Sunday 28 May 2023

All things must pass

Sometimes you win a game in such filthy fashion that any evidence should be incinerated and thrown into the ocean. Sometimes you lose the same way and want players, coaches, and all associated stakeholders to be forced to watch it on repeat for the next week with their eyes forcibly held open Clockwork Orange style. 

To say we're in a bit of trouble would be an understatement. It's one thing nearly pulling off the Great Rain Robbery last week, but this was so bad we'd have struggled to win a rematch against North without them forgetting how to count again. Things haven't always gone smoothly in the brief time we've been good again, but I can't remember many losses that were this sort of slog. Even Essendon freed us from emotional commitment early in the third quarter, this made you hold on until the last minute in the hope of undeservedly pinching it.

It's no consolation that two weeks in a row we've had the balaclava on and thievery on our minds deep in the last quarter. The end result has been zero wins, a slow slide down the ladder, and serious doubt about whether this season is going anywhere. Last week had a few minutes where we piled on goals and looked like running away with it, this was just bell-to-bell slow-motion sludge. I don't blame Oliver's injury, Hunter's suspension, umpires, name changes, or backfiring sour reactions to a departed premiership hero.  I'm struggling for alternative theories beyond a) being found out by other teams, and b) barely any improvement since last year. 

Even the good news stories like Chandler and van Rooyen have ground to a halt, and you're probably well within your rights to enter a period of mid-season mourning. The season is in no way over, especially as it's over an unprecedented number of games, but if we don't beat a good side soon things are going to get sour.

Surely the only entertainment in this rotten game for neutrals was laughing at Melbourne fans for booing Luke Jackson just before he unloaded a match-winning performance against multiple all-Australian ruckmen. On the day Jeff Farmer was presented pre-match to widespread delight, those of a booing persuasion had an early chance to theatrically sook up when Jackson got a clear possession in the opening minutes. Do what you like within reason, but I find it an embarrassing thing for adults to do at the best of times, let alone towards somebody at the centre of our greatest moment since the decimalisation. 

Controversially, I'm with the people who showed some class and applauded him. Compared to those who darted out the side door of a burning wreck in the middle of the night, his departure was done as respectfully as possible. I'm not happy that he went, but until he's caught pissing on the Norm Smith statue he's done nothing to me. I'm sure he gave less than a rats what fans thought, and knows they'll be lining up to kiss his feet at future premiership reunions, but I have MFC cultural cringe about every report of this game focusing on him stitching us up to the soundtrack of fans bleating like farm animals.

We should have known disaster was on the horizon when Nathan Buckley mysteriously appeared in the Freo coaching box. It turned out a lot like his last game at Collingwood, where an allegedly fine-tuned attacking machine was reduced to plucking goals from the arse, unable to take advantage of the opposition leaving the door open most of the game.

It wasn't a completely unexpected loss, Freo had already recovered from their dreadful start to the year. Now they're only a game behind us, and any hope of an unexpected bounty from the Jackson future picks have gone up in smoke.

Other than Petracca regularly busting out of packs with more energy than most of his teammates combined, it was hard to find any serious winners from a team that nearly won. The backline had a couple of ropey moments later, but were fantastic early. Everything the Dockers did was sent back with the greatest of ease, but the missing part of the equation was turning that into scores at the other end. The forward line looks horrible, but our rebound doesn't look even remotely dangerous so what hope do they have other than to jump in a massive pack and hope for the best. Or, alternatively, stay on the ground while a defender plucks the ball out of the air.

With not the remotest hint of a mark in scoring position we had to reach for the top drawer of novelty goals. Pickett's dribble kick from the pocket was very enjoyable, but surely he didn't engineer it bouncing over the head of the poor bastard in the square who thought he had it covered. Even if it got an assist from the novelty shape of the ball it still looked good, and as we weren't threatening to kick a traditional one any help was appreciated.

Then, after several minutes of banging away at our defence for no reward Freo went short instead and found a player standing in acres of space, which was a bit too much like last week for my liking. From the next bounce they got a tremendously bullshit free for a fictional push in the back and all the positive signs in the first 10 minutes had come to nought. This fit my theory that if you make enough decent contests in attack the umpire will eventually do something silly. For those on the neverending quest for consistency, Fritsch was touched up in a contest not long after and got stuff all. Then a perfectly good kick inside 50 was deemed not 15 metres when probably closer to 30 and I was ready for another week of everyone attempting to shift the blame for losing onto the umps.

In the spirit of nothing going right, even when we did get a free within scoring range Harmes' shot brushed the post on the way through. By the time it was taken off him, he'd already done the post-goal victory lap to the bench. From there, we kept Freo at bay until quarter time but only by dragging the quality of game down to the equivalent of watching Channel 31 via antenna from King Island in 1996. I'm not a scoring = entertainment consumer but this was dire. I've been spoiled, several years ago this would have seemed one step from the 1989 Grand Final.

There was a welcome outbreak of fun in the last minute when McDonald pulled down one of his few marks, then we got another straight from the middle. Lucky for Spargo that Fritsch stuffed the goal home from close range, because Charleston ignored a bunch of spare players in the lead-up and he'd have been in the frame for scapegoat status. This created the conditions for Harmes to take the role instead, after a shizen attempt at a fend, then spoiling a teammate at a crucial point of the last quarter. 

The narrow quarter time lead was a fair indication of where the game was at, but hardly left me expecting to run over the top of them in the last quarter. We were struggling to create good chances forward, and the backline can only do so much now that everyone's swizzed that it's not a good idea to keep stuffing the ball down their throat all day. The brother of Troy should know this better than anyone, his side's commitment to feeding us record numbers of intercept marks in Round 1, 2021 helped kickstart the greatest of all seasons.

Stoppages were a worry, and as much as Oliver would have helped there it's not like we've done all that well with him there either. I'm baffled that we narrowly won the centre clearances, until checking the stats I could easily imagine Clayts out there with the ball going nowhere near him like everyone else we put through the middle. His true value is extracting us from tight spaces, and only Petracca's occasional spelunks through crowded spaces offered any of that here. Viney may as well have been sub for all he did before half time, and the rest of the midfield was just anybody who couldn't run fast enough to get away from the stoppage. ANB was as good at defensive pressure as usual but couldn't dispose of the ball to save himself, and he wasn't alone. After doing surprisingly well in the wet, this time we did surprisingly badly in the dry. 

The only non-Petracca winning midfielder I liked was Sparrow, but the whole operation just lacked razzle-dazzle. With Langdon still as good as anonymous on his wing, Brayshaw filled in admirably on Hunter's side but I still don't want him to do it every week. 

When Freo's forward kicks landed uncontested in the arms of a defender everything was ok. The problem was when it went to ground and we had no idea how to get it out safely, ending in Salem doing the footy equivalent of throwing a hand grenade with the pin out as far away from yourself as possible with no concern where it landed. We might have got that one back, except for Fritsch and Spargo spoiling each other. Not realising it was going to be paid as a mark anyway, Bayley tried a quick snap and missed. You never know how a season will ebb and flow, but bullshit we're going to beat top teams playing like this.

After 15 minutes of making goalkicking look impossible, we had to reach into the novelty goal file again. Fritsch was running in from a tight angle, realised he'd be whinged at for not sharing, and did an unnecessary handball that luckily spilt into Harmes' path for the snap. After struggling to score for all but one big burst last week you can't tell me they're going to stick with this forward struck. JVR can't impact the game long enough yet, Sizzle can't do it naymore, and when it goes to ground the smalls aren't offering much.

We're clearly not going to win games purely with defence anymore, and Freo are no longer in the slapstick era of having Lobb and Maggie Taberer in their forward line, so I was waiting for disaster to strike. But, to be fair, I've been in that mode for 30 years. It was good that our defence was in charge of any kick more than 1.5 metres in the air, but unless we were going to kick goals the path was opened for a 44-50 loss.

Freo's main ruckman going down with injury should have helped, but it just enhanced Jackson's prospects for dicking us. I picture him sitting on the couch at night staring into the distance David Puddy style but he's going to be a shit hot player. He died in the last quarter here, but had already done more than enough to join the Grgic, SME and Watts category of ex-players to kick the shit out of us.

Our chance to lose a thriller kicked off when their first forward entry after half time found a player on his own. We replied at the first opportunity through Viney, who has otherwise worryingly done nada for two weeks. If there's a support group he won't be alone, and with stuff all other attacking opportunities we were left with Pickett trying set shots from the hardest of angles on the boundary line. If this wasn't the worst AFL game of the year I'd like to see the list of alternatives.

For now our best scoring tactic was to let the Dockers get one first, because their next was also wiped out quickly. It came via a Pickett tackle where he had his opponent in mid-air and briefly considered powerslamming him like British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith before wisely thinking twice and letting go. In a limited field of quality players Pickett had more moments than most but he still had a weird day, including an around the corner shot that didn't make the distance. 

The tits-up collapse began with a Jackson goal, causing fans to react with Big Loser Energy. Another made it 15 points at the last change, which you'd never know from listening to Gerard Misery talking about Freo like they were in complete disarray.

I was unmoved by Max trying to rally the troops, and talk of a fourth quarter record built on fruitless comebacks and thumpings of the underprivileged. Fritch's early goal did reluctantly make me sit up and take notice, shortly before we gave it back in comical fashion. For all the other crimes committed, I thought our defence had done well enough that they might hold it against the rest of the side in the event of a loss, until Lever lost moral authority by dropping the mark that cost us a goal.

Freo did their best to get us back into it, including defenders having a mid-air collision while raffling who'd pull down another optimistic long bomb inside 50. Then Sparrow made it three points, and I was ready to accept premiership points off the back of a truck. This lasted about as long as all the other goals, before they shambled one through to get more breathing space. Hello again to Pickett, who took advantage of pox defending to mark in the pocket and put us within range again. You know what happened barely a minute later, and as much as I'd have loved to snatch victory from the jaws of debacle we were getting what we deserved.

Like last week, we got a random 50 on the half back line to keep things interesting. This time Grundy tried his best to turn it into 100, but even after the umpire had to tell Jackson to get out of his way several times he didn't have the grapefruits to double the penalty. It ended in our last realistic chance anyway, when an under-pressure shank landed with Brayshaw 40 metres out. With a minute left winning still seemed unrealistic, but the commentators complaining about him not kicking it quickly enough didn't give much thought to how he had to convert in the first place. In the worst of all worlds he took his time and missed, so that was that. Maybe Gawn could have had a free 50 metres out with about 20 seconds left but what good would that have done?

And after another in our long history of dud home performances against Freo, we are officially only a favourable draw away from mid-table mediocrity. Walloping North, West Coast and (partially) Hawthorn was fun, but all the good sides have cracked the code. I'm not waving the white flag yet, because the random death spirals of the last two seasons have been recovered before the plane hit the ground but at this stage I seriously doubt our capacity to finish top four, let along make things interesting in September.

But, in a season that is proving to be weirder than most there's plenty of time for this to go either way. I'm hoping for a string of odd scenarios - involving lockdowns if that's what it takes - playing into our hands again.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Steven May
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Kysaiah Pickett

Apologies to Gawn and Fritsch

If we got nothing else out of this week - and we didn't - the defender tie has been broken. Still nothing n the Hilton, which has waited long enough for JVR to do something voteworthy and is now happy to move on to Howes, Woewodin or any other random who might poll.
41 - Christian Petracca
26 - Clayton Oliver
11 - Max Gawn (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Brodie Grundy (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Jack Viney
8 - Kade Chandler
7 - Jake Lever, Trent Rivers
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter, Ed Langdon
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw
2 - Ben Brown, Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
1 - Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I refuse to believe Pickett somehow designed the ball to vault just as it reached the square, but nevertheless it looked good and we didn't get many others so put it in the book. For pure aesthetic value I'm promoting it to third on the overall leaderboard, both ending Chandler's participation and leaving us with 2/3 goals from losses. Happy memories.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Lachie Hunter vs Port Adelaide
3 - Kysaiah Pickett vs Fremantle

The New Bradbury Plan
I'm not opening the envelope yet but the seal is about 75% ripped. For now, it could only be a top four plan, but as the ladder is shaping up to be the biggest minefield since World War I you can imagine a nightmare scenario where we're left scrambling to lose an Elimination Final to Gold Coast.

Next week
I've seen a few danger games in my time, but Carlton In Crisis is an all-hands-on-deck red alert scenario. Hopefully they react to being kicked to death by fans, media and 'stakeholders' alike by imploding, not uniting. I'd rather we weren't relying on their back-to-back Coleman Medal winners to keep slicing shots left, right and everywhere but centre. They'll have to find their way again eventually, so why not in a prime time, national TV match where everyone's busy waiting for the trapdoor to open under the coach.

We don't do selection massacres, but if I've been tempted recently this was the time. Then you look at the Casey result and they not only lost to Werribee, but the key goalkickers were Schache, Smith and Melksham, and Tomlinson got the most possessions. The professionals will know if somebody played a role etc... etc... but on face value there's not much in the tank. 

Even if Brayshaw did well on the wing, I'd very much like Hunter back. McVee could do with a break so Gus can take his spot. And for the love of all that is holy can we pick Ben Brown again? I don't give a rats that he only got one goal (though 17 kicks suggests much roaming up the ground), he knows what he's doing, was in good form before injury, and JVR could do with a rest. I know McDonald didn't do a lot here, but let's have one go at reuniting the 25/09/21 lineup before moving on. Otherwise scour the rulebook to see if there's a way we can delist him in time to be picked up by somebody who'll play him in the mid-season draft.

You'd think we'll probably win but I wouldn't be advance taunting any Blues fans in your life. Won't prove anything if we do, but if the worst happens get set for one of the shittest weekends in recent memory.

IN: B. Brown, Hunter
OUT: McVee, van Rooyen (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, Harmes, McDonald, Viney

Final thoughts
The sort of person who thought we lost this fixture last year due to changing name must be baffled by back-to-back defeats against Yaartapulti and Walyalup. Who can be bothered complaining about politics when there's so much footy content to whinge about? 

Sunday 21 May 2023


When we were the first AFL club to temporarily rebrand under an indigenous name it didn't require fantastic imagination to see other sides following. It took two years, but here we were with the main event in any arena in the world clash between Narrm and Yaartapulti. Invitations probably not extended to the Port Adelaide fans who racially abused Eddie Betts, racially abused Eddie Betts, and racially abused Eddie Betts.

I'm too broken to get involved in social issues, but it seems like a harmless enough thing to do. Somebody else can draw up a list of actual benefits, I just like anything that simultaneously annoys Sky News viewers and creepy suburban white people who go all-in trying to look progressive by angrily berating commentators for calling teams their original recipe names. I'll be calling them Port here, safe in the knowledge that nothing I do will alter the course of race relations in Australia.

In the week where the AFL endorsed The Voice (I never thought it was any good after Delta Goodrem left), I thought Channel 7 might go for a bit of gravitas in the commentary box and give Brian Taylor a rest. In the end, the man who can't say ethnic names without adding Joe Dolce Musical Theatre style accents was saved by the network's blatantly obvious attempts to avoid saying team names at all for most of the night. This must have confused casual viewers who don't follow week-long builds to special rounds and saw the ad break scoreboards reading 'YAR' and 'NAR'. They must have wondered when 'WTF' were going to show up. In memory of this game they should make the options on the referendum ballot paper YAR or NAR. 

Playing theme songs in indigenous languages also belongs in the "what harm does it do you?" file, but I'd have preferred if they'd waited until Port fans rose for enforced community singing before playing a version of Never Tear Us Apart in the local language. Sing along to that you dickheads.

No matter what politics you're into, or what your club is called this week, we're all united in wanting to tip the couch over because of kooky free kicks. After we lost a lot of people were optimistically trying to pin it all on the umpires, but the home fans got the first chance to sook up. You've got to give the people what they want, and as we previously discovered when they charged the fence waving middle fingers like they were going over the top in World War I, Port fans absolutely live to yell shit over the fence. I just complain on the internet, neither option is likely to have an impact.

As Chandler lined up on such an obscure angle that he tripped over a white plastic chair while trying to find the right spot to kick from, he was saved with a 50 for some questionable off the ball bumping of Gawn. In a footy fan inkblot test you either saw the most pissweak contact ever to be penalised, or a genuine free for blocking the player's run. Regardless, the bit where the umpire told him to stop doing it and he carried on anyway is where my sympathy went out the window. It kicked off another night in the long, occasionally successful history of Port trying to brutalise Max. Like Round 1, 2019 it worked pretty well so I don't know why the rest of the league hasn't joined in. 

That freebie was as close as we got to another goal for the following quarter and a half, as Port proceeded to do us over in every corner of the ground. Everything looks good when you're kicking shit out of the competition's worst teams, but this didn't bode well for beating enough good teams to finish top four. Somehow we nearly - any probably should have - won, but only after playing 10 minutes of good footy all night. It's not a fatal blow, and there's every chance we'd beat them in a replay next week, but after being comfortably touched up by top sides like Brisbane and Essendon (Is this right? - realism editor), I wouldn't blame you for getting nervous about where the season is going. There's a lot of confirmed and alleged top eight sides on the horizon in the next few weeks, it's going to be misery central if we don't beat most of them.

The administrative free kick crackdown continued with a forensic investigation of Clayton Oliver's lightning quick/dodgy (delete as applicable) handballs. Less controversial was the free after Pickett's latest unrealistic attempt at a screamer. Soon he'll have been penalised more times for nearly winning Mark of the Week than Jeremy Howe has been. It looks spectacular but never works. Last time Pickett plundered Port for six goals, this time he got one in the middle of our third quarter outburst but was otherwise unseen. He wasn't alone, on a wet night suited to ball meeting ground our anonymous small forwards had less crumb than Hoover HQ.

For unclear reasons, Angus Brayshaw started the game without his helmet. He got through the opening minutes without being concussed into retirement, but just as he put it back on everything went sour. Port had players standing on their own everywhere, while we looked as likely to kick a goal without umpire help before half time as Hawthorn. Helpfully, as we could see the rain chucking down Channel 7 showed a rain radar that indicated there wasn't a drop anywhere near Adelaide Oval. It was looking like the Essendon game on the same ground, but of a much higher standard. That's strictly for neutrals, all I'm interested in is coming back from South Australia with zero premiership points out of eight. 

After minutes of building towards their first goal, one of Port's many free-range forwards finally converted after marking in acres of space. They had another uncontested mark within range straight after, but you couldn't blame the other defenders for not expecting Rivers to turn the ball over with a shithouse kick. For once these misses left us as the sucker being given an even break, and a six point quarter time margin would have been positively generous under the circumstances. Enter North Melbourne's equivalent to Scully, who launched himself into Viney's tackle for a free, goal, and more realistic margin.  

It seems the difference between draft evaders is that this one is good at footy, not just long distance running, and he spent the night beating our brains in. Not as badly as the elven Zac Butters, who our coaching staff treated as seriously as the kid of the same name from South Park. At some point on his way to 40+ touches, a shitload of clearances, and two goals I would have thought - call me naive - that we'd have sent someone to stand near him. Maybe they did and he just ran away from them.

For most of the second quarter we were on the other side of the fixture against Port early last year, where they were the ones who couldn't kick a goal even if it meant saving the life of a busload of orphans. Being the top scoring team in the competition is bullshit considering who we've played, our forward structure isn't working. Then again it wasn't working for a lot of 2021 and you know what happened there.

Just as we were on the verge of going under for the last time, Fritsch assisted his own goal by giving away a free, then somehow having the ball come back to him 20 seconds later. Then he got another, things were looking interesting again, and some clapped out ex-player who only just had more games than Bayley kicked goals in a Grand Final got upset. Well done nearly getting the words right.

This was quite the endorsement in a game where we had three players reported, Oliver whinging after giving away the most obvious marking interference free kick ever, and another prematurely shhhing the crowd. Not entirely sure what Bailey did wrong, but previous evidence suggests men of prime age for a midlife crisis are often triggered by his wonderful hair.  

Goals were nice, but we were only being kept in it because they couldn't kick straight. 30 seconds after the second Fritsch goal they had another shot via uncontested marks from forwards. It missed, but while I'm not saying other clubs have worked out our previously world-leading defensive structure... well, that's exactly what I'm saying. When the ball went to a contest May was tremendous (others disagreed, feel free to compile your own votes) but quick forward entries left us flaying about with NFI who was supposed to be on who. With everyone twigging that you don't madly bomb the ball to Lever he was removed as a factor, and I think Channel 7 were thinking about trading our remaining games to community television. 

You'd never have convinced me we'd soon build a 17 point lead to waste. Under the circumstances, making it to the break just 14 down was a minor miracle. Then, as it started pissing down again we took to the challenge of water worse than the RMS Titanic and gave another goal up. Or, more accurately, it was given up by the umpire who applied a liberal interpretation of 15 metres to a hack kick out of a pack. This is the sort of stuff people point out when claiming we were dudded, I say we turned this deficit into a solid lead so who's fault is it really. Then, finally some good luck via a rare centre clearance, and an even rarer inside 50 mark to McSizzle, who until this point had been McFrozen. It helped that he shifted the defender via a tremendous grab on the jumper but we needed all the help we could get. 

Now it was our turn to hang around like a bad smell, just close enough that anything could happen, but not showing anything that indicated the 180 degree turn the game was about to take. A lot of the revival was to do with the return of Christian Petracca, who'd done so little in the first half that you wondered if they'd gambled and lost on his rolled ankle. I don't know whether it was just going back into the heart of the midfield or a half-time dose of elephant juice but he returned like a million dollars.

Within a few weird minutes we'd pulled off the rare Reverse Stranglewank and gone from 24 points down to the lead. I was considering a Yartapullti myself when Hunter kicked an NQR goal from the pocket reminiscent of Langdon against Essendon last year. Next thing Grundy's being taken out of a ruck contest, and we're three goals up. His Tom Bugg style mockery of the crowd didn't turn out so well. I still don't know what to think about Grundy, he's played some good games and provides a different option to Max but does seem to offer the defensive pressure of your late aunt Agnes. For now, Collingwood's still paying him to play for us so I'll concentrate on the positives. 

This is where I made the always fatal mistake of starting to believe we might win, and just when you thought it was safe to come out of your secure underground bunker we gave away another free on the three quarter time siren. Nearly cost us against Gold Coast, almost certainly did here. I don't blame defenders for giving away frees when chaos is swirling around them, but any danger of trying to keep the ball away from their end in the last minute? 

This was our first loss by under a goal in two years, but that doesn't mean we won't be in situations where a bit of poise is required late in the last quarter. Don't be like that Carlton plonker who tried to waste time last year, kicked it over his teammate's head and let us win. If they'd beaten us with a kick after the final siren here it would have been karma for getting distracted by replays of Gawn at Kardinia Park several times during Friday while trying to finish the extra chapter for The Last Hurrah (consumers, I guarantee you it will be going in the mail this week).

Just before the last quarter started my internet tried to save me from what was to come by committing suicide. Better with 30 minutes to go, not 30 seconds. I was so determined not to see ads that instead of walking two metres around the corner to a TV I started watching on a phone instead. This came in handy when I could wave it over my head as if about to throw when Port got the early goal. They could have had another when Butters tried a silly, Harry McKay-esque around the corner kick when he'd almost certainly have kicked a normal set shot. Then he went back to racking up touches by the dozen while we stood around and went "blimey, Zelda's having a good night".

If they weren't going to do it themselves, we were there to help by mysteriously stationing the absolutely not-a-defender JVR in defence, where he reacted to light niggle by smacking his opponent upside the head. He conceded another later in the quarter, and for now, let's resolve never to let him into the defensive 50 again. Now the margin was under a kick and you could see where this was going. Best last quarter team in the competition or not, we were being run over. The big third quarter outburst looked even more ridiculous when you saw how difficult we were making clearing the ball out of defence look here.

Before we'd had the ball back over halfway again they should have been in front via somebody called 'Jed', which is on brand for a club that also fields a 'Willem' and previously gave us 'Dougal'. Fortunately, his kick was 'shithouse'. So was the next one, which ended as the most offensive goal assist of all time when it dropped like a bag of wet cement into the arms of a diving player in the pocket. Well done to him for reading the drop of the ball, but it was right place/right time that he was even in the vicinity. They all count.

It was either the rain or the influence of Lachie Hunter, but we must have broken the record for the most possessions distributed along the ground. It wasn't just the usual handballs but kicks too. Any more underground activity and we'd have had to move our club site to the dark web. Hunter might not be influencing us next week, suspended for a collision that could only be described as a bump under a "we'll show you for challenging the van Rooyen ban" interpretation. Shame, he was quite good. Certainly seems to get more of the ball than Ed Langdon now. I'd rather it the other way around, and maybe next week if he's not there we'll get the chance to see Classic Ed again.

Hunter isn't having much like with the tribunal, last week he was charged $1500 for running up to the boundary line and 'gesturing' at a Hawthorn player who was running past. I know the Tasmanian stadium deal is going tits up at a record rate, but the AFL will never find enough novelty fines to fund it themselves.

In the midst of all this, Jack Viney capped off his worst game in god knows how long by randomly introducing the studs-up slide tackle. After his Brazilian Ju Jitsu inspired submission hold on a Gold Coast player a couple of years ago, you can't say he's not open to new things. I can't believe he wasn't made an example of and suspended. Mind you, a tackle that was paid holding the ball against McDonald later turned into the Port player being suspended who knows what anyone was thinking.

McDonald got us the lead back, but it was going to be Grand Theft Football to win from there. They had us covered on every available metric and weren't going away. We had an opportunity from a 50 to Lever, which arguably could have been extended to 100 due to the player in front of him making zero attempt to get out of the way. Fat chance any umpire pays that at the end of a thriller with a 95% partisan audience - it's why Jake got the 50 at Geelong that eventually landed with Gawn, because the stands were empty and they were able to apply the rules without being spat on while walking to their car.

This attitude to officiating would have been popular with the commentators, who spent all night declaring that the free was there but shouldn't have been paid. It stayed at 50, Lever's kick came to nothing and we were all but rooted. I'd come to terms with it being our own fault by now, but was still open to ripping them off in spectacular fashion. After a few half-baked attacks came to nothing, our absolute last chance was from a boundary throw-in on the wing with seconds left. Good time for the umpire's arm to stop working, ending with a lame toss that gave Gawn no hope of a miracle flick over the back to a rampaging teammate. It landed so short he'd have been more chance of a rugby league style play the ball. 

That was enough for me. I'd been forced to the TV when my phone joined in the disarray by running out of battery mid-quarter, so I petulantly tried switching to something else to avoid seeing anyone celebrating the final siren. Unfortunately pressing + just went from 70 - Channel Seven, to 71 - another Channel Seven and I had to see Ken Hinkley getting his jollies. Managed to escape to 72 before the crowd could join in.

It was a shit game to lose, but you get what you deserve only playing for 10 minutes. It's not the fault of rebranding as Narrm, wearing an indigenous version of the disco jumper, rain, civil war in Sudan, or the umpires. We came back from barely touching the ball for a half to have a three goal lead, then blew that with Bowey injured, Hunter suspended, Grundy getting away with doing pretty much what Sparrow got rubbed out for last week, Viney carving a player in two, and retaking the lead before losing to an arsey snap. 

After the first half we shouldn't have been in a position to win anyway, but nothing shits you more than having an unexpected victory dangled in front of you then snatched away. But since bleeding profusely from the nose at half time of the Grand Final I've been trying to avoid an early grave by not going totally off my chop over footy. So after some unprintable comments directed towards the TV in the dying seconds I tried to move on quickly. Let the people who are paid to worry about this stuff work out where we go next, I'm declaring a Demonblog zen era. And if that lasts until the end of this month it will be a miracle.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Lachie Hunter
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Trent Rivers
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Apologies to Oliver and nobody else.

The unprecedented amount of joint leaders makes the leaderboard look like shit, so gentlemen please sort the votes amongst yourself in the next few weeks to reintroduce some sanity to proceedings.
36 - Christian Petracca
26 - Clayton Oliver
11 - Brodie Grundy (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Max Gawn (JOINT LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
8 - Kade Chandler
7 - Jake Lever (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Steven May (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Trent Rivers (JOINT LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Lachie Hunter, Ed Langdon, Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey
2 - Ben Brown, Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Nobody's ever going to beat Marty Hore as the most unusual person to be nominated for this award, but Lachie Hunter goes close. He gets the nod for the sodden snap from the pocket that made everything seem like it was going to turn out ok. I can't think of a weekly prize that doesn't draw direct reference to the time he created road havoc while pissed so it's best just to move on. Even though it'll continually remind me of losing, I liked it so much that he's been promoted to second on the seasonal leaderboard.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Lachie Hunter vs Port Adelaide
3 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray

Next week
Never mind that we nearly won here, I reckon we're a week away from breathless 'are they finished?' chat from Klickbait Kane Cornes. All of a sudden we've got Fremantle after their early season wobbles and it's going to be a lot more interesting than you'd like. Good thing I - surprise - can't go, because I'd probably get into a punch up with people booing Luke Jackson. Good luck working out which version of either team will show up. I'd like to think we'll win but my confidence is wobbling.

Ironically, in the week he was meant to come back from suspension I'm resting JVR. No hard feelings, come back ASAP but for all his effort he can't impact games for long enough at the moment. Now that we've lost a step in the double chance race time to temporarily sacrifice development and reunite the Flag family. I'll assume Bowey won't play, saving McVee for another week, and will keep Jordon as sub to see if he can break Sam Blease's record of being involved in 12 substitutions. There might be some movement to put Jordon back on the wing, I'd rather park somebody completely random out there and see if it spurs the return of the old Ed Langdon.

Apparently Oliver's also having hamstring scans, so if he goes we may as well play Howes, Woewodin, and Petty in a wheelchair for all the good it will do us. I'll assume it's just precautionary and give my fourth inclusion to Laurie and let him play a full game. Instead you can almost be certain they'll pick Melksham. I'm also expecting the anti-Brown sentiment to continue with Joel Smith being picked ahead of him. On watching that Gawn footage again today I completely forgot that he was in the side at the end of 2021.

IN: Brown, Harmes, Sparrow, Laurie
OUT: Bowey (inj), Jordon, van Rooyen (omit), Hunter (susp)

Final thoughts
The Fortress Adelaide Oval days are over, one order of learnings and connection please. If anyone thought the machine was running at full speed on the back of thumping wins over rotten sides they were delusional anyway so I look forward to this being the wakeup call that makes everything ok. Or, if you prefer, the opening ceremony to a tits up disaster.

Monday 15 May 2023

Twilight Zone

I've come to terms with not committing Geelong 2011 style massacres against unfortunate teams, but at half time on Saturday I thought this might be the day we keep the opposition to a pitifully low score. We've had four goals or less a few times over the years, so at this stage I'd almost get more pleasure doing that to somebody else than winning by heaps. Why not do both? Or in the case of Saturday afternoon, why do either?

It's ok to be a little disappointed that we didn't plow on after half time and deliver a savage victory to remember, but no matter how bad the opposition is, whinging about only winning by 54 is the footy equivalent of Damir Dokic rioting about salmon at Flushing Meadow. Think about where we've come from, realise the wheel will turn against us again one day, and enjoy the wonderful world of not being shit.

Admittedly, being happy about not being at rock bottom isn't very ambitious. Carlton's come a long way from that and Princes Park is still on arson watch from fans and 'powerbrokers'. And it's a lot easier to accept 'that will do' wins, than any sort of loss. Whether or not performances like this translate to good times in September is open to debate, but history says it probably doesn't matter - we've spent two years beating teams by comfortable but not excessive margins and so far it's translated to 1x flag, and 1x straight sets exit. Like an Earl Spalding set shot this could go anywhere.

It was a dual milestone day for Steven May and Sam Frost, cornerstones of our 2019 defence for about 30 minutes of Round 2 until May was injured, then again on that day at the Gabba when May yelled at him. You can't help but fondly remember Frost and his mad ferret up the leg runs out of defence, but we've done reasonably well since. He was a solid defender who did a lot of good jobs for us and gave Joel Selwood good advice, but 'anything could happen next' insanity is better suited for teams where the fans need novelties to keep watching, not prospective (and in rare cases, actual, premiers).

On the other hand, May played 123 of his 200 games at another club (and I'm legally obligated to mention the comical debut in a first quarter where his side conceded 15 goals), but will always be remembered for what happened next. After a rocky start with suspension, injury and being snitched for having a drink during rehab, he's been a joy to watch since getting rolling in 2020. Playing four quarters of the Grand Final with his hamstring millimetres away from exploding will go down in MFC folklore. As will, to be fair, getting decked by a teammate in a fancy French restaurant.

I'm unmoved by most milestone games (exceptions include Nathan Jones 300), but now whenever a premiership player reaches one you'll be pleasantly reminded of that night. When the last of the 22 remaining heroes goes it will be the saddest day for me since Brad Green retired and I realised there would never be another player younger than me.

In honour of his milestone, we put on a Gold Coast-ish crowd. There's something suss about the AFL website showing the attendance as 'TBC' a day later, and I struggle to believe there were over 39,000 there. Yes, it was a replacement home game for our members, but Hawthorn must have taken the 'Emergency Services Game' theme too far and assigned a spot in the crowd for every rozzer in Victoria. 

Not that I did anything to help. At this stage I'd be lucky to get value out of a three game membership. Even if it's due to circumstances beyond my control, I still feel bad for not being there. Especially after four quarters of experimental broadcasting from Fox Sports. If you like to sit in the front row and have NFI what's going on across the ground then you might enjoy their aggressive zooming, but after years of perfecting watching as if from the 2D view in Football Manager it's painful seeing handballs fling off the screen without knowing who - if anybody - will be on the other end.

There are some benefits, you get to hear tremendous punditry like Ben Dixon's claim that when JVR gets the ball you hear a "Big Roy around the ground", before saying "obviously... but....", and going silent for a few seconds before the other commentators carried on like nothing had happened. I thought he might have had a medical emergency mid-sentence until he spoke next. There was also a moment where Mark Howard paused while scanning to scan the team list and work out who #41 was, then called him "Mac A. Vee". If I can't write about kids spewing on the Ponsford Stand anymore this will have to do.

Maybe it's because I'm nowhere near as wound up these days, but I'm getting better about believing we'll win when red hot favourites. The scars of that loss to Sydney just short of 30 years ago run deep, but it's not like we were good that year anyway. Now automatic MFC legends like Gawn, Oliver, Petracca and Viney are operating at the peak of their powers alongside a better set of supporting characters than Godfather II so we should know in advance that a 1-7 team of randoms wouldn't set off a May Day mayday.

If you're in my category of "I think we'll win by I need proof", you'd have been happy with the opening minutes. Sure, we kicked a ton of points but it was clear there was no upset brewing. Hawthorn's disposal was rancid, constantly feeding us chances. This was a great example where "they could have kicked 4.0 instead of 0.4" doesn't work. About the only thing they were good at was plucking the ball out of the middle, so if Fritsch converted the first chance they wouldn't have spent the next few minutes handing us more opportunities to miss. Even if the ball went back to the middle, new scores wouldn't have been far behind. You could have left Hawthorn players 30 metres in the clear and they would have struggled to hit the side of a barn.

After a year of uncharacteristic accuracy in front of goal, there was a small corner of my brain that thought "geez, I hope we don't leave the door open for them here..." when realistically they were as much chance of finding it as somebody blindfolded and spun around 10 times. Party time finally kicked off via the returning Charlie Spargo, booting a lovely set shot to strike a blow in his battle for a spot with Chandler. They can probably very easily play together in the same side, but I've come to the unscientific conclusion that they do near enough to the same thing that only one can thrive at a time. It was advantage Charleston here, as Chandler had his quietest game of the year.

The goal was made by a fantastic pass from Petracca, setting off the chase for the most obscure achievement in the game. For a decade I've been following the great goal assist logjam where nobody's been able to get above four. No matter how much we've scored, there have been 15 games where players have equalled the record without extending it, leaving it shared by the eclectic group of  Brayshaw, Hogan, Jackson, Jetta, Jones, T. McDonald, Melksham x2, Oliver, Petracca x4, Weideman and Wonaeamirri. But now, to the joy of nobody but me, the podium has been cleared out by the previous four time joint title holder. I'm sure this will be as much of a career highlight for him as winning two Paul Prymke Plates.

It wasn't Petracca's best game, but the bar for that level has been set so high that he's got to do something outrageous to qualify. He was still so good, and I count my blessings daily that a) St Kilda let us draft him, b) he survived doing a knee, and c) avoided being Melbourned on return. 

Hawthorn were one step from toilet coloured traffic cones, but did have a bit of bad luck with the next couple of goals. Viney's smothered snap rebounded to him for a more successful go, then Gawn had a shot that the defenders were instantly convinced was touched. None of the umpires were interested, and the old 'every goal is reviewed' chestnut didn't find anything wrong with it either. I'd love to see this process in action - do they roll footage on the guy banging through a post-high set shot from 40 metres out just in case? And if it's not suspect enough for the umpires to ask for a review, how fast do they need to come up with a verdict before the ball is bounced again. If I'm not mistaken, man of the hour Petracca was the first player ever to be dudded by a vigilante review, against Brisbane in 2016.

On the occasion of North fans doing a sad version of the Carnival of Hate (before diverging from the script and losing by 10 goals), the more alarming reminder of that famous day was somebody stepping on the foot of a key forward who looked set to run riot. Petty was subbed out at half time and put in a supposedly precautionary moonboot. Hope he fares better from here than Mitch Clark, who was robbed out of a double figure haul and as good as never seen again after accidentally being assassinated by a teammate.

Petty's second, on the quarter time siren, left us 35-1 in front and on the verge of handing out an all time spanking. Even if you'd multiplied the scores x4 and ended it 20.20.140 to 0.4.4 we'd still have been a goal short of our best win against Hawthorn (and indeed anyone). They were held to a point in that opening term too. The commentators dropped an impressive sounding fun fact about this being the first time it had happened since 1960, which sounded too good to be true and was. They'd done it twice in 2006 alone. [NB: I've seen elsewhere that it might have been their lowest half time score, not quarter time. And if I was confusing what was said 45 minutes apart you'll understand why the rest of this post is such a disjointed mess]

I'm sad that Petty's potential boot filling was interrupted, but still not convinced he's better for our forward line than Brown or McDonald. The defensive partnership with May and Lever worked pretty well a couple of years ago, go back to that and get a more experienced, natural goalkicker to provide cover for van Rooyen and Fritsch. The loose-as-a-goose nature of Hawthorn's backline - including one being subbed out with injury - allowed us the most marks inside 50 of any team this season, but at the same time we didn't look particularly threatening. 

It's great to have a big spread of goalkickers, but even if it's a symptom of tactical naivety I'd feel more comfortable if we had a figurehead. JVR (r)oozes promise but he's not there yet, and needs support while he develops. He was lucky to be out there in the first place, initially handed a two game suspension for accidentally spoiling that Gold Coast defender in the head. The initial challenge failed, launching the biggest tribunal case siege mentality since Jack Trengove bounced Patrick Dangerfield off the turf 12 years ago. Despite the unfiltered views of Anonymous Suns Player 324 that van Rooyen "got what he deserved", the appeals board thought otherwise. 

There was a bit of excessive chat about protecting the 'fabric of the game', and no doubt the league will now change the rules to make sure nobody gets away with similar in the future. Once the bump, the tackle, the outstretched foot, and the spoil have been legislated that'll just leave the 'jamming your knee into somebody's skull mid-screamer' debate. By then, Kysaiah Pickett might have finally taken the Mark of the Year he's been threatening since debut. This time he went closer than ever, getting a hand to it without giving away a free for jumping outrageously early.

It was more of the same after quarter time, with endless inside 50s that we weren't potent enough to take advantage of, before Sparrow walloped one through from distance to keep alive the idea of a massacre.

Suspicion that nobody was taking this game seriously increased when the game was held up for a minute to determine whether or not Ed Langdon had controlled the ball while marking on the line. Fair enough to get it right - even if the replay angle was affected by having a big FO goalpost in the way - but I'm sure at 40-something to one in the second quarter the umpire could have gone with his original decision and not been sent to Yackandandah next week. Then somebody accidentally pressed the 'behind' button for the on-screen graphics, only for Ed to go with the actual verdict as communicated from the review booth and play on from where he stood.

This indirectly led to their opening goal, the ball barely escaped the defensive 50 before it came back and May was given the most blatant two-handed shove in the back you'll ever see. No reason to be upset, we were already into double figures for getting away with throws and holdings of the ball. On a day where the umpires 'let it go' to a ridiculous degree, the first time they actually paid holding the ball was after Fritsch handballed it.

Speaking of potentially illegal manoeuvres, what about the Hawthorn ruckman who'd started running at Gawn when the ball was bounced, so that by the time it was in mid-air he was already well across the line and on top of Max. It wasn't a bad tactic, but surely backfires when the other ruckman deliberately runs into him and claims a shepherd.

This is the point where things started getting a bit Hollywood, including an attempt at setting May up for a heartwarming milestone goal via the Wheatley Manoeuvre only for him to boot it out on the full anyway. I would have preferred to run the score up in the first three quarters, then park him at FF in the last. Maybe they realised Petty wasn't going to be there to swap with him and thought they might as well try to get him one now. Sadly, even by the time it didn't matter if Hawthorn got cheap goals against a diminished defence we didn't fling him forward to try and take a grab.

Our attempt at scoring with quality over quantity only caused a brief lull in the violence. Grundy casually pulled one down at the top of the square, and JVR grabbed one not further out to ensure there was no possible way we could lose this game. 

We've been on the end of so many similar 'over by the break' games that I genuinely felt bad for Hawthorn fans for the first time since September 1996. Still wanted to win by shitloads though, I'll take a thumping win over anybody from Geelong to Geelong West Under 19s. Sadly, Hawthorn had other ideas and turned up for a bit. Three straight goals, two the first of the player's career, and there was the ever so small prospect - if you're of a nervous disposition - that we were going to go up like the Hindenberg.

I can't believe that after the first half we needed a steadier, but once Oliver got one from close range and Langdon followed shortly it was safe again. They took 10 points off the lead during the quarter, which dragged the margin below the Chris Sullivan Line but adjusting for overall quality of opposition I was comfortable that it wasn't going to get close enough to raise a sweat. 

If you'd made the sensible decision to go and do something more important you'd have missed Viney - who was otherwise very good - doing his bit for the underprivileged with a horror turnover goal. Otherwise, except for a Trent Rivers goal that he kicked the cover off from 50 out, the only person who really needed to continue watching was whoever puts together the All The Goals video.

Just as I was thinking we'd escaped this slopfest with a win and nothing more than precautionary concern about Petty's foot, they cut to footage of Petracca on the ground, with a trainer, looking totally crocked. That got my blood pressure up more than anything Hawthorn did. I'm told it was just a minor issue, but remember the time Colin Garland walked off at the end of Round 1 and wasn't seen for the rest of the season? Well I do. Last week I took so long to write this that by the time it came out JVR had already been temporarily suspended, so no doubt by the time you're reading we'll know if he's perfectly fit or looking at amputation below the knee.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Trent Rivers
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to May, Brayshaw and Neal-Bullen.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
For a game that nobody will ever watch again, we got a few GOTW contenders. Apologies to Viney's two effort snap, but I'm going for the thermonuclear missile by Rivers in the last quarter. For the overall award context is important, and if he'd kicked that in the dying seconds of a close game it would be straight into first place. But it wasn't, so he'll have to console himself with the weekly nomination.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
3 - Kade Chandler vs Gold Coast

Simon Buckley & Schuster
Thanks to everyone who has ordered a copy of The Last Hurrah with bonus content. I was a bit hasty in offering this before actually writing said content but should have it in the mail by the end of the week. Same goes for original recipe book buyers who are waiting for the extra chapter to be emailed. 20 years ago I offended the author of a really, really bad book about him allegedly rootin' around the world by accusing him of having a garage full of the things. I'm not even close to that point, but even one leftover leaves me open to charges of hypocrisy so do us a solid.

Next week
Everything's going reasonably well and I'm starting to enjoy the season so what better time to go back to the Adelaide Oval and try to make up for the Gather Round debacle. It's a good time to play a contender again, if you don't expect Port to spontaneously combust at some point. This one could go either way, they decide what to do from week to week at random, and we can't rely on the other side giving us dozens of chances via putrid disposal.

Casey had a bye - and why not, the VFL's not there to develop players for senior football or anything - so Salem still hasn't played this year. It's not like he doesn't know what to do, but if we were going to throw him in without a warm-up it would have been better to do it here. Once he's back Mc A. Vee can have a rest, but no need for that yet.

I think we'll win via major toil and struggle.

IN: Brown, Harmes (sub)
OUT: Petty (inj), Sparrow (susp)
LUCKY: Jordon

Final thoughts
Whether it's Round 9, 2023 or this post, they can't all be classics.

Monday 8 May 2023

Talent borrows, genius steals

Dear readers, we regret to announce that Gold Coast are no longer completely shit. We'll never lose the comedy motherlode of them having a four figure fanbase, but their on-field time may finally be coming. On Saturday night they beat us forward, middle, and back, displayed a T-1000 like ability to return from the dead, and should have come away with a draw at the very least. But - for now - they didn't. Development roadbump in our favour, collect four points. 

We've been through the emerging Suns story a few times since 2011 and they've spontaneously combusted every time. This might turn out differently, but for now an 11 game winning streak is our second best against anyone ever. There's still a minimum of five years to go before we run down our 20 in a row against North between 1953 and 1965, and I hope this page/my central nervous system last long enough to see it.

If you went back to the last time they beat us, in 2014 during the long-forgotten 'names on jumpers' week, no sane person dotted around the cavernously empty MCG that day would have picked us to reach finals, flags and long-term respectability first. Then their Ablett Or Bust philosophy bust along with his shoulder, good players evacuated as if escaping from an airline disaster, and they've flopped around at the bottom of the ladder since.

We, on the other hand, have somehow turned out good. Extremely so from August 2021 to May 2022, but still light years ahead now of where you could have imagined us a decade ago. There was that NQR season in 2019 where Gold Coast was the only worse side in the competition, but even that worked out in our favour. On this BOG showing I'm sure we would have been happy picking Noah Anderson at #2, but their priority pick steered us in the direction of Luke Jackson, who powered the Mad Minute and delivered three top picks via the resale system.

Now there's half a chance the Suns will get good too. For now, they're five points short of us, but on a ladder more congested than the Shanghai freeway that's good enough for me. Maybe some of the umpiring was a touch fruity, but refer to the Richmond post for discussion on how a) every team is unlucky sometimes, and b) if you're good enough you'll win anyway. What do you expect from umps who kept calling advantages for players who didn't want it, and one who was probably the worst bouncer of the ball in the history of the game. No matter what else happened they had a shot directly in front in the last 30 seconds and missed, so it's all on them in the end.

This was one of those games where it's almost impossible to give realistic votes because we had so few standouts, and nobody who was on the top of his game from bell to bell. I could almost cheat and wait to use the coaches' votes as a guide. Our midfield had its usual great moments, but also looked vulnerable at centre bounces again. It can't be because we've got the wingiest wings in recent memory, there wouldn't be enough time for them to get to the centre circle before the ball was being flung Gold Coast's way. Maybe my expectations are too high, even if the worst teams get clean exits from the middle occasionally, you're going to have to defend a few every game. We just seem to leak like a faulty submarine despite having more stars in the area than the Andromeda galaxy.

I was much more confident in sitting back and waiting for other teams to feed the rebound machine when our backline was operating at maximum power. I'll still take up weapons to defend peak May, Lever and Petty as the greatest MFC defensive combination since colour TV, but one of them is doing competent at best forward stuff, one is in ok form, and Lever's moustache is still offensive. We've coped without Salem so far, but we also had to go wwithout Hibberd, whose slowly disintegrating body required us to hit the long-awaited Disco Button and bring in Turner late.

If you needed any further proof that teams have realised the futility of blindly bombing the ball into our backline, it's that two thirds of the world's greatest backline looked vulnerable to barely heralded forwards like Casboult and Chol. Ben King is the best of the lot, and while we held them to a combined six goals from not many more kicks a lot of opportunities came from their contests. There was nowhere near as much cutting off as usual - our best interceptors were Rivers and Gawn with three each. Compare to the rest of the season where one of Lever or May is usually at the top. I'm not saying we've been rumbled, but you can't rely on teams merrily going to their doom against us anymore.

Turner's day didn't start well, with a massive shank on the full from his first kick, and he never looked comfortable in one-on-ones but he did take a couple of nice marks and will be welcome back in the future. For now, please clear a path for Petty to take up his rightful place in defence and let's get back to the important project of making sure he's ready to take May's spot in a few years.

If I'm not really into Petty as a forward but will credit his contest for clearing van Rooyen's path to the opening mark/goal. It looked so effortless for JVR that I started to fantasise about a performance that would have the Rising Star judges sliding off their seats. He went at it with 100% effort all night - perhaps a little bit too much at one stage of the last quarter - but never got another serious look at goal. I'm into playing him every week but it's looking more like 2020 Weideman every week - he needs the cover from an experienced forward. The benefits flow down to Fritsch, who found it easy against a rotten side last week but did nowt for three quarters here. Whether you think Brown or McDonald is the answer, one of them in the same forward 50 will switch focus off JVR while he develops. Then when he's older he can cover Jefferson, who can repeat the dose with the next prospect, and spend the next decade doing a key forward  

For now we were even with the Suns everywhere but reaping the rewards from their blooper-laden attempts at getting the ball out of defence. God knows what Geelong was doing losing to them, because if we'd had Cameron and Hawkins inside 50 this might have been as big a first term as last week. Regardless, we got to three goals in front, with Viney shooting for a fourth and I thought it might be a relaxing night to watch a game stretched out over a few hours and about 70 kilometres. Then, for the first time things started to go bad, from the Viney miss they opened us up like an unlocked door walk one in at the other end, soon your old mate Malcolm Rosas (me either) had two and we'd wasted the advantage.

Enter - thank god - Chandler for his novelty goal of the week in the dying seconds. They'd just missed a chance to go ahead, so if I was Stuart Dew my reaction to conceding this goal with 10 seconds left would have been to drive the medicart through the quarter time huddle. Like everyone else, this wasn't Chandler's best game, but he does some tremendous shit in front of goal. Easy to pretend you know what you're talking about eight months later, but for all the clamour for JVR to debut in the finals I reckon we could have done with a bit more of this: 

Things still weren't going all that well around the ground, but after trading the opening goals of the quarter we got another break that might have convinced a less cynical person everything was going to be ok. One goal from a 50, another from a free at the next bounce and it was 20 something points again. Those lasted about three minutes and the Suns were right back in it.

For want of anywhere else to mention this, did anyone else notice how much dummying the Suns were doing? Like how we've started doing underground handballs left, right, and centre, they put more feints and wrong foots than I've seen us fall victim to in several years combined. And we kept falling for it. They were smart enough to keep it in the middle of the ground so nobody tried taking on Pickett in the square and ending up plastered across the internet looking silly.

The irony of what happened at the end is that we got another goal in the final seconds of the quarter, at which point they were probably having to wrench the cart keys out of Dew's hands. The Suns had done so well to effectively neutralise everything that was good about us but couldn't get in front. I saw this happen plenty of times 2016-2020, and sometimes everything went right to get us over the line. It could easily have gone the other way here.

We weren't playing badly by any means but they were dragging along with us all the way. The idea that if we run teams around for long enough they'll lose heart didn't work here, because no matter what we did they would not go away. I don't want to sound patronising in case they end up as our overlords in a few years, but these were admirable qualities in an emerging team. And if somebody other than us has to win everything, the more flags for GWS and Gold Coast that I never have to hear anyone enjoying the better.

To paraphrase Bart Simpson, they were like some sort of non-giving up football guys. It'll come as a surprise to anyone who watched Melbourne 2010/2011, but it helped having #1 and #2 picks in the same midfield. This also assisted Dwayne Russell in blowing the front off his strides every time Matt Rowell went near the ball, he used the phrase "bull" so many times in four quarters that it started to sound like Bob Katter had dropped into Fox Footy studios.

After they kicked another couple in a row I thought Bowey lobbing one through might have been enough to get going again. There's a school of thought that you can't put him in the best players because he was on Rosas, but I'd argue most of his goals had nothing to do with an opponent and Jake was the calmest extractor of ball from defence that we had. I'm into McVee's future but right now I could do with a Christian Salem down that end as well.

That goal lasted about two minutes, but even when Sparrow got one late we were only six points up and all I had to calm the nerves - knowing that the rest of the world probably already knew the result - was our quality record in last quarters. Then they got a free on the siren, levelled the scores and I felt a little bit like having a vom.

Good thing we do finish games well, because the last quarter would best be described as 'frantic'. Petracca kicked things off with this absolute solid gold corker of a snap...  

.... only to spend the next few minutes peppering shots at goal for nothing. Then we got arguably lucky via Gawn being handed a free goal from the square due to excessive jostling about 100 metres away. I'll leave it to others to decide whether the free was justified or not, because I haven't got time to watch it from 19 different Zapruder Cam angles but it certainly came in handy at the time.

There was a brief lull in proceedings when van Rooyen's attempted spoil absolutely van Rooted a Gold Coast defender. There was nothing malicious in it, but it nigh on killed the poor bloke on the receiving end. Brent Staker left the ground in better condition after being clobbered by Barry Hall. This ended in neck braces, stretchers, and potential match review sanctions. Now that the bumping culture wars have been settled with 'don't do it', this should kick off a discussion about vigorous spoiling, then we can move on to screamers that involve jamming your knee into the base of a man's skull.

I appreciated the plight of a man who appeared to be seriously injured, but was approximately 40 minutes behind real time, knew the game was already over and couldn't spare the time to see him respectfully carted from the ground. So I wished him well while continually pressing the +15 seconds button until the game restarted. By this point I'd realised that a boundary throw in took about the same amount of time, so if I hit it the moment the ball rolled out the coverage would skip to the throw-in. It doesn't work for ball ups, I tried it a couple of times and the ball was already well in play when coverage resumed. Who knows what tremendous comedy zingers I missed from the commentators by skipping so much of the dead-air, but if they were as bad as the wildly zoomed in camera angles. 

Like the Perth lightning and the Brisbane blackout, the advantage after an unexpected break went to the chasing team. We might have cancelled their next goal out straight away, but after 35 games in a row with a goal Fritsch turned up with concrete shoes on and missed his second of three shots for the quarter. Then it started to get farcical, with an attempted escape from the last line of defence was smothered, and when it could have done literally anything else from that position the ball bounced perfectly to a Gold Coast player for Rosas' fourth. White smoke had already gone up at Kingsley Manor after his third, but now the Fire Brigade had to dispatch all available units to make sure the place wasn't burning to the ground.

The crowd split at Nugan Hand Bank Stadium was 50/50 at best, but they were going off their tits now. There's nothing like the prospect of springing a major upset to fire up even the most theatregoing crowd. We were now six points in front, and I can't have been the only one waiting for the karmic rebound from the famous Marty Hore/Tom McDonald heist.

Gold Coast's first chance to nick a draw/earn the option to stuff through a point with a minute left to win faltered when Gawn got away with grappling his opponent in a marking contest. This was bad news for Suns fans, and outraged neutrals who took up their cause in a creepily protective way. I'd have tipped a table if we didn't get the same free, but to be fair the loose ball led to a player taking a mark in a better position. Chol might have converted, only for us to go forward and win it anyway. Or he'd have kicked a point, and we'd have turned it over to lose. Anything can happen in the Wide World of Melbourne FC. 

Appropriately, on a big weekend for the Royal Family, the kicker was called 'Darcy' as if he's heir to the Duchy of Wimborne. He was a defender, but it was an easy enough kick that I was absolutely convinced it would go through. And then... it didn't, he pushed it right and I greeted the miss by throwing my phone in the air like an old time racegoer punting Phar Lap home. 

If you thought we were going to get through the last 14 seconds safely you were a more optimistic person than me. Our kick-ins had been chopped off all night, and May obviously didn't have faith in the umpires correctly judging distance for a short kick so he did the time-honoured big roost to the left of screen that we've been relying on since the heyday of Mark Jamar. By the time I'd processed what was going on the ball was flinging back towards our goal, and my internal Heist Karma alert went to DEFCON1. Thank god for Jack Viney getting in the way, blocking any opportunity at a kick to win it after the siren. 

I rolled on the floor in joy for a few seconds, then regained my composure, and guiltily moved on with my life, safe in the knowledge that we'd pinched the game from multiple angles. That's life, nervously tug at your collar all you like, we still got the four points. That'll do nicely.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jake Bowey
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Trent Rivers

I struggled to get to five in the first place, but apologies to Viney, McVee and Sparrow who were in the mix by default.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies also to the Pickett spin in the third quarter, but it was a bad week for Kade Chandler - his from-the-arse snap in the first quarter had the nomination in the bank right until Petracca kicked that absolute belter from the boundary line in the last quarter. It not only went home with the weekly award, but I've promoted him to the season lead due to aesthetic beauty. The goal was very pretty too. For the weekly prize he wins... good intentions? I've got nothing.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Kade Chandler vs Footscray
3 - Kade Chandler vs Gold Coast

Random House
Speaking of having nothing, The Last Hurrah has reached the end of its natural bookstore life. The remaining copies sadly aren't going to be pulped like Alan Partridge's Bouncing Back, but will be sold for scrap to discount book outlets. In an attempt to retain some dignity I've snatched a fair percentage of copies before they can get there, and am selling directly for equal or lower price to what you'll get in shops. This is your chance to not only get something NQR - and possibly illegal - written on the inside cover, but I'll throw in a behind-the-scenes extra chapter on the making of the book and its questionable role in what happened in Perth two months after publication. 

As an added bonus, anyone who purchases directly will get an additional behind-the-scenes chapter outlining the making of the book, and the unexpected Hurrah that happened in Perth two months later. If you've already got the book I can send you the text of the extra chapter, fill in this form or email me. Please do, as this will give me motivation to finish writing the thing. Also, please note these things are arriving at Demonblog Towers in weird, random, partial shipments so I'll let you know if there are any delays fulfilling - let me know if you've got an ASAP requirement for a gift.

Now, at the end of my two year ride as a real life, actual published author, let me say how much I appreciate the support and kind words from the community. I'll be returning to strictly amateur projects from here, and if I ever find the time I'd like to do the 1965-1987 shambles years, a 2017-2021 Great Deelight compilation, and the collected AFLW match reports.

Next week
I'll issue the same cautious tone for Hawthorn as I did North, and hopefully we vastly exceeded expectations again. They're not good, and on paper we should walk this but you just never know. If Hibberd is fit he's obviously back in, and regardless of whether or not they make an example of JVR for his KO, send Petty back where he belongs and include Brown. Harmes was good after coming on as sub so his reward is a start.

IN: Brown, Harmes, Hibberd
OUT: Jordon (to sub), Turner (omit), van Rooyen (susp)

Final thoughts
This is the stage of the year where the ladder looks so tight that you think anyone in the top 14 could make finals. It'll break apart in the next couple of months, but top four looks like it's going to be a multiple team over the top rope battle royale so every win counts. Do we like a flag contender at the moment? No. Does it matter at this stage if we keep winning? Probably not for a while yet. So let's just do that.