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.

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