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.

1 comment:

  1. Match Day (Night) Experience
    New tactic to win the three quarter time sprint: cut a massive slice off the track then celebrate like it’s totally legit.


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