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.


  1. Match Day Experience for those of us that did attend: Robbo wetting himself when a competitor won ten grand for kicking the footy into the paint can at quarter time.

    1. Appropriately, Kick For Cash only exists because that fellow necked himself trying to take a Hogan's Heroes grab on an earlier Anzac Eve.

  2. Nice write up, I was reading it while watching a replay of the game so it was informative and gave me a few laughs. 👌


Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)