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.

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