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.

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