heel during the chase.

Since we haven't been in one since 2004, I can't remember what a close finals atmosphere is like but I imagine it was quite like this. Now that we've won I'm absolutely gutted not to have been there, because this is the sort of win you turn up every week to see. Instead I get to go when we fall over aginst Freo, fall over against Collingwood and fall over against the Dogs. 

Forced to watch at [redacted], I could hear a Blues fan in the distance having the time of his life and didn't like it. I don't care if they make the eight now, next year, or never again but if somebody's going to have a great, replayable moment in their club's history I don't want it to happen against us. Say it under your breath but I've even got a little bit of sympathy for their position. Carlton's woes post-2013 have nothing on the #fistedforever years, but the outpouring of elation when we finally confirmed our return to the finals was so good that secretly you know society would be better if more people felt it. Better luck next time.

With everything to play for Brown pulled down a long kick to the pocket, increasing our seasonal success rate on that move to 1.6%. We immediately let them take the ball back down their end, where they would probably have done a Collingwood and kept it for the rest of the game. Instead, it was nearly razorblade time when Curnover won a rare one-on-one against Petty. After kicking 0.4 until then, obviously this was the time when the league's leading forward decided to kick straight. 

I'm sure many of our fans developed a yellow streak and snuck out at this point. They deserved to miss the grandstand finish for being cowards. I just slumped with resignation into a chair, thinking that there was no way we could find two goals in three minutes. Crucially we got a centre break that stopped the ball being locked in their forward 50. That would have been curtains, now even when Brown missed a hurried snap we had them penned in. If there was ever a time for our defensive system to kick in and stop them from breaking clear this was it - even if I'd still have bet my life against us.

In the best bit of confusion in recent times, Gawn didn't know whether to contest a throw-in inside 50, let Brown do it, and found himself in perfect position to run onto a loose ball and hammer the shit out of a kick to the top of the square. "That'll easily be rushed through", you thought in the moment, only for your friend, my friend, and yes even Steven May's friend, Jake Milkshake to pull down a contested mark at the back of four (FOUR, 4, IV) Carlton defenders. Hilariously two of them were there because the Blues had dropped defenders back to try and save the game. 

It was such a tremendous grab that the shit McGovern immediately fell to the ground dead.

George's brother realised that umpires were red hot on light illegal contact, but in the heat of the moment failed to put any craft into his acting. As far as staging goes, if Pickett had to pay $1000 for pretending to fall over against Port this peanut should be charged double and be forced to spend off-season on the theatre restaurant circuit. You'd like to think Melk would have kicked it from point blank range anyway but after one of them invaded the mark so severely that the United Nations were nearly called he was able to smash it through from the square, and things were very much ON.

As we got a good look at Michael Voss' growing bald patch, I could only stretch my imagination to us shambling through a point, and getting a draw that did nothing for us but left the Blues confirmed finalists. That would have been as good as a win for them so I most certainly did not want it. In fact now that we know what happened I can safely say I'd rather have lost. Apparently so did the Blues, who were about to put on the worst attempt at saving a game since we forgot how time worked in the dying seconds at Docklands

We had a go at slapstick too, with Viney ignoring the Anal-Bullet standing on his own 40 metres out directly in front and kicking straight to a defender instead. This guy was so surprised that he dropped the mark, but they recovered, and when Curnow wandered down the ground for a mark with 90 seconds left I thought we were cooked. 

Obviously they were just going to dink the ball hither and yon for long enough that we'd have no chance of scoring again. So Carlton fans, don't blame us (or umpires) for what happened next. Blame the guy who flubbed his time-wasting pass towards Adam Saad, or Saad for pointlessly roosting it forward when he could have killed another 20 seconds. "Woof!" cried Carlton fans, incredibly still having time for juvenile crowd participation while their season hung by a thread. I'd have been unable to participate due to chewing my right hand off.

The Blues kept the party atmosphere alive by getting in the way of each other and ruining what would have been the decisive mark. Another three defender pack that could have finished the game ended in one of them heading the ball out of play, and after a few more seconds were wasted in a ball up, Lever did the combined weirdest and smartest kick of all time into the middle, where it took a ripper of a bounce, May had enough plausible deniability to get away with bulldozing the nearest Carlton player, and landed with Hunt to thump into the square. Brown brought it to ground, Melksham dug the ball off the ground like he was playing rugby union, and with two defenders right up his clacker Pickett crumbed the bejesus out of the ball to put us ahead and cue absolute PANDEMONIUM.

As it gently carried through the air and towards the line I was in the sort of state you usually only get from eating psychedelic mushrooms so in the heat of the moment couldn't decide whether it was going to make it or not. The idiot on commentary shouting "is it a point or a goal?" didn't help when it was clearly going straight through the middle. Now that I've survived winning a flag, this is the kind of moment that will kill me one day.

The post-goal animosity towards his opponent was good for football (though, as it turns out, shithouse for race relations). I don't know why he was so upset with the poor bastard who'd just failed to effectively tackle him, but that should give Blues fans something to get upset about when playing us for the next decade. If we'd lost under similar circumstances I'd absolutely hate an opposition player for doing that, so as long as everyone keeps their animosity above the belt then there should be more of it.

This was all well and good but there were 11 seconds left, and that was more than enough to get the ball forward to one of their two pillars for a shot. Or more likely knowing us, some jabroni who'd had two kicks all night. Suffice to say I nearly filled my pants when they went got a hopeful kick out of the middle. As it dropped in the middle of everyone with a couple of seconds left we were probably always going to be ok, but try pausing time right then and telling me that there was no possible way we could lose. I'd have throttled you. Salem thumped a bouncing ball as far away from goal as possible and we were safe. Good thing it didn't go any longer, they had the ball in hand at the siren and were about to go forward again.

Thank god for the countdown clock. With respect to those of you who were suffering at the ground, you can stick spectacle up your arse if you think not knowing how long was left would have been good here. Apparently the goal came at the 34:59 mark of the final term, by which point I'd have been bleeding from the ears. You can't even get help from the radio these days, most callers pretend not to know how long there is left while looking straight at screens telling them. I caught the Tobins call of the end of Footscray/GWS earlier in the day and while one commentator did his best to pretend that he had no idea when the game was going to end, the other blew the lid off the scam by yelling "there's only 11 seconds left!" Let players guess time via somebody holding placards on the bench, I don't want to be surprised. This is the most important reason - other than their cheque probably bouncing - to stop Channel 10 getting the next TV rights.

I didn't know what else to do at the siren so picked up the chair I'd been hovering over all night and triumphantly hoisted it in the air like the premiership cup. The freedom to celebrate in a riotous manner was the only positive about not being there. I could easily have been thrilled at avoiding my fourth loss in a row, but instead found myself shafted out of one of the most exciting modern MFC wins. 

Based on the criteria for mad results set three years ago, this rated highly on the 'insane finish' metric, and here I was watching on TV - just like West Coast 2017, Gold Coast 2019, Geelong 2021 etc... In fact, the last coco bananas all-time thrilling win I was present for might have been Salem vs Essendon 2014 - which was very exciting but loses context points for coming while we were SHIT. 

Like the 2021 Grand Final, I didn't need to see it happen, I'm just pleased that it did. What it means long term I have no earthly idea but avoiding - however narrowly - looking like buffoons will do me for now.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Melksham
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Harrison Petty
2 - Angus Brayshaw
1 - Steven May

Major apologies to Gawn, Hibberd, Hunt,, Jackson, Salem and Viney.

If it didn't almost guarantee him going down with a crippling injury I'd declare Oliver the provisional winner now. Even if - god help us all - he does fall over it will take a huge effort by Petracca to run him down. Viney remains the only other contender, but he'll need to rip out five straight BOGs as we take the scenic route through the finals. Probably unlikely, but if it happens it means we'll have played in a Grand Final so I'm pulling for him.

There is significant news elsewhere, where the committee has determined that Brayshaw is no longer eligible for the Seecamp. If he'd gone into the midfield and stopped collecting votes perhaps he'd be a chance, but it's just not right when May has got all his points in defense. Gus fans please send complaints on a postcard to PO Box 666 in your capital city.

58 - Clayton Oliver
--- Can't win without three finals ---
42 - Christian Petracca
--- Can't win without four finals ---
35 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win full stop ---
27 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
25 - Angus Brayshaw
24 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Ed Langdon
10 - Harrison Petty
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
7 - Bayley Fritsch
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon, Jake Melksham
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd, Christian Salem
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
The history of this award shows that game-winners get a massive bonus. It doesn't hurt that Pickett's goal would have been a ripper at any time, but under the circumstances, it's hard not to consider it the best of the year. Apologies to Langdon's reverse banana sealer against Essendon which is relegated to the silver medal.

For the weekly prize, Kysaiah wins a spot in every highlights package before Melbourne/Carlton games until the day he retires.

Your new leaderboard: 

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

A lot of people were upset that Hamish McLachlan treated the winning goal like the worst thing ever to happen to the Carlton Football Club rather than concentrating on us. I didn't mind it, anything that reminds opposition fans that they're having a shit time is a winner in my book.

I was more concerned late in the second quarter, when he switched from regulation footy chat to one of the weirdest anecdotes/I know successful people humblebrags of all time. Quoth 'Hame':

"The Demons have been in the top four all year. Desperate to stay there. Text messages coming from all around the world tonight as the game unfolds. Doctors in Bali and lawyers in Rome. All watching on, all wanting different outcomes. Demons. Blues Who gets home tonight?"

After that I was worried about how he'd be getting home. It was like he was going to mention a celebrity but lost interest halfway so when the rest of the callers didn't join in it just dropped dead. Like the Eddie McGuire/King Kong fiasco, you know you've done something NQR when Luke Darcy refuses to participate.

This didn't have the iconic quality of Brett Kirk telling us about the Saturday afternoon team engaging with their minds and hearts or GEE! GOD! BOY! WOW!, but was still one of the more baffling things ever broadcast on Channel 7. Think about how much ground that covers.

Next Week
Like a higher stakes Round 22, 1995, we go to Brisbane seriously needing a win. Hopefully it's not a full repeat of '95 where somebody takes Mark of the Century and every time it's shown is a reminder that we lost. Regardless of the result we're probably no hope of flag #14, but there's a better margin of error if we go into the finals with two chances.

I can't see a repeat of the pulverisation we inflicted on the Lions last time around. We can win, but it will be via much toil and struggle. I've got major internal conflict about changes. Harmes went bananas with 35 touches for Casey but if they're not going to play him in the middle what's the point? I note The Spencil made his comeback, warming up nicely to be redrafted as a 33-year-old rookie at the end of the season and claim the life membership he so richly deserves.

Otherwise, my 'Chandler for the seniors' campaign was destroyed by him not playing, and Bedford wasn't there either so it's hard to see any alteration to the forward mix. The Weid had lots of possessions, and we'll forgive zero goals in a game where only 11 were kicked due to shit weather, but the stakes are too high to play him now. So, even though I was outraged about how badly our forward line went against the Pies, and they were only marginally better here it's going to have to be the old...

LUCKY: Neal-Bullen, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Bowey, Harmes

The All New Bradbury Plan

Thanks to being the first game of the week the equation is simple - win and make everything else irrelevant. Then it's just a matter of waiting to find out we play. In the event of defeat you'll be wanting some combination of:

GWS d. Freo
Carlton d. Collingwood
St. Kilda d. Sydney

There's no way Freo or Sydney will lose, so if we win it's almost certainly off to the SCG. Otherwise  everything depends on Carlton/Collingwood - Blues win and we probably play them again, Pies win and it will be Richmond. I don't like any of these options but complaining about who you're facing in the finals is a far better postseason outcome than scouring phantom drafts and wondering if you should have gotten into the arts instead of footy.

Final thoughts
If we win the flag I'll not only go hee, I'll buy a house and raise my family there. Nice to be in the mix though.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Ducks and flakes

When you think of great moments in psychological warfare thoughts usually turn to Genghis Khan catapulting human heads over city walls, Britain floating a body with fake invasion plans towards the Jerries, or Americans flushing out General Noriega via maximum volume Van Halen. Nobody expected that the next evolution in the practice would be Smilin' Ed Langdon dropping zingers on the radio. What happened next is unlikely to appear in any CIA training manuals.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Ed fell victim to the old "footy players should be more honest"/"what did he say that for?" paradox by assessing the Pies as a 'one trick pony' who were, in a quaint old fashioned saying 'more duck than dinner'. Due to being born after 1947 I don't even know what that means. Neither did a lot of other people but it didn't stop them becoming outraged. It was perceived as a shot at the guy who tries to get himself decapitated in every contest, but I'd like to have taken a sample 100 people who were gravely offended and asked them to write down exactly why. 

Now that we've lost it's probably better to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Good luck with that, you'll be hearing about it for years. The best thing to do would be to beat Collingwood for once. Other than the Million Dollar Fisting in front of a near empty Gabba, we've lost every game against them dating back to Jack Watts' golden run. Given that we've had time since to trade him, and warm his direct replacement up enough to kick six in a Grand Final you can appreciate how long that's been. Duck Week would have been a great time to invoke the spirits of '26, '39, '55, '56, '60 and/or '64. Alas no, and we're back to wobbling towards the finals with no earthly idea of where we stand in the premiership race. At the moment I'd say outside looking in, but there's a couple of weeks to boot the door in and have another go.

But now, back to water bird content. Every side has demented fans who treat sport like a war against opposition supporters, but I thought for sure players of a side that had won 10 in a row wouldn't be concerned at somebody pointing out that they've been successful at winning games. Instead, they wrote it on the whiteboard, piled into Langdon at the first opportunity, and according to Jeremy Howe he 'got what he deserved'. Which is true, if we're discussing premiership medals. The former winner of the coveted Mark of the Year/Turnover of the Year double wasn't asked to explain why they responded to this tremendous slight on the club's otherwise clean reptuation by not turning up until four goals down.

My view that any sort of 'controversy' (even pissweak ones) is great for football doesn't change because it's our guy being hollered at, but some people have a comical lack of self-awareness. I'm into the novelty value of people bringing rubber duckies to the ground, or having duck for dinner as if it's not the world's shittest meat, but some of the humanoids screaming their hearts out in disgust because "bad men said thing about my footy team" need an intervention. When that was over they went wild for a convicted nightclub harasser, so who knows what direction the moral compass wound up pointing in.

It shits me no end that we had the opportunity to send these deplorables home unhappy and blew it in almost identical fashion to the Footscray game. Another lead carelessly thrown away, more of the ball escaping our forward 50 with queues of spare men waiting to get the ball, another attempt at participating in a shootout that fizzed after half time, and still being a chance to win at the end before running out of ideas.

This duck nonsense must have been a godsend for Collingwood's coaches. Here they are trying to keep alive what is statistically the most ludicrous winning streak ever, having watched their team fall over the line for weeks against some of the worst opposition on offer, and just when you think there's nothing left that you can do to motivate them (other than a blockbuster clash against the defending-for-a-few-weeks-more premier with a top four spot on the line), along comes loose lips Langdon and you've got something to talk about. 

To reiterate, more players should roll the dice on saying wacky things before matches. They'll never let him talk again, but if you did it every week it's going to come out in your favour sometime. It was an excellent subplot, but anyone who thinks it would affect the final result should be exiled from the mainland of Australia. Knowing that didn't help my pre-match nerves. Given our recent record against Collingwood I was already shitting through the eye of a needle about this game and didn't need another reason to hear from their fans if we lost. Because you always do. Probably because there's so many of them. So many brave people who followed the herd and supported the most popular team in the league.

The chances of having a bit of a spew weren't helped by waiting until 7.50pm for the game to start. The AFL doesn't care about the 1% of people who needed extra time to get to the ground, there's no good reason this couldn't have started half an hour earlier. Perth people can watch on a phone on their way home or move to another location. The mood was not helped by being forced to watch with a Pies fan so casual that he went on about the 1970s half the night, didn't even know the duck angle existed, and had the audacity to say "I don't know why you're so upset when you're three goals up", as I sat there stern-faced, waiting for the inevitable reverse.

For all the pantomime from the stands, and the players who mobbed Langdon on his first touch as if he'd presided over a regime of systemic racism, things started well. They got the first goal, but things were rattling along at such a pace that you knew a response would come from somewhere. It all led to the most ridiculous quarter of the year, one that made the Dogs game look tame in comparison. 11 goals between the sides set an unsustainable pace for the rest of the game, and not surprisingly there was less than double that in the remaining three quarters.

Neutrals would have frothing at the turbocharged pace and big crowd going off their nana for everything, I was thinking it was all a bit too hot. On the other hand, even knowing that scoring would drop off, I fancied discovering whether we'd learnt anything from two weeks ago. As would late be revealed, no.

I didn't love Petracca's game as much as his possession figures would suggest, but his first goal was a thing of beauty. He flat out refused to be stopped until finally flinging the would-be defenders off and snapping through from the pocket. I was a bit spooked about our ability to craft traditional kick/mark goals, so was happy to take them from any source. Even our first set shot came from a Salem mow down tackle, and the third via Viney doing another improbable snap. Of course this early lead wasn't to be trusted, but it was better than the alternative. 

Issues that sank us later were on show when former MFC recruiting target Jamie Elliott had an area code of space inside 50 for his first goal. For now the architects of our demise from Queen's Birthday, Mihocek and Cox, were being kept quiet but cast your mind back a fortnight to your Jamarras and smaller doing us in while Josh Bruce was as useless as tits on a bull. I'm not surprised that teams are twigging on how to break through our award-winning defence. 

Nobody good enough to be paid for coaching at any level in the AFL would be fooled by the joint finals maulings, they know the defensive system got us there and would naturally devote effort to finding a way around it. As we saw last week, the other side has to be good enough to take advantage, but I'd be interested to know if we're trying anything different at this late stage or just pulling a jumper over our head and legging it straight towards the flames in the hope that everything will turn out ok. It still might, other than a tenuous grip on a double chance I'm not much less convinced of our chances of winning the flag than last week, or the week before.

In a way no coach has thought for 30 years, you don't need a defence if you just keep kicking goals. By the time Melksham was collared by Darcy Moore for a goal from point blank range I thought we might do it without them. The irony of them one for a high tackle was not as funny a couple of hours later. It would have been better if Gawn converted a chance not long after, but you can copy that sentence and paste it several more times through the review. This looked even worse when our old friend Mason C. Ox wandered forward for a goal. His campaign to be the first ever three-time Kingsley faltered, and about the only other thing he did of note was to set off some manly jostling after jamming his knee into Max's gut at a ball-up. Kent's Friday night was not entirely wasted.

Fritsch pulled down a screamer and all was well with the world again, for the 30 seconds until we conceded again. Statistics suggest we won the centre clearances easily, I distinctly remember either conceding or nearly conceding from a lot of the ones that we didn't. There were still two more goals to come in this free and easy, do what you like quarter. Fans of harassing players for not showing Florence Nightingale levels of kindness to teammates will have enjoyed Fritsch setting up Pickett for the last one. That was one of Kysaiah's few contributions for the night, and he failed to register a tackle all night. Last time that happened he kicked six so it's not an exact science but you see where I'm coming from. It's not exclusively his fault - the full count of our inside 50 tackles were Melksham x2, Viney x2, Gawn, Jackson, Petracca and Salem one each. Brown nil, Fritsch nil, Spargo nil, Neal-Bullen nil, everyone else NIL. No wonder the ball came out so easily.

There were five golden minutes at the start of the second quarter where we had them on the run, and were pounding the door down for another goal. After repeat inside 50s paid off we would have had another straight from the middle if not for Maximum reverting to comedy capers goalkicking mode. Sparrow got the next one anyway. I wouldn't have trusted the lead if it came with a statutory declaration but we were building a nice buffer. Maybe, like Freo, they'd be frustrated into submission and it wouldn't matter when we stopped dead at the end?

Ironically, with the margin just bubbling under Stranglewank qualification, our demise began via forward pressure. Overall it's a good thing that Elliot chose not to join us because a) it would have altered the course of history so we probably wouldn't have won the flag, and b) he got to sink Essendon with a goal people will remember forever. Would have been handy if he wasn't playing against us here though, rumbling Jordon for the free/goal that got them going again. Now that everything which got us in front - most notably contested possession - was levelling out, their second in a row caused my body temperature to reach 'overturned petrol tanker' levels. But then we got the next two, including Howe giving away a 50 because he was too busy wondering why he was supposed to be worried about ducks. 

There's a different meaning to it post 25/09/21 but it is always the hope that kills you. Which is why I spat it like no time post-flag when we missed a chance in the dying seconds, then had the ball fling down the other end for them to kick a late goal. The gap was still 17 but that was nowhere near enough. Still, if we could get the game back on our terms/it started belting down raining before the end, that buffer might carry us over the line. No, no, and it didn't.

Pretending that the duck chat had any impact on the result ignores how well they put the clamps on us after half time. We stopped scoring, they started to move the ball in free range formation, and in the words of security guard Milhouse van Houten, "first it started falling over, then it fell over." Usually in a situation like this you can identify a few players who nearly dragged us over the line with super human efforts. In this case it was not easy, even after nearly winning a top of the table clash. Oliver, Petracca, Brayshaw and Viney had about 150 possessions between them but none was particularly inspiring. Oliver probably wins for 42 touches + a shitload of clearances but he's had 30 touch games that were twice as good. It's telling that our total handball numbers were way up and theirs went the other way. We were trying to do anything to extract the ball from pressure and they were happy just to kick around us.

Outside the midfield, Gawn extracted the ball wonderfully at times but treated the ball like he had an artificial foot on, and as much May and Salem were the only standouts in an otherwise rotten backline neither deserved top score. Stay tuned to see how I come up with something resembling convincing numbers.

At this point I'd like to discuss Brayshaw as a midfielder. Last week it was a fun, post-contract novelty, this time I reckon he'd have come in handy dashing around in the backline and adding another intercept option. God love him, his owl energy, and his mystifying TV panel show appearance, but Hunt isn't doing it for me. You can't tell me Gus wouldn't offer more against competent forwards, and for what loss in the midfield? He's good at it, but so are the rest of them. This is the guy who was outpacing May and Lever for interceptions at one point. I know Salem is there now, but we've got extractors and possession getters out the wazoo, how much more digging can you do in the middle? I'm massively into him, Clayts and Trac as individual players but don't fancy tying up enormous parts of our salary cap for years to come on three guys standing next to each other while the rest of the ground is on fire.  

Tellingly, the first goal after half time came from a quick break, and suddenly every time we went forward it was coming back with interest. I'll punch on to defend Daisy Pearce in arguments with self-confessed weak, hypocritical sleazes, but I couldn't have disagreed more with the idea that the Pies needed to start taking risks at this point. Sure we could have kicked two on the bounce and finished it, but realistically they were playing opposition who throw away leads for fun, are suspect running out games, had just flown halfway across the country after playing in the wet, and whose forward entries were basically a written invitation to a quick raid on goal at the other end. There was no need for death or glory yet, all they had to do was keep the pressure up long enough for the inevitable collapse.

I wish they'd taken her advice, because it would probably have meant more chance to intercept risky kicks. Instead they safely dinked the ball hither and yon via spare men, while ours were caught between ball carrier/potential next ball carrier and couldn't decide which one they should run to. This usually ended with them standing in the middle having the ball booted over their head. When we sludged it down into stoppages things were fine but the first loose kick turned back from defence meant danger.

They got lucky a couple of times from here but we made moving the ball so easy that the only way we were going to win was to keep scoring at a first half pace, which has conclusively been proven as not our go. Brown is being slaughtered by fans at a Weideman-esque level but I'm prepared to argue that you need two targets so we're not as predictable. I'd rather win 60-40 with 75% of time in forward half than toss a coin on the chance of winning 100-95. Problem is I'm not sure we've got two targets that are going to help.

Collingwood's laissez-faire attitude to defending from the first half was barely tested again. Spargo squeaked a snap through a crowd to inflate us a bit, but we were well and truly on the run now. Perhaps if an absolutely rancid set shot from an unmissable angle had actually missed, as originally called, and not shown to have gone through on the replay, their momentum would have been halted. That's doubtful, the tide was absolutely flowing against us now. We had more chances, Gawn with another shizen snap, and Brown with an arguably shizener set shot, and anyone who thought we were going to hold on to a seven point lead from here should get a 'thanks for your optimism' letter from the club and/or the makers of Prozac.

For most of the last quarter we looked no chance of scoring, and it took them kicking two goals to go ahead before we started. Even when luck worked in our favour we couldn't take advantage. A mark that was clearly bobbled over the line was paid on shifty video evidence, but even after the bloke kicked it OOF and left them a point short of what they'd have gotten in the first place, we couldn't extract it. Would have been better to concede the juggled point and flog the ball into the middle. Instead, inability to clear eventually ended in Viney being slaughtered in a tackle right in front of goal. The big whinge was on about his prior opportunity, but morally everybody knew he should have been pinged. If it had happened the other way you'd be screaming like Essendon fans.

There was a stroke of luck after losing the lead, when Brown was in the right place at the right time for the ball to drop on him. He converted, we were ahead again, and any neutral observer who was having a good time could get stuffed. It only took a couple of minutes for them to retake the lead, and while I thought we could kick another goal the idea of not conceding again was laughable. Our best chance would be to get in front, then lock the ball inside 50 for the rest of the game. Sort of like Collingwood did for the last four minutes.

The first part of the equation came true when ANB got in on a chain of handballs from the next centre bounce and bombed one through from 40. After the night he had I'm surprised he didn't run straight at the nearest defender like a pigeon returning home. He's been very good over the last couple of years, and can be relied on to defend grimly at all times but recently his offense has been offensive. The Bullet let out a giant roar, but while I'll never deny any player the right to celebrate after toiling through three and a half quarters of endless running and being tackled, it wasn't quite Nathan Jones 2018 level iconic. Especially when we gave the lead back - this time for good - within a couple of minutes. 

Almost all our post-streak misfortune is self-inflicted, but how's the luck when it comes to the mid-season draft? Who knows if we'd have picked anyone good, but when you consider we only kept McDonald off the long-term injury list in the hope of a miracle, and Daw retired almost immediately after, you had to be bitter watching a guy Collingwood plucked from the SANFL kick a match-winning bag of four. Yes, I know he spent a year in the seconds before debuting but that doesn't work for this bit so go with me. Either way, a mature forward who can create aerial contests would come in handy about now.

Johnson's decisive goal - earning him a provisional Kingsley membership in case he never does anything half as good again - required heavy emphasis on making sure a push in the back was seen. Good for him. Firstly it was there anyway, secondly, creating legitimate contests in front of goal - via land or air - will end in goals from free kicks. Collecting inside 50s like footy cards and sticking most of them down the throat of a defender will not. Harrison Petty is now 1-16 this season for frees. When he gets one the next time do a bronx cheer that will leave commentators and opposition fans alike baffled.

Every week I've got to point out that I know FUCK ALL about footy tactics, but this is two weeks in three where allowing the other side to bound out of defence unchallenged has cost us far too many goals. In both games we've put up decent scores (almost all generated in the first half), but if I may be a joyless prick this isn't how I want to play. Maybe in the future, not for the rest of this year. Their scoring efficiency was off the charts, but as much as our backline was largely average they weren't helped by the ball getting down there so easily.

We might have charged out of the middle again, but instead the ball wandered down their end and stayed there for however many minutes were left. Since becoming old and broken down my reaction to losses has usually been a short period of sporting anger then a return to something resembling a normal life. This was the opposite, the moment they got the margin to six I sat in resigned misery, knowing we weren't going to win and being pretty sure that even a draw was beyond us. The siren went, a few indecent things were said, and that seemed like that. 

Then about 10 minutes later the red mist came over me. I hate losing in the same shit circumstances two weeks out of three, I hate not being able to fire a shot in the dying seconds of a thriller, and most importantly I absolutely fucking despise giving Z-grade, Peter Helliar level 'comedians' an outlet to think they've got one over us. With respect to an exciting football team that can't be held responsible for the nuffies that follow them, I hope they win stuff all so I don't have to hear about them for a few more years.

On the up side, while we're all about to kill ourselves the reality is that it was a seven point loss to a good side. If it happened in Round 5 you'd dust yourself off and look forward to going again. The problem is that in Round 20 it leaves our top four prospects hanging by a thread. We can win it from outside, history says we probably won't. And if we do somehow blag our way into the four we might get another shot at them - going the Geelong 2018 plan of losing to a team twice then rumbling them in the finals. If it does turn out like this, don't waste time sending players out to deliver cryptic messages via the media, just take out a full page ad in the paper listing all the NQR off-field stuff they've been involved in recently.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Steven May
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Brayshaw and Viney who just missed out.

The top two consolidate their position, causing the line of doom to swallow up everyone below fourth place. Gawn and Viney are nearly cactus too, leaving it a straight race to the finish line between Oliver and Petracca. It's advantage Clayts because mass accumulation will always gets votes, even if the team has been shit overall. There's further action in the Seecamp where May has drawn level with Brayshaw but could still vault his way into the lead by default if Gus is disqualified. I don't think he's going into the backline again now so this could happen as early as next week. Hold all tickets.

54 - Clayton Oliver
42 - Christian Petracca
--- Can't win without two finals ---
35 - Jack Viney
--- Can't win without four finals ---
27 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Can't win full stop ---
23 - Angus Brayshaw (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Steven May (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Ed Langdon
9 - Jake Bowey
8 - Kysaiah Pickett
7 - Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
6 - Jake Lever, Alex Neal-Bullen
5 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Michael Hibberd, Christian Salem
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
It's Viney in the first quarter, and I've absolutely lost all interest in any further analysis. No change to the overall leaderboard:

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

Next Week
Why not extend your misery with another evening game against a finals contender? This time you get to sweat all the way through to Saturday night before we play Carlton. They seem to be heading in a much different direction to Collingwood, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that weird pre-season game, but I'm still petrified of them. It would be old school Melbourne to give a side who looked on their last legs one final boost before the finals.

If we lose, and surely we won't, you can be satisfied that we didn't deserve to be in the top four anyway and pray for the sweet release of death in an Elimination Final. Thanks to Freo coming back to life this week, and playing the West Coast Bye next, we'll probably need to win both games just to finish in the four now. How has it come to this?

After falling over in important games twice in three weeks we have to make a ritual sacrifice, and after cherishing his defensive efforts over the last couple of seasons it's got to be the Anal-Bullet. Happy to have him back after a short period of reflection but we need to change something in our forward line. Spargo is lucky not to be going with but the baby is just holding on as the bathwater goes flying out the window at terminal velocity.

From an uncultured perspective this would seem to leave us with two options - go back to playing with two tall forwards or replace ANB with somebody young and hungry to try and be the same sort of pressure player. At this point I desperately wanted to pick van Rooyen, but this surprise, surprise, the broken down, shitbox VFL has got Casey on a bye this week so that's seemingly out. Instead I'm inviting Kade Chandler to tear the tracksuit off like Hulk Hogan and go for it with all he's worth. He won't play this week either, but after being sub 95% of his career he'll tear off the leash like a starving dog and probably kill somebody else in a tackle three minutes in.

More likely they pick Joel Smith, who has recently been converted back into a forward in the seconds and has the advantage of being athletic enough to make contests of dreadful inside 50 kicks. It's a grim, dystopian vision of our future but at this stage anything they do to shake up the mix down there will be appreciated.

Whatever happens I know there won't be any celebrations if we're four goals up in the first half. Hopefully the Blues play the part of Fremantle and machine gun themselves in the foot. Even Michael Voss looked like he was over it in the coaches' box last week, here's to his players following suit and gifting us some momentum going into the last round. 

IN: Chandler
OUT: Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: Hunt, Melksham, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Bedford, Chandler, Harmes, Smith

The All New Bradbury Plan

The walls are closing in on us here. You might even want to start looking at what 7th/8th placed teams you'd rather play.

St. Kilda d. Brisbane
Gold Coast d. Geelong
West Coast d. Fremantle
Collingwood d. Sydney (no doubt the bastards will lose now, but I'm willing to accept that they'll finish top four and try to stuff up the Swans' chances instead)

Irrelevant to the top four - Bulldogs/GWS, Richmond/Hawthorn
Barely worth playing at all - Adelaide/North, Essendon/Port

Final thoughts
Duck's off sorry.