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.

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