Sunday 30 April 2023

Penthouse d. Outhouse

Last time I was at a wedding when Melbourne played, the result was successfully blanked out all night and I got home to watch us lose by 148 points. A decade on you're absolutely no chance of ignoring the result that long, so I caved to the inevitable and settled for sly checking of the phone. When the margin hit 97 I thought "I'd better go and watch the rest of this", and snuck out to the carpark just in time for us to kick two and concede three, somehow managing to be the only person to see North score more than us in a 90 point win. I've since seen the replay but the views of somebody who saw it unfold live are infinitely more useful so thanks to Twitter's @revdanichols for taking the challenge and becoming the 16th person to be capped as a Demonblog guest reporter. I reserve the right to occasionally chip in.

I've been a big fan of Demonblog for some time, so the opportunity to write a match report for it provided me with a buzz of excitement and a sense of nervousness I hadn't felt since the 2021 Finals.

Following the Demonland lore, I'm a big Demons fan but seeing an opposing team approaching a near death situation would only shake me into action if it meant any sort of threat to the longevity of my own team.  As such, I thought it would be a good idea to do some research on the opposition. Lo and behold it held some surprises; we had more contested possessions and goals per game than North, and they were lower than us on the ladder. Perhaps there is something to statistical analysis?

The other big surprise was their motley crew of players. It made me think their management has been more influenced by Major League than Moneyball.  Not only were Ziebel and Goldstein still playing, but they had got the brother of an established player (not the right one if Charlie Curnow kicking nine on the other channel was anything to go by - A), a few others I thought had retired, and some kids that had names that either came from superhero movies generators. More on that later.

My experience of North hasn't been entirely positive, there was a period of about 12 years where we were a guaranteed four  points for them, with very few highlights (apart from the time Lynden Dunn kicked a fresh air goal in front of myself and 14 others at the beloved Sunday 4:40 timeslot). Something else that made me nervous was Alex Neal-Bullen (proper Melbourne name, that) re-signing during the week for another three years. If modern trends are anything to go by, this would guarantee that he had an absolute shocker on the weekend.  More on that later too.

That a game between a top-ish side and a bottom-ish side was programmed at prime time on Saturday night probably says more about how many Melbourne fans the AFL thinks are tuning in at this stage of the season before it gets wintery. If anyone from HQ was watching I can pretty much guarantee that games like this will be pelted off to far-off grounds and timezones from now on.

I arrived at the ground with a mate who is still hanging on to footy dreams by playing in the Pub League (perhaps he needs to knock on North's door?) and my two young kids. This was a brave and optimistic move given the 7:20 start time and their propensity to fall asleep almost anywhere that isn't their bed at their bed time. That being said, you don’t stick with the Dees without more than a little optimism and bravery.

Before I begin reviewing the match itself, I need to apologise for details that were missed while taking the kids to the loos or typing notes about the game on my phone. It started with a few changes, Pickett in the middle, Petracca on the half-forward flank, and Schache in the goal square. We had the absolute best of it out of the middle with the first goal coming through Chandler after 46 seconds.  

Oliver seemed to have brought his own ball and was getting his hands to everything; taps, marks, balls that someone else had.  This sort of contested ball dominance quickly led to our second through Fritsch, and then a third via Petracca after receiving a no-look pass from Pickett while streaming through the middle. This was quickly reaching Harlem Globetrotters v Washington Generals areas, particularly when Pickett followed up with another soon after that came so quickly I missed it while writing my notes.

It wasn't all spinning the ball on your finger while the other team just looks on though, as Schache was pushed out of a contest easily, allowing them to rebound. I'm not going to spend too much time on Josh, but he was one of the few disappointments for the night. I understand this was our first game for us, but he didn't seem up for the contest, which was a little disappointing given the quality of the opposition, the opportunities given to him on the night, and two blokes with over 500 combined goals wanting to take his place.

A good comparison to Schache was Tom Sparrow, who may not be that silky but ran so hard all night that it made me want to spew just thinking about it (perhaps having Harmes as Sub was a motivator?).  Speaking of Sparrow, he bobbed up for our 5th at the 12-minute mark, pretty much putting the game to bed.

It was at this point my eldest (11) asked "why isn't everyone cheering?" God bless his carefree optimism, the rest of us knew we had another two hours of this to sit through in the arctic conditions of the MCG. The youngest (8) then needed his first toilet break, which coincided with one of their players breaking his leg in a contest that I missed. Having been on the receiving end of this sort of bad luck, I really did feel for North fans. Also for the poor kid with the broken leg, not sure if his involvement would have changed the result, but you don't wish that on anyone outside conspiracy theorists trying to overthrow democracy.

The rest of the quarter quickly went into scrappy mode. Grundy got a lucky 50 and a goal after dropping a mark he should have taken, before Judd McVie (can anyone else see it as anything but "McVie Bart, McVie"?) embraced a kid with a superhero name, Zuhaar, in front of goal and they had their first.

The next bounce saw order restored with Gawn tapping to Pircket who got it to Schache for him to lay a beautiful pass to Fritsch on the lead.  He may not be the hardest at it, but Josh has some skills.  Bayley kicked his third for the quarter only for the field umpire to ask for a review.  I’m not sure why, perhaps to add some interest to the game, or perhaps to make sure the Crypto sponsor of the review got some air time, but we were up by seven goals.

On re-start Petracca, seemingly having cloned himself and playing in every part of the ground, bombed it to Kozzi who kicked truly.  Again, I missed this while typing notes and trying to answer my kids questions on overthrowing democracy.  No bother, as Gawn then torpedoed one out of the middle at the restart that bounced through, only to be overruled on Crypto review for combing Van Rooyens barnet. Ben Brown cut his hair to raise money for charity and didn't cost us five points – just saying.

We were up 50-6 at quarter time and Oliver already had 16 touches, but anyone who thought we'dd finish 200-24 and Oliver would have over 60 possessions hasn't watched footy. It was still a prospect to keep us interested. (Around this time the idea of winning by a bumper margin made me so nervous I started eating bread until it made me feel ill -A)  

On cue, Oliver got his 17th touch at the start before moving back to mortal possession numbers, and Rivers got a goal as a result of some undisciplined stuff from Stephenson (remember him playing for a team that’s now top four?). In the spirit of half back flanks getting goals, the game went into keystone cops territory, North were trying to chip around to slow us down but weren't good enough and we seemed genuinely incredulous at what they were trying to do.

Amongst this chaos, it should be noted that we were having trouble setting up play from the back flank and I welcome Salem's return as soon as possible. On the subject of backlines, I would have given a vote to Zieblel if I could, his man-to-man contests were impressive and he really seemed to take losing a lot more personally than anyone else out there. Kudos.

I was typing notes about spoiled marks and professional footballers being unable to kick 50 metres when Chandler got his second. They got the benefit of the next bounce, and one of their players from the name randomiser (Darcy Tucker) took a grab in front only to fluff the kick. That they got it out of the middle to Larkey to kick a goal straight away didn't bother me, what bothered me was the thought of how much of their salary cap he must be taking.  He's a good player, but surely he’s going to need a haircut to bring better players in. Why am I worried about the other team?  Boredom, probably.

Them scoring didn't matter. Petracca, who seemed to be spookily everywhere, converted from 45 after the next bounce, before a truly hilarious and depressing piece. After getting it back into our forward 50, one of the North players looked to kick it out from the square, but seemed to be in no rush at all, leaving Neal-Bullen to chase, tackle, dispossess him, and kick it from one meter out.  We were into serious punching-down now. Grundy gave away a mysterious 50 that they only got a point from, then another via locking it in. This normally drives me spare, but at enough points up I was more interested in the bizarre chants my kids were working on.

We quickly got it forward after the second point, allowing Picket to launch one from 55 metres out that Fritsch blocked through – a victory for everyone under 70kgs everywhere. 81-15 at halftime and no injuries to us, "this might do", I thought as I started looking at the fire alarms available.

The third quarter started with Schache being outmarked by Ziebel and the same thing happened with Van Rooyen a minute later, but at least the young chap had a go. He finished with four touches for the game, but created opportunities and still kicked a goal.  Speaking of opportunities, he helped lock the ball in, letting (now crumber) Petracca kick another. 

North went into serious chip-it-around mode like they were being coached by Neil Balme in ’93, but were just not good enough to maintain possession and we cut it off and got it to Fritsch for his fourth.  He didn't do much for the rest of the game, but did he have to? They then got a bit of a run-on with salary-cap man Larkey took a good mark and kicked a goal, before the superhero kid won a free from an enormous balancing act and kicked another.

Despite them getting some scores together, our backline was performing well; Rivers and May were intercepting in what can only be called "gracefully" while Hibberd, Bowey and co were all doing their jobs. We rebounded for Van Rooyen to mark at an angle inside the forward 50 and convert.  He wasn’t perfect on the night, but presented and worked hard.  I remember Andrew Strauss being lauded as the test captain of England after an early century at the Oval and I’m not afraid to make the same call about Jacob.  Captaining the Dees, not the English Test team.

There was a fair bit of mysterious umpiring happening at this point, with some frees that could only be explained by the X Files. I don’t mind this sort of thing in irrelevant games, but if you have a culture where opinionated umpiring is ok, it will impact games that do matter.

It was 100 to 30 at the start of the fourth quarter and fans suddenly had the prospect of a 100-point win to look forward to.  Unfortunately this is Melbourne, which is why we can’t have nice things. The opening bounce saw the ball get to our forward 50 where the ball bounced off Petraccas chest for a point.  At this stage of the game I was surprised that it didn’t explode on touching him, such was his impact.

Comedic football ensued with Schache falling onto Ziebel, rather than contest with him, giving away a free.  Petracca got the ball back and passed it to Gawn, who missed. At this stage it was my turn to go to the loos, and Petracca kicked another goal.  I would overhydrate myself every week to ensure that we won, even if I had to spend the game smelling in a concrete room that stank of piss.

Globetrotter stuff then re-commenced as 150-game man, Brayshaw, missed one from 50 after having a night of interceptions and general play dictation based on being a better footballer than most people out there. We went forward again and Viney roved one to kick truly. At some point Harmes came on as the sub for Hibberd (who had competed and worked tirelessly) and they got another chance through Larkey, but he stuffed the kick. How's that salary cap going?

To continue the theme of mysterious umpiring, we had a holding the ball not paid, but rebounded the ball faster than North fans leaving the ground for Pickett to set up Chandler for another. My youngest went to the loo at this point and on our return we learnt that Schache had been given a goal through a free kick, I started to make a note about this but Neal-Bullen set up Bowey of all people to kick it through from 50 and any meaning in this game truly disappeared.

We had a 100-point difference and if we could hold onto this many fans might have stuck around, and my kids might have stayed awake. We got the next bounce out of the middle, Grundy marked and converted in the square, possibly denying Van Rooyen, but who cared at this point? Brodie had dropped a few and been a bit iffy in disposal, but was brilliant in the middle and helped move the ball forward all evening.

We lost the next bounce out of the middle, though 150-gamer Brayshaw cut it off only for Harmes to fall over, allowing them to ship it around to allow Superboy to kick his third. We got it forward again, allowing Pickett to spin around the opposition more times than should be legal, only for it to spill out for Shiel (remember him?) to kick a straight forward one from 45.

Again, we won the next bounce, though only Harmes seemed motivated to try, running around a bunch of North players before passing to our backline who mucked around with it and gifted Cunnington one on the siren. They kicked the last 3 and we won by 90 with no injuries.  Was it a good game? No.  Would I repeat the experience? Yes.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Kade Chandler
3 - Brodie Grundy
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Kysaiah Pickett

Apologies to Swallow, Brayshaw, Pickett, Langdon, May and Rivers

23 - Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca
11 - Brodie Grundy (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Kade Chandler
7 - Max Gawn, Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
5 - Ed Langdon, Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Ben Brown, Steven May, Trent Rivers
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With 22 goals on offer, this seems like it would normally be a tough one, but given a good percentage were scored from straight in front, from the square or in traditional (kick, mark, goal) fashion, I went for something that actually brightened up a pretty soulless evening.

For that reason, I’ve given it to Neal-Bullen for his chase, tackle and goal against a player who is either deaf or really not very good at this football thing.  Alex wins the honour of giving his pen to the next person who signs a contract extension to make sure they play well in their next game after signing too.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Christian Petracca vs West Coast

Next Week
Thankfully for you, the editors are taking back control of Demonblog (this is actually true - A), so you won’t have to put up with my ramblings.  I'm actually heading up to the Gold Coast for the first time in 30 years to watch the game in person using pre-COVID Jetstar vouchers that they are actually honouring. Silver linings I guess. Again, I don't know a lot about our proposed opponent but they don't seem to be very good. You read it here first.

It's hard to change a winning team, so there's very little I'd make in the way of changes. Schache didn't seem up to AFL level or any sort of physical pressure greater than a handshake, so I'd send him back to Casey or even a country league to harden him up a bit. At the time of writing, Joel Smith has kicked 3 for Casey and I wouldn't be against bringing him in to pinch hit in the Ruck or jump all over the place in forward or back line. Might be fun to watch at least.

More sensibly though, Petty is fit and should come back in wherever they want to play him and Harmes only got about four minutes as the sub, so is due another chance.

Final Thoughts
This game was over with about 12 minutes gone and it would have been nice to see a 100 point win, but I'll take four points on a freezing night with two tired kids over being on the other side of the equation.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Not so good, then much better

It's official, this is going to be a weird season. Six weeks in and we've already had thumping wins over contenders, power cuts, surprise recoveries from major injury, mystery defeats, and now a memorable comeback in front of our biggest home and away crowd in nearly 60 years. God only knows what unusual scenarios are coming next, but at least we're at the right end of the table to deal with them.

Choose your own adventure regarding Monday night. Either focus on running over the top after a ropey start via JVR pulling down full forward screamers or worry about how the season will end if we continue to display the consistency of minestrone soup. As a well-known coward I'm more in the latter camp, but if you look at any good season we've played recently (won't take you long) you'll each ebbed and flowed throughout. Last season we won a shitload at the start, temporarily looked dead for a few weeks, finished the home and away season by piledriving Brisbane, and still conspired to throw away two finals in seven days so who can tell what it all means just yet.

I know whatever it is the likelihood is I won't be seeing it in person. This wasn't even a case of fatal schedule conflict, all I needed to do to attend live was hang around in the city for several hours like a mopey 90s teenager (I assume 2000s teenagers are too busy cyberbullying each other to mope). But I'm not only beyond the point of being able to occupy myself in public, but well past coping in big crowds so ponced off home instead. Footy used to be the one concession I'd make to packed trains, loud noises, and some dickhead yelling nonsense nearby, but post-pandemic I'm pretty much done for. Of course, next week when the crowd will be lucky to reach four figures I can't be there so that pretty much sums up where my life is at.

The good news is that, unlike a few years ago, there were plenty of people to take my place. I still don't believe that Anzac Day 'Eve' is a thing no matter how hard they try to flog it, but if it leads to drawing 83,000+ people to home games then I'm willing to comply. Even as we've pulled back from the financial ledge I'm still so conditioned to thinking about money that my first reaction to the potential cancellation of our Alice Springs game was "do we still get paid?"

Loser mentality runs deep, which is why I was about to curl up in a ball and die when we were four goals down and at risk of conceding an unexpected bag to somebody named after a sausage. The game was by no means over, but after blowing the Brisbane and Essendon games in a quarter of madness my faith in comebacks had been rocked. Thank god for a diminishing Richmond side full of unknowns fading early enough for the coach to try some weird shit at three quarter time that played right into our hands. Let's just say we're back, even without ever actually going away. 

Of all the learnings (copyright S. Goodwin, 2019) we can take from the first quarter, could somebody please counsel Pickett that he's about 0-15 in career ludicrous attempts at screamers and to stop giving away free kicks trying to take them. When he eventually lands Mark of the Century somebody's going to drag up this post to discredit me, but until then let's be clear that ability to jump on an opponent is different to suitably controlling the ball for a mark. Somebody else should do the leaping anyway, leaving him to vacuum up the crumbs.

Speaking of crumb, there was plenty of that to be had at either end. First Neal-Bullen, then Cumberland wandering through octopus-handed tackles that wouldn't have stopped a small child for the equaliser. As the game went on we made some decent goals, but at first the forward line looked like it would be lucky to end the evening on 6.8.44. Hooray for good old fashioned dumb luck, with the ball somehow staying in after Fritsch and Petty stuffed up a two man raffle, allowing Oliver to square for Viney.

For Oliver, this was the polar opposite of last week. This time he went off his nut in the first quarter before calming down. He was still good after that, and kicked a crucial goal on the three quarter time siren, but this time had enough support that he wasn't required to run the numbers up during a lost cause. And this time we won, so stiff shit Supercoach players I'd much rather this result than last week.

We repaid the fluky bounce favour with McVee giving away the most unnecessary free kick of all time while holding a 3-1 advantage in front of goal. Then Jake Lever had a Semi Final-esque run in with the Laws of the Game, charging towards the mark so he was almost level with May by the time the ball was kicked. This probably contributed to the kick skewing to the left, but Jake soon discovered that the reason everyone else doesn't do this is because you're not allowed to. For all the anti-umpire outrage in the first three quarters, and the commentators acting like it was a rule that had been made up on the spot, there was no argument. It wasn't quite as bad as his refusal to give the ball back at the end of the Brisbane game, but only because we had more time to recover.

When Cumberland was having a shot for a fourth at the end of the quarter it was, indeed, the wurst of times. Just as it looked like disaster was on the horizon he was never seen again. May had a very ordinary night, but after his rulebook blunder Lever was good after that. And a word please for Michael Hibberd, who might have his place in history assured as a premiership player but won't be remembered as fondly as some of the other great defenders from his era. Not by me, after prematurely writing him off a couple of years ago I never want him to go away. Now that he's nearly 34 and creaky in the achilles who knows if he'll go on after this campaign but he'll always have a place in my heart for non-25/09/21 deeds.

Not surprisingly, teams have worked out that wildly bombing the ball into our forward line = death (would have been nice if somebody told Essendon). After two years of intercepting more incoming missiles than the Iron Dome, the worst coaches in VFL/AFL history (even the ones employed by us) must have twigged to our strengths by now. Instead of mad human wave attacks they came at us quickly and from various angles, and it briefly looked like leading to disaster. Cut off from our supply of cut offs, we acted like this was a Mankad-style deviation from gentlemanly conduct and kept playing the same way as usual. To be fair to Richmond - and this should generate alarm bells - they kept generating chances all night, it's just that in the second half they couldn't kick a set shot if lives depended on it.

While they were whipping goals out of their arse, our forward line was not in good shape. With both McDonald and Brown scraping barnacles off their dinghy in the VFL, our once bountiful tall forward lineup was down to a four gamer and a key defender. This turned out well in the end, but looked a lot at first like van Rooyen getting the Weideman 2020 "you're a good prospect, go out and lead the attack on your own" treatment. Petty is competent in attack but I'll be much more comfortable when they settle on a structure that allows him to play where he belongs.

If you lived through the Tiges missing a shot in the opening seconds of Q2, then thought the first goal would launch our comeback you'd have loved stuffing up the next centre clearance so badly that it ended with them pelting into the forward 50. Or their next goal being followed by Oliver winning out of the middle and handballing straight to a passing opponent. It was as far from the Mad Minute as you could get while still playing the same sport. Lachie Hunter must have been standing there thinking "where was this in Perth?"

The shambles peaked when we turned a mark in the middle of the ground with somebody steaming past for the handball into a goal against. It should have been a 50 for the Richmond player clinging on for dear life, but that didn't excuse the ball comically bouncing off a teammate in blooper fashion. That put us beyond the Stranglewank mark, requiring turned out to be the eighth recorded Reverse Wank, and first since that blessed Gawn after the siren game. The finale was a touch calmer here.

For all the self-inflicted damage you couldn't beat a spot of bad luck. A Fritsch goal was returned from Richmond doing the most half-arsed, agricultural successful rebound 50 in history. A bunch of wild kicks and wacky bounces came together and I reduced my expectations for the season down to just falling into the eight. Yes, I am as weak as piss, thank you for asking.

Fans of whinging about umpiring got another chance when Fritsch took what look liked a mark and we didn't get to see it being taken off him because Channel 7 had cut to footage of Hardwick cracking the sads. Regardless of this, and I can't remember if they even bothered to show a replay of what happened, we got it back to 14 at the end of this half. I was as shocked as anyone to discover that our pre-season throttling of the Tigers counted for nought when it mattered.

Even though we finished the third quarter marginally behind, the genesis of the run down was in place when Gawn went forward. Grundy did more at stoppages, and even with a bandage that made it looked like he'd been glassed in a nightclub fight Max started plucking marks in and around the 50. They didn't immediately create goals, but it put the fear of god into Richmond's defence and I'd like to think contributed to them cracking like an egg in the last quarter.

Gawn's third contested mark and a vital tackle from Neal-Bullen ended in Chandler doing Chanderesque things with a wobbly snap that made things interesting again. We tried our best to give it straight back, but it took the Tigers a couple of minutes for Riewoldt to wander past Lever's half-baked tackle, then wrong foot May so severely he was lucky not to have done an ankle. Six good minutes up in smoke and I considered tipping the couch over. The furniture was morally put back in its place when Chandler did a cracking forward 50 tackle to make his second.

We almost gave this back via a weird scenario where Grundy won the ball from the bounce, then just placed it on the ground for the Richmond midfield like he was playing rugby union. Via one unconvincing attempt at rebounding, the ball landed with Riewoldt again. Like Joe Daniher he came in with a relatively shit record against us and briefly threatened to kick a bag. We avoided ever being destroyed by Josh Kennedy, and probably won't take a true beating from Lance Franklin now, so considering some of the slop we put out over the years escaping slaughter from all three great modern full forwards will be one of our finest recent achievements. Jack stopped at four, bringing the rest of the side down with him.

If we lost you wouldn't have heard the end of the umpiring, and while we did get hosed a few times I'm a firm believer that unless it costs goals at a crucial time, teams will overcome it if good enough. As you'd expect Brayshaw being pinched for holding the ball when a) he kicked it, and b) the other player didn't tackle him anyway, went down like a fart in an elevator. I can understand an umpire missing ball hitting boot in real-time but the bit where it flew out of his hands mid-bump didn't compute. Maybe they claimed he dropped it, maybe they were just making it up. No point picketing AFL House, we'll get something equally bad or worse before long. And hopefully when we do it'll end better than the missed set shot from close range here.

That might have shut the gate, or made it more difficult than it needed to be in the last quarter, but instead allowed us to get the ball in Oliver's hands after the siren. Never the most reliable set shot he came to the party here, cutting the margin to two. We've run out games well this year so I wasn't concerned about the margin, just whether we stop conceding novelty goals for long enough to win.

Everything could have turned out differently if May's slide through the legs of the less fondly remembered B. Miller of Richmond ended in a goal. He missed and they didn't get another until the game was dead. Meanwhile, the realisation that we should (on paper) run over the top of them prompted Hardwick to shuffle the team around for speed over height. It didn't work, but I'm sure the people who were angriest were the same ones who always accuse coaches of not having a Plan B..

Finally things were going our way, including van Rooyen being dragged to the ground as if taken by a sea monster only for the ball to land straight in the path of Chandler for a tap-in. After doing nowt until then, to the point where he was on the verge of substitution, this kicked off JVR Mania. In the space of 25 minutes he went from the outhouse to the penthouse, with tens of thousands of people chanting his name and every media outlet under the sun clamouring for an interview. It was very enjoyable.

His first goal was the best, pulling down the key forward equivalent of a screamer, bouncing straight back from having knees dropped on him in the aftermath, ignoring teammates jostling to defend his honour, and banging the set shot through with ease. He missed another shot shortly after, then took another contested mark (assisted by Gawn clearly touching it first) for a second. By the time the third arrived you couldn't wipe the smile from his face, leading to very enjoyable post-match interviews where he challenged Chandler for the title of the nicest person ever born.

Now that we were in front both sides spent several minutes trying desperately not win. We kept letting them have set shots, most notably from Rivers' 15 metre pass to a player on his own, they kept missing. I can't imagine being too upset about anything as a 3x premiership winning fan, but still reckon a few Tiges supporters would have been filthy when we went the other way for what I'd declare an absolute bullshit goal if it happened to us. A set shot fell short, and all the defenders missed the massive figure of Gawn standing on the line to grab it and stuff the ball home from either 4 centimetres before or after the line depending on your preferences. 

Lucky the umpire called it a goal because van Rooyen's accidental assist of blocking the camera (because having one in both posts would be impossible?) so it couldn't be overturned. The review led to the ludicrous scenario where Gawn didn't hear the initial decision, so had to wait through the sponsor animation, an 'umpire's call' graphic that told him nothing, and an unnecessary delay to signal the goal before finding out he'd kicked it.

This was enough for the visitors, JVR got his third straight fro mthe next centre bounce and it was very much over. We let Martin recapture his youth with a fend off/goal that commentators could wallop themselves over, but there was no further drama. It was long over when Bailey Laurie came on for the most token substitution since Tom Sparrow replaced a concussed Ed Langdon with about 90 seconds left in 2021. I'm happy that Laurie played, and he must be given more opportunities, but this must have been as close as anyone's gone to not getting on the ground under the tactical sub rule.

After the win came the medal presentation. I was fairly sure that Jack Viney was going to win, and while the coaches collectively chose a Richmond player good luck winning an award in a game you lose by three goals. Look at the result the next day, when Essendon led for three quarters before copping 30 year delayed karma for 1992 and just one of their players snuck in for a token vote. 

Unlike two years ago when the host had no idea who'd won until she was midway through awarding it, AFLW premiership legend Libby Birch went to the opposite end of the spectrum and added absolutely no pause for suspense. I bet Tim Taranto wouldn't have given as joyful a nation uniting speech as Jack Viney. Everybody's walloping themselves over Darcy Moore's classy speech on the real Anzac Day, but while he might have pumped up the troops, he didn't talk about how grouse Australia is like the lost Oz Brother. I know which of the two I'd rather address the joint houses of Parliament.

So, what could have gone absurdly tits up if they'd got one more goal turned out a reasonably comfortable win. There's still a lot to improve, and good luck working out the form line when the team that thrashed Richmond last week nearly went down to a triple figure loss in Geelong days later, but at this stage it's all about wins and shoring up ladder position. If we can get on a roll in Round 20+ nobody will retrospectively give half a rat's tossbag that we had to come from four goals down to beat a depleted side. Mission accomplished, have a public holiday to celebrate*. (* sorry if you missed it, this took a long time to publish). 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Ed Langdon

Large scale apologies to Chandler, Lever, Neal-Bullen and Oliver. Second half apologies to Grundy and van Rooyen.

In a rare week where Oliver gets squeezed out, the only interest for the main award is Petracca narrowing the gap. Good luck catching either of them from here. Perhaps you'd prefer to concentrate on the minors, where Maximum has pinched back a share of the Stynes (and no, it doesn't matter if he's not earning votes for rucking, he had 17 hitouts so is well over the constitutional required average of 10 per game). Lever retains the Seecamp lead, while JVR must be into about $1.01 now to be the first man to pocket a Hilton vote this season.

21 - Clayton Oliver
18 - Christian Petracca
8 - Brodie Grundy (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
7 - Max Gawn, Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
5 - Ed Langdon
4 - Kade Chandler, Michael Hibberd, Ed Langdon, Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Ben Brown, Steven May, Trent Rivers
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Usually I'd start by eliminating any set shots that didn't win the game, consider Chandler's wacky snap, then give it to the quick reaction Gawn goal for novelty value, but even if it didn't automatically tip the balance I can't ignore Oliver after three quarter time. It gave us a boost going into the last quarter and kept the score within a range that had Richmond looking over their shoulder. And that they got. For the weekly prize he gets a new variety of Maggi noodles named after his hairdo. No changes to the overall leaderboard.   

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Christian Petracca vs West Coast.

Audience participation corner
If you've read this far you're the sort of sicko that I've got a job for. I'll be in disarray next Saturday so any report will be even more shambolically piecemeal and late than usual. So, if you're interest in taking the poison chalice for a week I'm taking applications for a guest writer. Get in contact via Twitter DM (if Captain Flange isn't making you pay to receive them by then), email or knock on my door if interested...

Next week
... and what you/a fellow enthusiast will be reviewing is us vs North, a game that we should romp on paper but I am - you won't be surprised to find out - shitscared about. For one we've been wobbly against them across their last two rotten years, secondly Clarko used to have a Ross Lyon style leash on us and I need proof that's not going to happen again. I can see another brief scare before pulling away in the end.

Obviously there's no need for wholesale changes, and with both Salem and Spargo confirmed absences the only thing I'll do is give some respect to North's forwards, send Petty back where he belongs, and give Brown his chance. He kicked 0.4 in the seconds but he knows what he's doing in senior company. Alternatively, if you want Petty to provide some muscle around JVR then I'd be inclined to hit the Disco button and play Turner.

The unlucky victim in all this is Sparrow, who wasn't bad but somebody's got to be rested occasionally. Compensate with more midfield Pickett and Brayshaw if that's what it takes. But what do I know? It's a bit harsh on Dunstan and Harmes after having about 80 possessions between them in the VFL but Dees win by enough to avoid haemorrhaging from the ears.

IN: Brown
OUT: Laurie (can be sub again), Sparrow (rested)
UNLUCKY: Dunstan, Harmes

Final thoughts
On the siren I felt sick about missing another notable live win, but that's the breaks when you reach the Alan Partridge I just hate the general public stage of life. But I love the 'mons, and all the bits after I packed away the '3 And Out d. 1 And Done' headline would have been great whether at the MCG or in a sordid grief hole. Maybe the opposition was running on fumes but after last week I'm back to taking wins by any means necessary.

Sunday 16 April 2023

Ruck and maul

Every time in the last two years we've threatened to fall over as favourites I've declared it the new Adelaide 2021. This was finally as close as you'll get, with every similar element other than being close enough to get ripped off by cowardly umpiring. We unexpectedly lost, at the same ground, with our defence sprung open like an unlocked door. I was worried that South Australia Week would lead to us accidentally being fixtured at Football Park, and we played accordingly.

You can't sugarcoat a five-finger stinker like this. Brisbane was bad, but we arguably came out better due to a) injury, b) throwing it away in one burst of stupidity, and c) the rug-sweeping post-blackout blast. This started badly, looked set to turn good for about 10 minutes, then spun into farce. Hopefully it's the sort of defeat you can write off in a few weeks as a loss 'we had to have'. Even if we didn't, every premiership aspirant has a 'forget it and move on' debacle, there's no need to take poison in Rundle Mall yet.

Focusing on our fizz out shouldn't detract from how well Essendon played. Even post flag I'd still rather lose to the Real IRA than them, but they did us like a dinner here so good luck to them. We could fall back on blaming missing players, but if the shoe was on the other foot you'd piss yourself laughing at them trying to dodge scrutiny for a sketchy performance due to the lack of key players. Ironically their injuries probably sank us, I'd much rather have taken on 2m Peter and The Weid than A. Random Ruckman and friends.

If there's anything to be said for this rubbish, it's that it included many elements which shouldn't regularly be repeated. Our defence shattered like a retreating army, Oliver couldn't get near it when it counted (albeit still forcing his way to 40+ disposals because he's a great man), players were getting themselves knocked out in slapstick fashion, and the opposition were generally doing whatever they liked with nobody capable of stopping them. I'm not entirely sure but don't think this was the real Melbourne. I'll get sad retrospectively if we play the same way next week, but recognise for now that it sucked hard enough to take the chrome off a bumper bar and will move on.

This episode of Spontaneous Combustion: The MFC Way was bad news for everyone who'd been roped into travelling for Gather Round. Forget adjusting interest rates on inflation figures judged by the price of cabbage, the number of Victorians who could justify going by air, road, or rail to watch their side play the usual teams in a different local should have the Reserve Bank convening an emergency meeting on Monday morning. Advantage to the lazy and disengaged, I scared the kids on the couch for the first two quarters, silently fumed on my own during the third, and was basically resigned to our fate by the start of the fourth. Total cost - $0, total precipitation felt 0.0ml.

For all the intense pulling of pud over the 'success' of this weekend (most of it starting on the first night for an... Adelaide home game), and talk like an initiative that resolved the war in Ukraine, the downside to double headers was exposed when our 'sold out' game began with about 20,000 people in the stadium. I don't blame Port and Bulldog fans for not coming early to sit in the rain and watch some other dickheads play (though Footscray supporters might have been more interested if they'd known we were going to go tits up) but it suggests not to bother with curtain raisers for the local sides next time. 

In order to justify the SA government's investment they counted our crowd as part of the later game, even though Adelaide Oval was half empty by the end. The AFL website doesn't even list a crowd for our game, while other sites are going for the kayfabe-defying claim that we get a share of 45,115 total. 

This concept is obviously here to stay because of the major bunce on offer, but if you've got four nights to fill give the two local sides standalone games, and either play double headers with all the tourist teams, or send us all on the Freo/Gold Coast style tour of the suburban grounds. Apparently Perth wants a slice of this action now too, but unless you're trying to find something for the locals to do of a weekend that doesn't seem a sensible use of taxpayer money. Whether interstate people can accept it or not, this doesn't work without the combined weight of Victorian fans, so putting it somewhere without a realistic land connection to us is bonkers. Sydney would work (even if the locals couldn't give a shit), Perth, Queensland, Tasmania etc... would be shite. On the other hand, I won't be attending so play on Madagascar if it suits.

I thought playing in front of a half empty stadium might give us comfort, but it was obvious from the start that we were off like sour milk. The absence of Lever and Hibberd didn't help, and now we're in misery mode you wonder if whether the former had to miss, we could have waited a week to manage the latter. This is classic loser talk, I want to believe it would have made a difference but would probably have ended in Hibberd's achilles shattering into a dozen pieces. Without either of them, the survivors of our backline fell victim to the literally biggest parade of Kingsley Kandidates for years, with previously unheralded ruckmen wandering around our defensive 50 like Lockett and Loewe doing an impression of Leopold and Loeb.

I'd have taken losing to Essendon better if Adem Yze got the job over Brad Scott, but you can't fault the Docklands roof closure advocate for realising that this was the perfect week to hoof the ball inside 50 and hope for the best. That's usually football suicide against us, but without Lever, Petty coming back off two weeks in attack, no serious Hibberd substitute, and apparently Grundy having no power to impact defensive contests it worked a treat. I encourage others to try the same, because once we get a real side back we'll take 72 intercept marks, kick 20 goals on the rebound and win in a landslide.

Scott also wins the Mike Larkin Award for weather forecasting, correctly predicting that he could get away with a tall forward line long enough to have an impact before the forecast rain hit. I wasn't surprised when Ben Brown coincidentally failed to come up just as the remnants of a cyclone headed towards Adelaide, but we'd have got a half out of him before the rain came, and if we made it that far without an injury one of he, McDonald, or JVR could have been subbed out when the rain came.

Our backmen will be defamed from all angles after this. They weren't very good, but even if Tomlinson was wiped out, May had his worst game for god knows how long, both Bowey and McVee looked shitscared, and Petty barely got a hand on it until the third quarter, their job would have been a lot easier if we hadn't been obliterated at centre clearances again. For all the clearance power around the ground, inability to get hands on the ball first at bounces is becoming a trend. I know they're happy to attack on the rebound, but that's fine when the world's best defence was together against Sydney, conceding three goals straight from the middle here while the game was still alive shows the risks. I'm not expecting one Mad Minute a quarter, but any sort of repeat stoppage that stops the ball being dropped deep into the opposition 50 seconds later would be nice.

Turns out you can't play West Coast every week. Like last year the good times ground to a halt shortly after we thumped them. Last year we dragged through the motions once more against North before our first lost, this time we proceeded directly from Premiership Stadium to Disappointment Central.

So there was Oliver being tagged to buggery, Grundy tapping the ball to nobody, and Essendon picking their way around the field almost unchallenged. Which was concerning. Not necessarily fatal if we could short-circuit them by scoring, but our first few attacks looked like early Paul Roos. Next thing they were two up and I was clenching both jaw and bunghole at the idea of being turned over by a side I'd predicted to be complete shite this season.

The second goal set off alarm bells, with Tomlinson failing to come to terms with a ruckman and giving away a free. Enter a guy who'd never kicked more than one in a game, across three clubs and 66 games in 12 seasons for his first of two, and wake up Kent Kingsley because you've got work to do. Phillips went missing when the rain came, our entire side had gone well before that.

After that nervy start, sanity looked to have resumed when Pickett won the raffle of several players on their own inside 50, then Fritsch got another courtesy of being walloped around the head after a mark. Now we could get back on with things from a neutral position, and when Bayley put us ahead via the most casual, opponent free forward lead possible it was easy to pretend that Essendon had fired their best shot and would now go away. This didn't reckon with them taking the ball straight back inside 50 to find holes you could have steered the Titanic through.

Tomlinson's "I'm only here for a week" horror show continued when he gave away a free at the top of the square. His best moment all day was realising that the close range meant the goal was unmissable and using his free hit to vigorously dissent the decision. The 50 made no difference from there, why not tell the umpire what he's done wrong?

I didn't like conceding, but when they burst forward, took advantage of McVee's fumble and got another seconds later I was boiling. I'm grateful that both the socially acceptable Judd and Trent Rivers turned back the opportunity to fly across the country every two weeks and re-signed during the week, but the only thing more potent than a media curse is the new contract curse and it got them both here. It seems to have taken everyone on the list down with them, but not before one bright period on either side of quarter time where Melksham rolled back the clock to either 2018 or Carlton 2022 (delete as applicable) with two goals. He was practically never seen again, other than trying to do a pro wrestling trying small package on an opponent in the third quarter. Then again neither was Pickett, who I'd nearly commit a felony for if he'd sign a long-term contract with us, going missing along with everyone else.

We briefly got away with comical defensive efforts like allowing players to mark uncontested on the line. They missed, Pickett was coathangered to set up our fourth in a row and what you'd like to think would have happened next didn't. A fifth goal in a row went begging when Melksham ignored teammates to go for glory. Usually I'm against bullying players for instinctively taking shots, but when your snap doesn't make the distance you probably should have done something else. This was the closing ceremony for the Milkshake, who went from what looked like a career extending performance to pulling his Casey jumper out of the closet. For those who do like complaining about players having a ping, is that the commentators started to get sooky about Fritsch not sharing later. I'll back the guy who's kicked goals in about 35 consecutive matches thanks.

Then the rot really set in. We couldn't get keep the ball out of our backline long enough to look comfortable, and an unnecessary 50 against Petracca got Essendon going again. Got them going a little bit too strongly, because we didn't kick another goal for almost an hour, sinking like a trace half an hour before the rain set in.

The only good bit about throwing the game away before half time was the moment of justice for Round 9, 2021. A defender who shall not be named in case this post is tagged for harassment found himself holding the ball in that pocket, with no idea what to do next and thumped it straight over the line. I'd seen this before, but presumably having been shown a DVD with on screen caption stating THIS IS A DELIBERATE, these umpires rightly paid it. As discussed many times before it's redundant whinging about not getting the free in 2021 because we went on to - and I want to be clear about this - win the premiership, but the joke will still be on me when it turns out that was the same umpire who squibbed it last time. 

We got a look at what probably would have happened last time when Stringer's kick missed. Thank god that for everything else going wrong we were spared from a performance by him that would tilted the commentators into full Rankin' Wankin' mode. I'll take being dudded by journeymen, hasbeens and dickheads, but not him. Some people just grind your gears, even if they've never done anything to us.

I was surprisingly calm when their next goal came via ruckman crumb. God knows where most of our team was at this point, half of them barely had a touch. Chandler had his worst game since emerging from Tracksuit Time (though he got the obligatory ripper goal when the game was stuffed), JVR had a wholehearted bash but only one kick outside the free that delivered him a goal, and your guess as to the whereabouts of Tom Sparrow is as good as mine.

We barely held on in the dying minutes of the first half, and Essendon missed three decent chances to pour another goal on and make it an even more uncomfortable break. To cap off one of the more forgettable halves of recent times, Spargo managed to concuss himself in ludicrous fashion by ducking into a player who couldn't do anything but run through him. He wasn't even trying to rort a free, he already had the ball and was (I think) considering a highlight reel Matrix move under the oncoming opponent to play on. That didn't work, and he ended up standing the mark looking like he'd just been knocked out in a pub carpark, before being subbed out.

That incident said all you needed to know about how we were going. If somebody threw 18 rakes onto the field we'd have stepped on them Sideshow Bob style. All was not lost, despite playing like we'd seen a ghost the margin was only 17. If we were that far in front I'd be convinced we were going to lose by a point (insert more references to Adelaide 2021), and was not insurmountable for a side that's proved it can both run games out and score in a burst.

You'd think the belated arrival of the biblical rains would have worked in favour of the team that had been conceding marks to huge men inside 50 all game. That it might have, if they didn't instead switch to kicking goals out of their arse from every angle instead, while we had nothing from forwards tall or small. By their third in a row to open the quarter I'd have stopped watching if I had anything better to do.

We broke even from there, but too little too late. I don't know if Oliver's tagger gave up because the game was won, or if Clarence was just set on proving you couldn't hold him for four quarters but he went on to 30 touches in the second half - including 20 in the last quarter. That's all well and good, and spoiler alert he probably wins our best on ground by the sleaziest default since Jordie McKenzie at 186, but it didn't help us when the game was there to be won. 

From the 'Where's your Plan B?' files, I could have gone with switching Petty and McDonald halfway through the third. Petty had his best period of a rocky afternoon during this 30 minutes, but we were beyond the point where the game could be saved and Sizzle was slowly frying to death at the other end. He was my favourite player for a couple of years, and I'll always fondly remember his indulging in my Twitter shenanigans before switching to an all-political whinging agenda but four goals againt West Cosat B or not, I think he may be gorn as a serious attacking factor.

After the three goals that effectively killed the game, the remainder of the quarter became a literal, soggy slopfest. That suited Essendon, they'd already done the hard work and were content to run the clock down. For our part we could have done with the police helicopter to pluck half the side from whatever patch of water they were floundering around in. 

If you were hoping for a reverse Sullivan Line miracle, the Petracca goal at the start of the last quarter might have interested you. I was just going through the motions by now, it wasn't going to happen and the best we could do would be a replay of Brisbane and storm home when it didn't matter anymore. There was a slight stirring deep in my soul when Neal-Bullen legged it inside 50 from the next bounce but that ended in ball vs behind post and it was over again. Even their sub, the main who provoked the greatest of all #fistedforever era images got involved with two goals.

When Fox spent Kelli Underwood and Dwayne on the early game I thought we were going to be free of nonsense here, only for Anthony Hudson to get over-excited and suggest "who knows" when we were five goals down with 10 minutes to go. He'd already lost #1 in my commentary rankings to Jason Bennett, but now I'm relegating him below the sensible and measured Adam Papalia in the Pay TV division.

Things were going so badly that we ended by losing two line-ball video reviews in a row. At least the first one was called at the time, the next didn't come until everyone was back in the middle ready to restart. It certainly hit the post, but let's see the same thing happen in a Prelim and hopefully the crowd will invade the field. What happens if it's the last play of a thriller, and the siren goes as the ball crosses the line? How long do they get to call a wildcat review before the game is declared over? Or are they off the hook the moment the siren goes? No such issues for us here, we'd been dead for 45 minutes.

If there's anything you can take as comfort from this, it's that a) it's game 5/23, and b) we beat all the teams we were supposed to last year and look how that worked out. In a season where the ladder looks to be more crowded than a Beijing elevator every loss harms our chances of finishing in the top four, but means you could conceivably win it all from anywhere in the eight. If you make it. And when, suddenly, that's what I'm looking at in Round 5 you know things aren't going as well as they were a week ago.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Nobody deserves apologies, but Grundy, Hunter, Petty and Pickett were all in the mix for the poorly contested one vote spot.

On a day when nobody deserved a vote, the cream rose to the top again. Good luck beating them from here. No movement in the minor awards.

21 - Clayton Oliver
15 - Christian Petracca
8 - Brodie Grundy (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Max Gawn 
4 - Kade Chandler, Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Ben Brown, Steven May, Trent Rivers, Jack Viney
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I could almost go for Chandler again, but I'll do something for diversity in awards by giving it to Neal-Bullen for his goal on the run in the last quarter. For the weekly prize he wins a ticket to the next Gather Round at Fukushima Power Plant.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Christian Petracca vs West Coast.

Next Week
The good news is footy's not going to ruin your long weekend, but only because we play on Monday night. Richmond are ebbing away and haven't gone near us since lockdowns were a thing but I'm still terrified that they're going to rear up with one last gasp and leave us looking shaky as all buggery. You would hope valuable lessons were learned here (please also mention connection - Simon Goodwin editor) and it'll be back to the swashbucking days of old but don't put your life on it. If we win well it will confirm suspicions that we've corrected our issues with playing at the MCG, seemingly by losing the ability to beat decent teams anywhere else.

We don't do selection table massacres, but with one enforced out and two certain (I think) ins this should be as close as it gets. Obviously, if fit Lever and Hibberd come back, and Spargo misses with his self-inflicted concussion. The first two outs are obvious, I see no reason for continued Melksham or Tomlinson. If Lever or May go out again I'll have one Disco Turner with the lot please. And it's time to move on from the Milkshake - he's still ok as an emergency option but please commence plowing games into Laurie, Howes et al.

There's some chance Gawn will be fit but let's not rush him back just to try and win Round 6. Otherwise, McDonald didn't do it against a non-chaotic team so Brown gets his spot back and I'm open to any sort of random, left field selection. Why not pick Sestan so a large primetime audience can be introduced to the Brad Green at Manchester United style anecdote about kicking 22 in a game. If he ever does debut I pledge not to mention it except in extraordinary circumstances.

IN: Brown, Hibberd, Laurie, Lever
OUT: Spargo (inj), McDonald, Melksham, Tomlinson (omit)
UNLUCKY: Jordon (remains sub)

Final thoughts
This was pure drizzling urine but I was over it about 10 minutes before the siren. Apologies to everyone who remembers the good old days of blowing a lid over similar defeats. Life's healthier this way.

Monday 10 April 2023

Intercontinental box ticking exercise

If we were ever going to fulfil my prophecy of humiliating a team this season, it made sense to start with a rebuilding side, crippled by injury, hosting us on the ground of our greatest triumph. Under those circumstances some were probably slightly disappointed to win by just 63 points. Not me, I learned never to look a gift thrashing in the mouth after sooking about only beating Gold Coast by 90 points in 2011, then losing by double that + more a few months later.

For those unfairly considering a sour response, why not pretend we beat Sydney by five goals and West Coast by 15. In the end the percentage implications will be the same, and you can feel better about spending your public holiday Sunday afternoon watching 44 men holding hands over their eyes to block out sun. There is absolutely no need to sook that we didn't win by more, massive wins in Round 4 are a footnote by September. I'd like some for my own amusement, but consider the terrible alternative where this was our first win over the year and just be happy that we're 3-1, with plenty of potential improvement and the best ruckman in the land to come back. In 2013/2014 we won six games by a combined margin of just 78 points, I'm quite happy with how things went and would encourage you to be the same.

We've mastered the art of playing in Perth recently, and this felt like one of the many times we went there as the rotten underdog, with only the remotest lucky punch chance of winning. Often we were the ones hanging around like a bad smell for a quarter then gently sliding to our death. Now we're the tormentors. And not a minute too soon, I remember the Eagles being a fearsome organisation, now we've beaten them three times in a row for the first time since 1988-1990, and added a freelance monstering of their AFLW side along the way. They'll be fine, it'll take more than a few down years to blow up a club that brings in enough revenue to have us all killed.

Assuming this page keeps going (and I've got to drag it out to next year at a minimum to reach the 20 year anniversary), how many years will games in Perth be hijacked by Grand Final chat? I'm going to suggest the answer is infinite, it'll stop when I drop dead. People still tell me how tragic it was that we won the Grand Final there instead of in Melbourne. This assumes we'd have made it to a Grand Final in the first place despite having - at the time - NFI at the MCG. Now, because we play so infrequently on the ground every visit is a chance to remember what happened in the exact same spot on 25/09/21. Even when I watch somebody else's games there my brain superimposes moments from that night onto what I'm seeing in front of me. It won't be too many years before I'm a gibbering, demented wreck, but I'm determined that even if I forget my name, what my kids look like, and how to go to the toilet unaided, I will still be able to visualise moments from that game. 

What the less catchy 09/04/23 had over the Greatest Event In The History of Australian Rules was afternoon sun giving players the shits. That blessed event started two hours later, by which time the spectacle wasn't ruined by players squinting and generally kicking straight to the opposition. At least that was my excuse for our turnovers, I think the depleted Eagles were just flat out no good at the hands > ball > boot > ball > teammate interface. They had the biggest crack possible, and got plenty of possessions but generally sprayed it to all points of the compass except the one it was meant to go to. We weren't at our best by foot or hand either but you won't get a better advertisement for the benefits of class and cohesion.

The idea that this could turn into a procession was helped by a goal in the first 30 seconds. Forget Hogan, Jackson, van Rooyen (?), Fritsch is the one that should be demanding a trade to a Perth team. Sadly the Eagles had both pride and dignity, refusing to do us a favour and die on the spot. In fact, for a few minutes they were winning enough of the ball that the regular blunders didn't matter. 

Deep down you knew that if Sydney or Footscray couldn't hang with us for four quarters there was no way this ragtag bunch of random individuals could go one better but they had as good a go as possible. Pickett putting the ball on a platter for the returning McSizzle suggested that if got it down there quickly enough they would have NFI how to stop us. In the end, we scored 31 times from 58 forward entries so that idea held up, but not before the briefest threat to keep things interesting when they got the next two goals and levelled scores. Again, the rational part of the brain said they couldn't keep it up, the MFC damaged bit was a touch alarmed.

For West Coast fans, the fun ended shortly after. But you can't say they haven't had a bit of joy over the years. Now that they and Adelaide have had to go through some much deserved misery, the last people who need to take their turn at the bottom are Geelong (reminder: haven't won less than seven games in a year since the mid-70s), who are so cockroach/nuclear bomb that they'll probably turn their 0-3 start into repeat flags.

We were still not playing that well, but I'll admit to giving a little yelp when 2018 era McDonald reemerged to pull down a big mark in front of the goal for the third. Via May touching a goal through with the barest margin of error, this was what ultimately put them away. We could even afford a bit of slapstick, with Petty and Spargo vs one hapless defender nearly ending in tragedy when Petty missed the mark. Things apparently work in your favour when you're good, because it bounced straight to Spargo to kick anyway. 

See also free kicks, suddenly just as the Eagles are no good they not getting a thousand frees when playing at home. My issue with these umpires wasn't the decisions, because it was such a throwaway game that it wasn't going to make a difference, but one of them having NFI how to bounce the ball. At one point he recalled it because it didn't go high enough. I'm usually into tradition but I can do without this. Either that or let the bounce fling off at random angles without ever recalling it.

In another reminder that we are now a (relative) powerhouse, we tore a team's soul out with a late goal. After hanging in for the best part of 30 minutes, McDonald capped off a cracking first quarter with a pass to Perth Stadium specialist Fritsch, who goalled on the siren. The Eagles had done very well to stop us from running away for most of the quarter, this would have been deflating.

It felt like weren't far from doing serious damage, and this atmosphere was given a boost by Kayo's 'we have no sponsors for this slot' music, straight from the soundtrack of a show featuring grisly murders in the forest. It was only when I was told that this is because gambling ads are banned in some states that I realised how much better televised sport is when nobody's screaming at you to bet with mates before giving the mandatory 'gamble responsibly' message with the passion of a Viet Cong hostage. Here's a free idea Kayo, come up with a setting that replaces the filler slide and serial killer music with random goals from your selected team. 

When Fritsch got a third just after the restart I was having visions of another six goal haul driving us to another great victory. He didn't get any more, but who's complaining, all his best work was done when the game still had some heat in it. I don't need my forwards to stretch their goals out across the quarters if they can create maximum carnage at the start. This was not the throwing open of floodgates that I'd hoped for, and with hands now permanently shielding the eyes the game went into what might have been the earliest period of junk time in the history of Round 4. 

West Coast weren't making it easy for us, but there was none of the fancy end-to-end movement that makes fans slide off their seats no matter the atmospheric conditions. We had our last (relative) scare when they kicked one goal, then comically put one out on the full immediately after. I enjoyed Garry Lyon jumping on my bandwagon and saying that you get better value out of shit kicks into our defensive 50 than good ones. He put it a bit more diplomatically but when you know, you know. By now even I was losing interest and wondering if it wouldn't be better if teams could just concede when they had nothing else to give.

We weren't playing in any way badly, but there weren't too many peak performances. It was difficult coming up with votes because any of 10 had claims for 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1. Minor spoiler alert - I really enjoyed Grundy's performance. Hitouts are a bullshit stat, but he was great in following up at ground level, and even took a Gawn-esque contested grab at one point. Any dreams he had of a Mitch Clark style goalkicking rebirth are on hold until Maximum comes back (as we hope, permanently, is a Clark-esque descent into injury hell) but so far the bargain value of this trade is exceeding the empty envelope we gave to Carlton for Jeff Garlett. If Freo could do us a favour and stay shit, the second first round pick for Jackson could give both of them a shake.

The gap in the fixture caused by the Easter Monday game meant this had no competition, and neutrals looking for Sunday afternoon footy would have been reconsidering their life choices early in the third term. The pressure was very good from both sides but they weren't capable of a comeback and we weren't threatening to win by a perverse margin so there wasn't much in it for outsiders. Not much for me either, I started regularly pausing to do other things and ended up about 20 minutes in the hole. My commitment to this game was so poor from the outset that I didn't even bother setting up the Megawall and just watched directly from the computer. You won't get any sympathy from Perth fans, but good luck to anybody on Eastern Standard Time with a family being able to sit down and watch a 5.20pm game without being interrupted.

After 10 minutes of abject slop, including Pickett's third miss on a day where he visibly had to stop himself from clobbering opponents a couple of times, the final nail in the coffin was provided by who else but Christian Petracca. He hadn't got much of it in the opening quarter, but once the tag fell away he did Petraccaish things that the Eagles couldn't stop. Like marking 40 metres out directly in front, immediately running around snapping the goal. Viney got another one not long after and it was game over. Realistically it already had been at quarter time, but I needed more evidence to be sure.

By now we'd firmly established who was going to win, and we pulled off another Mad Minute. This time it was to the right of screen, and we got the first two before Pickett missed again - by now threatening to match Troy Longmuir's iconic 0.5 in Round 1, 1999. Perhaps the last bit of interest was van Rooyen absolutely storming through the middle of the 50 to pull down a contested mark and goal. This was good, but I was also impressed by his contest when the ball was on the ground. Suffice to say he's a keeper, and suitors from his home state can piss right off.

Even with them kicking a rare goal on the siren you could afford to relax, we were ahead of the Chris Sullivan Line and nothing could officially go wrong. You probably enjoyed the last quarter with your feet up, I had to start driving in pelting rain. The Transport Accident Commission appreciated us putting the game away, because if distracted drivers die then god knows what's going to happen the day I've got to be behind the wheel during a thriller. With the assumption that we'd have the game put away by three quarter time, my original plan was to listen on the radio but I'd left myself so far behind with excessive pausing that the last quarter had already started by the time I finished watching the third. So, safe in the knowledge that somebody wasn't going to see my bumper sticker, pull up beside and say "geez you really fucked that up didn't you?" I went into media blackout mode and resumed coverage on arrival.

Maybe it was the stress of trying to keep my dinky little car on the road while being pissed on from a great height but somehow mid-journey I'd convinced myself we were only 39 points in front, not 49. So it was a pleasant surprise to arrive and discover that we really were beyond the point where even the wackiest of scenarios could cost us victory. Much like this post, everything from here involved going through the motions. JVR got a second, Pickett finally got reward with a first, and the game ebbed to a conclusion that surely had fans scouring other channels to see what else was on. I was happy that Jayden Hunt got a goal, he spent the afternoon hitting more red and blue jumpers than his last season with us but I wish him nothing the best.

The sense of "that'll do" extended to Fox Sports, whose clock shat itself late in the quarter. Lucky we were 10 goals up, because Channel 10 style 'five minute warning' mode would have caused me to start spontaneously bleeding from the ears if scores were close. But they weren't, because we're very good and West Coast - at this time - are not. We did everything that was required, nobody was seriously hurt, or is likely to be suspended, and there's still improvement to be had. Good enough for me. 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Brodie Grundy
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Trent Rivers
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Fritsch, May, Neal-Bullen, Pickett, Viney and others in a performance where many could have pinched a vote.

This was temporarily entertaining, but the greatest duo since air met water have taken over, and who's going to stop them? The action might be in the minors, Grundy has jumped Gawn into the Stynes lead, while the defender award is wide open, and for the third year in a row the Rising Star is practically uncontested. 

16 - Clayton Oliver
11 - Christian Petracca
8 - Brodie Grundy (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Max Gawn 
4 - Kade Chandler, Kysaiah Pickett
2 - Ben Brown, Steven May, Trent Rivers
1 - Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
You'd almost like to see how far the Chandler Streak can go, but in this case he's beaten into second by Petracca's play on and around the corner roost. Not sure I have the authority to give it away, but for the weekly prize Christian wins Perth Stadium. At the very least they should name a stand after him.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
2 - Jake Melksham vs Footscray
3 - Christian Petracca vs West Coast.

Next Week
Other than the cringeworthy branding I'm not against 'Gather Round', even if there's precisely zero chance of me ever attending unless it's played in my backyard. Even then I'd probably only stay for the Melbourne game, due to having not the slightest cracker of interest in a crowded stadium full of neutrals. This isn't AFLX, I'm not going to mock the interest but am genuinely surprised by how many people are going. 

Unlike the NRL version you can't watch every game in the same stadium, only 4/9 are part of double headers and the rest are being played in pokey suburban venues with limited capacity. Good luck if you're keen, but it looks like an excuse to pay premium prices to play unusual opposition in a city you could already visit once or twice a year anyway. And a reminder, if you're gearing up for a big weekend of Code Wars with Rugby Leaguists don't forget that it wasn't their original concept either. They pinched it lock, stock and scrum feed from England, who presumably got the idea from professional cockfighting or something.

If it wasn't for kooky COVID fixtures like Gold Coast at the Sydney Showgrounds and Port Adelaide at the Gabba, playing Essendon on Adelaide Oval would look like the silliest thing you've ever seen. The only difference is that this time there should be a shitload of people there. How much of that will be fans of the competing clubs, and how much will be Port fans coming in early for the following game I don't know but consider how lucky we are to be allowed to act as fluffer for one of the home teams. A decade ago we'd have been in the North position, exiled to some outer suburban local park due to a lack of interest. Until Football Park shut we were so bad in South Australia post-2001 that they'd probably have asked us to gather outside the (08) area code.

I don't see any need for changes, even if Brown's back comes good McDonald has planted himself in that spot now, and while Laurie had 35 touches in the VFL there's no spot for him now. Jordon can have another go as sub, and let's see if this lineup is as good as it looked against injury ravaged opposition. Essendon have their own problems, including Weideman losing his chance at a revenge performance. Without him or Peter Wright, and assuming Lever's ankle knock wasn't serious, I expect Petty will stay forward for a little bit longer. I don't love it but am willing to go along with the idea if there's no obvious matchup in defence.

Against all odds, or just because I made assumptions due to not liking them, Essendon have been alright this year. Let's see how wins over Hawthorn, Gold Coast, and GWS stack up. On paper, thumping Sydney and the Bulldogs and only blowing the Brisbane game via 20 minutes of stupidity is a better form line. We'll start favourites, but I'm still not into the optimistic mindset.

IN: Nil
OUT: Nil
UNLUCKY: Brown, Laurie

Final thoughts
Scoff all you like at missed opportunities to demoralise teams but these are the sort of stress-free, easy but unspectacular wins that you'll think back fondly to in a few years when the wheel of history turns against us again. Cherish every win that ends without a drop of sweat from your brow in the last quarter.

Monday 3 April 2023

Vigorous Roo-ting

For the first time since going back to shift work in 2019 a calendar error finally landed in my favour. Another game I expected to watch on TV ended up being the first of a handful I'll be able to attend in person this year. This should have been the sign to put your house on Sydney, I hadn't seen a win in person since Hawthorn in Round 7 last year. And if you had, you'd be reading this from emergency accommodation now, because for the first time since the famous 'Bruce McAvaney whacks off' game in 2010 we not only beat them at the MCG - and even that's only happened once in the meantime - but did it comfortably.

The other side of the coin for omen punters was the bird suicidally hurling itself into the path of my car on Friday morning. It wasn't a swan but near enough is good enough, especially when it made a sound like somebody had kicked a footy into the bonnet. I wasn't as concerned with positive or negative mysticism as the real-world evidence of losing to Sydney twice on our home ground last year after being in winning positions both times. 

Their opening wins over Flotsam and Jetsam didn't concern me, nor did a Hall of Fame forward now going like a Russian tank, but the pair of 2022 flops sent me into this stressed to the eyeballs. So retrospectively forgive me for holding my breath and waiting for a fiasco to break out when we were five goals up at quarter time. Also for thinking "I knew this was going to happen" when it got back to a kick the difference in the third term. Then the machine cranked up again, all was well, and we went home looking like a top side again. 

Second only to not realising we were playing on Sunday until extended teams came out, the biggest shock of the week was the top deck of the Ponsford being open. I was sure that now the home of footy has become the home of saving money they'd rope it off and force Row level four fanatics/personal space appreciators to fend for themselves. I'd like to think my digital sooking about this paid off, but more likely it was the bare minimum expected attendance they'd open it for. Facilities were in full vs Gold Coast 2013 mode, with no food and the absolute minimum of staff but unlike others we're not savages and can look after ourselves up there.

Yay atmosphere and all that shit, but this was the perfect attendance for my comfort requirements. You didn't have to go to Row MM to get an aisle to yourself, and several clear rows in front and behind me so I didn't have to listen to anyone talking shite. When I'm at home the benefits of not having to cart myself there are obvious, but when my knees were shaking with tension as we clung on to a lead in the third quarter, it reminded me why being at the ground is always the superior option.

Had we given up said lead and lost by any margin from one up you can guarantee that previous paragraph wouldn't have made the post. Probably because I'd have been unable to type due to punching a seat in frustration. I'm amazed to be living in a relative glory era, where sadly two good seasons in a row represent our best run for 60 years, but do feel slightly cheated at losing almost every time I was there in person. When we looked like falling over I was waiting for Kate Roffey herself to appear and issue me a life ban. Could have spent the rest of the year in the [DELETED ON LEGAL ADVICE] section with Glenn Bartlett.

When somebody looks at the score progression in 20 years, probably with the contents of the Pacific Ocean lapping around their ankles, it will look like we put the Swans away from the first bounce but let the historical record show that as much credit for our quarter time lead goes to the defenders as the people who kicked the goals. The start of the (temporary) post-Gawn era was ropey, allowing them to extract the ball out of the middle and go forward with ease. The bad news was that usually meant sticking it down the throat of May, Lever, Hibberd etc... Even with Petty playing some nebulous (defensive?) role in the forward line we had them covered.

So, after a few minutes of backs-to-the-wall defending it felt like a bit of swizz to get the opener. Much to the apeshit delight of Melbourne fans everywhere it was set up by the debuting van Rooyen. Even if you take out the goals, his first game was very good for a key position player. Have a look at his forward 50 tackle numbers then take a sedative. I didn't put any excess expectations on him, but by full time the frenzy was so furious that when Clayton Oliver rightfully declined a chairing for his 150th supporters were ready to jump the fence and carry JVR off instead. The man who answers the question  is still a kid but didn't do much wrong here. It was one of the better debuts I've seen in a good side. We had a few players float to the top in dreadful sides (and I think Kyle Cheney of all people is still the only man to get five votes on debut) but it's harder to look good in a quality side.   

His success here doesn't mean picking the kid in the finals last year would have generated the same result, but now that you find out Gawn was absolutely cooked by the end of the year it makes you wonder how he would have gone even without the extra pre-season. I still think that Geelong's horror start aside they'd have delivered the same pummelling to us that Brisbane got in the Prelim but beating the Lions post-sledge controversy would still have been satisfying. Also, it's not like we didn't have multiple chances to win, even with Gawn, Lever and Brown all moving like the elderly and Jackson mentally flicking through for expensive Perth property, so there's no need to rewrite history and assume he'd have singlehandedly won us the game.

We survived letting the ball get to the top of their square straight from the centre bounce with just a point conceded but were still left defending grimly for a few minutes before getting another against the run of play. Then, after setting up the first, the man that answers the question "who is a pirate's favourite AFL player?" got one of his own after being touched up in a ruck contest and we were - against all odds - doing very well.

For a second it looked like the baton of 'wasted key forward goals' that McDonald got from Hogan was about to be passed at the first opportunity but the defence held firm to get us out of jail again. I think my paranoia about giving goals back from the middle dates to when we'd only kick five a game so each was precious. We're in a better position to waste them now, but I still don't like seeing the ball fling straight from the centre into the opposition attack. No matter how good your backline is, give them enough chances and they'll either score, or create repeat stoppages until they do.

On the topic of the greatest Melbourne defence of my lifetime, I never really cared for State of Origin (and thought it was PISS FUNNY when New South Wales beat Victoria) but finally get what they meant by "don't let the Big Vee down". You can't immediately replace Salem, but for a brake in case of emergency pre-season option the good Judd looks right at home. My favourite bit was when he took a contested mark against Franklin, and though he will no doubt end up back on the frozen tundra at Casey at some point this year we may have one for the future here.

If I was a Sydney fan I'd have forgotten their dual 2022 comebacks and tipped something over when all their wasted attacks ended in us going the other way for Spargo to pull down one of the weirdest hangers in recent memory and make it three goals to zip. It was set up by a wonderful kick from Chandler who may - say it under your breath - be doing the Spargo role better than the premiership player himself. If Round 1 was anything to go by we can have both of them and Pickett but since Chandler removed the tracksuit he's been like Clark Kent emerging from the phonebooth.

With the ball in our defensive 50 at all times other than when we were kicking goals, they finally got one via Franklin. Which was one step above what he did in the final last year, for it was worth. I thought he'd just forced through some lucky slop but on review he did well to turn in traffic and get the kick off. Now that he's 99% shot as a key forward and can't kick 50 anymore maybe he could do the biggest surprise switch in history and turn crumber? Or he could just run out a big money contract while blocking the development of a replacement.

Conceding an out-of-the-box goal like that wasn't the end of the world, but given our record in centre bounces to this point you won't be surprised to learn that they went straight from the restart to lining up a shot within about 15 seconds. Luckily their set shot kicking was putrid all day and we got away with it. Considering the battering we got at centre clearances last week, I wasn't happy with this trend. It's good if other teams can't go with us for four quarters, but that's not going to help if we lose it before then like last week.

It helps when you get a leg up from the opposition, first missing the shot that would have undone most of our hard work then giving away a 50/free goal for light 'dissent'. Apparently we're doing that again. Which we weren't until Saturday night when an umpire filed a hurt feelings report on GWS at a crucial stage of the last quarter, making other umps think "shit, now I have to pay those as well". The usual progression is the AFL assuring us that the decision was correct and how we should all respect umpires, who will collectively realise how stupid it is to give frees for light frustration and let players go troppo again. How's this crackdown going at local level? Anybody willing to cost Norland Reserves a game because somebody complained about a decision? I doubt it if they have any interest in their personal safety.

Against all logic we got to five goals without a miss. Historically this is ludicrous because a) we rarely get that many goals in a first quarter, and b) almost never convert five times without missing. This one came from Brown on the end of a golden kick from Spargo. Both of their days peaked at this moment, Charleston only had a handful more touches, and Brown disappeared with a back issue after looking about 11% fit most of the day anyway.

When Oliver made it six straight with a power running goal, a day that started with 'Melbourne losing to Sydney at the MCG, name a more iconic duo' was becoming 'Sydney and first quarter collapses at the MCG, name etc...' I didn't think they'd curl up and die after quarter time like the Grand Final but against all the logic of clearances being important we'd built a decent buffer to defend.

All positivity went straight out the window when they kicked the first two goals after the break and I considered spewing. I'm delighted with how we ran the game out, but at the time it was all internalised 'woe is me/why can't we just put a bloody side away for once/maybe I should have stayed at home on the couch covered in an old man blanket' self-indulgent misery. This ignored how we're the most ebb and flow team in the game, and after Chandler ripped a snap from his arse and Fritsch dismissed a defender the 30 point lead was back. Then they got the next two goals and it was brown undies time again.

The renewed hope of a rampage didn't last long, as we went into a brief period of disarray highlighted by Franklin (remember him?) being allowed to lead completely unchallenged into the forward pocket. I know he's only there on reputation now but after he'd been so comprehensively squished by May in our last meeting this unnecessarily risked getting his tail up. He did not, and as far as I'm concerned May's off the hook for both goals and hands down won the Shit Driving vs Suspended Driving derby. Say what you like about his off-field antics, and adjust for recency bias if you remember the glory days of Tassie Johnson, but find me a better MFC defender since and I'll take you to a fancy French restaurant.

Some blamed Brayshaw for not getting in Franklin's way, but it's hardly his job to stop a 1500 time goalkicker leading. I reserve the right to get upset by his wonky disposal many times over before worrying about what he did here. As happy as I was to see him back in defence, we are definitely entering that period of the year where I fall out of love with Gus and wonder at which point of his long term contract we'll end up paying somebody else to take him. He's not bad, I just don't know how we're going to afford everybody in a couple of years and he seems the most expendable of the long-termers. Maybe flip him to Collingwood so they can get something back for what they're contributing to Grundy's contract.

Speaking of the only fit ruckman on Collingwood's books, he might have started slowly here but by the end this was truly a Grundy Funday. The problems start when you expect him to play like Gawn, nobody's going to do that now or for many years in the future after he retires. Doing the same long kick-in to the ruckman routine that dates back to Mark Jamar doesn't suit him so I'm not upset that he didn't pull down half a dozen contested marks, but he was very good when the game needed to be won.

Approaching half time we were still wobbling when Hunter kicked a much needed steadier. In the time-honoured tradition of screwing your old side over he did his best work against the Bulldogs, and his bounce handpass special move hasn't worked since, but even if his Melbourne career doesn't end as the second coming of Robbie Flower, he's been a worthwhile addition to the system. It was also nice to see ex-wingman Double J James Jordon back, playing a game that should cement his spot for a few weeks.

Our only problem was not holding the steadier until the break, conceding late to some Next Big Thing forward who politely chose not to announce himself by kicking eight and getting the Rising Star nomination against us. It was still a 15 point lead and you're never going to turn one of them down at half time but I was still prematurely upset that we hadn't gone on with it. I'm too old for patience, I want everything now because history says things might never be this good again in my lifetime.

The third quarter was simultaneously shithouse and great. It was where the All-Australian club of Oliver, Petracca and Grundy went supernova and decided the result, but not before the Swans teased a comeback that would have given me the mental and physical shits. 

It started well, with Sydney giving away a pointless free kick/50 combo gift for Oliver's milestone game. I can't think of Ladhams without Mrs. Doyle asking Father Ted to imagine a fictional male 'standing over you with his lad in his hand', and ironically he made a dick of himself here, getting spooked by a quick handball and knocking the ball from Clayts' hand before play on was called. Naturally, when something about 13% similar happened to a Sydney player later their fans were up in arms that they didn't get a similar result. Stiff, and let me be clear about this, shit.

What temporary rot there was started with agitator Tom Papley legging it from a stoppage and smacking through a visually appealing goal on the run. Some would have baulked at his OTT celebration but I say if you don't like that then you can't appreciate the aftermath of nearly every goal of Kysaiah Pickett's career. I was more concerned about them getting another goal not long after, and on the side of two shots by Franklin which were honestly a bit sad that's what they did. 

Now the margin was back to six, we didn't look like scoring and I was starting to panic. The game was being played in a perfectly reasonable temperature but I was getting chills like we were at the Mawson Station Cricket Ground. Enter, once again, leading underdog Kade Chandler, who ran his guts out to get on the end of a mark 45 metres out on the boundary line and still had enough poise to convert the set shot. By this point he still hadn't kicked a boring goal, continuing a Blease-like streak at the start of his career, hopefully without the Blease-like ending. To think, Slamming Sam is only 32 now, if he hadn't been concussed out of the game after going to Geelong he'd have been right in their target age range now.

Further breathing space was provided by two in a row from Fritsch, and even when they did get a goal back we ruined it from the next bounce. No wonder Sydney lost heart shortly after. They had a final chance to make it interesting via the forward whose only contribution was a) having a name that rhymes with 'party', and b) missing a lot of set shots, had a ping after the siren.

If it had gone through the margin would have been under four goals and officially 'interesting. He didn't score, meaning we'd have to go through the almost unprecedented Double Stranglewank (new readers: I can't explain this, just Google the term on your work computer and surely nothing bad will happen) to lose. From available data in The Wank Files this has never happened since the phenomenon was identified. The only time we've gone from four goals up to less than a goal twice was that Round 22, 2018 game against the Eagles, and if we hadn't hung on to win there that I'd probably still be bouncing off the walls of a padded cell.

Neutrals knew it was over, Swans fans who could tear themselves away from complaining about umpires knew it was over, and deep down so did I but didn't dare to think it in case something went wrong. It had reached the "we should win, but..." stage where I spent the first few minutes of the last quarter sneaking looks at the clock to make sure enough time was being eaten up by stoppages and general play away from Sydney's end. Good thing it barely went down there, and we spent the opening minutes threatening to shut the gate. It finally landed in a locked position with Chandler's third, breaking the most famous streak since The Undertaker by finally kicking a bog standard, ordinary set shot from a sensible angle.

Another 50 metre penalty gave Rivers the chance to kick a moral sealer from 40 metres out directly in front. He missed, they went the other way and got one that kept it too interesting for my liking. But what that did was set up an even better finish, with van Rooyen continuing what I assume was the worst day of Ladhams' life by taking a tremendous contested mark over him. 

And lo, the crowd went off thy collective teet when he got another one straight after. Both set shots were beautifully taken, hit so cleanly you could picture a beautiful future together if he wasn't from WA and likely to get the bug for non-stop cross country flight around the same time West Coast and/or Freo offer him the contents of the Reserve Bank. Our counterespionage program should start next week, pointing out the pitfalls of playing in a smaller market by displaying that ludicrous back page West Australian story criticising Luke Jackson two games into his Dockers career. As well as the usual "geez, you wouldn't want to do this trip every fortnight" stuff, double down with some chat about how well Jesse Hogan looks now that he's back playing on eastern standard time and start negotiating a 10 year deal.

Dominance had already been established by now, and while I don't need to tell Melbourne fans how good it feels to pile on misery against a side that's given up, the ending was good fun. Sparrow snapped one from the pocket and went nuts in the general direction of the MCC, and Petty got reward for being in a ton of contests, before Melksham kicked one of the great novelty goals literally on the siren. He'd been so bad since coming on that I wished we had a second sub to replace him but this was great, kicking from such an obscure angle that he had to shift photographers first, and casually slotting it despite being interrupted by the siren midway. Doesn't detract from otherwise doing nada since coming on against Brisbane, but it was a nice exclamation mark on an enjoyable day.

That made it 50 points flat, and could you realistically asked for much more? I'd have driven over granny to get that margin midway through the third quarter. It's also a good sign that maybe we've learnt to play against good sides on our home ground, which has been one of our few downfalls in this glory period. Who knows if either the Dogs or Sydney will turn out to be any good by the end of the year but we've taken their best and ripped both a new one in the end so the signs are positive. But apologies to St Kilda, you don't win shit after Round 3 so we've plenty more twists and turns to go through before we find out if we're remotely within range of flag.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Brodie Grundy
2 - Steven May
1 - Kade Chandler

Massive apologies to Langdon, lesser but still serious apologies to Fritsch, Jordon, Lever, McVee and van Rooyen.

After a brief stint at the top for defenders and ruckman, it's back to the classics. Trying to give out votes with Oliver and Petracca playing gives me an appreciation for why the Brownlow is a midfielder only award. Here's a free idea for the AFL, cut out a couple of the 'comedy' segments and Darryl Braithwaite singing One Summer and adopt the famous 5-4-3-2-1 system. Midfielders will still win, but it gives more scope to fling a few votes to players in unfashionable positions.  

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Melksham's free hit, the award goes to Mr. Excitement Kade Chandler for the third straight week - this time for the crucial set shot late in the third quarter. Not sure I've seen a streak like this since the heyday of Jeff Garlett. Not only did his set shot in the third quarter torpedo Sydney's momentum, the pissbolt from one side to the other to get there was wonderful. I'm already out of topical weekly prizes so he can have a retrospective Rising Star nomination, issued on compassionate grounds to recognise how long he had to sit on the bench, thumb in chocbox, waiting for an opportunity that he has grabbed with both hands.

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

Crowd Watch
The usual dickheads will have something smart to say about the crowd, but if you expect more than 42,000 at a Melbourne/Sydney game in direct competition with the biggest one-day sporting event in Victoria then you're just looking to have an argument. Newsflash to people who took the brave decision to follow popular clubs from birth, bandwagon supporters might remember an affiliation with a side once they've won the flag but it doesn't automatically translate into massive crowds. I'm impressed that Collingwood can draw 60k against an interstate club, but expecting everyone to hold the same standard is like the USA lecturing random developing nations about not being rich enough.

And speaking of crowds, I'm not concerned enough with public safety to report this directly but if the MCC is reading you might want to consider the likelihood of somebody standing on the edge of this and rolling all the way to the offices of Slater and Gordon.

Given that they've had crowds double the size of Sunday already this year and nobody's gone the lucrative plummet yet maybe I'm overreacting, but I can see somebody coming around that corner holding kids, pissed as a fart, or both, landing the front of their foot on the floating bit and going down like nine pins. 

I want to know what it's covering up, don't tell me the original tactiles got damaged so they thought the best solution for a feature that's supposed to aid visually impaired people is to either trip them on the way up or make them walk the plank on the way down. When this reaches the Human Rights Commission, don't forget where you read about it first. 

Next Week
It's back to The Place Where The Good Thing Happened for a fixture where we'll be supported by every tipster except the Kiss of Death. West Coast were already no good before ending the derby without a bench, including the sub coming on and then being injured. They started the year with an anonymous side, now it'll be out George McGovern and Luke Shuey, in any fit Western Australians down to Darren Kowal and Mark Bradly. If you think this means I'm already mentally banking the points then you may be a first time reader. I accept that the great likelihood is victory, but will need to be several goals up before my central nervous system accepts that's what going to happen. I still love Jayden Hunt, but he's going to kick six isn't he?

As for changes, Pickett comes back in quicker than the hit that got him rubbed out in the first place, and please no more Melksham for anywhere from one to four quarters, but the rest is up in the air. I'd rather not take the piss out of the Eagles by trying squad rotation at this early stage, but if Brown's back is dicky there's no point flying him across the country. I'd like to float the controversial option of McSizzle as the sub. It's never been the done thing to pick a tall, but here's somebody who can play at either end or run around the ground once the other side has expired. And if JVR goes down to Second Week Syndrome he can swap in for him and we don't lose a key forward. Not knowing/caring about 90% of West Coast's list I don't know if Petty needs to go back to defence yet, which could complicate things, but otherwise I don't see any reason to force Brown to fly across the country if he could do with a rest. For an example of what can happen see a sore Gawn being carted over there for a dead rubber last year then ending the year barely able to walk. 

Otherwise there doesn't seem like anyone's booting the door in, and even if Spargo only had six touches he did one delightful squaring kick that make my liver quiver so I'm not turning on him yet. Besides, other than team balance with Pickett's return, who are you going to replace him with? Casey won comfortably, but on the strength of the Swans players listed in this report they may have the depth of a muddy puddle so who knows what to make of it. 

If you're keen on more youthful key forwards, Jefferson and Sestan kicked six between them, but that's the least of our problems at the moment. Give it a few weeks, we'll start kicking 6.6.42 and somebody will be panic rushed into the side but the time isn't right for either now. See also Tomlinson, who was reportedly very good but not required if May is upright. Otherwise I'd have had Laurie back but he only had eight touches so please continue to bide time. Blake Howes had 34 touches and 16 marks, so that's something if you can get over the other side being so anonymous that the person who kicked 50% of their goals is represented on the AFL website by a ghostly apparition rather than a profile picture.

IN: Pickett, McDonald (sub)
OUT: Brown (inj), Melksham (omit)

I hope this will turn out to be a 'pick whoever you like, it doesn't matter' fixture but I'll believe it when I see it. If the shoe was on the other foot, as it was so many times against the Eagles, I'd be setting the line at +100 and promising to graciously accept anything better.

Was it worth it?
Undoubtedly, even after suffering the traditional right shoulderblade injury from sitting on the train for an hour this was everything I wanted in an afternoon. I still get a pang of regret going through West Richmond station and looking at the most convenient house I ever had for sports but at some point will have to recognise that was nearly 15 years ago and now I live in the sort of outer suburban conditions that earlier in the day required me to collect a dead rat from the garden with a shovel. 

Final thoughts
This turned out to be a lot of fun, but the best bit is that we can play better. Last week was lost via the sort of 20 minutes of insanity that we've nearly eradicated from the system, and the follow-up went a long way to proving the theory that most sides can't go with us for four quarters. We get back into the top echelon of the ladder, Pickett returns, hopefully Gawn follows no more than a month later, and we beat the teams we're supposed to. If all that happens we can go on with confidence that any side in the competition is beatable, and that's probably as good a situation as you're going to find yourself in during the home and away season.