Monday 31 July 2023

Countdown to ecstasy

If you've been watching Melbourne long enough, you'll have reacted to the events of Saturday the same way I did - by expecting something to go wrong. The weekend started badly when Collingwood breathed life into Carlton's unlikely top four challenge, before wall-to-wall football errors in our favour the next day. I can't remember a set of fixtures that came out better in our favour Even when future pick trading ruined the comedy value of Freo beating Geelong at Kardinia Park, the very next game saw it restored by Gold Coast beating Brisbane, and when Port's usual end-of-season freefall continued, the lights were back on along our path to a top two finish.

This was all great, but wouldn't have meant anything without us beating an in-form Richmond who are doing the late 2010s Hawthorn style clinging on for dear life before inevitable disintegration. It'll be fun to kick them while they're down then, but as of 2023 they're still more than capable of beating us. We already had to come from behind to beat them once this year, and now they had the added incentive of returning to the finals race after three straight wins.

I've got nothing in particular against the Tigers, even if I was going for the other team in two of their Grand Finals due to the All Victorian Sides Except Us Can Get Stuffed rule, but it would be nice to thrash them again one day. There was an eventually comfortable win in Jones 300, but even that took a bit to wind up. I don't remember a genuinely rampant win over them since early 2010, and even that involved going 12-0 down behind to a team of three first gamers. Then we followed an eight goal first quarter with 0.6, meaning even a nine goal win didn't come easily. We couldn't even convincingly throw that game against them in 2009, having to rely on a kick after the siren. When Nathan Jones was reminded of this during Channel 7's pre-match he did an admirable job of pretending he was hurt by the result more than being used as a pawn to pull off major rorts. 

That all seems like yesterday to me, because I'm increasingly old and decrepit, but so much time has passed since the self-induced Jordan McMahon fiasco that Richmond's coach once played for a team that didn't join the competition until two years later. I confirmed reaching the age of no return after selecting Sean Charles as my FootyGrid crossover player for Melbourne/St Kilda, then finding out the most popular community selection was Luke Dunstan. You'd be forgiven for forgetting James Frawley's two game cameo with them, but Dean Kent? Stephen Powell? Apparently not. If you're also past it, please consider that Judd McVee was born the day before Jared Rivers debuted. It was a major milestone when all the players were older than me, when the coach is too that might be time to consider retirement.

On a more cheerful note, we're still in what passes for a glory era for us and are set for a third consecutive double chance finish for the first time since Norm Smith. Bonus drama points for staring into the abyss twice here, before charging away in the last quarter to confound expectations by all of: a) winning as favourites, b) taking advantage of the misfortune of others, and c) coming out on the right side of another shootout. We've pretty much got a) right over the last couple of years, but surviving another high scoring game was surprising. God knows what's happened other than sending Grundy to play against teams with less annual turnover than his salary, but suddenly we're kicking goals out the yin yang. Conceding a few more than you'd want, but as long as you're in front at the final siren etc... 

The game was played to a surprisingly high standard considering rugby unionists were rucking and mauling on the same turf the previous night. Nobody did their knee in a divot, so you could afford to treat it as a nostalgic throwback to the early 90s when the MCG had more sand on it than the Gobi Desert. Next time hold a monster truck rally on Sunday morning and really make things interesting.

I'll tell you who does interesting things, he says in a not-at-all awkward segue, Kysaiah Pickett. He's not entirely responsible for us scoring nearly double what we were a month ago, but there's some correlation between that and them selectively introducing him to centre bounces again. This time he plucked the first one and set Petracca up for a snap 15 seconds in. He was thieved out of a goal assist when Trac's snap failed to account for having all the time in the world to turn around and bang it through. Undeterred, Pickett then dropped a kick on JVR in the middle of three defenders for the opening goal before almost entirely dropping off the face of the planet until the last quarter. What he did early was brilliant though, and he doesn't need much of a look to change games. 

This was all very good, and every early Richmond forward entry was dealt with efficiently. We should have seen tiny red flags falling from the sky when they went in with only Riewoldt as a traditional tall. Usually, we want all the key forwards teams can find so attacks can be chopped off, turned around, and used against them. This turned out to be an example of why we're vulnerable to smaller attacks, but not before Jordon failed to capitalise on finding one of several gaping holes in their defence.

Richmond did get their first goal from a tall straight after, but it took their ruckman doing what you'd refer to as a 'massive shepherd' on Gawn at a ball-up first. Last week all the Adelaide fans thought we won the umpiring as part of a massive conspiracy to hold the interstate clubs down and return to the VFL. This time Richmond fans thought they'd been rorted because... they can't handle returning to earth after years at the top? If the league did try to rig ladder position via umpiring I know which of these sides they'd be looking after.

Even allowing for the legally dubious nature of his dismissal, this was part of a rocky start for Maximum. When Gawn emerged up from this 'contest' holding his jaw I was temporarily worried, before remembering that Port had just redefined the scale for testing concussions so there wasn't going to be an issue from something this minor. They pinged straight out of the middle for a second one, and when he dropped a mark that turned into a goal, Grundy must have sat bolt upright on the couch. Then the captain roared back with one of his greatest halves and Brodie went back to browsing the massive house section of the Adelaide real estate pages. 

It was a rare example of us bringing a high-quality, high-scoring game to Channel 7. They've had our thrillers, but usually with a goalkicking tally that makes the advertising department try to drink poison. If we'd lost I'd have hated it, but as far as reasonably low-stakes home and away games go, Richmond's death spiral at the end was all that stopped it being the perfect example for curious internationals to fall in love with, before going back to whatever sports are played in their prime time.

It's not entirely fair to say Pickett went missing from the opening minutes until the last quarter, he did place a lovely pass to the advantage of Petty to pull down a great mark in the square. Dear Ben Brown, I will always love you but if Harrison (never Harry) keeps doing that then you're probably free to pursue a life of spiritual fulfillment away from the AFL. We'll always have the first goal of the last quarter 25/09/21.

Petty was so good, both kicking goals and in the contest, that I'm prepared to do a dramatic U-turn and accept him as a forward forever if we find a convincing replacement for May. There's not one on the list at the moment, allowing for Turner to play more than two games before he can be judged, so I'm into the Geelong plan of swiping readymade players from other clubs. After giving them Preuss, Bedford, and in a roundabout way Hogan, it must be about time to swipe another GWS player.

For three quarters the most dangerous place to be was in our backline immediately after a goal, and Petty's first would have lasted until literally the next kick if not for a hit post. I don't like giving goals straight back, but if it has to happen let's go through the lottery of a set shot, or have somebody dish off a handball first, not just ruck contest, grab ball, leg into space and boot it through from distance.

It felt a bit like last week if Adelaide hadn't kicked like dickheads for most of the game, so I was scathing when Harmes missed a sitter from 30 metres. I know set shots aren't his job, and instead of Petty kicking it to him they should have been the other way around, but this was not good. He probably knows he's only there until Sparrow and/or Oliver return, and even if he's done enough to earn a crack at another club this whole game wasn't one for the audition tape.

When you can't get goals out of the midfield, why not turn to a tall defender? In the spirit of Tom McSizzle booting set shots from everywhere when he first went forward, Petty gently rearranged a defender, marked an end-to-end move and got a second. And like peak forward McDonald, his goal was nearly undone as quickly as possible. We got away with the forward entry straight from the middle, but it only took one half-arse foray in our direction for the ball to come back and find Dustin Martin hanging out on his own in the square.    

Martin almost got another shortly after, stopped only by Hunter's most last-minute of touches on the line. Somewhere a Melbourne fan was probably lamenting how silly we were not to draft him, as if he'd have emerged the same player after landing at a club where our players once cancelled a training session because CBF. Maybe - unlike one of the two players drafted ahead of him - he'd have taken the challenge in the right spirit, but in the end he got three flags, we collectively scored one and counting (?), so let's agree that via a few grim twists and turns everyone involved with this transaction won at either football, finance or both, except McMahon and poor Jack Trengove.

When Martin set up their next good as well my thoughts were firmly on the present-day question of what Michael Hibberd was doing, and why wasn't it happening here. Because we won, McVee being run around by a future Hall of Famer was probably good for his experience. He was kept quiet enough from there, but at the time I was terrified of another Brent Harvey-style 'one for the road' bag. Similar concerns about Lance Franklin ended with him retiring after injury, which is a shame because I was counting on the Swans wheeling him out in Round 24 while clearly unfit a'la us and Matthew Whelan in 2009.

Another goal right at the end was a blow. While we hadn't played badly by any means, and an 11 point deficit is practically nothing these days, the loose nature of their five goals was a worry. Riewoldt had one, but I didn't mind if they kept trying to go through him, it's when ball contacted grass that things got dodgy. North and Hawthorn have nothing left to lose playing us, one should try an all-small forward line, then try to roll every inside 50 kick either into open space. Never forgot 2021 when the Hawks were cactus but still got a draw against us off the back of attacking like they were drunk when they didn't mean to. Alternatively, just boot it long at the forwards and we'll take to it like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

This was not our backline's greatest day, May was good in the air and with ball in hand but seemed a touch ropey at ground level (possibly not 100% fit? Some chance of a 'what's the worst that can happen?' spot of 'managing' against North?), while the Tomlinson hype express blew a sprocket and had to be shunted off for maintenance. After taking so long to get interested in him again I'm not giving up immediately, but this told me that he's far better suited to the Adelaide style of having the ball booted down his throat, than having to put up with fierce forward pressure.

I'm hoping for the chance to be really patronising next week, so not going to waste my best stuff on a recent triple-banger premiership side but they were worryingly fierce for the first part of the game. I had faith that we could run them down if things didn't get too out of hand, but it was stress-testing the hypothesis that mid-table clubs (in a season where that extends from 5th to 14th) could go with us, but not for a full four quarters.

The key for being able to rope-a-dope sides is not going so far behind that the margin can't be run down (e.g. Brisbane part 1). In the spirit of new statistical measurements, I'd like to know the average tipping point for a comeback is. I just arbitrarily declared it as 24 points when introducing the Stranglewank, but there must be a point where your likelihood of either coming back to at least make a game of it, falls off the cliff. Get the boffins onto this instead of bullshit like Expected Scores that assume Petracca missing after 15 seconds still leads to Lachie Hunter standing in the same place for a set shot with 15 seconds left with the exact same margin.

I might have gone into full panic mode if that man Martin hadn't missed another one at the start of the second quarter. Like I did when Hunter randomly took on kicking duties for the first time (?), played on, then ran an absurd distance before kicking it. I'll retrospectively do something for outraged Crows fans and say that after their guy was nabbed in similar circumstances at the same end, this was identical. No harm done, but let's never end up in a situation again where one of May, Salem, Bowey, Rivers etc... isn't around to do it. 

The safest place for players to have a go at something new is the ruck, where most of the time we do worse when the other team fails to contest. At least until Gawn introduced his popular new tactic of grabbing the ball out of the air and heaving it forward, removing the risk of it being swept away at ground level. I still can't believe they let ruckmen do this, every other element of holding the ball is shrouded in controversy and mysticism and the AFL would kill stoppages tomorrow if they had the chance, but at the same time rucks can choose to pull the ball in and get away with being tackled. This isn't really relevant to Gawn because he's so large 

they struggle to tackle him before he gets the ball away, but if there was a free on the cards you'd just have somebody go straight for him the moment the ball was in the air.

This quickly led to Petty's third goal from a mark, and JVR getting a gift from Chandler (via a lovely tap-on from Melksham) that he was lucky didn't bounce away from him in the square, and it's hard to work out how we still had to come back from 20 points down to win this. Then you remember why, as the ball went straight towards Richmond's goal, and didn't come out until a wacky bounce beat May and the other Pickett, for somebody else to toe-poke through an unguarded goal. Neutrals would have been having a great time watching this but it was giving me the shits.

It didn't take long for the Tiges to get their next one either, but not before a cavalcade of comedy inside our defence 50, featuring players punching the ball in the air, running over it on the ground, and missing/not even pretending to try tackles, until it eventually allowed a free snap. I still had belief that we good enough to win, but was starting to wonder how we'd stop them scoring long enough to do it. Turns out the answer was not to worry about what they did and concentrate on kicking a shitload of goals ourselves.

The only thing worse than giving goals straight back out of the middle is conceding them in the final minutes, and bless Richmond for doing that 2x just as we were teetering on the brink. There was an assist from a 50 on the first, before Viney and Petracca combined to brute force exit one out of the middle, somehow allowing us to win the quarter. It could have been better, with a Mad Minute style third only denied by the umpire ignoring Melksham being unconstitutionally rooted in the square.

Meanwhile, 50s were being paid at the fastest rate since the pre-season game when we gifted Carlton about five goals by opting out of the new dissent rule. First to Brayshaw, who kept running, tried to thump it through from distance, instead landing the ball just inside the boundary line about 15 metres to the right of its intended target. Then we gave one away too, and things were getting so administrative that the crowd should have been invited to do their tax returns at half time.

If we were going to activate turbo thrust and run away with it, my health would have appreciated starting right after the break. Instead we turned an attack from the first bounce into the conceding within a minute. There was a bit where the ball was so far out of bounds it was nearly cleaned up by the 4:52 to Glen Waverley but that didn't excuse them kicking towards three unguarded players, and getting away with choosing the worst option. Loose defending is one thing, this was getting a bit free range for my liking.

Then, if anyone should try and blame rugby for affecting the turf it was James Jordon, whose stumble in front of goal cost us the next one. I don't think there was a surprise chasm involved, he just tried to run through a gap, tipped too far forward, and fell over. He's ahead of Harmes at the moment, but is probably as likely to be elsewhere next year. When you've got this many midfielders something's got to give. And we'll have so many draft picks that it's inevitable more are on the way, so he may as well take advantage of the weird situation of being a free agent at the end of every contract due to a previous delisting and cash in on the 'he can't get a game in a good side' theory elsewhere. Best go to a shit team who need to pay ridiculous money to artificially reach minimum salary cap and play regularly. Or do a Weid and leave for a fresh start, then end up in the reserves anyway. Let's remain on good terms just in case.

Those goals wiped out all the ground we'd clawed back at the end of the second quarter, and deep down I was ready to consider surrender terms. Finally it was our chance to wreck one of their goals at warp speed, and when Chandler booted one over his head you just never knew... Until they recovered that from the bounce and you did. Or at least you thought you did, if you're a nervous coward like me. Their reply was helped by one of the worst unrecalled bounces you'll ever see. The bounce should be abolished, but if it has to stay I'd go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and recall nothing, so it's hard to take any sort of moral highground on being disadvantaged by it flinging off to the other side's advantage.

By now I was so wound up about everything going against us that when a van Rooyen mark was greeted by a random downpour my first thought was how typical it was that we'd get a good chance just the moment the weather turned against set shots. My weather-related sooking was interrupted by JVR lobbing the shot through like it was bone dry. Which was nice. 

Then the rain disappeared, and I went from Pity Party to Petty Party when the new Tony Lockett stuck a knee in his opponent's back and kicked his fourth. We'd had to endure a defence optional near-miss after JVR's goal, and the Jack Viney Shoulder Injury Scare Of The Week, but now things were finally rolling. Petty celebrated with a Hulk Hogan style ear-cup to the crowd, and as it seems most in the vicinity were ours I think it was just general triumph rather than Bugg-esque tormenting of the opposition.

I've got no idea what percentage of Petty/JVR working well is down to a) them, b) Richmond leaving a shitload of space inside 50, or the c) the cameo work of Melksham, but this was combining to be the most unusual haul of goals against the Tigers since Andy Lovell kicked eight. Then Melk went from supporting player to headliner with two of his own, and against all odds and logic we were up by nine.

The second involved a defender shitting himself in a tackle and handballing over the line in a fashion not even people dressed as Tigers could reasonably argue. Petty did the tackle, but as hot as he was from regulation angles I'm glad they decided it was Melksham's kick because I've got more faith in him doing funky around-the-corner shots from the boundary. He delivered the goods again, in what could be the greatest career revival since... himself 12 months ago. Let's hope this one's got a finals series in it, and that if Fritsch comes back (and after the Oliver debacle I'm not sure) they complement each other rather than getting in the way.

This was a very silly game, so the natural reaction to us finally being ahead by more than a kick was for a second gamer to come on and goal about nine seconds later. We'd already introduced Smith for Tomlinson, and he continued to prove useful enough at either end that it will stereotype him as a sub. Conceding here was frustrating because we'd dominated for 20 minutes, it still left us ahead at three quarter time and looking more likely but nothing could be taken for granted.

The rookie might have kicked it, but the goal didn't happen without Riewoldt putting down a mark. And now he's on the downside of a great career, the countdown has started to ensuring he never has a massive day out against us. On the occasion of Lance Franklin retiring as the era-adjusted greatest goalkicker of all time (I don't mind this measurement, games and goals are the only thing you can judge from 1897 to the present, so it's fair enough to use stats to compare players from different times. Better than when somebody's assigned an 'all time' record based on stats that didn't exist until 1998), I ran the career goalkicking statistics of four great 21st century forwards to check my belief that we'd well held three of them. The results were as expected:

After kicking 11.0 since quarter time of course we started the last quarter with multiple points. It wouldn't have been as much 'fun' if I'd known what was going to happen, but like every game since Hawthorn the fatal blow took longer than you'd like. By the time it was over there were a lot of fingerprints on the candlestick that killed Richmond in the middle of the MCG. Gawn had been tremendous for the whole second half, and by the last quarter he was taking the piss, filling the Clayton Oliver medical mayhem void by playing like him.

There was a quick break to fill your shorts when Richmond reacted to five minutes on the back foot with the opening goal. And a second when our defenders tried to tackle a player on the line as if they were sliding barefoot across an ice rink. There is not the remotest chance I've had believed in a five goal win from here, it just seemed impossible that we'd stop them scoring long enough to get ahead and stay there. Then we kicked the last five goals to 0.0, nil, not a cracker. Didn't see that coming.

Nor did Gawn see the unpenalised eyepoke that indirectly led to Petty's fifth. The novelty value of going down to the most unlikely five goal haul since Sam Blease was obviously all the Tigers could take. Melksham got his fourth, before a moderately contentious free put them away for good. A defender took the high-risk option of trying to fend Pickett in the goalsquare, and when it caused him to be clobbered above the shoulders the umpire said bad luck for getting yourself in that position, gave the free and we were all but home. It might have been technically correct but even I was a bit embarrassed to get a goal under those circumstances.

Barring any absurd calamities we were already home before Petty took the 'most unexpected haul since....' competition beyond Jamar, Blease and McDonald at Subiaco with his sixth. After five set shots he decided to throw a snap around the corner into the mix, and why not? We knew he was capable of goals - and could have had this many against Hawthorn if it wasn't for injury - but via the AFL Tables list of all 5+ performances I deem it our most unlikely sixer of the century. Everyone else who's done in my lifetime it was either a full time forward, or in McSizzle's case already had form. Next cab off the rank is some Tasmanian rando called Michael Reynolds who got six as a late replacement in 1983 and not many after.

Between them, Petty, JVR and Melksham now had 13 straight, which is unlikely to happen every week. Got us over the line here though, and once we'd gone into victory lap mode all the action revolved around whether Petty could get another, and watching Gawn rampage around like Genghis Khan, doing anything he wanted. At one point he had more clearances for the quarter than all of Richmond, opening the debate of how much of the season you've got to play to be the All Australian ruckman. May as well just pick him as a pure midfielder at this rate. Shame he missed the shot that would have allowed them to stop the coverage and acknowledge him as the greatest leader in Australia's history, but that was only a minor blemish on an otherwise bonkers performance.

After the best combined day for our forwards in god knows how long, it somehow ended with Hunter kicking the exclamation goal right at the end, and we'd won surprisingly easy. Didn't feel like it was going that way most of the day, but thank god for finally was nice to put a side away for good instead of generously giving them every chance to get back into the game. 

If this is another square on the way to collecting $200 and flag in Footy Monopoly, we'll look back on it as one of the most important performances of the season. For now, we know dick all about where this year is heading, and in a season that's delivering so many wacky results it'll probably end up as a GWS vs St Kilda Grand Final I don't dare to make any bold predictions but I think we can beat anyone on our day. It's just a matter of making sure that day coincides with the ones finals are being played. 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Harrison Petty
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jacob van Rooyen 

Massive apologies to Melksham. Normal variety apologies to Bowey, Hunter, Langdon, Lever and Pickett.

There are 20 points left in the home and away season, and somewhere between 5 and 20 in the finals. That means if you're more than 40 behind the lead now you're stuffed. Like poor Gawn, who pockets five for one of his great performances and is still left on the verge of elimination. As a consolation, I'm comfortable in declaring him the near-certain winner of a 10th Stynes. All eyes on next week, where the main event will be decided if Petracca scores three more than May or Viney but realistically we're just delaying the inevitable.

And in the minors, van Rooyen finally escapes the apologies, and becoming by my count the 137th player to get a vote since Jakoviching commenced in Round 1, 2005.
60 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- Needs three finals to win ---
29 - Jack Viney
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
26 - Clayton Oliver
--- Needs four finals to win ---
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Also Gawn ---
13 - Ed Langdon, Jake Lever
12 - Trent Rivers
11 - Brodie Grundy, Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Kade Chandler
9 - Angus Brayshaw
7 - Jake Bowey, Harrison Petty
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Jake Melksham
3 - James Jordon, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Tom McDonald, Adam Tomlinson, Jacob van Rooyen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
You can make an argument for Melksham pissbolting into the pocket to mark, or for Chandler booting one over his head, but the only winner here can be Petty's joy-inducing snap. What a man, what a performance.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Jack Viney vs Brisbane
2 - Jake Melksham vs Brisbane
3 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast

The All New Bradbury Plan
It's another big week for implications. Now that we've done the right thing you can afford to ease off a bit on the teams below us and hope for Brisbane/Port to stack it. The race for the top eight is magnificently insane, but I'm hoping we're one win away from being able to treat those fringe games with the same left of contempt as Kayo suggesting I watch Malawi vs Barbados netball instead of the end of North/West Coast.

Richmond d. Footscray (because Dogs have an easier run home)
West Coast d. Essendon (because spite)
Gold Coast d. Adelaide (because their percentage is worse)
Geelong d. Port (because top two)
GWS d. Sydney (controversial this one, but I'm hoping the Swans get to R24 with so little interest they roll over and let JVR do his version of Schwarz kicking 9 in '94)
Carlton d. St Kilda (bit risky given that we have to play the Blues still, but let's back ourselves to do the right thing again and bump off the nearer contender)
Fremantle d. Brisbane (now that they're a game and percentage in pick four.. err I mean 15th.. Jacko and the Dockers can do us a favour here)
Hawthorn d. Collingwood (just to induce pre-finals wobble)

Next week
After a couple of near-misses in their 16 straight losses, I really thought North would beat fellow footballing abortion West Coast but they lost a thriller. Which means one more will equal the number of times they beat us in a row from 2007 to 2017. The bad news is that instead of playing them at a proper venue we're off to Casey Fields South where there will probably be a degree of difficulty boosting nine goal breeze to one end. 

You might think there's absolutely no chance this goes bad, and on paper I'd agree with you but please refer to that other traumatic game of my childhood and understand why I won't be engaging in any loose talk about boosting percentage. There's a slight difference in that Sydney had another 10 losses, and we were shit in 1993 anyway but please respect my sporting PTSD.

Casey warmed up for a game they won't be involved in by playing in violent wind and losing to the Oscar McDonald-powered Williamstown by a point. Going off nothing but the stats, Dunstan and Hibberd had a shitload of it, Laurie tackled everybody, and they apparently had two players in #0. In the interests of rewarding form, and assuming that Oliver's just days away from another injury setback, I'd like to give forgotten man Dunstan a chance at getting involved in a Cinderella story, but if Sparrow is fit he comes straight back in. Sadly it looks like Harmes is joining Brown in the premiership legend knackery, but both will be metaphorically carried off on our shoulders at the end of the year.

The Grundy forward experiment was reportedly binned, probably because they knew he'd spend half the game down the end where nothing was happening. And if that didn't harm his chances of a recall, Petty and Gawn both going bananas a couple of hours later made sure of it. I feel bad for him, and think he'd do a good job if called on, but we're not running a charity he can wait. If it ends in a trade this would surely be the first time three clubs combined to pay a salary. There was talk about tempting fate and resting Gawn next week and I'll have none of it now, then secretly complain that we didn't do it if something goes wrong. Knowing us we'll try to get tricky and play Max at full forward for a rest only for some journeyman galoot to fall across his leg. 

So as far as I can see there's not much else from the VFL, and not a lot we need to change in the ones. For all his endeavour ANB may as well invest in a butcher's apron, but he has such a bash that I'm willing to accept the 'role' masks a few clangers. Chandler didn't set the world alight but is still ahead of Spargo, and while I'd almost rather Smith to Tomlinson it feels a bit knee-jerk to ditch Tomo after one down game. Joel will just have to sit and wait for somebody at either end to fall over. We've had a great run being able to take off key position players in the last few weeks but I'd love to know what Plan B is if he's needed to replace a runner. Speaking of people who run, Jordon didn't float my boat this week but I'll stick with him, and there's got to be a spot for Hibberd soon if he can remain upright long enough.

On the balance of things we should win without too much stress but I'll believe it when I see it. Another eight goal to one first quarter would help. And if we do win, leaving Brett Ratten's caretaker coaching record on par with Alan McConnell, give the man credit for a top job coaching our midfield in 2004.

IN: Sparrow
OUT: Harmes (omit), Smith (back to sub)
LUCKY: Jordon, Tomlinson
UNLUCKY: Dunstan, Grundy, Hibberd

Final thoughts
This was very good, coming back from multiple setbacks to run over the top of an in-form, not dead yet great side. Maybe you can convince me we're a chance of winning it all, but at the moment I'm still relying on other teams self-destructing rather than us winning. If we get to Saturday *consults calendar* 30 September and the other side loses via explosive decompression, are you going to give the flag back?

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Snack on danger, dine on death

Sir Edmund Hillary had less stress on his way up Mt. Everest than I did getting to the MCG on Sunday, so at what mercifully became the last centre bounce there was much bitterness that I'd missed our greatest modern-day comeback and instead turned up to see us fold like a house of cards in nearly equally shambolic fashion.

It lacked the spontaneous combustion of Brisbane, but there would still have been immense pain at losing to an eight goal last quarter, against a team who only had six before that, after twice being on the verge of putting them away. After our top four (two? three? certainly not one) campaign was boosted at every other turn over the weekend, all we needed to do was win as favourites to have a two win + percentage advantage in the double chance race, now the unmistakeable air of farce was hanging over the ground like morning fog.

We got away with it by means fair or foul (delete as applicable to your state of origin), but even after predicting victory only after life and death struggle this was a bit much. We should be honorary holders of the Hippocratic Oath for the number of times Adelaide were revived before nearly rumbling us.

Even with what passed as a decent home crowd for us against them, there was no need to sit in Row MM, but as I clambered up level four of the Ponsford for just the second time this season it just felt right to keep going. There would have been enough room for free expression of views anywhere from Row Z down, but the back row is my comfortable place. This came in handy during the various terrifying moments of the last quarter when I could stand up if things got too tense, and maniacally pace back and forth as required. 

Forget climate change, inflation, and the general collapse of western civilisation, my greatest fear in life is that TV cameras will catch me in one of these moments of agony. That's the risk of leaving the house, but after a year of not going near another human while we're playing it's going to end in tragedy when there's a 99,000 crowd for us against Collingwood in the first final. Hard to know whether I'd rather be stuck next to one of their fans, or ours doing 'comedy' about Jordan De Goey, Mason Cox etc...

The Taylor Swift-esque brawl for tickets will be fun, but we've got to get there first. Otherwise it could be GWS in front of 30,000. It's advantage us at the moment, thanks to spots 5-12 on the ladder being occupied by the biggest collection of mid-table mediocrities ever to breathe air. What a week for the journalists who flog themselves senseless over the NBA to try and bring in Wildcard Round, as if the world is fanging for Gold Coast's finals chances to be kept alive as long as possible. Then the old 6-6-6 season split was wheeled out, and you wondered if maybe there was a major international sporting event happening in Australia that the AFL was keen to steer discussion away from.

I wasn't violently opposed to playing everyone once then splitting the league in three when it was last discussed five or six years ago. Now that we'll seemingly never get rid of Gather Round they've got the excuse to do 17 games + one 'rivalry match' (they'll probably use order of formation to make sure we still have to go to Kardinia Park every year), but this all ignored that there's supposed to be a 19th team in a few years. Either they're not that confident of the Tasmanian stadium being sorted, have contingency plans to neck a Victorian team to balance numbers, or more likely have absolutely no interest in the idea but please look over here and not be distracted by any major events occurring in your city.

As much as I could have done without the stress of trying to get to the ground on time with 5000 things going on and train works that had me parking 1km from A. Random Station just to avoid replacement buses, but at middle-aged and broken down I appreciate just getting there and being left in peace for a couple of hours. Even when I went to leave home and it was pissing down raining, the prospect of us playing like the Tony Bullimore Express again didn't put me off.

Staying at home would have been good for my blood pressure and bank balance but I'd have missed our player intros. I always think this stuff is unnecessary, just because you've watched a documentary about the Chicago Bulls is doesn't translate to reading 23 names. The crowd can't stretch full enthusiasm until the end of premiership players being introduced, good luck getting them through to the last player in Round 19. 

This had the added difficulty level of the ground announcer alternating with a child, who clammed up and caused #2 Jacob van Rooyen to be shown in silence, before they recovered the format from Petracca on. As part of the same theme that saw a Thomas The Tank Engine ride nearly bowling over dozy idiots outside the ground, the usual profile photos were replaced by drawings by the kiddies. Everyone except Kade Chandler, who they forgot to commission one for and had to show a generic 'Go Dees' picture with a backwards S that looked a bit "shit, we forgot one. Somebody draw something that looks like a kid did it".

All of this is a lot more interesting than the first quarter, where both sides took turns battering away at each other's backlines for no reward. We looked better, but it felt like one of those days where we'd do everything right except kicking a decent score. When all the normal forward entry tactics had been tried and failed, it took Pickett merrily thumping the ball off the ground in the general direction of Gawn to get us going. I'm prepared to argue for his genius, and think kicks off the ground are a valid tactic but he got a bit lucky that the ball landed between two defenders. 

After kicking one so high to the same end last week that it altered weather patterns, Max got onto this with slightly less oomph but no less accuracy. It didn't kick off another record-breaking game, but he was more than fine playing solo ruck with JVR as apprentice. It didn't bode well the prospects of Grundy getting a recall any time soon.

The reluctance to drop Pickett into the midfield for even the shortest spell when he was down on form deserves scrutiny, and he was in everything from the first bounce here. Sometimes you've got to accept that he gets overexcited, like playing on from a free to Melksham and trying to kick a goal on the run from the boundary line, and a silly 50 at a crucial point of the last quarter but as a whole this was his best game since Round 1. They've rediscovered the right balance between playing him forward and midfield, and would be mad to give up on it now.

Once we'd had our turn at throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them for one goal, it was time for the Crows to spend several minutes with the ball at their end. It was all good when long kicks came in, and their forward line of Walker, the other guy and the other other guy, were easily covered, but we looked vulnerable when unable to get clear. It took a spot of Rankin' Wankin' gold to get them on the board, doing a one-two along the boundary line and blatantly going out of bounds before finishing from an obscure angle. Fair enough. I'd rather concede goals like that against the Crows than let them have set shots. He's probably still upset that we cost him a win on debut in front of 250 people, but by ditching Gold Coast for the Crows he halved the SA market for Pickett so he's good in my book.

Somebody called Pedlar, which is the most suspect-sounding sports name since Johnny Raper, missed a shot from close range but otherwise it looked like we were winding up to take over. Which would have been nice considering we haven't had an entirely stress free win since Hawthorn. van Rooyen got the next, and we were easily dealing with everything that came in contact with the defence. Tomlinson in particular was great, in a solid follow-up to the 'come and get me' story that just happened to make its way to the press this week. For now, all their three tall forwards were quiet, but I didn't fancy seeing what happened if we let the ball get down there too often.

I wasn't calmed by the first goal after the break, but it helped. I'm glad it went to Chandler, who hadn't kicked one for weeks, and helped proved my contentious theory that you can have him or Spargo in the side but not both. If being kept out of the side at this time of the year causes Charleston to join Grundy, Jordon and Tomlinson (+ Harmes and McDonald?) in the exodus to get a regular game elsewhere it'll be sad but on the whole Chandler has been far more dangerous this year.

I foolishly thought kicking three in a row might have encouraged opposition with two late changes and a debutant to give in, especially when the second immediately begat the third from the bounce. Then we almost lost after they added an ACL and a burst hamstring to their issues. The latest comeback started with a shitload of chances and two goals in the last few minutes before half time, giving them permission to come back after the break with hope of keeping their season alive.

The Row MM lifestyle isn't for everyone, but you certainly see a lot of stuff you wouldn't otherwise. For instance, the actual play when the ball is on the other side of the ground. Other than making a wanker of yourself on camera after free kicks, the appeal of sitting right on the fence is lost on me. This way you can see three kicks out which player is going to be running into the forward 50 on his own, and in one case I got a spectacular aerial view of Gawn being kept out of a contest in the square because he had his hands held behind his back as if under arrest. It was a genius move because no umpire with the power to pay a free could see it, and it stopped him from being in position if the ball dropped at the top of the square.

After Pickett did another basketball style bounce past hapless defenders we had our second chance to put them away in the third quarter after the Bowey > Woewodin > ANB masterclass of ball movement. It was only our second goal of the three kicked so far in the third but still felt like the Crows were being blindfolded and offered the chance to say last words. Then the new and improved short Steven May kick-in went awry, the Crows got a goal, and it was on again. Now you see why he always used to roost it long and left where it couldn't instantly backfire. 

I preferred when May put the ball on the ground to signal Gawn to wander into space, then pissbolt back into the middle of ground at the last minute. It was so obviously out of the ordinary the first time that you wondered if it was a sign, so when he put the ball on the ground a second time nobody except Adelaide was surprised when he did the exact same kick. Max pulled down marks both times, but best come up with a new secret code before next week. And maybe leave the darting short kicks to Salem and/or Bowey.

We got the last goal of the quarter, and it should be noted that Brown made it with a lovely pass for Gawn. It was a rare highlight for BBB, who tried hard but moved like he's got a degenerative disease. I can't defend keeping him in the side, but the people who greeted one of his marks with Bronx Cheers should have been escorted out. He might be sliding downhill at pace but the man kicked three goals in the Grand Final so feel free to show some respect you peanuts.

The difference between confidence and a three-quarter time break terrified of something truly weird happening was another Pickett snap that hit the post on the siren. I thought it had gone in, so thank god for being in the back row where nobody could mock my interrupted, fist-swinging celebration. Now we were in the dangerous position of holding a solid but not insurmountable lead against a side who'd generated plenty of opportunities but hadn't been able to convert for shit. It showed they could kick goals if they got going. I didn't expect the going to be gotten so quickly. 

Perhaps you thought a four goal lead was enough, and historically you'd probably be right, but this went very bad, very quickly. After a week of their team being likened to every famous sporting choker, Brisbane fans would have been pissing themselves watching us give back all four goals in machine gun fashion. It was all going a bit 2002 Semi Final for my liking, but all of sudden we slammed the brakes on, and seemed to be running away with it again. I had correctly sensed the weirdness in the air, now it was coming down like poison mist.

Joel Smith is well suited to substituting at either end of the ground, which came in handy as Petty broke two weeks in a row, but I'd like to know what we'd do with our overload of talls if somebody smaller gets injured. You could see a long way out that he was going to replace Brown, which made it strange that we sent him out again after three quarter time, only to deliver a Muppet Show-style hook after the Crows went nuts. Unless there were suspicions of a key defender was fit to burst in those opening minutes it's hard to see any other sub that would have made sense, so they may as well have gotten on with it from the start.

Then, in a great moment for all of us (but more specifically the Bronxing dickheads), Smith's arrival hadn't even been announced on the scoreboard yet when he was pulling down a mark at the top of the square. It was already at an unmissable angle (I remember his dad missing from a similar spot in the 1998 Reserves Final, but he had just landed on his head). but the improbably named 'Hinge' made absolutely sure of it by gobbing off and giving away a token 50. To be fair, Melksham did impact the contest in slightly dodgy fashion. If only the Crows had got Hinge and Lever together they really could have built something.

We'd been carved up so severely in the opening minutes that it hardly rated as a steadier, but Adelaide did stop scoring for a bit. Smith almost had a second one. The goal umpire was happy with it but the field umpire decided to get himself some airtime by launching a wildcat review. Our case wasn't helped by Petracca immediately signalling touched, so when the camera angles proved completely useless the Margaret and David in the review booth were able to take the ump's opinion with a clear conscience.

It was a great day for wacky video replays. I'm still skeptical about reviewing anything other ball crossing line or hitting post, and this was not helped by the one that was sent to adjudicate whether Bowey touched it, only for them to come back and confirm that yes, the Adelaide player kicked the ball, which is not what anyone was interested in to start with. I doubt he did touch it, because there was absolutely no reaction, but really enjoyed May berating the goal umpire after as if it was her fault

Foolishly, once Woewodin and Chandler kicked more goals I partially relaxed and thought surely we'd finally done them. Then the Crows put on a masterclass of death and glory footy, including the guy 40 metres out directly in front handpassing to Taylor Walker to have a shot on the run from 50 instead. It was an odd decision but it worked, and when we failed to capitalise on a shithouse defensive kick straight after it was - unfortunately - on in every sense of the word.

When Rankin's hamstring exploded I thought surely that removed their most likely source for ripping a pair of late goals. Then Pickett ever so slightly blotted a great game by giving away a stupid inside 50, setting up a mark for Walker at the top of the square. I suspect many of our fans who happily turned a blind eye to every on/off field scandal involving our players spent the day reminding Walker that he'd done a racism. He nearly ended the day by replying "how's that working for you?" but did us a bit of a favour by running down a few seconds adjusting his socks before kicking it.

That cut the margin to less than a goal. Forgot rewatching entire games, or even quarters, I haven't even had time to see the last two minutes again yet so NFI how much time was left but I was metaphorically shitting through the eye of a needle. And nearly followed through literally when they went forward straight out of the middle, but Tomlinson held his nerve in a one-on-one to punch it through for a point. Given the responsibility of the kick-in, Rivers didn't muck around with any special moves and just hoofed it to the general direction of Gawn. 

From memory Hunter did a handball that skirted legality to get the ball down our end, and Pickett nearly thumped through an exclamation mark goal off the deck with a few seconds left. Lucky there were only a few seconds, because they had the ball in the middle of the ground and were going forward again at the siren. This time we didn't need the argument over a mark, time ran out with the ball and mid-air and we were somehow safe.

You can't take the moral highground on umpiring when our fans recently greeted a win by whinging about the free kick count, but I was thrilled to leave the ground and find the internet smoking with 'right in front of me' style outrage from Crows fans. It's funny when it happens to somebody else. Shame on the Adeladians in the Ponsford for glumly dealing with the result post-siren instead of charging down the stairs to try and hang over the fence to yell at an umpire Essendon fan style. 

I'm not here to defend all the decisions, but this is a convenient time to point out that free kicks are like missed shots on goal, if the first one is paid differently, the rest don't happen. Maybe some muppet plays on unnecessarily and gives up a goal, maybe you continue to get rolled in many and varied ways until the final siren but there is literally no path you can take from the first allegedly incorrect free to the last. So you can moan about them individually (and I reserve the right to in future), and if they cost goals, but interstate fans framing the whole thing as some Victorian-led conspiracy is a bit rich considering what these teams get at home. Justice for Fitzroy I reckon.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Angus Brayshaw
2 - Kade Chandler
1 - Adam Tomlinson

Apologies to Gawn, Langdon, Lever, McVee, Rivers, Salem. Sparrow - and again adjusted for time on ground Smith.

Nothing for either of the top two, leaving one less week worth of votes to overhaul Petracca with. Poor old Chandler and Brayshaw are swallowed by the dreaded dotted line just as they get back in the votes. No change in the minors.
58 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
--- Needs at least two finals to win ---
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
26 - Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney
--- Needs four finals to win ---
17 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
13 - Ed Langdon, Jake Lever
--- Done for ---
12 - Trent Rivers
11 - Brodie Grundy, Kysaiah Pickett
10 - Kade Chandler
9 - Angus Brayshaw
7 - Jake Bowey
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Jake Melksham
3 - James Jordon, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown, Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald, Adam Tomlinson

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's got to be Pickett in the third quarter, look at him dash off on the poor bastard trailing behind. And that is all the people need to know. In the spirit of recency bias there's an argument for it going to third on the overall table, but I'd like to keep him hungry to come up with something truly outrageous by the end of the season.
Season leaderboard:
1 - Jack Viney vs Brisbane
2 - Jake Melksham vs Brisbane
3 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast

The All New Bradbury Plan
I'm not sure if this is even mathematically possible, so you'll just have to follow me on the vibe, but while Port's loss ever so slightly opened the door on a top two plan, Brisbane's win made the top three plan less likely. At this stage I think we're almost certain to finish fourth, setting up a first final against Collingwood that will blow the lid off the MCG. At the moment we're aiming to get as high as possible on the ladder, so your cards for Round 20 - which is not as close to the end of the year as it used to be:

Collingwood d. Carlton (hopefully demoralising the Blues before we play them again)
Fremantle d. Geelong (but if we end up winning the next day I'll hope Geelong won for the draft implications)
GWS d. Footscray (this is a spicy one, but as the Dogs play more of the rock bottom teams it's best that they lose this one before we turn on GWS next week)  
Gold Coast d. Brisbane (I'll eat a surfboard if this happens)
Sydney d. Essendon (neither likely to make up enough ground to get involved in the top eight struggle so I'm judging this on the Swans being half a game further back and personal spite)
Adelaide d. Port
Hawthorn d. St Kilda

... and you can judge whether North finally winning a game after 16 weeks just before they play us is a good or bad thing, but if they don't beat West Coast it might be time to draw the shutters and give us the keys for Arden Street.

Next week
Last time you couldn't judge the performance of the fringe players because Casey had the bye, this time you couldn't because they played one of the witches' hat standalone sides. I feel for Coburg, Preston and Frankston but being a walkover in a competition that already has a ludicrous number of teams in it doesn't seem like a recipe for long-term survival. Given that Footscray beat the Bullants 161-4, a 42 point win over Coburg doesn't seem that impressive - even if they do have a player called 'Ingo Dammersmith' who has obviously been recruited from the Marvel Universe. 

Somehow Coburg has won two less games than Preston (e.g. nil), but have a 15 point better percentage so who knows what's going on in this bullshit competition. It doesn't inspire confidence that anything that happened will translate to the seniors. We took it so seriously that Grundy was named at full back with Harmes and Spargo in the pockets, Schache at centre half back, and Jefferson on a half back flank. I thought somebody must have read sent the teamsheet backwards, but Hibberd is the sixth man in the backline so somebody's vigorously extracting the piss.

Harmes and Dunstan (remember him?) had a shitload of possessions, but really the only interest was in Hibberd staying in one piece, and whether Grundy would plunder the part-timers for 10 goals. One did, one didn't, and regardless of a good performance from Spargo he's probably shot while Chandler is doing well. I'm also enjoying Woewodin, he doesn't get heaps of it yet but what he does do is good. Until somebody does something better against competent reserves opposition he stays in.

It breaks my heart to shoot Bambi, but this might have been the end for Ben Brown. Sorry Ben, I will cherish that goal at the start of the last quarter on 25/09/21 amongst the most important of my life, but it's just not happening. He got stooged by a couple of rancid inside 50 kicks here, but if we're going to keep doing hit-and-hope forward entries he's not in a position to make the required contests. If the other options fall over I'd rather bring him back than follow the Chris From Camberwell plan and rush Jefferson into the side (yes, this was a real talkback call) but I'd like to go against everything I said several weeks ago and replace him with Petty. 

Taking Petty out of my favourite backline of all time goes against all my key beliefs, but the newfound level of confidence in Tomlinson makes me think it might turn out ok at either end. I assume Harrison is fit and just missed this week as a precaution. He doesn't get a mention on the website's injury report, but then again at the time of writing that's dated Tuesday 26 June and features Clayton Oliver as 1-2 weeks so could have been written any time in the last two months. Massive apologies to Smith, who has just had two of the best quarters of his career at opposite ends of the ground but I'd just like to try Petty and Tomlinson at either and see what happens.

IN: Petty
OUT: Brown (omit), Smith (back to sub)
UNLUCKY: Grundy, Harmes, Spargo

Final thoughts
I don't know if this was a demonstration of potential premiers, but Adelaide fell short of Collingwood by a similar margin and everyone's expecting them to win the flag in a canter so who knows. Cast a voodoo spell to bring Oliver and Fritsch back to life, find a key forward that causes fear in the hearts of opponents, do enough for a double chance and this year could still end where you want it to.

Monday 17 July 2023

The Great Milk Robbery

Any win by six points or less is special because you know it one kick could have snatched it away, but there's something extra memorable about a one point margin. My 2019 study into thrillers - including scientific measures like 'insane finish', 'context' and 'vibe' - showed it didn't need to be that close to be classic. Off the top of my head I couldn't tell you the exact margins of great moments in my sporting life like Leoncelli vs the clock, Watts vs his past, McSizzle vs Subiaco, and Gawn vs history, but could go on Hard Quiz with all our one point wins since Hawthorn 1999 as a speciality subject. They just stick with you in a different way.

The limitations of that ranking system is clear when you see the 2019 snatch and grab against Gold Coast ahead of Christian Salem sinking Essendon in 2014. Both seasons were in advanced stages of decomposition, but if we held a ThrillerBracket now everyone would take the latter. That's the beauty of these results, none have happened in a finals season since 2005 but they all give you warm and fuzzy memories for years to come. 

Other than an identical margin achieved via tremendous comeback, and allowing the opposition one red-hot chance to break our hearts in the final seconds, there's not much to compare between Round 13, 2014 and today. Salem and Jack Viney are the only survivors from a time we were still 3.5 seasons from finals and no guarantee of remaining solvent until the end of the decade. Now we've achieved the impossible dream, and have such enhanced expectations that people recently tried to sack the coach because they're antsy about this group not getting another flag.

Unless there are finals implications, wins are not automatically better because they come from a good side. When you're shit there's an extra layer of tension in close wins because you might not see another for 12 months. What happened on Friday night was so bonkers that it would probably sit near the top of the pile no matter what year it happened in, and it will be hard to do it justice here.

It would have only taken slightly different circumstances for me to be on here moaning about losing because of another 15 minutes of madness. Very much like Round 2, except we blew a four goal lead first, both Gawn and the lights stayed on, and the margin stayed close enough that this version of the frantic last minute comeback succeeded with a point to spare.

Where else would you rather be? In my case the MCG. At first I was glum at missing another epic, but writing the start of this post made me feel better. Two of the four epics cited happened interstate, and one in front of an empty stadium and none of that detracts from the joy they still give me now. For god's sake I listened to Jeff White beat Footscray on the radio, which had the same degree of difficulty as swimming the English Channel with a safe strapped to your back. I've seen us lose by 100 five times in person so that's something.

Because our mini-feud with Brisbane had no staying power, the big storyline of the week was the temporary end of the twin towers ruck tactic. Just because Gawn had one of the best games of his career, let's not rewrite history and pretend Grundy hasn't contributed until now. The trade felt like the equivalent of finding something in a shop so cheap that you buy it even when you don't really need it, but he certainly came in handy while Maximum was injured and has done plenty since. Also, remember that Gawn ended 2022 dragging himself along the ground like somebody who'd been lost in the desert for 40 days so the reduced ruck time might come in handy when things get interesting.

I'm not ruling out Grundy doing a job for the rest of the year. He might not uncork his hidden full forward in the VFL and come back like Mitch Clark, but if either Brown or JVR goes south before finals and there's nobody to replace them (spoiler: there isn't), just park him down there for 95% of the game and hope he can make contests. And then, at the end of the season if you're really convinced the Healy/Gilchrist combo isn't going to work, then fling him elsewhere, trade for Marc Internet, and slash your wrists when Max is hurt 10 seconds into Round 1.

Our other concession to things not going as well as expected was to deactivate the explosive collar that would go off if Kysaiah Pickett attended a centre bounce. He didn't do it much, but got a touch straight away, ended with three goals, and had his best game for ages so well worth trying something different. Still doesn't seem at peak capacity, but consider that goal in the last quarter and realise that he doesn't need many touches to help win a game.

And indeed we did win, but not before threatening to nuke a great start by playing like West Coast for a bit, doing duelling stranglewanks for probably the first time since the 2002 finals, and inadvertently setting up what turned out to be one of our great televised comebacks.

Against the odds, the forwards won us the game. Usually the defence keeps scores as low as possible to see if we can win kicking 8.12, this time they got caught out and we had to rely on the combination of doing our own scoring and Brisbane clamming up several minutes too early in one of the worst attempts at saving a game you'll ever see.

At first - and until midway through the last quarter - I didn't know we were capable of kicking the ton against a good side so was thrilled when one of them gave away the first goal by hanging off ANB like he was Tony Lockett. This kicked off a relatively insane start where we flung the ball around with contempt and scored at a Grand Final 2021 rate. You knew it wasn't sustainable, but at the time it didn't matter.

I'm not going to mythologise Melksham's game because of his heroics at the end, but when he kicked a snap out on the full from 30 metres nobody except his close relations would have held out hope for a match-winning performance. And while not everything he did in the first three quarters went right, he did contribute to us having what resembled a half-forward line for the first time in weeks. I've written him plenty of times, and there's no guarantee we get more performances like this, but if he can be a presence I'm happy for him to stay in the side. Not that we've got many options until Fritsch comes back, unless Grundy suddenly turns into Wayne Carey.

Sanity was reintroduced by a snap from Petracca, who had another lovely night free from the expectation of replacing Oliver in the middle. All's well that ends well on multiple fronts, because this allowed Brayshaw to have one of his best games for the season. I originally wrote 'to do what he does best', but can't remember whether I landed on where I wanted him to play and don't want to end up on Media Watch. Either way, it continues to show that Oliver is a delightful cherry on top but we have options for winning without him.

Trac is obviously a subscriber to my theory that footy is better with personal issues, because he tried to start a new feud with the Lions by going the full physical niggle on an opponent post-goal. In this uncomfortable era of kids hanging over the fence and pleading for a player's boots so dad can sell them for pokies money, the Lions spent the rest of the night trying to get his jumper by brute force, whether Petracca was within range of the ball or not.

Things got even better when Brown kicked one, and when Petracca returned to wallop through a thumping goal from 50 we were 24-0 up after just a few minutes. This was a wonderful start, but whenever we do similar there's always a bit of you that thinks "yeah, but they're not going to keep it up are they?" Still better than being four goals down. 

It was nearly five, with two more solid opportunities spurned before Brisbane finally turned up. Once they got the ball in hand and stopped us from running around them like traffic cones the game settled into what you expected it to be from the start. Now they were in a position to start chipping away at the lead. After years of spraying shots against us left, right and only occasionally centre, Joe Daniher finally kicked straight last time, and when he got one here I was ready for total disaster. He reverted to tradition and finished with 2.3.

The longer the quarter went, the more worried I was about the way they were moving the ball and getting the ball inside 50 at the sweet spot between 'so quick it gets cut off by Lever' and 'so slow it gets cut off by May'. It looked like a coup when Pickett rustled up a holding the ball and goal deep in Demontime, only for us to hand it back even later in the quarter. No complaints with a 17 point lead, but I had no confidence that we'd kick on to a comfortable win. 

A slapstick kick-in that missed the target and landed with Bowey was as good as things got until halfway through the last quarter. We weren't playing badly, but they'd cracked the code of our defence so we were dead if scoring didn't keep up. Despite the second week in a row of a funky bounce in an open square denying the opposition a goal, everything was now coming up Brisbane. There was a bit of excitement when Petracca continued what counts for him as a purple patch of set shot kicking, but like the first quarter we pretty much gave that straight back and my thoughts started to drift to the nightmare scenario of finishing fifth and losing an Elimination Final to Essendon 2004 style. 

We were only a point down, but now everything pointed to being overrun. Conceding the first goal after half time didn't help my sour mood, but that was momentarily lifted by Taj Woewodin kicking the best first career goal since Andrew Lamprill. You could argue that was a lucky snap, this was a fantastically taken goal on the run from 50 metres out on the boundary. Here's to more of that in the future, eventually making up for dad being jibbed out of the 1998 Goal of the Year. 

For now the Woewondergoal precipitated what looked like fatal collapse, and in the space of 10 minutes we conceded 4.3 to nowt. Pickett marginally raised spirits, before we conceded because a clearly crocked Petty couldn't move to stop his opponent marking. Even in the afterglow of victory I'm still annoyed that he'd been hobbling for five minutes and we didn't bring Joel Smith on. Once he did come on Smith was fantastic. Not many substitutes have ended up playing key defensive roles, but adjusted for time on ground this may have been the best sub game for us yet.

Just when all looked lost, enter Gawn to add a goal to the greatest exhibitions of rucking known to man. Even if you remove hitouts from the equation - which you should do because they're a bullshit stat - he was so good in every other element of the game that it deserves an All The Gawns highlights supercut.  He'd already had a very good game to this point, but the opening ceremony for going supernova was what must have been the highest successful set shot on record. It would probably have hit the roof at Docklands.

The joy of that thumping kick survived about 60 seconds before Brisbane responded with their third late goal from three quarters. Enter the popular Pickett/Petracca combination to flip the script on what happened late in the first, with the goal set up by the former doing one of the cleanest gathers and dish offs that you'll ever see. This left us in what seemed - at the time - like "we're just teasing you" range for the final term.

It's sad that I don't have the time to rewatch the last quarter in full and write a 10,000 word PHD on it, because while July 2023 readers will know how absurd this was I want people reading in the future to understand what it was like too. But no epic result is complete without a setback, and when they got another goal soon after the restart it looked like we'd wasted our time getting emotionally invested again.

May certainly placed his hands in Daniher's back and made a pushing motion, but it wasn't any worse than the usual jostle between forward and defender. The difference was Joe pitching forward as if hit by a truck. This is where we discovered that the dissent rule is dead, because May went off chops to the point where I thought he might do a John Bourke and tip the umpire over. I hope Steven Coniglio wasn't watching, because after the lightest bit of argument known to man cost GWS that win he'd have kicked the TV in seeing May get away with this. 

Daniher didn't need the 50 to convert, and for the next few minutes May played so angrily that I was worried he'd turn the clock back and shirtfront a Brisbane player into oblivion. Lucky he had the cool, calm and collected figure of *checks notes several times* Joel Smith to help turn back attacks while he cooled off.

The commentators assured us - to stop you turning over to the tennis - that a near five goal deficit didn't matter because we can score rapidly. Which is not entirely false but I still wouldn't have had five Zimbabwean dollars on us. At this point of the production we welcome back unlikely hero Jake Melksham, who pulled down a massive contested mark on the wing to set up Pickett's third and give Brisbane the wobbles. The mark was great, but Pickett's finish was better, bouncing the ball around the legs of two defenders like he was playing NBA Jam.

We didn't get the traditional (and debunked) nonsense about the first team to 100 always winning, but once the game was over I did set out to find what team had blown the biggest lead after reaching that score. This turned out to be a trap, because as far as I can tell the answer is... us in the Chris Sullivan Line game. If I'd found this out after we lost it might have sent me over the edge, but for now there was no need for sectioning because the rest unfolded like an extremely niche Hollywood blockbuster. 

Even when they dashed out of the middle ex-Pickett's goal we kept the damage down to a rushed point, and turned that straight into... a point and OOF. Ok, maybe edit that bit out of the movie. But keep the Gawn > Melksham interface that started with the best pass ever by something over 200 centimetres, ended with a lovely finish by the Milkshake, and sent Brisbane off the deep end. I still doubted our chances of running them down, but when they stuck a man behind the ball with four minutes left it was the equivalent of a boxer curling up and taking punches while hoping to be saved by the bell. 

Given that they'd beaten us that far via lovely ball movement, had no injuries and a fresh sub it felt a bit defeatist not to just press on for the death blow. They probably thought the extra man would mop up about seventeen intercept marks from our panicky inside 50s and all would be well. Not a bad idea in theory, but it failed miserably/gloriously here.

The best I could do for reviewing the footage was the video of the last two minutes, but that just misses the epic snatch and grab that made the win possible. Before the game, Jack Viney got an in-depth Channel 7 highlights package to celebrate... I'm not sure what. It was his 188th game and he's never done anything particularly famous against the Lions. I think they just like being able to talk about how shit we were in his early years as an excuse to show dickheads yelling at players going down the race after 148.

You can never get enough reminders that Jack is 100% warrior, and when they focus on him for his 200th it would be negligent not to include the goal he kicked here. From a ball-up at our end I could have imagined a goal from a zany ruck infringement, or from Petracca being hung onto like he was being arrested, but not Viney tearing the ball from the hands of a ruckman like Jerry Seinfeld pinching marble rye from the elderly...

... then spinning around and snapping over two defenders just before he was tackled. If he kicks a better goal like this for the rest of his career I'll buy the rights to the footage.

This left us within one kick of the big steal. I was at 100% mental arousal on the Steven May scale and ready to climb the walls. Five points is still a horrible margin at this stage, because you know all the other side needs is a point and they'll probably do no worse than a draw. Former Casey ruck star Oscar McInerney either realised this or was just trying to get some of his dignity back after being stripped bare by Viney, as he tried thumping the ball forward at the centre bounce, then followed up with an attempted kick off the ground. That didn't account for Trent Rivers entering and exiting a pack like The Matrix to send us forward again.

Better it at our end than theirs, and a defender did us one of the great solids when he gave up on what should have been a simple mark to punch out of bounds instead. Unlike Carlton last year I've got faith that if Brisbane would have competently time-wasted long enough to run the clock down. Now they were stuck in the back pocket under all sorts of pressure, having just conceded a goal from almost the same spot. They managed to work it out of immediate danger, landing the "get this thing as far away from me as possible" kick just inside the boundary for another throw-in.

Even if you're reading in 2033 you should know what happened next. Gawn plucked the ball out of the ruck and dished to Brayshaw. He thumped a kick inside 50, and while Pickett stood under it wondering what the hell he was supposed to do next, Melksham charged through to grab it and if I hadn't gone back to the classic standing, pacing and yelling at the TV formation after Viney's goal the couch may have been shat on.

It's no knock on Melksham to say I didn't expect him to kick it. I wouldn't have expected anyone to. Geelong 2021 proved that these sorts of things can happen to people like us, but from further out, on more of an angle, it didn't seem likely. There was a moment of terror when it hit the boot and seemed to either be going right or falling short, but it dropped in and eclipsed GEE GOD BOY WOW as the greatest thing he's ever ever done.

The celebrations were justified, but there were still 30 seconds to go, leaving me to temporarily forget the 6-6-6 rule existed and shout at the TV for everyone to get back. If there was ever a time for a centre clearance this was it, and when Gawn put the ball on a platter for Viney to go forward I almost felt we were safe. Then somehow it went from JVR nearly having enough time for a snap, to another stoppage on our 50 metre line with 12 seconds left, to them heaving one last kick inside 50 as time expired. 

By christ it would have been an all-time tragedy (non-fatal department) if we hadn't won from here. Instead, the Lions shambled the ball into the clear and the middle and had the ball landing just inside 50 on the siren. I had no idea that the umpire was in the process of paying a free against Hipwood for headlocking Lever in the marking contest, so when the ball landed and they were both claiming it that  was nearly the end of me. Even when the siren went and they cut to Hipwood and A. Teammate yelling at the umpire, then to Gawn pissbolting across the field in glee I wasn't yet convinced we had won, and was waiting for some out of zone idiot to run in and make a name for himself by paying a mark to Brisbane.

It wasn't until the cameras showed Petracca giving somebody a send off I realised that it really was over. At first I thought he was opening a new front in the Ready, Steady, Niggle campaign against the Lions but it turned out to be reaction to some peanut in the crowd who'd been hanging shit on his Tik Tok videos (me either). As far as fan vs player drama went it wasn't exactly Nicky Winmar lifting the jumper to racists at Victoria Park, but that's probably a good thing. 

Recency bias is real, but the total chaos of these last few minutes should put this at the very top if I ever update that list of great thrillers. We probably need to wait until the end of the year and make sure the vibe isn't ruined by falling flat against the Lions in the finals again, but right now it feels like one of the great finishes.  

Other than fortifying our spot in the top four, we're no more likely to win a flag than last week but I've got my fingers crossed that this is the result that catapults us towards September at full pace with the confidence that anyone can be beaten. And if we fall over somewhere on the way you'll always have the night we point-blank robbed Brisbane out of four premiership points.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Judd McVee
1 - Angus Brayshaw

Major apologies to Rivers and Viney. High level apologies to Hunter, Pickett, Rivers + Smith adjusted for time on ground.

The main event becomes increasingly more over every week, and Petracca is on course to challenge Oliver's record 70 votes from last year. With a maximum of 10 games left, anybody more than 50 votes behind is now officially kaput. Don't know why I'm bothering with some of the dotted lines, but in this of all weeks who are we to rule out NQR comebacks? Good news for Gawn and McVee in the minors, but I'm not willing to declare winners in either category yet.
58 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
26 - Clayton Oliver
--- Needs at least one final to win ---
22 - Jack Viney
--- Needs at least two finals to win ---
17 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
--- Needs at least three finals to win ---
13 - Ed Langdon, Jake Lever
12 - Trent Rivers
11 - Brodie Grundy
--- Needs at least four finals to win ---
8 - Kade Chandler
--- Eliminated from contention ---
7 - Jake Bowey
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Angus Brayshaw, Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Jake Melksham
3 - James Jordon, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown, Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
After the recent flat patch for contenders, this week unleashed some absolute corkers. Any of Petracca's long distance thump, Woewodin from the boundary, Gawn nearly bringing down low flying aircraft, or Pickett's NBA Jam tribute would have been a worthy winner but it comes down to the last two. Traditionally, clutch game-winning goals have been rated highly in this competition but with the greatest of respect to Melksham's massive grapefruits at the end, that never happened without Viney's pluck and snap. Why not have another look?
Melk may have missed the top prize, but if it's any consolation he's into second on the overall leaderboard.

Season leaderboard:
1 - Jack Viney vs Brisbane
2 - Jake Melksham vs Brisbane
3 - Christian Petracca vs Gold Coast

This didn't have the same sense of 'what have I just seen?' that left me unable to move for several hours post-Grand Final, but I was still baffled enough to sit through Roaming Brian. 

Obviously you're going to expect me to pot this free-range buffoonery but it's actually what Taylor is made for. Shame you have to sit through four quarters of his bullshit commentary to get there, but the shameless nature of it is like when the Tokyo Shock Boys would apply dry ice to their balls on Hey Hey It's Saturday in 1994.

The All New Bradbury Plan
After an excellent round of results for us, there are too many variables to formulate a consensus plan for next week. Let's just do our bit by winning. 

Essendon vs Footscray are on the same points and roughly the same percentage so it's a toss up as to who you think is more likely to get a run on at the end of the year. Both have free wins coming against West Coast, play one of North or Hawthorn, and finish with a difficult game so I don't think any result really helps us short term. Still scared of being Essendon's last and next finals victim so may as well get rid of them. 

Brisbane vs Geelong comes down to what value you put on finishing third vs fourth. I would probably rather play Port in the finals because they're traditionally more prone to collapsing when the heat is on, but am equally willing to take on the challenge of the Pies at the G in front of 100,000 people. Having said that I'd like to do everything to keep Geelong from entering September in form, so up the Lions.

North beating St Kilda is unlikely but would completely stuff up any chance of the Saints getting involved, and may as well go for Collingwood over Port to keep the top two door slightly open. And of course it's Sydney d. Freo purely for drafting purposes. All other games can piss up a rope.

Next week
Channel 7 wouldn't shut up about us not playing any more sides "currently inside the eight", conveniently ignoring that Adelaide would have been with a win this week. Then they did what all the fashionable teams do and lost to GWS. Usually I'd be worried by their scoring potential but they barely fired a shot against the Giants so who knows which version will turn up on Sunday. I'd like to suppress them, we won't get the surprise element of solo Gawn going boont, and are unlikely to kick a decent score two weeks in a row.

It's hard to make changes when Casey had the bye, which is just what you want your developmental side to be doing in Round 18. We did play a 15-a-side scratch match against St Kilda, which was only newsworthy for Grundy going back to school as a forward. So I'll be conservative with changes, Chandler sends Spargo to sub and Smith gets to build on a really good quarter where he belongs by replacing Petty. I want Hibberd back eventually, but let the man rest his rapidly falling apart body for a bit longer.

I expect we'll win, but not without life-or-death struggle.

IN: Chandler, Smith
OUT: Spargo (omit - to sub), Petty (inj)
UNLUCKY: Grundy, Hibberd, Tomlinson

Harper Matthew Collins
You know what other Melbourne win featured an exciting finish? That's right the 1964 Grand Final. And this is as good a time as any to tell you that The Last Hurrah is still available directly from the Demonblog Towers warehouse. My goal was to scoop up as many leftover copies as possible so they didn't end up in The Book Grocer, and I'm pleased to say that based on the sample of one store I've been to this has been a success so far.

Thanks to everyone who has bought one, and for the nice feedback about the extra chapter about me going bonkers before the Grand Final, then randomly bleeding during it. Reminder - if you already have the book and just want me to send the extra chapter via email get in contact through any of the usual formats. I'm even on Threads, even though it's currently as functional as a 1983 Lada Niva.

Final thoughts
"Football, bloody hell" is a well-worn cliche by now, but what more is there to say?

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Under roof, under rug

Once the last home and away game is done, it matters not a cracker how the wins were achieved. Plenty of premiership teams had wobbly but ultimately vital wins on the way so let's get together and reevaluate what this really meant in September. For now it felt like setting a horse for the Melbourne Cup with a battling win at the Hanging Rock picnic races.

So what if we unconvincingly beat a side that lost three players to injury in the first quarter, because unlike about 20 other wins since we got good I saw it live. It was a close run thing due to the non-attending half of the family going down with the latest in our string of mystery illnesses, but Original Recipe and I got there in the end. She's still not that concerned about the sport itself but had a reasonable bash before losing interest in the last quarter. The biggest scenes of the evening came when denied the $1000 prize for the Dance Cam competition because they didn't scan to the back of the stadium for contestants. I was happy not to be seen on camera in relation to the worst segment of them all, she was on the verge of ringing talkback radio to complain.

I've come to enjoy the convenience of watching on TV, but it was glorious to be back. For one, you forget how much better it is to see what's going on five metres off the ball instead of being subject to the broadcasters' unnecessary 2000x zooming, and secondly everyone needs the occasional reminder of how much unintentional fun crap match 'entertainment' can be. You can vaccum your loungeroom or bake a pie watching at home, you can't see rank and file members of society nearly doing a hammy kicking a torp for distance, or looking stupidly at the camera when asked a basic quiz question.

Since being dragged away from my 'every week attendee' nuff lifestyle, I've only been to Docklands twice for two losses. Just like the good old days. For all the shit poured on the place, it is now superior in many ways to the MCG. They won't fix the potential for a deadly crowd stampede after games until there is one, but the decision to abolish turnstiles is the greatest step forward for fan experience since bulldozing Waverley. You walk up, scan your barcode and just walk in. No more waiting behind the Shambles Family while they grapple to rotate the metal arm, nearly knocking one of their kid's heads off in the process. You just wait for the light to turn green and walk in like a civilised, modern person. I fail to see any downside to this innovation.

I hadn't seen us win there since thumping Footscray in early 2018. That day I scoffed at their fans for having a big sook while reigning premiers and vowed to leave a minimum of 10 years between the unlikely event of a flag and becoming a bitter bastard again. To a degree that pledge has held up, but I secretly considered aligning myself with elements of the pitchfork mob if this went badly. After flopping in the last quarter at Geelong, then literally going to water in Alice Springs things were going to get Guatemalan pepper level spicy if we lost. 

Forget that the Saints were level on points with us, or that there are several games left where anything could happen, it felt a bit 'now or never'. It didn't really turn out as either, we did some nice things and won, but against a side who had three of their starting side maimed by quarter time. It was good to get the points and sweep some of misery under the rug, but we're no closer to knowing where this season is going.

Regrettably, the Saints no longer play a mournful version of their theme song before the bounce. This was probably removed on the advice of Lifeline, and I sat behind the archetype of the person whose life they're trying to save. He was what I'd have become in a decade if 2021 hadn't happened, the wrong-side of middle age and grappling with the realisation that the side you've put a lifetime of effort into might not win a flag before you cark it. That I could sympathise with, not the bit where he went rogue and started sarcastically going for us to win. Who knows what his point was, but if this was SaintsBlog you'd be reading about me getting into a full slanging match with him + bonus references to Brett Voss and Dermott McNicholl. 

In reality I probably wouldn't have survived the multiple flag near-misses, but for those who did make it to 2023 most probably understood the cards they were dealt with multiple injuries, appreciated staying in the game until midway through the last quarter, and had the remotest appreciation of still being a decent chance to play finals after finishing 10th last year. Instead this doughnut was puffing and moaning about how everything was "typical", why he'd be happy if we won, and had a strange fetish about kicking it to Brayshaw. Which made one of us.

Maybe his brain fritzed out seeing us kick straight after shanking it everywhere in the wet last week. The roof and concrete-like surface helped, but there was an early omen as the players ran onto the ground. Somebody landed a precision shot into the face of the commemorative image of Christian Salem that would have made Lee Harvey Oswald proud. 

We were much better in front of goal, but still without evidence that the forward line is going to go off like a nuclear bomb anytime soon. With JVR left at Casey and Smith relegated to sub, Brown competed well enough as the lone tall but we continued to get nada from Gawn and Grundy forward. Maximum has one goal in his last seven games, and I appreciate all the good he does elsewhere but the point of having two top level rucks was that they were going to help us score. Grundy has done a little better with four in the same period, but he can't be relied on either.

While we waited for an answer on the forwards, St Kilda generously allowed the first goal from ground level. ANB walked around the sort of wank-handed tackle that would have made you snap a seat if we'd done it, narrowly avoiding falling over in front of an open goal in a way that would have cemented his whipping boy status forever. 

After a few minutes of directing all their attacks straight down the throat of Steven May - a trend that soon resumed - the Saints got a bit of a run on just as they started gathering casualties at a quicker rate than the Battle of Okinawa. First their best forward to his shoulder randomly giving way, then some bloke with a hammy, and the last concussed when May's used the back of his skull as leverage to plant the knee and take a screamer.

For now they had their tails up, aided by Rivers doing one of the pound-for-pound worst kicks you'll ever see exiting the defensive 50. There have been bigger shanks, fresh air swings, and the occasional ball left pathetically rolling along the ground after barely touching the boot, but this was worse because of what it could have been. He stormed out of defence, straight down the middle, and probably only needing to find one target to end with us walking into goal he somehow picked out an opposition player. He's been very good recently, but this was pox. 

What should have been their second goal was reversed by a rare example of "they review everything" being proven true. From a set shot 30 metres dead in front one of their many boy band named players (Mattaes! Zaine! Jade! Zak! Cooper! Not Dougal) booted it into the fingertips of the man on the mark. Even in the face of vigorous appeals the goal umpire paid it, the stadium hit the flashing lights that must play havoc with epileptics, and we went back to the middle, only to be recalled to kick-in when the truth was revealed. "Booooo" yelled the local fans, who didn't get to see the replay and must have just assumed they were rorted.

That got us out of jail for a little bit. Last week I demanded the novelty goalkicker folder be reopened, and Lachie Hunter came to the party. Then Brown got one straight after and things were looking up again.

As correctly predicted last week (lifting my career percentage into double figures) we debuted Taj Woewodin. I had heart in mouth when he botched one disposal and gave away a free early, but once he got going he was worth his spot. This is as good a time as any to remind his dad that I was robbed out of a mention in his Brownlow speech, having told him he'd win it while pissed as a fart after Jeff Farmer kicked nine. "Not this year" he said. Then I suggested Brad Green should crack onto my then-girlfriend and he probably gave the same answer. This may have been the same day Peter Walsh thought I was seriously asking if he was called "Whopper" because of a hamburger endorsement.

The best bit about Woewodin Sr. annoying Scott West and Kouta wankers alike (and to be fair, there's no way he should have got the votes that won it outright. Our B&F didn't even have him in the top six) was that I'd had an impulse $5 bet on him to win at 200-1 in pre-season. Because I was a bit deranged at the time win encouraged me to quit my job, quickly wiping out the profit. Oops.

Woey Jr (likely to also end up as the face of a 'Woe-Woeful' headline even when a bad loss isn't his fault) began the comeback with a pair of goal assists. Champion Data dudded him out of one, probably guessing that the squaring ball which eventually ended in Langdon's snap was a shot. Rubbish, send a written apology courtesy of AAMI Park. Then he laid on on a set shot for Petracca which nobody who's watched closely this year had any faith would go through. But it did, and maybe there was something to Goodwin's dubious claim that "We’ve given more minutes to goal kicking than ever before in the history of our footy club." I'd like to see supporting evidence for that, hopefully involving Choco exploring the MCC archives dressed like Indiana Jones. 

We'd recovered well from our early hiccups to be seven points in front, with five straight goals making a mockery of our wayward recent kicking. This time the other lot had a touch of the Melbournes, and our lead was protected when the same guy who couldn't successfully kick over the mark achieved the unusual feat of landing a ball on top of the post. When you're hot, you're hot.

Now that they'd lost the sub and two players on top of that we had to win or go down to the most embarrassing result in this fixture since forgetting how time worked. We got there, but not in the swashbuckling, taking advantage of the misfortune of others way you might have hoped. After eight goals in the first quarter, two teams that would rather stop a goal than kick one said "that'll do" and didn't add another for 15 minutes. 

Melksham revved up his 'one for the road tour', before we gave that goal back in comical fashion. An end-to-end move found two Saints on their own in the square, and they nearly buggered the raffle by doing "you first, no you first" pleasantries, saved only by Petty being blinded by shambles and crashing in with a high tackle. It didn't feel like we were running them off their feet, but did get the second of three goals for the quarter. The lengthy queue of Ben Brown detractors can kindly note that Sparrow kicked the goal via a risky play on, but BBB won the free in the first place. At this point I'm so all in on Brown that I'll probably keep it up even after it starts to get silly.

The best time for a team with a two man disadvantage should be immediately after the half time rest, but we came on out on top in every element other than the important matter of kicking goals. This is where the guy in front started to mentally disintegrate. He'd spent the first half in "I've wasted my life" anxiety, folding arms and huffing loudly but was moving into "I knew he was going to do that" performative yelling out to try and get a reaction. If somebody had given him one, and his family mysteriously disappeared for about 15 minutes so they were no help, it may have been enough to stop him going right over the cliff into dignity-free self-parody.

It took 10 minutes, but when Petracca reminded the opposition that they should have drafted him you hoped the landslide was starting to gain momentum. Then they responded to that with two in a row and an omnishambles was back on the agenda. Not surprisingly our forward line functioned better than it had in ankle-deep water last week, but we desperately need to do something to get Pickett going. He was trying hard to get involved, and doing enough forward pressure that you'd have been satisfied if you didn't know he was capable of plucking goals from his arse. We still didn't bother giving him a run through the midfield, and he never looked likely to do a repeat of this classic:

Normal goals are welcome too, but they're not coming. There's no point playing him on some bullshit suburban ground in the VFL, or doing a humiliating relegation to substitute, but maybe just give him a couple of weeks off to regain the joy of life and see if we can go back to plucking goals from thin air.

Considering St Kilda's disadvantages, and our steel-trap defence, it was worrying that they'd have been within 10 points at three quarter time if not for a missed sitter. This is what sent old mate over the edge, and every point they kicked for the rest of the game was greeted with attention seeking fake laughter and general nonsense. If we'd lost after hearing this I'd have thrown myself down the stairs in despair.

Rotation caps mean you can't really torment a shorthanded side (which is probably a good thing for competition balance), but I still went into the last quarter watching the clock and waiting for them to give into the inevitable. They never did, and while there were plenty of tired kicks at the end they should get credit for playing it out at whatever speed they could still muster and keeping it interesting for longer than necessary. Not that you'd know from him in front, who acted like he was watching West Coast. I handed the kid my phone once she lost interest, and in trying to Google how long there was left in the game she discovered that the Saints hold the record for the lowest score in history. She wanted me to show it to him, I thought he was suffering enough in the present without worrying about what happened around World War I.

The last thing we needed was for them to realise they could win. The ball was stuck at their end for the first few minutes but they couldn't convert. We were probably a goal away from killing the game but couldn't get a shot at all, absorbing 10 minutes of pressure. The person who runs the ads at Channel 7 was just about to check how the cricket was going when Melksham got his second. That should have been enough, if we didn't concede the reply as good as straight away.

Finally, the return of the random goalkicker paid off when who else but Tom Sparrow (?) pulled down a big contested mark and kicked the set shot. This was more like the division of scoring labour that we'd done so well early in the year. Just need to get Pickett, Spargo (or equivalents) on the board, and pinch a couple between the ruckmen and we won't be relying on keeping sides to 58 every week. 

This win swept so much under the rug that it ended up looking like this, but at the same time you could imagine/delude yourself into seeing how it might work again in the future. I'm holding my breath to see if we can do it against a good side before fully jumping on the bandwagon again.

Alas, it was not over just yet. When they got another goal I knew logically that we wouldn't lose, but when it was followed by what looked like a mark in the forward pocket straight after I had my doubts. This would have reduced the margin to nine with five minutes left, offering plenty of time for a comeback that we'd never hear the end of. Somehow we escaped with a free that I'd have cracked the shits about big time. 

By now the guy in front was so deep into his "I hope we lose" gimmick that he couldn't even complain about umpire robbery. He was in a good spot now, either his team fought back to a famous victory and nobody other than family and strangers would know what a poltroon he'd been, or he could claim to have been right that they'd lose. We've all gone off on our team unfairly at some point but it would have been marquee viewing if he'd been invited to air his grievances with Ross Lyon after the siren.

There was one more scare when a snap landed in the unguarded square, bounced straight in the air, and allowed us to escape unscathed. I don't know why it felt we were holding on, including a bit of premature time-wasting, possession building dink kicking, but things dragged out long enough that by the time Trac kicked his fourth it was nothing more than a cherry on top. Suffice to say I've been more excited at wins in the past, but at this stage of the season they're all building towards the end result.

At the final siren I was content to deliver a round of applause and depart, but first I had to get past the dickhead stopping randoms to tell them why it's better if St Kilda miss finals this year. Sadly none of them ended his struggle with a two-handed shove down the stairs. Everyone's always more optimistic about teams other than their own but I don't think we've seen the last of the Saints. They play ex-sacking Gold Coast, North and Hawthorn in the next three games so will probably be level with, if not ahead of us once that's over. 

For now they and everybody fifth and below chase us. We've got a lot of issues yet to work out, but this mostly deflects any fears I had of plummeting from the eight entirely. Whether we reach the end as contenders or face the nightmare scenario of handing Essendon their first finals win in nearly 20 years is yet to be determined.    

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - James Jordon
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Jake Melksham

Apologies to Brayshaw, Hunter, Lever, McVee, Salem, Sparrow, Viney

On the occasion of May moving 15 votes clear in the Seecamp, and passing Oliver in the battle for the Jakovich runner up, I'd like to take this occasion to name both he and Petracca provisional winners of their respective awards. Well done all.
54 - Christian Petracca (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
28 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
26 - Clayton Oliver
22 - Jack Viney
13 - Ed Langdon, Jake Lever
12 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Trent Rivers
11 - Brodie Grundy
8 - Kade Chandler
7 - Jake Bowey
6 - Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Lachie Hunter
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd
3 - Angus Brayshaw, James Jordon, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown, Harrison Petty
1 - Jake Melksham, Tom McDonald, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It must be Langdon for his Pickett Pocket tribute act. Not as good as the one he kicked from an NQR angle against Essendon, and doesn't impact on the season leaderboard.

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

The All New Bradbury Plan
For those of you who have just joined us, and at this stage there can't be anybody new reading this slop, this is the segment where we cheer for maximum carnage involving teams around us on the ladder. With seven games to play, this is the time to rip it open. For now it's a double chance plan, and assuming Collingwood and Port are untouchable in the four their function will be to do us favours before hopefully fizzing out in September. Your Round 18 card and likelihood of success are:

Sydney d. Footscray (possible)
Gold Coast d. St Kilda (possible)
Essendon d. Geelong (unlikely - not much immediate difference if this goes the other way but I expect the Cats are more likely to get a run on at the end of the year)
GWS d. Adelaide (possible - probably not relevant to top four calculations, but for safety reasons we could do with Adelaide's percentage being pegged back a bit) 
West Coast d. Richmond (fat chance - and at 2.5 games back the Tigers are as good as out of the running anyway, but a) let's make sure of it, and b) it will be funny when somebody loses to the Eagles again).

+ Collingwood d. Fremantle to further help the emerging Draft Bradbury.

Next week
2022 PTSD alert, it's Brisbane at the MCG. Here's to not getting in a winning position then falling over this time. Even if they've lost every other game at the ground for years, on current form we are about a four percent chance of winning. But we're also the sort of weird organisation perfectly capable of ripping out a wildcard performance for the ages so anything could happen.

Other than Pickett having a rest, which won't happen, and picking a sub that doesn't rely on a key position player being injured (which, to be fair, did work out this week), I don't know if we need many changes. I'm tempted to pick JVR just so we can draw unfair conclusions about whether or not he'd have had an impact if selected in last year's final. The problem is that if you stick with Brown, which obviously I want to do, then introducing him doesn't fit with the structure we went for this week. But at the same time I wouldn't mind winding him up over the next few weeks to be ready for finals. Schache kicked four for Casey but surely he's stuck too far back in the queue to get a game, leaving open the very real possibility of becoming the first one game import since Moose Henwood.

There's going to be a lot of uncomfortable 'Brisbane can't play the MCG' content reminding us that they couldn't beat Hawthorn there, but did topple us in a final. I put no stock in this, they're good enough to win and probably will. If that happens I'm going to try and treat it as a bump in the road and keep my bundle well secured. On the other hand, if we win I might join the Ticketek queue for Grand Final tickets on seventeen devices Taylor Swift style. 

IN: Chandler, Laurie (sub)
OUT: Pickett, Smith (omit)
LUCKY: Spargo
UNLUCKY: Harmes, Hibberd (still alive?), Schache, van Rooyen

Final thoughts
It's either the start of something big or a massive false alarm. I would like to proceed directly to Friday and find out more.