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.

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