Sunday 26 March 2023

Hello darkness

Since discovering that Footscray are actually a steamy puddle of piss, last week's festival of entertainment doesn't seem so exciting. The first instinct after our follow-up flop against a better side is to evacuate baby with bathwater and reach for the Veil of Negativity but I'm not going into full misery mode yet. Just like Round 1 didn't prove we'd win the flag, Round 2 doesn't mean we won't. Sit back and wait for more evidence before curling up on the floor and crying. 

No team is immune from shit losses, but if there was any reason to relocate to a desert island until 2024 it was potential major injury to the greatest ruckman known to man. We won't appreciate Gawn's contribution until it's no longer available, and for 24 hours there was the prospect that we'd have to do that for the rest of the season. Instead, in a result that's shit but as good as we could have hoped for in the circumstances he'll only miss a quarter of it. You know the situation is grave when people are falling about in glee about at our most important player getting a 4-2-6 diagnosis.

As discussed endlessly during the Gawn era, it's not the rucking that makes him so good, but the general marauding around the ground, making trouble in both forward and defensive 50 and providing a reliable get out of jail target to kick at around the ground. Sure we've got a handy alternative, ex-All Australian ruckman who we're practically being paid to take but while Grundy might be good he's not Gawn good so I hope we've got an alternative strategy in Max's absence. And if Grundy goes down then form a prayer circle, because we then have the biggest gulf in quality ever recorded down to a pair of kid ruckmen who have played zero senior games in any competition.

It would be convenient to blame the Gawn Debacle for our overall inability to make a contest of this, but sadly the rot was clearly on from the first bounce when the midfield were vapourised. I've seen them beaten before, but Brisbane reduced them to a pile of ashes. Most sides won't be able to do the same, but I'd still like to reverse course ASAP before a long term trend emerges. So first we couldn't get the ball at the clearances, then our best player departed, the forward line couldn't get close to hopelessly optimistic long kicks, even if they brought it to ground there was nobody to crumb it, our small defenders didn't know where the opposition was most of the time, one of the key pillars of our backline had his worst game since debut, and even the generosity of Brisbane in putting about five set shots out on the full couldn't save us. It was a shit night, but the Lions would have thought the same about both games against us last year and look how that turned out in September? There's 21 more games to go, everything is probably going to be ok.

Maybe we should have thrown responsible adulthood/dignity out the window, played into the media narrative that we've got a death rivalry with Brisbane and punched on. Problem being that the way we were going nobody would have been able to catch anybody to brawl with. I don't buy it being presented as an Israel vs Palestine style rivalry based on one evening of spicy controversy. To the disappointment of Channel 7 and neutral sickos, both sides treated the occasion professionally instead of acting like dickheads in a pub. Which is good, as much as I'm into personal issues in footy, come up with something better to argue about. Zorko is not my kind of guy but he said something NQR, everything got sorted out via some "what about me?" moaning, Brisbane got their revenge in a game that mattered and normal people moved on.

The only serious physical contact in the opening quarter, and the only time our midfield got near anybody, was Viney cannoning off Oliver and through Gawn's lower leg. That was the end of Max for the night, and at the time god knows how long after. To the distress of morons like Grant Thomas (reminder: sacked after his side blew a five goal lead against us in the finals), a 31-year-old man simultaneously at the peak of his powers and approaching the end of his career, with a history of serious knee injuries, and the burden of leading a side expected to contend for the flag, went to the rooms looking sad. On Saturday morning somebody told me - with a straight face - that they didn't think he was setting a good example in the rooms, as if the other 22 players were seeing the same thing that this peanut was on TV. These people vote. 

Who knows how things would have turned out if Gawn stayed upright, but the signs were already suspect. Last time at this ground we went straight out of the middle and set the tone with a goal, this time it happened to us, and all that kept it from getting out of control early was the combination of  loose kicking into 50 and Lever getting in the way most of the time. McSizzle got a goal via their defensive blunder, but in a throwback to his early days as a forward we said thanks by letting them reply straight from the centre. Just one repeat stoppage in the middle would have been great (and, you know, if we don't let this in straight away the course of history changes so Gawn's not in the exact spot required to be crippled a few minutes later. Mind you, maybe something worse would have happened to him later in the game) but all night the ball went up, came down and exited stage left/right to Brisbane's end.

Nobody's been a bigger Tom McDonald fan than me, right down to covering for his one shot game last week by trying to claim it worked to free up Brown, but he did absolute nada after that goal. It didn't help that he was now required to act as our backup ruckman too, a job that he did well when Maximum was crocked a few years ago, but I was nervously adjusting the collar watching him here. I don't blame him for being outmarked in defence for one of their goals because he - previous career as a defender aside - shouldn't have been down there in the first place, and John Coleman would have struggled to pull down some of our bullshit forward 50 entries but he was nowhere near it. I'm sticking with him for now but he may want to consider pushing Jacob van Rooyen down the stairs this week.

That goal came as part of the rush that realistically finished us off, and while we had bad luck conceding one via the player diving into a tackle neck first that's what happens when you keep the ball inside 50. The longer it's there, and the more stoppages that you create, the more chance somebody will do something technically suspect and cause a free. This is why inside 50s are such bullshit, we were racking them up by kicking straight to defenders, while they were turning one into several chances before eventually scoring.

A four goal quarter time deficit wasn't enough to make me run up the white flag. Brisbane had given that and plenty more back in Round 1, and we've scored in bursts enough to know that it could happen again. The problem with this forward line was that Pickett was paying the recklessness tax on his couch and Melksham regrettably did chuff all as sub. It was one thing to come on when the Dogs were in disarray last week, but he had 3.5 quarters to show something here and didn't go near it. It was all part of the disappearance of the fringe, who'd done so well last week but floundered here - with the exception of Chandler who was very good again.

We didn't look any more likely to kick goals after quarter time, but at least now Brisbane weren't banging them through from every point on the compass. When Brown finally got one 10 minutes in I thought it might be the start of something big... until they cancelled it out a couple of minutes later x2. This was not good viewing, we were so flat across the board that I spent almost as much time trying to work out the order of votes as the rest of the post combined. Oliver gets in by default because nobody else was any good, but while he broke the tag in the second half and got a lot of possessions he was barely seen when the game was in the balance. And the less said about his putrid inside 50 kicks the better. Put 'metres gained' in a bag with inside 50s and throw them both into the sea. Calculate the metres from effective disposals only or don't bother. He is a great man but this was not his finest evening - which makes the votes even more ridiculous so keep this is mind if the Jakovich ends in a thrilling finish.

Fritsch's goal right on half time brought the margin back to 20, and even if it felt like we should have been twice as far behind you never knew. Then, after patiently sitting through the break you found out that you really did know when they went back to kicking novelty goals from close range. From there the game was well and truly over, and while we pulled off a couple of lovely looking end-to-end goals there was no follow-up and Brisbane soon went back to doing as they liked.

The ultimate insult was Joe Daniher taking advantage of Steven May's late absence to bang through four goals before three quarter time. Usually he kicks 1.5 against us but this time he could have applied a blindfold and booted it over his head from over the fence and they'd have gone through. It was that kind of night, and as if Harrison Petty wasn't having a rotten enough night he was seen hobbling off with an injury before the last change as well. He came back, much to the regret of the "boo feelings" manly men in the crowd, but while he usually steps straight into May's role and does well this was not his best night. But it wasn't anyones, so let's just get one with our lives. Daniher started missing again in the last quarter, but that was no help to us six goals down and not even the remotest chance of launching a Miracle on Grass comeback. 

As far as losses at the Gabba go, this wasn't as bad as the one that made Glenn Bartlett crack the shits (not without some justification it should be said) and set off the chain of events that lead to flag first, lawsuit second. This time the opposition was different, there were more than 323 people present, the light tower was flammable, and there was a belated fruitless comeback. The only other similarity to Round 9, 2020 was commentators talking absolute BOLLOCKS. There's never been an audio demonstration of junk time like Brian Taylor trying to wrap a two part birthday shoutout to Ron Barassi around Matthew Richardson's random fun fact about Shaun Grigg's Grand Final hitout with neither acknowleding what the other was saying. No wonder the power gave up, it was probably offended at being used to broadcast this shite.

Then, just as I'd had enough the Gabba lights joined in. With a power surge that made the TV screen look like the ground had just suffered a direct strike from a nuclear missile the future home of the Olympics was plunged into darkness. It wasn't all bad news, Brian Taylor's microphone stopped working too. Shame he didn't get an ECT style jolt and come back as a functional commentator.

I was already pushing it watching this while having to get up ridiculously early (including a 20 minute later start because Queenslanders think daylight savings kills cows), and knowing from the experience of the 2020 Melbourne/West Coast lightning incident that the result stands after half time if no further play is possible I literally said "fuck this shit" and went to bed. Unless there was going to be civil disorder I didn't see any reason to wait up to 60 minutes just to watch us lose anyway, so you'll appreciate how surprised I was to wake up a few hours later, check the score and discover we'd 'only' lost by 11. 

It's easy to scoff at this now but I'd have been balls deep invested in the comeback at the time, so it's better not to have been teased. The benefit will come when our fate at the end of the year is decided by 1% again, but until then I'll just wonder why this effort was a couple of hours earlier. As I'd rather watch the Mrs. Brown's Boys box set than review anything pre or post-blackout I'll just assume Brisbane lost interest, and let us get a bit too close for comfort but were never in any serious danger. It's more likely each goal would have made me increasingly more angry until it ruined the whole weekend. Now I can move on to next Saturday with my bundle undropped and hope this was an anomaly. 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Kade Chandler
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Lachie Hunter

Apologies to Fritsch, even though I wouldn't have given anything below Lever if the format allowed it.

7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Clayton Oliver
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Kade Chandler, Christian Petracca
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Lachie Hunter

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The integrity of this award never reached any great heights, but I'm glad to have accidentally stumbled upon Chandler's post-blackout goal at the end via the MFC Twitter account. Ben Brown's rolling goal would have been a worthy winner, but for the weekly prize Chandler wins the Sam Blease Award for kicking a bunch (well, two...) of exciting goals at the start of his career.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Kade Chandler vs Brisbane 

Next Week
(Update from the future - I can't read a calendar properly and thought the game was on Saturday so I did end up going. False information kept for the historical record.)
Given that we've lost my last four live games it's probably better that I can't go. I thought I could, then found out just before publishing that a scheduling conflict had stitched me up. May as well hand my membership in at this stage. Regardless of Sydney beating us in finals, playing (in body if not spirit) the Grand Final, and starting this season well, I think this is still a toss-up. I'm hoping that if we lose it won't be in such a fashion that I'm the last person standing refusing to get upset and try to sack everyone.

Forget the weekend, all the action is at the selection table. Obviously if May is fit (and I choose to believe that if they flew him to Queensland he was close enough) he's in so fast it could have your eye out. Tomlinson hasn't done badly but the only hope of keeping his spot is that Petty's hamstring explodes in the dead of night. I'm into Disco Turner but not until a few weeks warm-up in the seconds. On a related note, nobody has lined up in their assigned position since 1994 but I see Joel Smith was shown as a forward at Casey. At this rate, he may end using his DNA assisted leaping ability to ruck.

I know re-recruiting The Spencil is a running joke on here, but even if he's well beyond it maybe we should have parked A.N Experienced Ruck on the rookie list just in case. Now we've got Grundy, and a Grand Canyon-style gulf in experience to project players so far off it that they're not even playing VFL yet. Verrall hasn't played beyond the SANFL Under 19s and Farris-White may not previously have kicked a footy since he was 12 for all I know, neither will play anytime soon. That leaves us with McDonald, who I remember doing an admirable job replacing Gawn in 2017 but didn't look anywhere near it here and has a foot that may fall off at any time. Otherwise, it's Brown and no thanks to that anywhere outside the forward 50 so why bother, just pick somebody else and find an alternative avenue beyond the big boot.

IN: Hibberd, Jordon, Laurie, May
OUT: Gawn (inj), Harmes, Melksham, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: McDonald
UNLUCKY: van Rooyen

Final thoughts
Get the slopfests and major injuries out of the way now, finish the year at a million miles an hour.

Monday 20 March 2023

Are you not entertained?

The moment the fixture arrived I was filled with panic about Round 1. In the dark times you weren't concerned about such things, you'd usually expect to lose so there wasn't much to be worried about. Even against sides at our level you knew that win, lose or draw the season wasn't going anywhere anyway so it didn't really matter what happened. Not anymore. 

This year I felt the weight of expectation like never before, and it destroyed my enjoyment of the build-up to the season. In the last week people who'd previously identified me as a footy nuffy (correction: MFC nuffy, AFL interested observer) kept asking if I was excited, and were almost offended when I said "no, I'm scared". I don't think it how you're supposed to do it.

We're in such a good position (September 2022 physical collapse notwithstanding) that it's hard to comprehend only entering Round 1 off the back of a finals season twice in 15 years. In 2019 the 'difficult' off-season meant nobody was really surprised when it went teet up, and last year the build-up to unfurling of flag kept the fervour up all summer. Now we're not defending premiers, but are a popular tip to be one in 12 months and that left me in emotional disarray. I was only half joking saying we should have resigned from the league after the premiership so nobody could ever beat us again. After a taste of the good life I can't handle the idea of being disappointed again.

As much as coming from behind to tonk a top eight side doesn't guarantee a thing for the future, it was much appreciated by those of us with a nervous disposition. Having done my maddest "be there unless you're dead" support at the club's lowest ebb I'm still just happy we're not going to endless the season winless. Come back and see how that's holding up if we finish 1-22.

So, as you can see I really needed this. Not enough to crowbar a trip to the MCG into my ludicrous semi-rural schedule. The way it's going I'll be lucky to see five games in person this year so I've come to terms with watching at home, even in this case via a shitbox laptop that couldn't adequately connect to a wi-fi point three metres away, leaving the footage scrolling between standard, low and no definition. At one point in the second quarter it was like watching International Soccer on the Commodore 64, but I just don't have the time, energy, or commitment left to be there every week. I'd love to, and feel guilty that I'm not. Long term readers will remember that my last shift work career ended just in time for the 2007 season, so no doubt my next full time return will also coincide with another Great Deepression.

For now, sit back and enjoy the show whether you're watching at the ground, home, or while being held hostage by militants in the Sahara Desert. If things continue on this trajectory a lot of sides will hang with us for half a game before falling away - and along the way somebody is going to get wrecked. I can't ever see us kicking a massive score, but a 140-10 style porking must be on the cards somewhere in 2023. 

It won't be much consolation to Dogs fans but this continued the series of games between the sides with insane momentum shifts. Given that the AFL draw is a total rort anyway I can't understand why we don't play them again. I know the league has to make room for us to go to Kardinia Park every bloody year, but another match between sides with an exciting recent history and a hint of animosity (even before we started swapping players like footy cards and Pickett belted somebody) would be much more interesting than rematches against Carlton or Richmond. At least this way Footscray can't get end of season revenge without making finals first. Which they very well could do, I didn't think they played too badly here, we were just better for a lot longer.

We've had the better of the free trade agreement between the sides. They got Mitch Hannan, who hasn't done anything since the 2021 Preliminary Final, and Oskar Baker who was never more than a peripheral figure with us, while we've come up with two of their Grand Final team. And I bet both Lachie Hunter and Josh Schache just love sharing memories of that night with their new teammates. Other than the usual footy fan pantomime I don't know why Hunter needed booing but thought the retaliatory booing towards Baker dragged us down to the level of West Coast fans.

If you were capable of looking behind general opening round tension, we had soap opera style plots coming out the yin yang. The long awaited pairing of Grundy and Gawn, Hunter vs his old side, a defence without its lynchpin, a forward line without its top goalkicker, midfield Pickett, and a pair of debutantes. By 10:30pm most of the storylines had been resolved in the affirmative - neither Grundy or Hunter had their best games but formed vital parts of the machine, the backline held up against Footscray's cavalcade of talls, we spread goals widely enough to cover the absence of Fritsch, Pickett found a way to excel both midfield and forward, and the first gamer who was in a position to do the most damage played like he'd been at it for years. Tick, tick, tick etc...

Independent observers might have thought everything was coming up red and blue when we dominated the first 10 minutes, but we saw a start like this go south so often in 2022 that fanatical viewers knew to stay at DEFCON 1. This despite a delightful first goal where Kade Chandler took advantage of being freed from substitution duties for the first time in two years to put the loveliest of all passes on Pickett. 

Obviously Channel 7's Chandler fun fact was that he'd been sub four times last year because they kept mentioning it, but I forgot that he came on the ground every time last year. I've got him permanently stereotyped by his 2021 Tracksuit Time period, and after finally getting a few quarters in a row dating back to the practice games I was very happy to see him do well here. He flubbed a couple of gettable-to-piss easy set shots but was otherwise completely at home. Excellent forward pressure, good disposal and should easily hold his spot. It would be nice for him to get some reward when any number of dud teams might have been happy to get him under the 'recruit fringe players from good sides' rule and guarantee a weekly game.

Speaking of guarantees, I'm glad we're beyond whatever contractual shenanigans/coincidence that landed Brayshaw back in the midfield last year. You wouldn't have him kick for your life but he's good for interceptions and general collection of ball at ground level, and I think we've got enough other players to go through the middle that he's not needed there as anything more than a surprise option.

When the Chandler Goal Assist Machine activated again to set up Gawn absolutely everything was going our way. Their forward line was obviously meant to stretch us, but you've got to get the ball down there effectively in the first place and they were left doing hit and hope bombs that we mopped up with the greatest of ease. Naughton beat Petty in a couple of contests but the rest of them did next to nothing, and the whole operation fell apart when one had to be sent to defence to cover the injured Liam Jones. 

The last we saw of Jones he was doing a neck from watching so many goals go over his head at Carlton and he went down with more neck related issues here. First it looked like a leg complaint, then something to do with an arm. Insert COVID vaccine jokes in the space provided. At this stage of life I couldn't care less if he got the jab or not but am mortally offended at the idea of anybody leaving a million dollars on the table for ideological reasons. For that amount I'd take an experimental cocktail of drugs sourced from the glands of a poisonous Russian ferret ("there's an idea" - Essendon), and maybe this was the universe's way of saying he should have just rorted a vaccine certificate off the internet like everyone else.

In Jones' absence, much of the defensive burden fell on conversion job Josh Bruce, forced into defence because the Dogs have recruited so many forwards. By the end they were probably scrambling to find a receipt for Rory Lobb so there might be life in him yet. Here's an argument for in-season trading, there must be a shit team somewhere that needs a key forward and could save him from ending his career in this undignified fashion. At one point when he was on Ben Brown we got the historical curiosity of the two most recent players to kick 10 in a game playing on each other. Surely this hasn't gone near happening since Stephen Silvagni randomly plundered Fitzroy in 1993 before going back into defence.  

We were moving the ball and escaping defence so well that the only way the Dogs were going to get a goal was from a defensive blunder. Enter Adam Tomlinson (who should not be held to Steven May's standard because who's ever going to reach that?) and a short kick that didn't clear the defender turned into their opener. Now, for the first time, we were on the back foot and all that early dominance was turned into a Bulldog lead not long after. New year, same concerns about not being able to go on with a start. For now I was back to contemplating how miserable I'd be in the event of a loss.

It doesn't matter when you've won by lots, but at the time I was in an undeservedly bad mood. It goes to show that no matter how much I struggle to get going for a season, I'll never stop the wild mood swings from watching this side - flag or no flag. Life must be a lot easier when you go for a team but ultimately don't care what happens.

We got back in front via Sparrow towards quarter time, but were aided by some rank goalkicking at the other end. That's gimmick infringement, we're usually the ones spraying shots from every point on the compass. Regardless of only being in front due to peg leg kicking, I was satisfied by the break that even if we didn't win here, it would just be a blip on the radar. This didn't factor in upcoming games against good sides, or the near certainty of Sam Weideman kicking seven against us a few weeks later, but when has there ever been anything rational about following footy?

This good mood lasted about 90 seconds into the second quarter when the Dogs thumped through a long goal and I instantly went back to wishing I could still watch TV with my head in the oven. Speaking of thumping, it was about this point where Kysaiah Pickett livened things up by doing this: 

The phrase "you don't see that every day" is overused, but this had to qualify. Ironically, the man on page five of the 2023 Tribunal Guidelines went home with a two week holiday. We're not even bothering to challenge, probably having pored over the Zapruder film all weekend to try and find an angle where it doesn't collect the head before realising there's no defence by modern standards. Even a few years ago you'd have got away with it because the victim bounced to his feet and played on - not even upset enough to join the post bump jostle - but the week the AFL got sued by repeat concussion victims wasn't the time to introduce human cannonball to the competition. 

He'll pay the recklessness tax, and all the muppets trying to get him four or five weeks can calm down with the manufactured outrage. The good news is that he got away with punching Jack Macrae square in the chops during the aftermath.

In the biggest upset since Melbourne/Essendon 2013, this assassination attempt has not (at the time of writing) led to race hate controversy from some ill-bred humanoid. This is undoubtedly a good thing. I guess these days people get more upset about not landing multis than players nearly getting a dose of instant CTE.

If we'd been the one to lose by 50 from there somebody (David King) would have mournfully gone on about Pickett "regaining the trust of his teammates". Instead the Dogs botched a few excellent chances, the sides split the next two goals, then Pickett went back to wrecking them for the rest of the night - fortunately at ground level rather than diagonally. 

At quarter time I'd been darkly muttering about not putting sides away when given the chance, but Footscray's woeful goalkicking came back to fatally haunt them. From the 20 minute mark we went boonta Grand Final style, lobbing through five in a row before the siren to take control. The obvious favourite was Pickett getting a free kick so administrative that even he wasn't sure if it was for or against him. If the same thing happened to us I'd have contemplated murder, but that's why you want league leading agitators on your side not against you.

Now we were a little over three goals up, Lachie Hunter was probably huffing oxygen to stop the flashbacks to 25/09/2021, and Footscray looked rattled. To our credit we did go on to wallop them, but for the sake of my blood pressure it could have happened a bit quicker than it did. They got two of the first three goals after the break - as well as Naughton being denied a goal that could very well have gone through if anybody bothered to review it - and I was packing it over another big shift in the game. 

In a flashback to last year, our tall forwards didn't look particularly terrifying but like the backline they worked so well as a unit that it didn't matter. Sure McDonald didn't have a shot until after the siren (another Grand Final flashback - this time he didn't have a human pyramid forming next door and missed) but does anyone think Brown kicks four without McSizzle taking some of the focus?  At one point Brown thought he was early era McDonald, taking back-to-back intercept marks in defence. Both Gawn and Grundy wandered through the forward 50 to do damage throughout the night, so even if Maximum's around-the-ground game was 10 times better Brodie did his bit. His career won't last as long as Luke Jackson's but he can contribute right now while we're in the (incoming cliche alert) window.

We finally broke them with 1/3 genius, 2/3 luck - Oliver responding to their goal by hurling out of the centre like a missile was the genius part, but the rest was fortune. The ball bounced over everyone inside 50, where Brown ran onto it and briefly got tangled in a flurry of flailing limbs before kicking through the open goal. Footscray got the next, but we responded next to straight away again. Finally, after four years of mainly sitting around being forced to do nothing, it was finally time for Kade Chandler to shrug off his tracksuit and pre-season specialist tags and kick an AFL goal. 

And what a lovely goal it was too, turning a defender inside out first before snapping from the pocket. It was not only reward for years of being treated with contempt at selection, but for making the most of his opportunity on this night. His forward pressure was good, he linked up well with teammates, and had kicked a sitter on the three quarter time siren he may have even been in the mix for votes. That miss left us just under five goals up and the faintest possibility of falling over. Based on pre-season, last year, and most previous meetings against the Dogs this was unlikely but you couldn't rule it out.

Like certain other games against them where we'd put on a burst of goals I needed a steadier at the start of the last quarter to know everything was going to be alright. Enter Jake Melksham, freed from substitute duties to finish off an end-to-end move so erotic it should have been restricted to fans 18+.

It's against the spirit of the game to present this in portrait rather than landscape, but it deserves to be seen regardless:

Just in case that NQR flange Elon Musk turns Twitter off and we lose all the embeds of great moments, let the record show that it involved Gawn spoiling, Oliver gathering from mid-air in traffic, and unlocking the vault with a delightful handball to Pickett and thumping a tremendous kick to Melksham, who skidded it through from outside 50. From it hitting Gawn's hand in the back pocket to crossing the line was the best 15 seconds I've had so far in 2023. Melk hasn't had that much fun in a short form of the game since dominating AFLX. The commentators weren't ready for him, we were told he was "preparing to come on" early in the last quarter, about 90 seconds after he'd run past the camera, and even when he was kicking the goal the not-that-one Al Nicholson thought it was Harmes.

It was nice to see the sub get involved so early, we used it so infrequently the last couple of years I think the only time it had any impact was Chandler murdering that West Coast player in a tackle. Sadly I've got to admit I've come to terms with this new version. A decade ago I was ready to set myself on fire in protest about subs, but after two seasons of players sitting on the bench for four quarters waiting for a teammate to be injured, the return of ad hoc changes felt like a good thing. In the absence of a deflating Round 1 loss that's my excuse to use this image:

It helps that this time the sub is an extra player, rather than the 2011 method where they just made an interchangist wear a green vest as if we wouldn't notice them illegally sneaking on. 

That was very much it, and after a consolation goal we went back to kicking the piss out of them. Even when Petracca failed in an a slapstick attempt to toepoke a goal through from the square nobody cared because the game was long dead. We'd done everything required, nobody got injured, and while I could have done without Mr. Electricity getting himself rubbed out via excess enthusiasm it was hard to fault anything. Does it translate to even better teams? No idea. I don't even know if it translates to Round 3 at this point, but it was the start I needed to avoid keeling over dead from stress.  

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Bowey, Brayshaw, Brown, Chandler, Hunter, and McVee.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to the coast-to-coast masterclass at the end, but I can't go beyond the romantic notions of Chandler's first. For the weekly prize he wins a commemorative golden tracksuit, in the same way Brazil got to keep the World Cup after winning three times.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Ben Brown Q4 vs Footscray 

Media Watch (incorporating Press Conference Punch On Watch)
I was hoping we'd get a repeat of Stressed Bevo nearly garotting a journalist at the press conference but had no time to stay around and find out. I'll just wait for anybody who angered him to have their personal scandals exposed in the next few days. I'll be nice in case the dirt unit starts digging through my archives. 

Next Week
It's Friday night against our old friends Brisbane, fresh from shattering like a fine Chinese vase under the lightest of pressure from Port Adelaide. Based on this you like to think it'll go more like Round 23 than the Semi Final but beware teams on the rebound. The difference is this time we won't be at the tail end of the season with half the squad ready to keel over and die from exhaustion.

Those who remember the glory years of picking through the lower reaches of the list to try and find 22 competent players each week will appreciate that now we've got too many players to fit in the side. 10 years ago you'd have pushed your grandmother down the stairs to get all of Fritsch, May, Salem and Viney in the side the moment they were fit but now it's not so obvious. 

May for Tomlinson (with apologies) goes with saying, and you've got to get Fritsch into the forward line somewhere but I'm not as concerned about the other two. Salem is 141 games ahead of McVee but no point jamming him into the side without practice games, and Viney's becoming so iconic for injuries below the knee that I'm prepared to be conservative with him. Give it another week and then rotate Sparrow out to make room. Melksham did enough to retain the coveted position of substitute, until Pickett got rubbed out. May as well just play him from the start now.

I never expect to win, but given our recent record against Brisbane everywhere other than the MCG I'm confident we can give their death spiral down the ladder a helping hand. Watch for their socially aware, politically correct fans to heckle Harrison Petty for once publicly having feelings. And for the love of all that is holy, Jake Lever please just hand the bloody ball back if there's a free in the dying moments of a thriller.

IN: Fritsch, May, Melksham
OUT: Pickett (susp), Laurie, Tomlinson (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes
UNLUCKY: Melksham, Salem, Viney

Final thoughts
This was very good, and puts me in a much better frame of mind for the rest of the season but nothing serious has ever been won in the opening round. I'm certainly comfortable that unless the entire list catches creeping cruds we'll be right in the mix at the end, and in mid-March what more can you ask for? 

Sunday 5 March 2023

Good enough for government work

Here endeth another pre-season. They're not what they used to be. When I was a kid clubs could end up playing half a dozen games before Round 1, and unless they took place in the Fosters Cup you wouldn't know dick about what happened in them other than a score and goalkickers if lucky. Now everything's broadcast live and at halfway through the last quarter on Friday I started pining for the simple days when you didn't feel roped in to watching games just because they were on.

Until then it was as good a practice match performance as you'd like, and in the strongest possible keeping of feet on the ground in pre-season I'm not sure that only an outbreak of the Black Death can stop us from playing finals. This might not seem like the appropriate reaction to tonking an almost full-strength Richmond but let's start with the absolute minimum and ramp it up as the season progresses.

Nothing says "don't get overly invested" like players going around with entire bottles of sunscreen on their face. Leader of the Slip Slop Slap brigade was Christian Petracca, who turned up looking like Beetlejuice. Fortunately he still played like Petracca, going about his business as if the other side weren't there. And for much of this game they weren't, but knowing him it probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

Kicking five unanswered goals in the first quarter was fun, but arguably not as good as the pillow-over-the-face defensive strangulation we were putting on at the other end. Every time they tried going forward we either had somebody in the way to intercept, or they never got inside 50 in the first place due to a wall of players ahead of them. Of all the elements that sunk our premiership defence the actual defence was not one of them, so no need to excessively tinker with a winning formula there. Our trouble usually comes when ball hits ground but that was no problem either. Who knows when Salem will come back from his mystery illness, but I would like Jake Bowey to become a permanent fixture in my life.

If we replicate this sort of defensive demolition against Richmond in a few weeks, SEN will need extra phone lines to handle 'sack the coach' calls. And this was against two triple premiership winners and next big thing contender Cumberland Sausage. I love this shit, but the pinging the ball down the other end at the greatest of ease has the potential to take our game to zany new levels.

Richmond can take some of the credit for the all star defensive smackdown. I don't blame them for playing with their first choice forward line as preparation for games against the other 16 clubs, but trying to play three key forwards against us is nigh on suicidal. They're still good enough to have finished with a reasonable score despite being thrashed, but if a really shit team tries that against us they might go home with 1.3.9. I maintain that you'd be better dropping all the talls, picking a bunch of crumbers and rolling the thing in at ankle level 20 metres out.

If you believe pre-season performances are a window to the future (see Oliver 2016, Petracca 2020), the Gawn and Grundy plan might come off. Ok, they were often tormenting the piss out of a hapless rookie defender but whether forward, middle or back, they were a delight from one end of the ground to the other. Fat chance they'll kick six combined again but the carnage caused by their mere presence inside 50 was a great compliment to dominance around the ground. 

The question of whether you can take Maximum seriously as a forward was answered 'yes' and 'maybe' at the same time when he took a tremendous leading mark in the opening minutes. He missed the kick, much to the delight of commentators who still can't help discussing his goalkicking record all these years later, but still finished with three so stick that up your punditry jumper. It wasn't just goals, he'd randomly show up in all parts of the ground causing trouble. I feel for him the same way 12th Man version Bill Lawry felt about Merv Hughes.

I stick by the ladder prediction from last week that Richmond is a lot better off than St Kilda, but other than not letting in a vaudeville goal in the first 20 seconds the opening of the two games couldn't have been more similiar. We had all the play, their attacks were basically an invitation for the ball to fling back the other way at the speed of sound, and everything was going well except the conversion of chances into goals. This time we avoided comical concession, and instead got the first via Spargo copping the lightest of touches into his back in the last 1% of a tackle. That's how you improve scoring, hire a fourth umpire and get them to pick out the most administrative shit possible 20 metres from goal.

Even without ropey frees it was all going very nicely indeed, with ball movement sharp enough to have somebody's eye out. The year will ebb and flow, and there will be times where everything looks bleak but I'm absolutely certain that we'll dead set ROOT some of the worst teams in the competition. We've had more from this team in the last few seasons than ever expected, but the only thing missing has been outright disdain for the feelings of others. Now I'm convinced that at least one bottom four team will turn up to play us with hope in their hearts before going home in the back of an ambulance.

In another outbreak of Ruckman Forward Fever, Gawn got another after falling over in the marking contest then bouncing up to get on the end of a Chandler handball in the square. Kade was lively without hitting the heights of his 2022 pre-season campaign, but the good news is that even if he never gets beyond 23rd best on our list the unrestricted sub has been reintroduced so he'll never again have to spend four quarters in Tracksuit Time purgatory. I doubt he survives the return of Fritsch, but we do have a bit of a crumb hole due to Midfield Pickett so he's a chance of getting a decent run in the seniors for the first time ever.

Even without Fritsch, the forward line looks solid. Neither McDonald or Brown appear likely to kick the ton, but in a rare correct application of Moneyball principles to footy, if we've got roughly 300 goals to share for the season then who gives the fattest rat's clacker if one guy kicks 33% of them or they're shared around. The more options the less likely opponents will know exactly where the ball is going the moment it comes off the boot. For an example of how that works dig out your tapes of 2020, when we ruined Sam Weideman's career by playing him one out in the most predictable forward line ever to step on grass.

Forget goals, the most notable part of the first quarter was Dwayne Russell finally apologising to viewers. It wasn't for previous crimes, but for doing an 'In Harmes Way' gag. I'd argue it wasn't in the top 2000 silliest things he's ever said, including comparing Grundy and Gawn to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the basis that they were all tall teammates. Dwayne was responsible for the biggest commentary upset in history, refusing to fall for Nick Dal Santo's provocative attempts to draw a sook about 6-6-6 warnings. I believe he's the first commentator since the rule was introduced not to agree with the suggestion that there should be an instant free. Good for him. I can guarantee that Gerard Healy would have disagreed, but he must have already gone for a quarter time milkshake by this point so was unable to bring the mood down with sour comments.

Despite suspiciously forced comments about discussing something "on the way home", suspicions that they were calling remotely spiked when the second quarter opened with a Richmond player doing his shoulder in the corner of the screen and nobody mentioned it for minutes. Surely if you're looking at the ground you notice out of the corner of your eye that somebody's hunched over in pain. I guess they could have driven home together from Fox Footy's office too. Surely the boundary rider, who was confirmed to be at the ground, can break in with special comments when she sees something and not wait until called on to speak.

Meanwhile, if you can't wait for Dermott Brereton to make horrendously outdated references to the 1980s, get ready to go back a decade when the Richmond draftee named after Steely Dan gets going. If Tom Lynch was any sort of teammate he'd have given his number up to facilitate Hey Nineteen gags. Dwayne also promised that we'd get sick of hearing about how Steely had been struck by lightning, then 30 minutes later did the lightning story as it was a brand new fun fact. 

The ruckman goal rush got an assist at the start of the quarter when an administrative 50 set up Grundy. Richmond didn't get on the board until Dustin Martin did about 19 tugs on McVee's jumper (and I'm reasonably confident that this was the first game where a Judd took on a Judson) before beating him a marking contest. It probably wouldn't have made any difference to his chances of taking the grab so in the spirit of whinging about soft frees I wasn't going to get upset. Helped that it was a scratch match and we were six goals in front at the time.

It's no good for James Jordon, now furiously browsing the Casey fixture, but Lachie Hunter was very good again. It's no knock on JJ, or Brayshaw before him, but now the ball can go down either wing and you're confident we're getting the best possible service. Who knows where his Melbourne career goes from here but at the moment Hunter looks like the biggest trade theft since Jeff Garlett. The difference is he's coming into a side that's neck deep in contention, whereas Garlett did good service at the right price in a team that was mostly shite.

My flimsy commitment to the contest was further exposed when Kayo crashed as I was a couple of minutes delayed, and when the site reloaded I didn't even bother to try and scroll back to where the coverage was when it died. It meant missing their second goal, but coming back just in time for more end-to-end gold, finished by Neal-Bullen. It was so easy that you secretly wondered if Richmond had the pre-season handbrake on Paul Roos style. If I tune in to see Carlton romping from one end to the other unchallenged it will confirm that this was just us being shit hot rather than a deep state conspiracy to lull us into a false sense of security.

Even before half time things were starting to get silly. In the most pre-season incident of all time Spargo had a shot instead of passing to Gawn, a defender shoved Chandler square in the back a metre from goal, and instead of wasting time lining him up for a free they just paid the goal despite Spargo's shot  blatantly clanging into the post. There are claims that the cameras missed Chandler being awarded the free and rolling it through from close range but the Disputed Goals Panel is having none of it, crediting the goal to Charleston. In a real game we'd have got to sit through 30 seconds of ads and a sponsor logo just for the ball to be handed to Chandler at point blank range anyway.

I know you don't come on here expecting top level analysis but at this stage I'm legally bound to admit that the second half passed me by in the same way a Gold Coast vs Port game would. I watched it all but can't for the life of me remember most of what happened and don't have the life force to go back and watch it again to find out. At one point Oliver burst out of the centre, ran around two players and tried to kick the all time greatest pre-season goal, and there was the merest hint of a comeback at one point, but Richmond didn't care enough and we were playing too well to concede at the required rate.

It seems impolite not to give more coverage to a game that we ended with a six goal quarter, but by halfway through the third all the real work had been done and it was a case of getting everyone to the finish line in one piece. Once we got to the end with everyone upright then you could afford to enjoy the clobbering for what it was but I remember yelling "What the fuck is he still doing out there?" at Gawn being involved in the last few minutes, with scant regard to the presence of children.

The moment the siren went I turned off and went into full blown pre-Round 1 panic mode. We've had two solid wins but they mean stuff all now. Everything's pointing in the right direction but I need to see it in the real world before knowing that everything's going to be ok. 

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Steven May
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jake Bowey

Apologies to nigh on everyone. Especially Grundy, Hunter, Lever, Neal-Bullen and Spargo.

Final results
8 - Christian Petracca
7 - Max Gawn
4 - Steven May, Clayton Oliver
3 - Lachie Hunter
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jake Bowey, Judd McVee

Next Week (+1)
For all the optimism about this season we've got a kent of an early draw. Beat Footscray, Brisbane and Sydney and we'll swashbuckle through the next 19 games before going out in straight sets. Lose one no (?) drama, lose two and don't worry there's enough of shit teams to rack up the required wins, lose three and even if you still deep down know things are going to be ok brace for the media and panicky idiots to turn harder than Lewis Hamilton.

How about we avoid all that unpleasantness by just beating the Dogs in the opener? This time there's no thrilling pre-match flag reveal, and it's not on Wednesday night but otherwise it's hard to see anything drastically different from last year other than one of them being on our wing. They've got plenty of good players and beat us last start, but I'm not going to lose sleep over Liam Jones unless the COVID vaccine goes haywire midway through the first quarter and he's the only fit player left. And at the risk of karmically helping him to eight goals, if Rory Lobb is the answer to your forward line then get a new question.

I like to think pre-season hasn't led us into a trap and that we'll win reasonably comfortably in the end. I'll bet it's not without some drama in the middle though. Why not warm up by watching the 2021 Grand Final?

Final Thoughts
Let the madness begin. If I'm lucky I'll get to see about four games live but coverage on here will continue at reduced speed. If you don't see a match review or the time-honoured technical difficulties post by the next morning check back that night, then the next morning, and so on until it becomes clear that I've quietly decided to retire somewhere in the middle of the season.