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.


  1. Always love your business but this was Xebeche. And rightly so. Kudos for the prolix version of Came. Saw. Conquered.

  2. Great commentary. Kudos


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