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.


  1. Comments like the Lever/Hinge one are what keep me coming back for more. Love your work, keep it up. With Smith's injury-prone body perhaps the only way we can get him through a season intact is by playing one quarter a week. I love him as the sub and see no reason to change it.

  2. The pre match Bluey stage show was a farce. The kids seated around me weren’t interested and the adults didn’t appreciate being screamed at panto style. By all means encourage kids to attend the footy, but don’t send out a slightly unhinged host recovering from a hangover. The hand drawn player pictures lightened the crowd’s mood fortunately.
    I suspect Smith was held back as cover for May who looked proppy. May didn’t take all the kick outs and struggled to get to a few contests he would normally deal with.
    I would have had Chandler higher in the votes. Not only did he kick 3 goals but every possession was clean and effective.

  3. I wondered if that was you at the top of the Ponsford from my possie in Q1. My team lost, but the margin was favourable.

  4. Heh 😅 that was me and my mates (who greeted one of his [BBB] marks with Bronx Cheers) - we were just glad to see him get the ball!


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