Monday 12 September 2022

How to disappear completely

And so, after eight months of holding my breath waiting for everything to go wrong, it did. Our year in paradise is over, and given that the AFL can't even have silence for the Queen without getting in trouble we can't even lobby for the season to be cancelled and leave us as carryover premiers.

My plan to resign from the league on September 26, 2021 so nobody could ever beat us again looks pretty good now. As much as following the defending premier once in my life has been wonderful, I've spent the season in non-stop emotional agony, waiting to be exposed while hoping that the lightning which was absent for the first 40 years of my life might strike twice in quick succession.

In a few years we'll probably look back at this as part of a golden era - starting 10-0, winning a Grand Final rematch, finishing second, and avoiding a genuine thrashing since playing in front of 323 people would have been a dream scenario in the recent past. Get back to me in the future, for now I've seen us incinerate our premiership defence as if it was fired into the sun and am gloomier than I ever thought possible post-flag. 

The only thing that stopped me from total collapse in the immediate aftermath was the slapstick, Benny Hill fashion of our demise. I'd have pissed myself laughing if any other team had gone out like that. There have been worse forward performances this late in the season (refer: 2018 Preliminary Final), but surely not many where a side had so many chances to put the game away, then nearly launched a miracle comeback before blowing it all sky high via the most reckless 50 ever conceded in the month of September.

While I thought we were going to win (albeit in a fashion that would have left us ripe for a reverse 2021 battering by Geelong), the idea that Brisbane would fold like a house of cards against us three times in the same season was optimistic. It didn't matter that they'd wobbled unconvincingly into the finals, and plucked a win out of their arse against Richmond, if you're good enough to play the same side three times in one year you're good enough to learn something eventually. I haven't had a happiness hedge on a Melbourne result since $50 that we wouldn't make the finals in late 2018, but a Brisbane line of +22.5 nearly made me call the bank and demand the deeds for my house.

In some circles, the late withdrawal of Joe Daniher due to a partner in labour was seen as a bonus. It had me soiling myself. There was the obviously prospect of a replacement you've never heard of kicking eight, but also the fact that he's never been involved in a good forward line performance against since joining the Lions, so this forced them to try something else. Result - after 15 minutes of attacking with reckless abandon they collectively ended up looking better than any of our last few meetings. I'd much rather them booting loopy kicks towards Joe that would have been picked off from every angle.

Meanwhile, at the other end we were attacking as if drunk. A final score of 11.13 doesn't look bad compared to some of our inaccuracies this year, but consider the eight shots that failed to score and about a dozen where we had the ball within range and dithered long enough that there wasn't a shot at all. It got so bad that they should have replaced the runner with an R U OK counsellor. And yet, like Sydney all over again, we had multiple opportunities to finish them off for good.

Ending the year via stranglewank fatality was a fitting conclusion to a season where we've politely held the door open for teams across the league. I'm not saying Simon Goodwin gets his jollies from throwing away leads, but in his first season we were an average side that regularly stormed back from hopeless positions, now we're near enough to our peak and fall over at the slightest provocation. 

Collingwood might have broken the record for most wins by under two goals, but here's an arbitrary measurement to show we've protected leads as badly as anyone in recent memory:

And in the 'never forget' spirit, those blown leads were:

* 30 vs Freo at 23m Q2 (gone by 21m Q3)
* 26 vs Sydney at 1m Q2 (gone by 24m Q2) 
* 22 vs Collingwood at 9m Q2 (gone by 6m Q4)
* 27 vs Footscray at 20m Q2 (gone by 22m Q4)
* 23 vs Collingwood at 8m Q2 (gone by 13m Q4)
* 28 vs Brisbane at 27m Q2 (gone by 34m Q3)

Just the casual 156 points combined. And in the other two games we kicked the first two goals against Geelong, and were both 16 and 12 points up last week. Better to be in games than waving a white flag before the first bounce, but even without stats anyone who lived through this year would understand how we dropped more games from a winning position than any side in 20 years. Selwyn Froggitt is going to be defamed on every corner of the internet for his fitness program but as you can see above, it wasn't always late fadeouts that got us.

As the defending premier we were, by all measurements, a very good side to begin with, but it's still impressive to have been in a winning position 22 of 24 times when it was clear months ago that we hadn't seriously improved from last year. I doubted our capacity to go back-to-back without the struggle of a lifetime but willed myself to believe we could catch fire at the right time OR that there was a Bradbury path available via the misfortune of others. Round 23 lured me into thinking the first option was a chance, but by the time we'd tripped over ourselves against the Swans I was left hoping for the latter.

It will take a full coronial inquest to piece together the factors that caused spontaneous combustion. Going on with starts against slurry like GWS and West Coast is great for gathering percentage, but what does that do for you in September? That's why you can say what you like about Ben Brown, but he's a first ballot Demonblog Hall of Famer. Imagine he hadn't kicked that goal at the start of the last quarter in the Grand Final, and that the Mad Minute was just setting us up to throw a four goal lead. I'd still be under medical observation. I'm going to have to think about that during summer to get me through because at the moment I'm having a SHIT time. Real bleeding from every orifice stuff, no matter how hard I try to put a calm spin on things.

As bad as I felt for not moving heaven and earth to be at the ground, thank god I wasn't because there hasn't been a result that required so much 'free expression' since cutting my hand punching a seat, then jumping on the sunglasses that fell off my head when Ricky Petterd dropped the mark in Round 2, 2010. It's bad enough that my record at live games in the last two seasons is 5-5 (and 3-0 of that was 18 months ago) without adding another loss. Until things went tits up I'd obviously have preferred to be there but now I'm the broken down old wreck and the club isn't there's no longer the serious guilt that I'd have had 10 years ago.

As we celebrate the return of Bleak September, it's hard to reconcile that both finals saw us in winning positions during the second half. As much as I wanted to ignore men's football until February (not sure yet which year), I was roped into watching Collingwood/Freo, and was struck with how easily they could have been playing to face us on Friday. Now we're empty-handed, a bit embarrassed, and without anybody else to blame.

Considering our self-harm habit I was probably more confident before the first bounce than when we were four goals in front. We might have gone on with it like the other two games against Lions, and who knows what would have happened with that ludicrous goal just before half time, but my faith was in tatters well before the latest doom spiral. Then you had one star playing with a break in his leg, a 6x All Australian ruckman who seemed banged up like a 1982 Daihatsu Charade, and forwards who may as well have been at another ground last week. If they were going to fix my trust issues it wasn't going to be until the game was won beyond all doubt.

I was also concerned at how badly we seem to play our own ground. That's why I got a bit nostalgic when Delta turned up to sign the national anthem, because without her COVID strain keeping us away from the MCG we might never have won a flag in the first place. At the time I loved the players saying they had unfinished business, wanted to win one in front of the fans etc... because I didn't know we'd try to apply the same methods that were successful on every other ground in Australia but fell flat against good sides at home. Via several weird twists and turns the balloon slowly deflated from sending Luke Beveridge bonkers after Round 1 to total elimination, and yet we're still not that far from having made a Prelim. I doubt things would gone any further, but I'm expecting to be firmly in the mix again in 2023.

I suppose everyone expected the game to start with the same spicy atmosphere that the Gabba equivalent finished. Channel 7 were keen, playing a video package before the bounce that suggested everyone involved in the original incident was going to recreate the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Instead they decided to act like adults, leading to no serious pre-match niggle. Which was very mature of them. 

Once we'd got through pantomime booing of Zorko (and Petty, because as a lot of men have explained since Round 23, emotion = "whatareyasomekindofapooftermate?") and lost I was so over the original scandal that I'd almost have handled Brisbane winning the flag. Then the footage of Lincoln McCarthy (me either) mocking Petty was shown, and I went back to preferring every alternative premier including Geelong and Collingwood. In the grand scheme of footy controversies this one is a bit pissweak, and surely won't carry on into next season, but in the meantime let's go around the grounds and confirm which bit of cloth Harrison has the option of drying his eyes on:

First time against the Lions we absorbed 10 minutes of their horrible attempts to score before taking over, in the rematch there was a goal seconds in and things progressively got better for the next hour. This landed in the middle, they went forward in a way that pointed to an evening of frustration for fans of Fitzroy and Bears of old but our early attacks weren't much better. Bad news for Channel 7 executives dying to sell advertising. By the time the next TV rights deal kicks in they'll switch to picture-in-picture on top of ads if there's five minutes without a goal.

It took the much-maligned (recently, often by me) Anal-Bullet to get us going. Sensing tremendous malignment if he missed, he opted not to have a shot from 40 metres out directly in front, and passed to Langdon in a worse position. Ed did his bit by running into space and screaming for the ball, and ANB probably thought he'd suffer a Fritsch style media witchhunt if he didn't give it off. 

Lucky for both of them Ed kicked it, then proceeded to less than 50% efficiency for the rest of the night. That's the sort of thing you'd expect from an inside midfielder but seems less than ideal for a midfielder who usually plays in his own postcode of space. He's had very good games this year, but has failed to kick on from premiership glory as much as anyone. I suppose it's a bit of a hint for opposition coaches when your entire job is to tirelessly leg it up and down one wing for 100% of the game. He'll still be a contributor next year but they might want to think of a way to freshen up the act. 

The Bullet got our second as well, having enough impact in the first half that it justified his hotspot being shown at half time. As usual it displayed a lot of running, but if they superimposed craters in all the spots he's been caught with the ball recently it would have looked like a Cambodian minefield. I'm happy with a two goal night, and by process of elimination he was one of our better players, but unless he's playing some double secret probation role that only the coaches know the value of his second half of the year has been ordinary. That's not on him, he just keeps playing when picked. Ask the coaches who stuck with a successful system with religious zeal, well after its aura had faded.

Speaking of players who were probably lucky to be there, thanks to Jake Melksham for a pack mark in front of goal that brought back warm memories of the Carlton game. This was a good response to everyone offering to hold the door for him on the way out after last week, before proceeding to do not a lot more for the rest of the night. For once, maybe angry people on the internet were right. Surprisingly I wasn't part of the digital lynch mob, I'd calmed down by Thursday and decided that if McDonald wasn't fit enough there was no point making changes. Can't be right about everything.

We could have had any of Bedford, J. Smith, Weideman, surprise debut van Rooyen, or stuck a defender in the forward line, but I held a Linus meets the Great Pumpkin style belief that everything would turn out alright. This was before I knew that McDonald would a) play in the Casey game despite there being no more AFL finals on offer, and b) get through unscathed with three goals. In the end he probably would have done more than Melksham but considering the other players held together with sticky tape they were probably shitscared of him breaking down in the first minute.

The nuclear option would have been to debut van Rooyen, who also ended up kicking three in the VFL Prelim. It was a step too far for nervous types like me, but contributes to a growing mythical status that will leave fans disappointed if he doesn't have the best debut since John Coleman. Sadly he probably would have given a better contest than Brown, who I love for the aforementioned reasons but was unbelievably ineffective inside 50. He took a couple of nice marks up the ground, and tried hard when the ball hit the ground, but his wankhanded attempts at marking within scoring range were painful to watch. 

Ben's knee might be hamburger meat for all I know, but that doesn't take into account the bits where he got hands to the ball but couldn't pull it in. His cause might not have been helped by Fritsch regularly flying into the same airspace but they worked well enough together at the end of last year so it's not a chemistry issue. On the opening night of the season he looked set for a tremendous year, got COVID, unnecessarily belted somebody in the VFL, and has never been the same since. Investigative reporters, give up on pursuing answers from lost cause Luke Jackson and go through Ben's bins to find out what happened to him.

If the early returns continued we could have gone without a full forward because Brisbane wouldn't have scored double figures. Not only were we pouring on the pressure at our end (to be fair, for nowt but a string of behinds,) but even a gilt-edged Lions chance was stopped in the last centimetre when Petty rushed it through. When Charlie Cameron went off with an ankle complaint I didn't think anything else could go our way. Even if he'd kicked nil against us in two previous starts he was still a serious attacking weapon, so the idea of taking him out for medical sub B. Rometer appealed. 

Without wishing injury on opponents I'm not adverse to benefiting from ones that occur naturally, so when he gave what looked like a universal symbol for "I'm rooted" on the bench, you'd have started planning your trip to the Prelim if we weren't notorious for self-destructing. Next thing he was back on the ground, kicked a late goal that gave them momentum going into quarter time, and never looked troubled again. There goes my career as a body language interpreter.

This time we failed to go on with it after the break, and the Lions were quickly back in every aspect of the game other than scoring. I'd have been happy if it stayed that way, a September slopfest detrimental to the reputation of the sport would have suited me. Which is fine after you've won the game, but nerve-shredding while it's happening. The degree of risk increases against good sides, and in the sliver of after match coverage I could take, Cam Rayner said words to the effect of "we knew we could outrun them in the last quarter", which shows you the flavour of their conversations in the buildup. Our 1998 Reserves coach confirmed this in his press conference. "Melbourne’s second halves this year have not always been the best", he said charitably, "we were aware of that". You and everybody else in the competition.

Our scoring had slowed down but we still got the first of the quarter. If I was a Brisbane fan, waiting 10 minutes to see Pickett crumb one through mid-tackle would have been enough to send me into despair He did his usual move of rubbing it into the opponent after. Gee I hope that didn't come back to haunt him when he barely got another touch. He did get another important goal later, but was overall miles off his best. I'm thankful for what he's done this year, and eternally fearful that we'll lose him to an SA club when money gets tight, but we needed more than flittering in and out of the game, and certainly could have done without the petulant downfield free just as we had them under pressure in the last quarter.

We let in another goal not long after, but it was a positive to keep them to two in a quarter and a half when we weren't playing all that well and Petracca looked to be dying a thousand deaths. Kicking the next two was even better, leaving us 28 points up with 30 seconds left. I wasn't fully convinced yet, but what a platform to build on in the second half/what a buffer in case we went tits up at the end. Then, before you could even comprehend what you'd just seen we gave up the shittest goal of all time. 

Even with a champion ruckman, good midfielders, and total aerial superiority in defence, the Lions walked out of the middle for the reply 15 seconds later. I could understand a hack kick landing in a forward's arms, or an aerial contest that ends in a free, but conceding at that speed from a ground ball was vile. I know that's where we're most vulnerable, but it set me off on a rant that turned the air blue. My foulest outburst of the year barely lasted an hour before beign topped by the Lever DEBACLE.

This ridiculously quick return to send should never have happened, but we were still nearly four goals up at half time of a cut-throat final with plenty of scope for improvement. That didn't happen. Petracca, and perhaps Gawn, slowly ebbed away from their injuries, nobody improved after half time, and the forward line continued to be MIA. Oliver gamely battled a tag, and the opponent nearly scratching his eye out (though the obvious defence would be that Oliver had him pinned to the ground with an elbow at the time...), Harmes was reasonably good, and Trac went hard for somebody who probably shouldn't have been playing, but they were right in the game now and we couldn't handle it.

At the risk of being run out of town under a hail of bottles, I really don't fancy Brayshaw in our midfield. He doesn't cause harm, but I've come to the realisation since we signed him to a bumper, multi-year contract that it's not a long term solution. He was so good hoovering the ball up in defence earlier this year that it seems wasteful to make him just another midfield accumulator. He did a good tag on Neale a couple of weeks ago, but didn't have much impact to the naked eye here. Having said that, he kicked an ace goal on the run in the last quarter just as we were threatening to sink without a trace. Then we did anyway.

Now that Brisbane had turned up it was our turn to tread water. Petty made another goal saving intervention, before surly teenager Hipwood got one a minute later anyway. As we tried to set the record for kicks out on the full, they bounced down the other for another one. Post-goal music [Generic Dance Track] should have been replaced by Nearer My God To Thee. Then, out of nowhere, we banged through two goals in as many minutes and had a buffer again. Even I, the most terrified fan alive, couldn't have forseen how dramatically we'd fall apart before three quarter time. It was a self-immolation so rapid that our three quarter time huddle should have been addressed by the fire brigade.

Well north of the 30 minute mark we probably just needed to escape defence once and would have gone into the break with things flowing in our direction. Then Jackson buried May with a hospital handball, leaving 'break in case of emergency' replacement Darcy Fort to kick a set shot. His 5.0 record for the season didn't bode well, but as he's 99.9% certain of being dropped next year I thought he might do the polite thing and spray it on the full. Sadly it went through like a rocket. Which wasn't good, but not nearly as bad as Rivers being rumbled holding the ball in almost the same spot seconds later.

It was a bitter disappointment after - yet again - holding a reasonable advantage, but level scores need not have been a death sentence. Problem is that we've lost almost every last quarter on offer, and even the wins have been by thin margins. I wouldn't have had $5 of your money on us outscoring them from there, but any margin would do. The only question was whether it would be by three points, leaving open the prospect of nicking it with a fluky goal at the end, or a comfortable 30 that allowed us to sweep issues under the rug until Geelong dismembered us. It started off looking like the former, quickly escalated to the latter, then got close again for a couple of minutes before we lost our mind for the last time as premiers.

If there's ever been a time to rort the substitute rule this was it. Plucking Joel Smith off the bench would probably only have added to the aerial congestion inside 50, but what was there to lose? I suppose if we'd lost by the same margin and he didn't get a touch we'd be blaming him for everything. All I know is sore throat victim Spargo had been shizen so they had victim and motive to finally do a tactical sub. Instead we stayed pure, and the only remaining goals came from midfielders and a defender.

I don't know why I think a guy with one goal in 24 games was going to be the answer, but level scores or not drastic measures were required. If you require further proof I'd force you to sit through the cruel and unusual punishment of 'highlights' from our failed attempts to score. They were probably worried about Petracca's fibula detaching, leaving us a player short for the rest of the game. Maybe he'd have ended the game heroically kicking the winning goal while on one leg? The way we were going it would have fallen to him at the top of the square and he'd have suffered a career-ending compound fracture that would have deflected the ball out on the full.

When we conceded the first goal I was ready to discuss terms of surrender. We're like the AFL's equivalent of the Russian army, coming out of the blocks at a million miles an hour, getting our hopes up with a few unconvincing wins, then being beaten into full, screaming, panicked retreat. It came from Petty blatantly clutching at an opponent's jumper but given that he'd already been our best defender, and was about to make a key contribution at the other end I'm not holding it against him. I just wish our forwards had stood their ground in more contests, which may have ended in the same way. Instead they were jumped over or not there in the first place.

For a couple of minutes it looked like they were going to run over the top, and in the spirit of it being the hope that kills you, that would probably have been less painful. But when Brayshaw legged it to 50 and thrashed one through from an angle I was ready to believe in miracles again. Then none occurred. They kicked the next goal, we botched chances at an industrial rate, and it was all but over

Unlike last week it was back to traditional finals umpiring where you could do almost anything short of piffing the ball downfield like an NFL quarterback. So when yet another one of our rancid attempts to score was flung back the other way for Cameron to mark in the pocket I didn't even want to debate whether he juggled it while crossing the line. A brave umpire might have taken it off him four months ago, none of them were big enough grandstanders to do it here. They got another straight after and I was 50% resigned to our fate, and 50% keen to punch holes in the wall Clarko style.

That, in the end, was it, but not before we were teased by an amazing comeback before throwing it away in one of the most farcical fashions possible. With nothing left to lose we finally called an audible and sent Petty forward. As much as I was willing to forgive the Big Niggle, it would still have been top shelf content if he'd won us the game. And bloody hell he had a go, taking one massive mark and kicking a set shot, then tapping the ball on for Langdon to dribble a goal that cut the margin back to seven with two minutes left. Before that he'd also provided the presence that led to Pickett standing 20 metres from an unguarded goal and artfully rolling his shot straight into the post. But please, give me more content of him kicking meaningless Harlem Globetrotters goals at training as if that's in any way helpful to our core business.

One more goal would have led to a chaotic last minute, but instead the ball went down the other end where Lever was nabbed for a free. I assume the forward would have done a dinky, time-wasting sideways kick, but ask Carlton about how they can backfire late in games. We'll never know, because Lever chose the literal worst time of the season to have a big, sooky, eyes wide open tantrum and fail to give the ball back as directed. Given the commitment to not paying anything but the most obvious frees I bet he would have got away with dissent, but holding onto the ball while whinging and trying to get the umpire to review the big screen was so egregious that they couldn't help but pay 50. 

I got "give him the fu..." out before it was paid, then instantly switched to saying something that would be considered offensive on a wharf. This was followed by an anguished howl, which at the time of writing on Monday afternoon is still affecting my voice. Lever gets the traditional 'premiership player discount' on his crimes, but it was still the most ridiculous thing to happen to us in a final since Jim Stynes crossed the mark. I know players must be mentally cooked by this time of the season but what was he thinking? Even with a dangerous forward target for the first time all night we'd probably still have lost, but there was no need to whip out a sword and commit hari kari in the forward pocket.

Crows fans would have loved it, in the same minor league way as our lot booing James Frawley after he'd already won a flag at Hawthorn. Doesn't matter how much wedge they've got in the bank, if your side beats them to a flag you (relatively) win. That's why it was so important that GWS never won anything with you-know-who in the side.

There was neither time nor inclination for another comeback, and a UFO could have crash-landed in the middle of the MCG before the final siren and I wouldn't have cared. Didn't know I still had it in me to be so flat about a sporting result. I committed a spot of mayhem on a chair to ease my frustration, then it nearly ended in criminal charges when a few minutes after the siren somebody risked having his eyeball yanked out by sagely telling me "it all went wrong when your players started fighting with each other". Bullshit. 

Nobody knows if McDonald would have made the ultimate difference, but we demonstrably hit the skids when he went down and wasn't effectively replaced. The forward line was generally dreadful against quality opposition for the rest of the year, save a couple of discredited tonkings of the Lions, and the rest of the team could only do so much before running out of juice. That's your focus for the off-season, not just the forwards, but how you get the ball to them. I'm not asking to smash through bulk scores like Essendon 2000 (though it would be nice), but for both the last two seasons we've been the sixth highest scoring home and away team. Sometimes you turn it on in September, sometimes you don't, and if that's not addressed we're just going into 2023 crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

I'm not going to pile in on Goodwin under after a decent period of mourning, or when we lose a couple of games next year, but at the same time you might lie awake at night wondering if Essendon might do a Chelsea and pay us shitloads of money for a new coach. Probably not, so that will leave plenty of time for 'learnings' and 'connection' during the off-season. I'm not telling a premiership coach what to do, but maybe a bit less blind loyalty with team selection next time? We only used one less player than last year (though one played three quarters total, and some others spent most of their time in a tracksuit), but now that it's all over you wonder if they could have rotated the side a bit more. 

It's remarkable that we fielded two finals sides that were so close to the premiership winning team, but we didn't need to be doing that all year. I was the person who wanted to fly an injured Gawn across the country to play the worst West Coast side of all time, but that's because I'm an idiot. No wonder so many of them looked flat as a tack by the end of the season. And yet, if either Sydney or Brisbane hadn't clung to the tightrope when the game looked to be slipping out of their grasp we might still be going. But stiff shit to us we're not.

And that... is quite enough for now. At least we won't play on the Wednesday night of Round 1.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Harrison Petty
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - James Harmes

Apologies to Langdon, May and Viney

That's your lot, and as you already knew who the major winners were last week there's not much drama on offer. Oliver already broke his own votes record last week, now he's the first man ever to reach the 70s. In the minors, the only result decided here was Bedford falling over the line in the Hilton due to lack of competition. Turner remains eligible next year, and I've decided Chandler does too because only two of his 10 games have involved playing all four quarters.

The extra good news for Clayts is that he's also pocketed a share of the Garry Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year alongside Harrison Petty - with both finishing on seven votes across the finals. Bit harsh on Steven May after playing a game worth more than that against the Swans but you can only win on the electoral system provided. Apologies for new readers for totally forgetting to mention this award last week, I was in distress.

70 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
49 - Christian Petracca
35 - Jack Viney
29 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
27 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
25 - Angus Brayshaw
21 - Ed Langdon
18 - Harrison Petty
12 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Jake Bowey, Bayley Fritsch
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, Jake Lever
5 - Michael Hibberd, James Jordon, Jake Melksham
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Christian Salem
2 - Charlie Spargo, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
My hump of hate is full to the brim but I'd still like to acknowledge Brayshaw on the run in the last quarter for bringing the house down. Bit of an issue that it prompted everyone else to clock off for 10 minutes but as we've just discovered you can't win them all. I've not got the life force to come up with a weekly prize.

Pickett wins the overall competition. It's another victory for the game-winning goal, which is this award's version of a midfielder in the Brownlow.

1st - Pickett vs Carlton
2nd - Langdon vs Essendon
3rd - Fritsch vs Sydney

Next week
If Brisbane do as expected and go down in a screaming heap against Geelong I'll be satisfied that we'd have suffered the same fate. If they put on a decent show - or god forbid win - there will be further violence against inanimate objects. Good luck to all involved, I'm not sure I'll bother watching unless it gets close at the end.

The good news (?) is that Casey are in the Grand Final. VFL finals were fun when we were shit but it's all a bit hollow now. I'll still watch, if only to participate in the great van Rooyen wankfest.

And to continue my 2022 spring season tradition of complaining about the AFLW fixture, I have loved watching that team since their inception, but if they think I can muster up any emotion for a team called Melbourne at this time the AFL's kidding themselves. The next couple of weeks can be for fans of broken down male clubs to enjoy their side still going around, I just want to do the sporting equivalent of pulling a blanket over my head.

Next season
We don't need to do any crazy amputations, but a little bit of surgery is going to be needed to avoid being in the same position - or worse - in 12 months. Despite Fritsch kicking 50 goals as a number three forward acting as number one by default, our forward line was relatively disastrous. In 2014 we'd have killed for what we had this year, but it wasn't good enough for a premiership aspirant. For all the shit he gets, McDonald showed how important he was to the stucture when he left but he's not a single-handed solution at +30 years, coming off half a season injured.

For obvious reasons Luke Jackson won't be contributing to our 2023 goal tally, robbing us of a repeat of the time he kicked four against a putrid Gold Coast at an empty ground. Due to him winning a premiership and not sneaking off under the cover of night after telling a dying man that he'd stay I'm not going to treat him like a pariah when he goes, but would appreciate a quick, decisive, and honest break instead of fake agony about whether to stay or not. If you're not staying then your work is done and you should have flown home with Freo on Sunday night. Let's get on with concentrating how Freo will fist us in the trade negotiations. 

So, not accounting for any wacky, unforseen trades (and no, ANB and/or Hunt aren't going to land us second round picks, have a lie down), the other obvious cuts are Mitch Brown, Oskar Baker and Majak Daw (rookie). As much as Goodwin is a fanatic I'm also assuming Melksham wraps it up, and either of Hibberd or Brown might take this as an opportune time to pull the pin too. Otherwise, we're 100% giving Weideman away for pick 88, Bedford might go elsewhere just to get a game, and Fraser Rosman's mystery positional switch in the VFL could indicate the drawing of curtains, but there probably isn't the need for a blood dripping massacre. 

In comes whatever measly picks we get from Freo for Jackson, no first rounder of our own because Sydney's already got it, and apparently still Brodie Grundy - which seems like the AFL equivalent of buying a fancy piece of furniture that doesn't fit your house just because it's 40% off. Otherwise, I have NFI what I really want other than another forward who can ruck a bit - which is unlikely to happen if we're trying to play Grundy and Gawn. van Rooyen and Laurie at a minimum will debut next year but otherwise I'm willing to sit back and enjoy a return to the glory of the Delist > Trade > Draft cycle.

Whatever happens we should still play finals, so that's the all-important ticket in the lottery. This season I dialled my expectations down to a prelim and fell short, which means if I think we'll sneak top four again next season that should be enough to see us wobble unconvincingly into the eight. Even though post-flag priorities have changed me I expect to spend most of the year in abject misery.

Final thoughts
Now that it's over people who were dropped on their head as kids will try and make you feel bad about winning last year. That it was played in a weird place, that you (probably) didn't see it live, that it was a 'COVID flag' (whatever that means), as if keeping things together under those circumstances wasn't the greatest achievement in modern football club history. Fuck them right in the ear, it was magical. It's been our honour to be seen alongside every mention of a Grand Final in the last 11 months. This year was as shit as possible while still finishing second, but it doesn't mean you need to take any historical shit from simpletons.

On that note, until I can bring myself to do AFLW reviews again, and whenever the token end of season post comes out, that's me done for the year. It's hard to believe that wraps up 18 seasons of this nonsense. I've struggled through this one for many and varied reasons not all related to footy but it's still been fun to jam in obscure cultural references, in-jokes, and things that even I won't understand in a few years with scarce mentions of footy along the way. 

Thank you as always for the support, we should do it all again in 2023 and however long it takes for me to drop dead in Row MM. It has been a pleasure to cover the "You weren't supposed to be able to get here you know" premiership victory lap, hopefully we get to do it again one day.


  1. I suspect this is the end, or tapering, of a fantastic run that began in mid 2020. The players can be forgiven for looking exhausted and fading out after half time too many times this season. The defence is rock solid, the midfield takes care of itself but some forward line issues to ponder over summer.

  2. Many thanks again for all your efforts

  3. Thank you once again for your ongoing commitment. Have enjoyed all your work since I stumbled upon it in 2017. Always enjoy and appreciate your writing, your expression is like minded, only you understand the game better and I'm both lazy, my own worst critic and I drink too much to recall every single moment of a game (something for me to work on) to contribute. We are around the same age and started following this team around the same time. Your work really does resonate with me. What ever happens in years to come, no one can ever take 2021 away from us!

  4. Thank you once again for your ongoing commitment. Have enjoyed all your work since I stumbled upon it in 2017. Always enjoy and appreciate your writing, your expression is like minded only you understand the game better and I'm both lazy, my own worst critic and I drink too much to recall every single moment of a game (something for me to work on) to contribute. We are around the same age and started following this team around the same time. Your work really does resonate with me. What ever happens in years to come, no one can ever take 2021 away from us!

  5. Pre 2021 there would have been no chance of me missing two finals. But having attended last week (Swans) I just didn’t have it in me to go along. Even if we defeated Brisbane (I thought we would) a shellacking was probably waiting against a rested Geelong.
    Best of luck to Jackson, nothing can take away the memories of him instigating the Mad Minute. Just better not replicate it in a GF against us.

  6. Thank you. I just love the way you write. A feature of the season, just for Demons


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