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?


  1. .. then spinning around and snapping ON HIS NON-PREFERRED over two defenders just before he was tackled.

    The AFL's most punchable face must have been licking his chops when he saw Hibberd wasn't playing. However he hadn't bargained on McVee. Well done young fella as acknowledged in this week's Rising Star and more prestigiously votes from Adam 1.0

  2. If Gawn goes down with a season-ending injury Grundy's "forward craft" will quickly be forgotten.
    I think Sizzle is a survivor of that 2014 match against Essendon too.


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