Friday 23 June 2023

Down highway, down toilet

The fun never stops at Demonblog Towers, so as soon as I recovered from the Peruvian Llama Disease that caused so much trouble on King's Birthday, it was straight into COVID protocols. Next stop the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis to have the immune system tested Mr. Burns style. Once upon a time barely leaving the house for two weeks would have been a dream (in fact, I achieved a personal best of about 90 weeks across 2001/2002) but it's giving me the shits now.

Even in the best of health, at this advanced stage of life I'd rather explore the sea in an experimental submarine than go to Kardinia Park on a Thursday night. If the Cats eventually do the honourable thing and have a decade-long death spiral I'll turn up just to wave two fingers about and make some off-key comments to the locals that will in no way come back to haunt me in the future, but until then I've done my bit.

It's easy to say after things have gone bad, but I don't know why people were so convinced we'd win here. Collingwood was the sort of epic fighting win that you should be proud of, but it hardly came off as a breakthrough that was going to triumphantly carry us towards September. We're in a flat spot of not being either extremely good or very bad, but relying on keeping the opposition scores low enough that they can be covered by a half-functioning forward line will backfire occasionally. 

It didn't help that Oliver was still out, going through the unique absence progression of hamstring > infected blister > more hamstring > [conspiracy theories]. Lucky we've got attention-seeking coves with 19 Twitter followers to give us the real scoop about what's going on. We're much better with him in than out but he isn't the sole factor being winning and losing. The ball still gets forward one way or the other, it just dies a thousand deaths inside 50 and he's not directly influencing that. Sure, you bring him back and Petracca can go forward more often but in the last few weeks we've had a million scoring opportunities, and only won against Collingwood because of a heroic defensive effort that kept them under cover long enough to shamble through a winning score. Which was ace, but as this showed it's not sustainable every week.

Now that nobody except the captain was around for the pre-186 'stay in Geelong' fiasco involving Dean Bailey's credit card, I didn't mind them going down a day early to prepare. I did think it might tip the opposition off that you don't think you're a chance of winning without gimmicks, but surely not. Certainly wasn't an issue for the first three quarters. Maybe depart the bus from Melbourne half an hour later next time so players don't reach their "I'd really like to be at home right now" realisation at three quarter time.

Even before it started raining I got a bit of "here we go" when we had a couple of half-baked forward 50 entries for no reward, only for them to go down the other end and pluck one from the arse, hard on the boundary line. After coming back from the dead against the Pies I wasn't going to let one goal shake me, but at this stage it doesn't feel like we're equipped to take on sides kicking unexpected goals from zany angles. 

This might have been cancelled out straight away, but for Smith snapping into the post from right in front. At that point I was cursing his inclusion but I'll reluctantly admit that he had a very good first half before being sent to try and stop Tom Stewart intercepting everything. Maybe instead of trying to negate the guy you're booting it at every 10 seconds, think about another way to go past him. Is this overly simplistic? I know less about golf than footy tactics, but if you can hit it a maximum of 200 metres and there's a big fuck off water hazard 190 metres away do you try to carry it or go short, then hit your next shot over it. This would have required something resembling a half forward line, and the next players in line to find some space inside 50 so it is perhaps a bit optimistic.

Regardless of what happened later, it was nice of the commentators to focus on the close results between these sides at Kardinia Park rather than the apocalyptic beltings. In reality there's only been two genuine thrillers, it's just that they both ended with goals after the siren. If you'd asked me pre-match which of the two previous matchwinners would have more shots for the night I'd definitely have picked Gawn, but he never went close while Zac Tuohy got multiple opportunities to make us think "why couldn't you have kicked like that five years ago?" 

I'm right into the novelty of Gawn/Grundy but it does diminish the enjoyment a bit if neither is scoring. They both pulled down some good relieving marks around the ground, but if our ruck combo was Gawn/The Spencil we absolutely would have consulted the weather report and given somebody the night off via suspicious late change. For a club going around with satanic branding we don't participate in the dark arts very often.

When they got their second via a fluky bounce that could have gone anywhere I was awake to the possibility of being beaten entirely by novelty goals. If you had any faith in us taking advantage, Jeremy Cameron being knocked into next week by a teammate shortly after should have helped. Channel 7's new policy of not endlessly replaying gruesome injuries is noble, but it works better for somebody with a compound fracture than a concussion, leaving viewers thinking he was at the stage of live-saving CPR for a few minutes.

Other than the impact on Cameron's head, the worst bit was that you if it was an opposition player who'd cleaned him up going for the ball they'd be suspended, but the rules specifically say it doesn't count if you accidentally clobber a teammate. I wouldn't suspend Rohan (I'm of the reckless opinion that players are hardly being forced to play Russian Roulette by the Viet Cong, so they should accept risk of accidents) but it proves that you can't consistently police non-malicious collisions. 

In the end, having one less tall on a wet night when we'd just reunited my all-time favourite defensive combination probably helped Geelong. We're more vulnerable to run than hefty booting of the ball to talls (except when they're Essendon ruckmen you'd never previously heard of), and so it turned out. Meanwhile, we took a midfielder off and stuck with forward tactics that continually asked Pickett to try and win one-on-one marking duals with the ball dropping on his head.

That break in play did lead to our first goal. Fritsch did the Maximum style booting into a construction site, and by now we'd at least stopped them scoring. Not only is that stand being built on government money, they must be using government workers too because it's taking longer than the Airport Rail Link. The greatest set shot of all time happened nearly three years ago and the thing is still a big concrete shell. For all the money being put into redevelopment for a stadium that will never host anything more important than the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony we should all get to drop in and wield willow at the new indoor cricket hub.

Everything we were doing looked like a struggle, complete with some suicidal kicking coming out of defence, but the rest of the quarter went about as well as could be expected. They blew a few decent chances, and we finally found a goal out of nowhere via Smith (never said a bad word, I promise) to get out of it just nine points behind. I wasn't feeling it though, it just struck me as the kind of game where we'd toil to the ends of the earth for our goals and they'd rip them out of nowhere.

When it started raining I had visions of that weird six goal burst against Port, and for the first few minutes of the second quarter we brought that sort of spirit in every way other than the kicking of major scores. The ball was down there enough, but when it wasn't being picked off merrily by their defenders we weren't getting in any decent position to score. It was a good sign, but the execution was so bad I just felt like...

... and when they went the other way and looked like kicking a goal on practically their first entry of the quarter I'd have thrown something at the TV if I had enough energy. By the time we'd given them four opportunities before they finally converted, any sense of moral outrage had gone. Then we had our best period of the night, with two goals to level the scores and make things interesting again. Given that he'd done bugger all else, I was excited by Pickett just toebashing a goal through off the deck but not sure why it needed a shhh-like celebration midway through the second quarter. We've never done one yet that hasn't turned bad - even when we beat Richmond after Bugg's they went on to three premierships.

For the second game in a row Viney briefly looked like he'd blown his shoulder out of the socket before returning a few minutes later like nothing was wrong. There's been a spot of sooking about Tom Stewart niggling him while on the ground, but I'd advise you to grow a pair (or the equivalent) and move on. Usually when people say the game is going soft they're upset that you can't king hit people or do a racism but if you're dying to be outraged wait until somebody drops a Randy Savage elbow on a player being stretchered off.

I would have trusted a politician before our one point half time lead, but now that we'd got that far in a hostile environment, on a dud night for footy I was open to the idea of winning via another spectacular defensive performance that would make sure Channel 7 never wanted to broadcast us again. Can't be forced to play in the nonsense Thursday night timeslot if you're always on Foxtel [insert that meme of the guy who looks like Eddie Murphy but isn't tapping his head].

I don't blame the defenders for what happened next, if they didn't have to put up with the ball going down there at pace so often, or we'd put up any sort of decent score before the game was shot they'd have come out of it with a lot of credit. We just couldn't do the job at the other end.

Yet we still entered the last quarter with a seven point lead. Even with Chandler playing on after a free from 15 metres out and missing, somehow being deemed to have taken advantage even though he was halfway through trying to get rid of it when the free was paid. This was a particularly rancid quarter if you were watching for entertainment value, but we did enough to give ourselves a chance.

If it wasn't for 'Hame' doing awkward interviews with Auskickers at half time, I'd have thought they were commentating from a studio. Mind you, even after implying Grundy was rooted, and showing him on the bench with hood up looking no chance to return they didn't think to mention how unusual it was when he ran back on, straight past substitute Spargo. I don't understand how with all the technology they've got - enough to catch North going one over the interchange cap - we don't get an instant on-screen graphic when the sub is made. Instead you had to wait until they cut to a moist James Jordon donning a tracksuit in the back row to know what was going on. 

Jordon is now two clear of Sam Blease for involvement in most substitutions (including being unused), which I'm sure is exactly how he saw his career panning out. Not a lot else in common with them except they'll both end their career at another club, because there's no way JJ is going to hang around here being yanked on/off more vigorously than Peter North when he can go to a bullshit team and play four quarters every week. And the good news for him is that we delisted him once so he's a permanent free agent and can do as he likes. I don't know why we took him off in the first place, he wasn't having a great game but what part of a cold, rainy night where we were aiming most of our forward 50 kicks at Pickett anyway suggested that sticking with the same talls from the first bounce was going to help. 

Given how many goals we've conceded on three quarter time recently, the free kick in front of their goal on the siren had me about to blow up. Then it turned out to be ours, for some unspecified offence not captured or expanded upon by Channel 7. This caused Tom Hawkins to have an arms open, owl eyed whinge straight at the umpire. Shame we're not doing dissent anymore, because even if it wouldn't have got us close enough for a shot, paying 50 against him would have annoyed the same locals who earlier booed their hearts out over a ball being called touched, as if they had any idea what happened from the stands.

I was even less confident of this lead. It's one thing always expecting to lose, and good for your mental health when it happens, but I could sense a mile away that they had plenty of improvement and we were hanging on by our fingernails. Didn't mean it had to end this way, but I wasn't surprised. 

Now that we've killed off all the premature talk about accurate goalkicking, time to wind down the wankfest over being a great last quarter team. We haven't had a really good one since North Melbourne (Freo if you're being generous, for what good that did us), and that has no relevance to what's happening right now. Certainly didn't do us any good here, the rain stopped and so did we. 

You sensed evil was afoot when they burst from the middle for a point, and not long after scores were level via a goal from the keyboard player out of Sparks. Turns out the town was - you know where this is going - not big enough for both of us, because that was the cue to go absolutely tits up. Can I put in a word for Geelong's sensible forcing of the ball along the ground towards their forward line from centre bounces. This is a great tactic against us. Meanwhile we've got ruckman grabbing the ball out of the air and hammering it forward to be intercepted/rebounded. It's a good thing #flag calmed me down because otherwise watching this would send my blood pressure to fatal levels.

The good news for fans of scapegoating is that it wasn't all Geelong running riot 2011 style, the Anal-Bullet was seemingly through on goal but fumbled and allowed them to ping down the other end for another goal. You'd never know from Channel 7's absurd 100x zoom closeups, but maybe there was somebody in his way and it wouldn't have mattered if he gathered it. Still not a great moment for a player everyone's keen to write off at the slightest provocation.

Whether or not he'd had kicked a goal, or if it would have helped, is up for debate but there are questions to be asked about all our fringe forwards - Chandler has slammed on the brakes, Pickett is barely going, Spargo hasn't gone since concussion, and ANB is very good for pressure but not adding much offensively. Not that we've got much in the tank to replace them, unless you want to go back to Melksham and hope he proves us wrong Tomlinson style. 

By the time we were three goals down with 10 minutes left, the game was basically shot. I refuse to join in the usual sour "boo umpires" cover-up for losing, but please review this footage and explain how it didn't end in a 50.

I haven't seen something so blatantly unpunished since Petty's 2021 timewasting that caused the rules to be rewritten. I'm not saying this changed the game, because we were already swirling by this point, but it makes you feel ripped off defending umpires for missing things while unsighted when they don't have the grapefruits to make a call like this. And you wonder why I don't believe they'd have paid the decisive 50 leading to that Gawn goal if there had been fans at Kardinia Park.

Comfort yourself by thinking that we'd have either a) played on foolishly and never got inside 50, or b) the kick would have fallen short anyway. And it didn't get any better from there. We got a couple of cheap ones at the end when the game was already lost, but it was just a sad, slide to death across the last quarter. The claim on commentary that you don't see us concede runs of goals like this made me scoff, but it's probably true over the last couple of years. What shit me is that it wasn't brute force forward entries that undid us, the sort where they can't help scoring eventually, but so many rebounds from where we hadn't taken advantage of our own chances. There are issues, none fatal yet, let's see if there's any response or whether heads will be jammed into the sand and the best hoped for.  

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Trent Rivers
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Hibberd, Hunter, May, McVee and Smith

Oliver's ongoing absence is making the result of this even more obvious, but I'm still not at the point of calling it in case that accidentally brings a curse down on Petracca. No alterations in the minors.
48 - Christian Petracca
26 - Clayton Oliver
20 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
17 - Jack Viney
13 - Jake Lever
12 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Trent Rivers
11 - Brodie Grundy, Ed Langdon
8 - Kade Chandler
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
2 - Ben Brown, Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
1 - Tom McDonald, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
For pure aesthetics the Petracca goal in the last quarter was the best, but it suffers a minus 99% penalty for coming when we were already beaten and I was in a bad mood. Instead I'll go for the Pickett one off the ground with the unnecessary afters.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Lachie Hunter vs Port Adelaide
3 - Bayley Fritsch vs Collingwood

Next week
We're off to collect a cheque in... err add to the rich cultural history of Alice Springs. The bad news for our partners in the Northern Territory, who really must have better things to spend their money on, is that the AFL has dudded them by fixturing a game with the lowest possible viewing audience. When the opposition is good enough to interest Channel 7, they get to flog the tourism message and long-distance shots of mountains to a national audience, putting us against GWS will be the expensive equivalent of buying a 30 minute infomercial on an obscure digital channel. [Update - Just realised this actually is on Channel 7. Their loss] 

On paper we should take care of the Giants without drama, but we're vulnerable to doing weird things so I'll believe it when I see it. Remember losing to them in mid-2021 due to having a toothless forward line that couldn't take advantage of a shitload of chances? Sounds familiar. Unless Oliver's hit by a meteor he's an obvious return, and I'd like all the focus to go on... say the line Simon.... connection. 

I love JVR and look forward to years of him marauding our forward line, but if we're trying to win right now he's not impacting games long enough. I know Brown's not injured because he was an emergency here, so for god's sake can we just try him again? Who gives a shit if he's not kicking 10 goals a week in the VFL, the man is a professional goalkicker who will know exactly what to do if recalled and has extendable Inspector Gadget arms that will suit our strategy of booting the ball a million miles in the air and hoping for the best. If we've gone insane and written Brown off, I'll reluctantly accept Petty going forward. It's not the same though.

It's probably still too early post-flag to go off chops, but I reckon this philosophy could be tested if we lose after kicking a dinky score.

IN: Oliver, Brown + any old random who plays well at Casey as the sub
OUT: Jordon, Spargo, van Rooyen (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, Neal-Bullen, Pickett
UNLUCKY: Bowey, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
Usually, once we've lost the rest of my weekend is ruined, but I'm not letting this get to me. It was an average performance by an average side, but I haven't thought we were a genuine top four team for weeks. Doesn't help much, but keeps me from blowing up about individual games. This season could still go anywhere, it's just going to be about peaking at the right time instead of the last home and away game again.   

Thursday 15 June 2023

Kicking against the pricks

Since starting this site in 2005 (!) I've consumed games in many ways. From listening through the AFL website in foreign countries, on zero sleep, seconds after waking up, and once in the case of an early pre-season game totally forgetting it was on. Monday was a new one, propped up on a couch like the elderly, in the early stages of an illness that left me feeling like strips of my DNA have been torn off. All that stopped me from going back to bed and either watching later, or not at all, was a) maximum determination, and b) the sense that if Neale Daniher could turn up to walk around the MCG then I could delay total implosion until at least 6pm. 

This is already my worst season for live attendance since 2002, so the double stitch-up was that I'd had this game marked down as a certainty for months. Being struck down by random plagues previously only seen in the Belgian Congo is a sign that it's time to stop getting upset about missing out and accept my fate. As long the team called Melbourne wins, then who cares if I'm there or not. But it does sting to miss an epic result. This was more defensive masterclass than explosive, Jack Watts on the run (go on, have another look) style finish, but I'm still a bit flat at not enjoying the outburst of the final siren after nearly losing from an unlosable position.

Never mind my faulty immune system, let's talk about recovering a three-goal deficit to rumble an 11-1 side. And eventually, the seconds-from-disaster Reverse Mad Minute that would have made me literally spew up.

As much as I doubt that it's sustainable to win games via defensive strangulation all the way until the end of September, I'm willing to admit that it didn't hurt us to play with the same forward structure that barely kicked a score against mid-plummet Carlton. Mind you, at 18-1 down in the first quarter when it looked like we'd be lucky to get to 19 by the final siren there may have been words. Not that they would have been intelligible to anybody else, but I knew what I was thinking and it all involved the question of where Ben Brown was and why he wasn't in the middle of the MCG.

At that point you couldn't have convinced me that we'd come back to win, much less be in a position to nearly lose in farcical circumstances, with a substantial bribe. From that point we were better at every element of the game other than the putting of ball between the middle posts. The similarity in scores by Collingwood (good) and Carlton (not good) shows that when our defensive system is working at full power it can take anyone out. A few weeks ago it had more holes than Swiss Cheese, so I still don't think it means guaranteed success. Maybe we're on the 2021 program and will get the defence right then crank the attacking setting up to maximum at the end of the year.

For all the desperate attempts to jazz up a rivalry that's been treading water for 60 years, a public holiday, and the Big Freeze, this turned out to be a smaller crowd than Anzac Day Eve. Not like we've got some great rivalry against Richmond either, but things have come a long way from secretly knowing sour old crone Mick Malthouse was right when he said Queen's Birthday was 'our Grand Final'.

Having regularly played in big games, in front of big crowds over the last few years I refuse to believe any of our players were overawed by the occasion but the early stages featured a carnival of butchered disposals. Even when we did keep it together long enough to get the ball forward, it ended in so many panicked dump kicks that Adam Oxley must have been sitting at home contemplating his intercept marks record being beaten several times over.

Once they got the third goal we pulled some control back, but still didn't look capable of scoring +19 points more than them by the end of the game. With none of the forwards looking likely, it required big game specialist Jack Viney to get our first goal. This fired us up, but only led to points. First from Chandler, who has gone completely off the boil in front of goal, then Grundy. The latter was set up by one of the most satisfying collisions you're going to see in modern football, as Hunter took what would have been a guaranteed hospital ball in 'the olden days', and ran through Rochford Devenish-Meares like he was a paper wall.  

... and the good news for Hunter is that he was just carrying the ball so there's nothing the dickheads at the tribunal can do to him this time. He carried on and found the best ruckman on Collingwood's payroll standing in miles of space inside 50, giving their fans the perfect opportunity to whinge. In one of the biggest upsets in history they didn't, because say what you like about Pies fans but even the majority of them know the difference between a player voluntarily leaving, and one being told to piss off at any price. I'm sure there were a significant number who can't tell the difference, but not enough that it was seriously audible. Then he gave them all a thrill by missing anyway. 

As much as you're duty-bound to hate Collingwood as an organisation, they have clearly been the most entertaining side of the last two years. Their coach radiates good guy vibes, and they've introduced a much-needed children's TV element to the league by simultaneously playing a Billy, a Bobby and a Jamie. We know a song about that don't we...

This time there was no Jamie, but they did have a 'Reef', which is a frightening vision of a future where all names will come courtesy of parents who "wanted to be different" and the kids will say "thanks a lot..." They had a lot of other missing players too, which worked hand-in-hand with a midweek flu epidemic to provide a handy, Geelong 2021-style excuse for losing.

Never mind that we lost Clayton Oliver - the finest ball getter of his generation - to the most ridiculous reason for missing a match since Bret Hutchinson was sprayed with battery acid. At least we took his infected blister (!?) seriously, and carted him off to hospital when required, 10 years ago they'd have let it go and he'd have ended up having the foot amputated. Injuries are like umpiring, nobody cares how badly you've had it as long as you win.

Once we stopped giving them the ball back as quickly as possible, we were easily the better side for the remainder of the quarter. Another goal would have been nice, but we were back in the game. I'm worried about some of the fringe players, Spargo and Chandler to be precise, but will admit that the much-maligned by me Smith and Tomlinson did very well here. I'll still argue until I'm red and blue in the face that what you lose in defensive pressure with Brown you gain in the kicking of goals, but can't argue with how his presence worked on Monday. And after looking ropey against genuine key position forwards last week, Tomlinson didn't put a foot wrong here.

Then there's Judd McVee, who didn't even start the season as a fringe player, then seemed likely to be filling a spot until Salem came back, and is now playing like somebody with a 100 games more experience. No idea why they're calling him 'Knives', (probably because 'Tits' isn't politically correct), but the MFC Twitterist later did a Jack The Ripper reference, so they may need a welfare check.

The revival continued via Fritsch early in the second quarter, and he could have had another one later after falling over a little too easily from a bump off the ball. Middle aged saddos who are challenged by his lovely hair would have nearly had a foot through the TV by the time he missed. All the hard work of the previous 30 minutes looked like going up in smoke when we conceded the next goal, but that was wiped out straight from the middle and things looked to be going our way again. Except when they got the last goal.

Still, it was a proper contest going into the second half. We'd remained afloat long enough to make it interesting, and if you believed the propaganda about them all coming in sick then we should have had more in the tank at the end. Not quite, but good enough that it (just) didn't matter. 

We got rolling through the unlikely source of Joel Smith, who converted his second chance in a minute just as I was getting ready to quote chapter and verse on a certain other key position forward's career accuracy record. Then Fritsch kicked a snap on the run that set off an attempt by the most virulent Collingwood nuffies at a world record for simultaneous middle fingers. I think Port Adelaide narrowly retained the record, but this has the added benefit of a slow-motion shot of some grandma nearly shitting himself in outrage as he celebrated.

Things were going so well for us now that first Grundy converted one - and demonstrated that he doesn't subscribe to the soccer style 'don't celebrate against your own team' philosophy - then the Pies stuffed one up that they could have almost walked through. I didn't trust any sort of lead against them, but better to be in front than the alternative.

Coincidentally, the only time since Saturday afternoon that I've had any life force was during the last quarter. Conceding the first goal started to wake me up, Smith's run-down tackle completed the job, and by the time both he and Pickett missed I was ready to tip the couch over. As somebody who's been critical of this forward setup I can't believe we had so many set shots that we were able to botch them so badly. When one of them ran too far playing on from a kick-in that should have been the hint to finally finish things off and move on. Alas no, and for obvious reasons I had no faith that the Anal-Bullet was going to convert from the square.

Considering how well the backline had done since the first quarter, once van Rooyen made it a three goal lead you could have been fooled into thinking that would do it. Then we went back into our shell, they started playing the sort of death or glory footy that we're always vulnerable too, and it set up a few tense moments at the end. We got the best of both worlds when they both wasted 30 seconds and missed a set shot, but it still left Collingwood needing three goals in three minutes. 

Under normal circumstances no drama, and we got through to the last minute before they got the first. Which wouldn't have been an issue if they didn't pluck another from directly up the arse 30 seconds later. Now I was back to standing up, ready to protest tragic defeat by projectile hurling at the TV.

Thank god we held on. I'd already thought the fans were going early by mocking the Collingwood victory chant well before the result was secure and we'd never have heard the end of a loss from there. Not to mention that earlier in the week we'd gone full Adelaide Camp by playing a recording of it while players ran out to train. Like Ed Langdon's 'controversial' comments last year, I did not need any of this to ever be mentioned again.

David Schwarz's American cousin Mason C. Ox was still upset at not winning BOG last year and had such a sook at Petracca after the siren that eventually his own teammates had to pull him away. Trac may have kicked like his leg was falling off, but even if I still don't know was a 'pressure act' is after reading Champion Data's explanation he did shitloads of them. Considering the reaction, whatever he did here might have been the best. After the Zorko/Petty incident I'm not taking any moral highground about on-field chat (or believing anyone who claims to know what was said) but I prefer Cox's most memorable contribution being verbal over the time he kicked five.

By the time it came to this year's trophy presentation the adrenaline rush was over and my condition was in freefall again. It happened in such farcical fashion that I could have been hallucinating. First Channel 7 crossed too quickly and there were 20 awkward seconds where you could hear Russell Robertson interviewing Fritsch on the big screen, then Libby Birch reacted to criticism for not being dramatic enough after the Richmond game by throwing in an unexpected pre-announcement ad-lib about the winner being "Captain Courageous". This left Gawn standing there with a confused "surely it's not me" look, and me expecting the camera to swing around to a dejected Darcy Moore, before Viney was announced. No lies were told, he is courageous and has previously been captain but I was already struggling to follow what was going on in my condition.

So, we got a heartwarming four points, the top four dream remains very much alive, and my central nervous system went back into disarray. Let's try this again in a couple of weeks.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jack Viney
4 - Steven May
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Bayley Fritsch
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Hibberd, Lever, McVee, Petracca, Rivers, Smith and Tomlinson

Not much for anyone here, unless you're invested in the Steven May comeback story of the millennium. Probably unlikely he'll pull back five and a bit BOGs from here but you never know. What he did get out of this was a handy break in the Seecamp, now 11 points clear of Lever. Elsewhere, Gawn retakes the outright Stynes lead while McVee was arguably unlucky not to extend his lead in the Hilton but remains vulnerable to JVR going off one day.
46 - Christian Petracca
26 - Clayton Oliver
20 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
16 - Jack Viney
12 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
11 - Brodie Grundy
9 - Jake Lever
8 - Kade Chandler, Ed Langdon
7 - Trent Rivers
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Salem
2 - Ben Brown, Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
1 - Tom McDonald, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's got to be Fritsch on the run, not just for the quality, not just for the context, but for the way it annoyed the piss out of the worst elements of society. I think it was our third best goal of the year to date but this claim may not stand up to serious scrutiny. 

Season leaderboard:
1 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast
2 - Lachie Hunter vs Port Adelaide
3 - Bayley Fritsch vs Collingwood

After the bye
It's Geelong at Kardinia Park, at probably the least scary that combination has been for years. I'll feel a bit cheated if we can't beat them there when GWS did, but our commitment to defence will get a fair workout against a side that is capable of piling on massive scores. 

With a week off, and no Casey game in the bye week (because they obviously needed one after... having a bye five rounds ago), I'm not going to try and predict changes. Oliver is 100% coming back unless he gets another novelty injury,  Spargo probably needs a week out, Jordon probably deserves to start a game, and Petty is allegedly ready to come back but good luck sorting out what combination to fit them all into. 

Final thoughts
Probably not the last time we run into Collingwood this year, so best not to lay the boots in too much. Regardless of illness excuses this proves they're vulnerable, but I'd still bet on them winning the flag before us if my life depended on it.

Monday 5 June 2023

Gently kicking a dead horse

And there you have it, we've finally seen our worst win of the 21st century. I'm not upset, where we've come from premiership points are welcome under any circumstances. Adjusted for our alleged contender status, the opposition teetering on the brink of disaster, and the most prestigious timeslot in the game this was a comically bad excuse for entertainment. 

None of this will matter if the extra win proves crucial at the end of the year, but it offered no instant gratification. We didn't look like a top side, Carlton retained just enough dignity that fans can't burn Michael Voss in effigy, and Channel 7 ended the week where they paid to have one of their executives labelled a war criminal by airing what must have been the biggest ratings disaster since Blow Up.

For all the times we've been in crisis over the years I can't remember too many games against other sides standing on the brink of emotional breakdown. If Nathan Buckley wasn't a protected species either of our 2016 wins over Collingwood could have unleashed carnage, but getting Stan Alves and Grant Thomas sacked after the finals doesn't count. 

This might have been our chance, coming days after one fan skipped work to 'eyeball' players at Princes Park, and nuffy talkback meltdowns so popular we had to pretend they weren't planned comedy routines. I've got nothing specific against Carltonians, except the pokie baron and the guy who argued with Clayton Oliver, but football is undisputedly better when big teams implode.

Generally everyone except us can get stuffed, but I've got some sympathy for the psychological damage their fans suffered after watching last season fall apart like Jean Van Der Velve at Carnoustie. I'm still traumatised by Round 23 2017, missing out via two losses under a goal might have killed me. Now they're doing a cover version of us in 2019, only without the heartwarming finals run that you could daydream about while everything burnt down around us. What they have got, which I'm sure nobody's ever done before, is one win out of eight coming by 20 goals. That's something to hang your hat on while smuggling Molotov Cocktails to Royal Parade.

Naturally, my reaction to opposition on the brink was full panic mode. We haven't been terrible recently, but you could still imagine a spectacular, tits-up shambles if the embattled opposition turned up. Given that the basic version of their troubles was given as a pair of misfiring Coleman Medal winners, how were we supposed to know they wouldn't remember that the ball goes between the middle posts. It felt like walking into a tag team version of the day Travis Cloke kicked seven straight.

I can't handle the pressure of being favourite, but even normal people could have made a case for them scoring freely again. Lever and May haven't simultaneously been at their best, Petty is out, Hibberd was rested to try and keep him ambulatory until September, and Tomlinson was there because we don't have faith in Turner yet. Good thing Carlton's on the North Melbourne plan, where you have two quality talls surrounded by teammates who may as well be cardboard cutouts. There's always the chance of somebody previously unknown catching us by surprise, but not via a night full of the aimless long kicks we eat for breakfast. Result - Carlton register less goals than the A-League Grand Final.

It's one thing keeping the other side to a sad total, but you've still got to cover it comfortably enough to make sure they can't win with a five minute burst. Our response to a fortnight of making scoring look difficult was an experimental forward structure including Joel Smith, leaving Ben Brown to grind down what's left of his body at a VFL ground named after a Curb Your Enthusiasm character. This paid off a storyline that's been on hold since Smith's four goals and a season-ending injury in the 2019 pre-season. Maybe he'd have kicked the ton that year, but on this showing probably not. He set up a goal with a lovely pass (?) into the square, but didn't have much of an impact. Doesn't mean you wouldn't give him another go in the future, but I'd like to exhaust all avenues of proven goalkicking before going for the Hail Mary of mobility.

If you were unconvinced by our forward setup, you'd have been heartened by Fritsch being given so much space for a mark that he could afford for the ball to bounce off his chest like a trampoline and still have enough time to regather without interference from a defender. The pass was wonderful, and if they were going to give us that much space we couldn't help kick a big score. They didn't, and we didn't. 

Brian Taylor is the number one disadvantage to watching on TV but he's good for content. Like whacking off over Fritsch's goalkicking technique before he missed. Then doubling down on it, only for him to miss two more set shots. Mind you, this is the same person who got confused between Queen and King's Birthday, and eventually came to the conclusion that "it's somebody's birthday anyway". Which is true, but the hint that it's no specific person's birthday is that it always happens on Monday. He should have to pass concussion protocols before picking up a microphone. 

In a surprise role reversal, Fritsch then turned provider and against historical precedent, Petracca kicked a straight set shot. Roasting Fritsch for alleged selfish play is popular, but please consider the sixth sense vision and execution required here to both see the target and get the ball through the middle of two defenders. Helps to be generous when you're outside scoring range but I've already gone all-in defending his honour so it's too late to go back.

That early outbreak of 'connection' was a false alarm, and the rare times we found targets inside 50 were usually wasted by wonky kicking. This is why I was uneasy about the focus on more accurate than usual set shots earlier in the year. It's great at the time (although, usual caveats apply that if you get the first one the rest don't necessarily happen), but no guarantee of the same thing happening every week. We're still 54 goals ahead of behinds for the season, and I'll only admit there's something in it if we're that far ahead or better at the end of the year. And expected score can get stuffed.

Carlton's attempts to feed their maligned forwards with mad long bombs was good news for us. Tomlinson looked like he had a horrible time against Harry McKay, but his presence allowed Lever to go back to intercepting, and May to torment the piss out of Charlie Curnow. I tensed up whenever the ball went near Tomlinson, but even if he was only there because Petty wasn't (if you believe they'd have played him defence) no harm done when you reach full time conceding just 44 points.

There was an early 'here we go' scare when McKay marked in the pocket, on just the sort of angle that suits his wacky, around the corner kicking. They cut to his mum in the crowd after as if he'd come back from some great hardship, now just a momentary dip in goalkicking accuracy. I doubt Jason McCartney's family got this much airtime when he came back from the Bali bombing, but my memory of that night is clouded by events that led to me spewing off a balcony.

It was a frustrating game because we won in practically every way except the piling on of goals and were still less than two kicks ahead in the last quarter. Between Brayshaw, Salem, McVee, and a pre-KO Bowey the clearing of loose balls out of defence was much calmer this time but we're still suss on escaping defensive 50 stoppages. Getting extraction master Oliver back will help, but this is the only scenario where having two top ruckman doesn't help.

Otherwise, the Gawn/Grundy partnership is a spectacle. They might not be All Australian dominant, but seeing them in the same bit of play, handballing to each other goes against everything I know. It's like Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist batting together. You have to win the big one to earn instant immortality (and I look forward to getting into retirement home knife fights with anyone who denigrates James Jordon's premiership medal), but this combination will be memorable for novelty value even if it doesn't get that far.

I had a dream of Carlton fans coming over the fence at quarter time (see Round 19, 1998, where a pisshead got within about 20 metres of the huddle before security woke up) but it never got frantic enough for that. Neal-Bullen walked through a void of defensive pressure for crumb but nothing pointed towards a landslide. If I didn't know their final score, and you told me that a three goal quarter would be our best I'd have been more tense. The last came via another meeting between Pickett and pocket, this time without the added slapstick element of it bouncing over a defender's head. He nearly set off a one man Mad Minute from the next bounce but missed and didn't do much else.

Even if you're also tactics blind you couldn't help notice that we introduced short passes to our kick-in routine. None backfired, but there was one from Bowey that had me audibly gasping before going precisely where it was intended. I guess this is our thing now, until it goes wrong anyway, but let's see what happens next time when the opposition expects it.

At the same time we never looked like losing, but weren't safe until right at the end. Missing more set shots didn't help, but isolated complaints about only getting 13 frees should be balanced against Spargo propelling himself into a tackle like a human cannonball. After a pause for comic effect, the free was paid by an umpire miles away. Even Charleston was laughing as he got up. One day the closest umpire will counter-whistle, tell their colleague to mind their own business and go back to the original decision. In this case, rewarding the seeking of concussion worked for us. Later it didn't.

That moderate injustice inspired Carlton to show up, and by the time McKay got his second Channel 7 was one step from holding a telethon in his honour. I could handle him kicking all their goals as long as nobody else joined in. And they didn't. On either side.

It took one of the loveliest set shots you'll ever see to get us going again. I expected our questionable structure choices to affect the JVR Hype Vortex, but he did as much as you could ask for in a game with stuff all scoring. If somebody else with physical presence was down there he might have had more space for goals, but even though this was his only one he was very good. The kick was a thing of beauty, from a spot where nobody would have blamed him for missing he couldn't have steered it through the middle any better unless guided by laser.

We were 19 points up against a team so one-dimensional that the same player had kicked both their goals but it was far from safe. Curnow would probably have subbed himself off to get away from May if they hadn't already lost a player to injury. The introduction of Paddy Dow had the Kingsley Alert Line ringing off the hook. Weeks ago my eyes glazed over while a Carlton fan told me he'd never play for them again due to some tedious trade drama, now he had a half to clamber from the grave and prove himself. And went on to do next to nothing.

There was only room for one midday movie style redemption story, and McKay Mania carried on from the first bounce of the third quarter. There was a review to decide if it hit the post, and after 30 seconds of low-fi replays from unhelpful angles they finally utilised snicko to prove it didn't, which would have saved everyone time. The sense of being set up for misery remained until Fritsch pulled down his mark in the square. This led to some solid chat between Weitering and Pickett, including a spot of chesting that looked ludicrous due to their height difference. Some of it may have gone back to Pickett's piss-taking when he kicked the winning goal last year, but it still risked another Grundy vs Port fans style backfire if we lost.

The game wouldn't die, but we were still comfortably handling their attacking efforts. They got a break when Bowey was knocked to buggery by the combination of Lever's hip and a Carlton player landing on him. Not long some guy who used to play for St Kilda finished off an end-to-end move, before Curnow finally got off the leash from the next centre bounce. When they went deep into the forward line again straight after things were starting to look a bit shit. 

We survived, and a Pickett attempt at Mark of the Century finally worked in our favour by clearing the path for JVR to set up Fritsch. Because commentators like to read from their list of fun facts and talking points they ignored his silver platter pass to Petracca and criticised him for ignoring a teammate. They also thought Sparrow was Viney, which is evidence for my theory that Tom looks more like Todd than Jack.

If you were comfortable with a 17 point lead at the last change then you're a calmer, more rational individual than me. Neither of us would have guessed it would be a two goal quarter, the sort that would get both sides banned from Friday night if Channel 7 wasn't strangely obsessed with Carlton. Don't you enjoy it when the free to air broadcaster gets games like this, and no-ads Foxtel lands multiple games that end with scores in the hundreds?

The way Carlton were going, one more goal might have convinced them to quit. van Rooyen had a chance, but when his kick unexpectedly fell short we didn't have anyone there to contest it. This led to a guy with the worst tatts since a Russian prison doing a Spargo-esque dive into a tackle to keep them alive. It took more than 10 minutes of toil that made Shackleton crossing the Antarctic look easy before Gawn came to the rescue with one of his massive kicks from outside 50. It helped that they let him play on and wind up first, ignoring that he's done the same thing every time he's had a set shot from that position for years. 

This put their revolt down for as long as it took to get the ball back to the centre for Gawn to tap the ball straight into the arms of his part-time ruck opponent. This led to McKay again, only for him to lose faith and try to kick a set shot snap from 40 metres and not make the distance. They noticeably failed to cut to mum in the crowd after that, probably because she'd have been seen swearing about him not trying a drop punt.

Chandler, who has unravelled ever since oppositions realised he existed, was next to miss a sealer, and when Gawn did likewise we were the equivalent of a faulty car rolling downhill to the finish line with its handbrake off. That left Carlton needing three goals in four minutes, which would have been a stretch when they only had six for the rest of the game. They helpfully took to the challenge by wasting a minute chipping the ball around, which made no sense after they'd already switched to death or glory kicks earlier in the quarter. I assume they clammed up thinking about a nutter eyeballing them on the way into training.

A last chance to make it interesting was missed by you know who, and any neutrals still watching at the final siren should be emergency airlifted memberships to major streaming services and/or adult entertainment venues. If we assume every game will still be available to view on demand in 20 or 30 years somebody's going to sit down to watch all our wins from this era in order, get to this one and skip it. For now who cares how it was achieved, we got a win that's vital in the bigger picture and avoided going arse over on a banana peel on national television.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Steven May
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jake Lever
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to Bowey, Brayshaw, Gawn, Hunter, Salem, Sparrow, van Rooyen and Viney.

Over halfway through the home and away season and the main event is shaping as a historic rout. The previous biggest lead at this stage was 19 for Nathan Jones in 2022. Even without the benefit of the extra games we now know as 'finals', he won by 27 so the signs are good for Petracca's second title. And as much as we cherish Jones, beating Oliver, Gawn, May et al is a bit more prestigious than finishing ahead of Jack Grimes (remember him?) and peak screamer/turnover era Jeremy Howe.

In the minors, its advantage May in the Seecamp and at long last the Hilton is an active contest. Why the award is named after Jeff Hilton, who came from elsewhere and never really rose or starred I don't know. Must have made sense in 2005, now I've got NFI. The ruck medal got changed from a novelty name midway so it's not impossible to switch it if the right candidate comes along. Not touching the Seecamp though, he achieved permanent Hall of Fame status by punching Brad Pearce.
46 - Christian Petracca
26 - Clayton Oliver
16 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
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), Jack Viney
9 - Jake Lever
8 - Kade Chandler, Ed Langdon
7 - Trent Rivers
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw
2 - Ben Brown, Bayley Fritsch, Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
1 - Tom McDonald, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
There's an argument for Pickett from the boundary, but unless the goal is good enough to break into the top three then I reserve the right to include context in the formula. And for that reason, I'd like Gawn's big bomb, which both looked tremendous and eventually confirmed that we'd win. As much as I'd like to get another win-related goal into the top three we're stuck with 2/3 losers.

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

The New Bradbury Plan
Despite Brisbane stealing my bit, there's no point estimating the future during bye rounds. Once everyone's going at the same time again I'll go ladder predictor mad, and if all goes well we'll still be on target for the top four. Looks like the ladder is going to be treacherous, so it's still too early to guess anything until we play some of Geelong, St Kilda, Adelaide once and Brisbane again.

Next week
On current form, you'd expect Collingwood to make us look stupid in front of 90,000 people. I know they let West Coast kick a bunch of goals in a row but doubt their commitment to playing all four quarters. My hopes of pulling a season-defining (CLICHE) win from our arse are based on a recent history of shapeshifting to the quality of the opposition. Either that or Mason Cox is going to become the first three-time Kingsley nominee.

This may be the week we have to make multiple changes. Oliver obviously comes back at the speed of sound, but the rest is up for debate. If Hibberd's creaky foot needs more rest I'll have Smith as a defender, but I don't give a toss about his goal and a half per game in the Reserves this is not the time to test whether he's an AFL forward. May as well pick Schache on VFL form after kicking four, but neither of them offers what Brown does. 

Brown didn't kick as many goals, and got outmarked by a Merv Hughes impersonator at one point, if we don't pick him now I'll assume he was caught pissing down the side of Kate Roffey's car. Maybe Goodwin finds his now normal hair disconcerting to look at. If we've ever got a vacancy for a medium forward I'm looking forward to Sestan, whose hair has the same effect on me as Joe Namath on Mona Simpson.

Also possibly unlucky is Woewodin. He'd be a good novelty selection for the occasion but I wasn't watching the Casey game closely enough to judge the value of his 20-something possessions. The VFL cupboard's not exactly bulging but Jordon got shitloads of possessions so he'd be a worthy inclusion. Except he's not what we need right now, so we can waste his time as sub again.

On the occasion of a game I can actually go to, get ready for the stitch up when either the Redlegs membership doesn't get you in as promised (promised to somebody anyway, apparently there was an email but it never reached me) or the vacant seating will be in such bits and pieces that I'll have to sit halfway down an aisle amidst strangers. And if everything else goes well, there'll be the usual corporate box of drunken buffoons screaming nonsense directly over our shoulder. If it's anything like previous years they'll be the sort of humanoids who'll lustily abuse Grundy like a traitor even though their club is paying for him to play against them.

IN: B. Brown, Hibberd, Oliver, Jordon
OUT: Smith, Tomlinson (omit), Harmes (susp), Bowey (inj)
LUCKY: Chandler, Spargo
UNLUCKY: Turner, Woewodin

Final thoughts
I'm still keeping September free, but am open to offers for the last Saturday.