Sunday 26 February 2023

Seven inning stretch

Even as somebody who thought broadcasting pre-season games was the best thing to happen to TV since the Cathode-ray tube, I was surprisingly unmoved at the opportunity to watch 200 minutes of the most half-arse practice contest ever broadcast live in Australia. It's hard to take a round of games seriously when they're all played under local rules, and yesterday featured Hawthorn briefly stemming the concession of 230 points when #84 kicked a goal.

But there I was watching at 4pm Friday anyway, and despite entering this season at my lowest tension since the mid-2000s I sat through the whole thing before it was mercifully called off 29-odd minutes early, just short of a full seven 'periods' where the last three may as well have been played in a local park. There's nobody else to blame, I had the option to revert to the pre-broadcast era and piece together what happened from scattered fan reports and journalists who probably never left the bar but - for the first time since the great COVID Cairns debacles of 2020 - willingly chose to use valuable weekday time to watch footy, or something like it.

They could call this 'match simulation' until blue in the face, it was a practice match as far as I and the historical record will show. The last AFL match simulations I took seriously were on Footy Fanatic about 15 years ago, but you broadcast Melbourne FC and I'll watch. Even over a proposed 8x25 minutes, requiring a level of commitment that was never going to befit the quality of contest. 

I don't know what is widely considered the greatest practice match of all time because there probably isn't one. If everybody survives uninjured it's basically pointless for the season, existing just to get the players going after summer. We won, but return of Messiah/Judas coach (delete as applicable) or not, I don't expect the Saints to be any good anyway so there's no point getting carried away by beating Windjammer and Ayce Cordy.

So now that we've set out that this was a complete waste of time, let me tell you about the four hours I spent watching. Despite this I'm still not feeling buzz for the new season. I knew nothing would be the same post-flag but that and its ultimately failed defence have definitely popped the maddest part of my brain. Having said that, my last experience of the men's game was going purple-faced bonkers about Lever giving away that stupid 50 in the Brisbane final so there's no doubt I'll fire up as things progress. For now, my off-season malaise means no pre-season preview (you'll cope), but I've wedged the all-important betting markets and ladder prediction into this post to make up for it.

Now, back to Moorabbin (or if you prefer grounds that sound like urinary tract infections - RSEA Park). Not literally, I'd have needed to leave home at midday. Where were these novelty games all those years ago when Demonblog Towers was just down the road. Even then I'd probably have snuck off down the Nepean Highway after one period of the Casey All-Stars vs St Kilda Not Quite As Good As The Seniors. The first bit would have been worthwhile, but in 2023 there was no sane reason to hang around for the rest.

The answer to the question of 'who's playing' was 'every fit player on the list', plus a handful from Casey to make up numbers. One of the ring-ins was Trent Burgoyne, fresh from training for a spot on our list all summer before losing the final of Football Idol to a key defender from the amateurs. I thought he'd be on the first plane back to Adelaide the moment his dreams were crushed, but here he was (I think, the calling of non-AFL listed players was haphazard at best) doing it for the love of the game. Maybe they're just keeping him around in case somebody's crippled before Round 1 but if he's ever seen at Casey Fields in sub-zero wind chill I'll eat a handful of SANFL clearance papers.

You could tell from the starting lineup that we were going for it in the opening hundred minutes and the rest could look after themselves. Every upright male who you'd expect was there at the beginning, with Hibberd and Jordon the only notable demotions to the second division. Hunter and Grundy came from elsewhere, and the country music sounding Judd McVee started in place of novelty injury victim Salem, but otherwise it was the same side you knew and (generally) liked last year.

In opposition, St Kilda arrived without their forward line. This didn't bode well against a side that takes pride in torturing teams for the lowest possible score, but sometimes it's worse for us when we play against a weird forward set up. Between May, Lever and Petty I'd be confident in chopping off long kicks to anyone from Lockett/Loewe to Leopold/Loeb, but rolling kicks along the ground or into space give us all sorts of trouble. Predictably that's how we conceded the first goal, turning our centre clearance into two players running over the ball in front of goal and letting them in after 20 seconds.

Thankfully that slapstick fiasco was an anomaly, and for the next few minutes we casually picked holes out of their cavernously loose defence. At this stage it didn't look like the Saints had come with a backline either, because we had more marks inside 50 than some full games a decade ago. You may remember what happened next from last year, total dominance without goals to show for it. Chandler and McDonald both missed, and in another key throwback to 2022 (and 2021, and 2020 and...) Petracca put his set shot out on the full. It was a solitary blemish, because in every other element of the game he was superb. Here's to another year where opponents know exactly what he and Oliver are going to do but can't think of a way to stop it.

It took us four goes before Ben Brown converted, celebrating the last appearance of his iconic zany hair before it was slashed for charity. In another continuation of 2022 he did his job without ever suggesting massive bags of goals on the horizon. It's got to help to have McDonald back down there for as long as it takes until he runs into a player called 'Andrews' and gets 10 weeks for taking out his state election frustrations.

In good news for everybody except Double J James Jordon, it seems like former winner of the Middle Park Demolition Derby, Lachie Hunter will fit nicely on our near-side wing. While Langdon was legging it back and forth on the other side, Hunter was in everything early and capped it off with our second goal. Sure it bounced into his lap in the square but they all count, even in games where we could have gotten away without counting scores. Later, in the dregs of the afternoon, this did happen but I don't think it was deliberate.

Less popular with me was Midfield Pickett. What he did around the ground was very good, but your views please on where we're going to replace 40-something goals a year if he's not lurking around the forward line intimidating defenders into submission. I'm all for finding something else for forwards to do later in their career a'la Aaron Davey, but 'more midfield time' just for the sake of it makes me want to go postal. Port should have been on the phone at 6.05pm promising he'll never have to leave the forward 50 ever again. Maybe he doesn't want to be typecast as a crumber all his life and this is what will convince him to stay, and in that case all objections are waived.

Once our defenders remembered that they could pick up the red thing bobbling about on the grass, we started to escape their alleged attacks with the greatest of ease. It was appropriate that Ross Lyon's return to St Kilda was against us after getting off on defensively tormenting us for years. If he doesn't get the forwards back the 2023 Saints will make the days where he'd try and win by scoring 50 look like the early 90s. Or he could profit from the Bullshit Goals Theory, as their second came from the ball bouncing off a pack to somebody standing on his own in front of goal. I can handle letting a few of these through every week if it means sides are having to go to the ends of the earth to find a way because we've got all the conventional avenues covered.

The first quarter/period/session/chukkah was Classic recent era Melbourne, obviously better but leaving open the prospect of throwing away the lead via 10 minutes of inactivity. We went on to win easily, but even before then it wasn't worth getting upset over. I'll save my sooking for when bulk inside 50s don't convert to scores in the real stuff. McDonald missed a second set shot near the end, but as it came at the end of the loveliest end-to-end move you'll ever see at Moorabbin in February you felt ok getting into the spirit of things and letting it go.

Fox Sports/Kayo's commitment to broadcasting these games was admirable, even if they weren't willing to risk their regular commentators blowing a voicebox before Round 1. I can only imagine the carnage Dwayne would unleash on a weird game like this, but as he was nowhere to be seen they had to rely on a cheap and cheerful duo who said a few weird things like "it's great to see fans get around match simulation", and called Harrison Petty as "Tom" but have to be commended for keeping the energy up for four hours. At one stage they got bored and speculated that it should be play on if the ball bounced off the post, failing to consider how few times that would be worthwhile. I know early in the season is peak time for 'the game is broken, change the rules', but please try to consider the logistics of what you're proposing.

In every element of the game other than converting set shots and not letting in novelty goals, the first bit was an unqualified success. Under normal circumstances most teams won't be able to hold on if we play like that for four quarters. going to be able to hold on for four full quarters if we play like that. Doesn't instantly mean flag, but should keep us in the mix long enough for that to be a chance. My only worry is not killing teams off ASAP and relying on the defence going full pelt for four quarters to keep things tight enough to win.

Early on I liked Grundy, but even if he didn't do much towards the end there's no need to ring the alarm yet. I still don't know how they're supposed to get the best out of him and Gawn at the same time. It looks like one dropping behind the ball will be more successful than either regularly kicking goals, but either should help bring the ball to ground when they do go forward. Cue more whinging about Pickett not being there, leaving us with less crumb than Hoover head office. Fans of defence will love watching us but I can see a few Channel 7 executives pondering self-harm over prime-time scoring strangulations.

It didn't take long after the resumption to realise that there was no way our first choice side was going to lose to whatever rag-tag collection the Saints were offering. It took less than the full 2/8ths (or as it turned out, 2/7ths) to pass our previous pre-season high score at Moorabbin, and everything was going well. I'm certainly not expecting a 2018 to 2019 style penthouse to outhouse plummet unless something goes unbelievably wrong with injuries. The only connection to that year was Steven May risking suspension in a pre-season game, spoiling an opponent in the head.  

They did have their chances, but St Kilda's first choice forward line was approaching 'tits on a bull' levels of uselessness, only to allow us to walk the other way unchallenged for pre-season specialist Chandler to goal. Then Petracca bombed out of the middle for another one on the siren and everything was ok in the fictional shadow-world of 'match simulation'. It took us 13 minutes to score in the third stage, but anyone complaining about spectacle at this point of the year is a dickhead. The true joy was watching a Lyon coached St Kilda side trying to find an avenue to goal without Nick Riewoldt involved.

Entertainment returned when Gawn took on the Pickett role and crumbed one. Ironically that led directly to St Kilda's first goal since the opening thing, but even that had to come on the run from distance because every traditionally set up forward entry fell over due to Harrison Petty standing in the way. We responded via the more traditional methods, with Hunter booting one to Brown on his own at the top of the square. Despite being at such close-range he still ran in from 40 metres out but the result was right.

The Saints covered up their Reverse DemonTime crimes in the opening periods with two goals before the break. Should have been three if somebody called Dougal hadn't missed an absolute sitter from directly in front. I knew none of this meant anything but was still a little bit antsy about blowing a solid lead. Never mind, two minutes after the restart Petracca got one back. He was going so well that it was via set shot.   

Our only concession to the game being long was sending people's champion van Rooyen into the forward line just as everyone else decided they'd had enough of running around in the heat. He generously laid off a goal that ended with Langdon, but otherwise you can settle down on expectations that he'll kick 12 on debut and wait for natural development.

If you had any capacity for being worried about losing it got back to 27 points for a couple of minutes, until Pickett dashed inside 50 for his third (maybe there is something in this...) and Gawn got another before apologising to the goal umpire for clobbering them on the way through. Not to be outdone Grundy rolled a kick through from distance, assisted by a defender getting a bastard of a bounce, and we were back to it being class material for Footy University on the difference between flag contenders and mid-table mediocrity. 

Rivers plonked one through from distance at the end, we'd won the main event by 59 points and there was no good reason to keep watching. As far as is concerned, that was the final score, but for anybody who thought they had another 4x25 minutes in them the coverage continued with a glorified VFL game. So glorified that we even had VFL players in #8 and #31, robbing the seven or eight remaining viewers of the chance to see somebody in a truly ludicrous high number, and flummoxing commentators who obviously hadn't been told who the randoms were. They were able to correctly identify Steven Milne's son playing for St Kilda, and gee I bet that kid never hears anything about his dad's famous legal issues.

Speaking of people who'll hear the same thing for the rest of their life, if you're considering references to Will Verrall and an actor with a similar name I can confirm everyone else will have got there first. Hold off until he leaves in controversial circumstances and you can call him Wankerman.

We treated part B in the spirit it was intended, removing all the Round 1 certainties, while St Kilda tried to keep it interesting for the home crowd by running several senior players into the ground. This opened up the prospect of the only time we'd ever blow a 10 goal lead and not leave fans queuing like Lemmings to leap off a cliff. Suspicions of Fox Sports wasting their time broadcasting this were confirmed when the boundary umpire was replaced by some bloke in a black polo shirt who had to stand inside the boundary to do throw-ins. 

St Kilda A/B was obviously better than Melbourne B, but not at a quick enough rate to make it interesting. van Rooyen looked more comfortable in VFL company (+ Hibberd and Jordon) and missed a couple of shots. At the point when callers started calling him "van Roonen" he got his first goal, and even for enthusiasts like me this was getting a bit tiresome. I started pausing to do other things and catching up with regular presses of the +15 second button. We had a different backline but most St Kilda attacks ended the same way, when they had the ball you'd skip forward and find it had landed in the arms of a defender. 

To keep things interesting Schache kicked a wacky, wobbly goal from the pocket, set up by a lovely underground handball from the ring-in wearing #39, and the margin was still hovering around what it had been with the first choice players. If Ross hadn't gone home he'd have enjoyed the charity of them being allowed to run about 30 metres without bouncing to kick their next goal. A bloke missing from 20 metres out directly in front on the siren told you everything you needed to know about this.

It's foolish to give votes for the second game, but Woewodin impressed as a left field option for early in the season. van Rooyen did get another at the start of the seventh term (and as it turns out the last, both clubs having lost interest), by which time even the field umpire had gone home. Now the game was in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur in a vest, so I wasn't particularly keen on gambling the future of the club on such a casual contest. Maybe this is what happens in all non-televised games. 

In the spirit of simulation St Kilda kicked a point but an amateur goal umpire forgot to signal it, we kicked in and no score was recorded. In the end who cares, but haven't we come a long way from waiting until 8.30pm on a Friday to see the match of the round to watching live footage of training sessions petering out to nothing in real time. 

The only thing worth watching in the last 10 minutes was the St Kilda guy doing a Russell Robertson style over the head goal from the square. That made it 35 points, and I reckon if they'd bothered to play the eighth then this might have got close. Note - I'd usually say 'have got interesting', but there was no chance of that unless The Beatles reformed inside our forward 50.

With four minutes left in the already shortened game, Schache kicked his second and whoever was in charge of the siren decided they'd had enough, hit the button and mercifully let everyone go home. On what planet were they ever going to play an eighth period of this shite? The only upside is that now nothing that happens during the regular season can seem long, up to and including continental drift. 

Other than the four hours of my life that can never be regained I have no complaints. Everyone got through ok, May didn't hit the guy hard enough to be rubbed out, a proper gap was established between us and ordinary opposition, and we go on to the next 25-odd games in a perfectly reasonable state.  

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Lachie Hunter
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to Pickett, Rivers and Chandler

Promotional consideration paid for by the following

There's no point being a lightly read internet pundit if you can't use it to push merch, so allow me to remind you that copies of The Last Hurrah are still available. Probably not in bookstores, given that the last royalty statement showed sales figures in the negative, but always on Amazon. It says there's only two copies left, but that figure has been going up and down like the proverbial so I'm guessing copies are slowly being redirected from shops. I don't know how any of this works but would like to make one cent above the advance so please purchase generously.

And now a segment we like to call..


Half-baked pre-season preview content 


First, the traditional betting markets. As we try to predict the likelihood of players pocketing one of the many fictional awards from the Demonblog portfolio. I've probably left somebody off so please advise and they will be seamlessly edited in.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones (2) ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones (3) ($2)
2014 - Nathan Jones (4) ($3.50)
2015 - Jack Viney ($15)
2016 - Nathan Jones (5) ($8)
2017 - Clayton Oliver ($35)
2018 - Clayton Oliver (2) ($3.25)
2019 - Max Gawn ($9)
2020 - Christian Petracca ($6)
2021 - Clayton Oliver (3) ($6)
2022 - Clayton Oliver (4) ($3)

$3.50 - Christian Petracca
$5 - Clayton Oliver
$10 - Steven May
$12 - Jack Viney
$15 - Max Gawn, Harrison Petty, Ed Langdon
$20 - Lachie Hunter, Jake Lever
$25 - Christian Salem, Kysaiah Pickett
$27 - Angus Brayshaw, Brody Grundy
$35 - Jake Bowey, Bayley Fritsch, Trent Rivers
$38 - Tom McDonald, Tom Sparrow
$40 - Charlie Spargo, James Harmes
$45 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Ben Brown
$55 - James Jordon
$70 - Michael Hibberd, Jake Melksham, Kade Chandler
$100 - Bailey Laurie, Jacob van Rooyen
$150 - Blake Howes, Joel Smith
$200 - Luke Dunstan, Josh Schache, Adam Tomlinson
$250 - Taj Woewodin, Judd McVee
$500 - Jed Adams, Matthew Jefferson, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Deakyn Smith, Daniel Turner 
$2001 - Kyah Farris-White, Kye Turner, Oliver Sestan

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley (2) ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley (3) ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)
2013 - James Frawley (4) ($2.80)
2014 - Lynden Dunn ($25)
2015 - Tom McDonald ($14)
2016 - Neville Jetta ($13)
2017 - Michael Hibberd ($16)
2018 - Christian Salem ($20)
2019 - Christian Salem ($4.75) (2)
2020 - Steven May ($11)
2021 - Jake Lever ($8)
2022 - Steven May ($7) (2)

$4 - Steven May
$6 - Harrison Petty
$12 - Jake Lever
$15 - Christian Salem
$20 - Jake Bowey
$40 - Michael Hibberd
$60 - Tom McDonald, Joel Smith
$75 - Judd McVee, Adam Tomlinson
$100 - Josh Schache
$150 - Jed Adams, Daniel Turner, Kye Turner
$200 - ANY OTHER PLAYER, Deakyn Smith

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Any player who enters the year with less than four senior games.

2005 - No players eligible.
2006 - Matthew Bate
2007 - Michael Newton
2008 - Cale Morton
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4)
2010 - Tom Scully ($5) (revoked in September 2011)
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30)
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)
2013 - Jack Viney ($5)
2014 - Jay Kennedy-Harris ($15)
2015 - Jesse Hogan ($4.50)
2016 - Jayden Hunt ($50) and Christian Petracca ($10)
2017 - Mitch Hannan ($15)
2018 - Bayley Fritsch ($4.50)
2019 - Marty Hore ($8)
2020 - Trent Rivers ($40)
2021 - James Jordon ($30)
2022 - Toby Bedford ($12)

$9 - Bailey Laurie
$11 - Jacob van Rooyen
$15 - Blake Howes, Taj Woewodin
$20 - Judd McVee
$40 - Matthew Jefferson
$50 - Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Daniel Turner
$80 - Jed Adams, Deakyn Smith
$100 - Oliver Sestan, Kye Turner, Will Verrall
$150 - Kyah Farris-White

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year 
Qualifying mark - 10 hitouts per game average

2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White (2)
2007 - Jeff White (3)
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar (2) ($1.50)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30)
2012 - Stefan Martin (2) ($12)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)
2014 - Mark Jamar (3) ($5)
2015 - Max Gawn (2) ($10)
2016 - Max Gawn (3) ($1.80)
2017 - Max Gawn (4) ($1.25)
2018 - Max Gawn (5) ($1.10)
2019 - Max Gawn (6) ($1.50)
2020 - Max Gawn (7) ($1.05)
2021 - Max Gawn (8) ($2)
2022 - Max Gawn (9) ($3)

$4 - Max Gawn
$8 - Brody Grundy
$50 - Tom McDonald
$100 - Kyah Farris-White, Will Verrall

And as usual a projected ladder. If history has taught us anything I'll get 50% of this spot on and whiff shockingly on the rest. As usual, brackets are provided to show teams I'm expecting to be around the same mark.

1 - Brisbane
2 - Melbourne
3 - Geelong
4 - Footscray
5 - Fremantle
6 - Richmond
7 - Sydney
8 - Carlton
9 - Collingwood
10 - Port Adelaide
11 - Adelaide
12 - Gold Coast
13 - GWS
14 - St Kilda
15 - West Coast
16 - Essendon
17 - North Melbourne
18 - Hawthorn

Fat chance of it turning out just like that, but follow how it goes on the Squiggle ladder predictor scores. Anything above a C is a win as far as I'm concerned.

Next Week
It's an official pre-season game against Richmond, which means four quarters, the umpires staying for the whole thing, and a bit more gravity given towards the result. It still won't define how the season's going to go, but they'll be a lot closer to us on the ladder than the Saints so best to take it at least somewhat seriously.   

Final Thoughts
Yay footy but save me from myself and just play separate AFL and VFL games next time.