Monday 21 August 2023

Spontaneous frustration

Sometimes it's ok when a win is as convincing as get well wishes from Jack Kevorkian. When all you need for the big picture are the premiership points, everything that led to getting them can quickly be forgotten.

This was a confirmed case of getting what we wanted eventually, but not before several hints of blowing it against the 16th place side when anything from a draw up would ensure the double chance. Hawthorn may be the best team to finish third last since our 1900 flag side, but hopes that they'd reached their limit and would gently stand aside didn't pan out. They couldn't string it across four quarters, but when the goal went through 10 seconds into the last quarter I was shitting it big time. 

We've got form for unexpectedly dying against also-rans in Round 23 at the MCG and this looked headed the same way a couple of times. Any chance - for the umpteenth consecutive week - of just winning easily? Maybe I was bitter having watched GWS piledrive a past-their-limit Essendon, who beat us when they were still fresh, but other than home soil flags the only thing our glory years lack are a ruthless, triple-figure disembowelling of hapless victims.

It probably wasn't going to happen this week, since we last played them Hawthorn has recovered to the point where people are comfortable hanging shit on Leigh Montagna for calling bullshit on their rebuild earlier in the year - as if Richmond, Essendon, St. Kilda etc... haven't spent years turning the corner only to fall off a cliff. After they beat Collingwood the frenzy for their future was nearly at women's soccer style "knock down barriers, trample people" levels, so you can't complain about having to work hard. Our premiership hopes are probably better served by a challenge. Remember Geelong winning their last two games of 2018 by a combined 150 points then failing to show up in the first quarter of the Elimination Final? I certainly do. Now that we've had the scare and survived I'm all for it, at the time I was cursing leaving the house.

The extra degree of difficulty was, for once, not rain but the latest *SHOCK REVELATIONS* from the Glenn Bartlett vs Everyone lawsuit. I'm not going into any depth lest I get dragged into the mess, but it's certainly not the first time somebody's suggested a coach was on the rack. The lawyers will work it out, but unless there's secret recordings of Goody flipping a table, or Bartlett's associate scooped up a beaker full of the coach's piss for lab testing we may never know the full story.

Luckily for Goodwin, whatever drastic twists and turns his life went through in late 2020/early 2021, we stood by him and - in a decidedly non-MFC turn, were rewarded. Winning will make people forgive you for anything short of airplane hijacking, but imagine things had gone badly at the start of that year and we'd ended up with Yze by Anzac Day as I half-expected. Once this came out we'd probably look back at the still reigning Bartlett as a hero and speak of Goodwin only slightly more fondly than Mark Neeld. Now all is well, and I hope the coach is too. As lucrative as the job is, coaching would be a stressful enough job under normal circumstances without having your personal life trawled around the internet for clicks.

As for Bartlett, he may be right for all I know (and I still stand by his right to crack the shits after that putrid 2020 Port game) but hasn't made any friends during this saga. I don't think much of his post-presidency shenanigans, but the tits up nature of his departure shouldn't detract from his administration putting the club in a good position. I doubt Alan Stockdale and his sausage sizzle powered recovery plan would have left us the same way. May all interested parties sort this out privately instead of regularly throwing hand grenades towards our very much ongoing flag campaign.

To balance the love/hate ledger, we had Max Gawn's 200th game. As Twitter continues to decay I'll submit my backed up archives for forensic certification to prove I was pro-Max from day one. Looking back at that night it seems incomprehensible that he (and Jeremy Howe) were probably only picked because Juice Newton was injured, but in a rare correct prediction I identified Maximum as a monster player and massive cult figure on the spot. Couldn't stretch my imagination to our next premiership captain, but also didn't think that person had been born yet.

Max showed a lot of promise that night, including the massive mark taken over Dustin Fletcher that makes all the career highlight packages, followed by the violent close-range shank that is politely excluded. With Mark Jamar at the short but sweet peak of his career, he only played four games in 2011, and missed the next year with a knee injury. After that I was always trying to pick him when fit, but he didn't truly reach the tipping point until that 2015 win at Kardinia Park and never looked back. This may turn out to be his last milestone game, but you don't need to play 250+ games to achieve legendary status. I flinched a bit when they made him captain, but he's been brilliant at it, and no matter what else happens he was the man who held the cup for flag #13, so beat that for a legacy.

I'm not a fan of omens, but midway through the first quarter Gawn's kid having a meltdown while being carried onto the ground seemed apt. We were letting a lowly, long-finished team do whatever they liked unchallenged. Their dinky, chippy, switch at all costs methods would have killed anyone who still thinks you've got to move the ball forward no matter what but it was working. Every free possession ended with them surgically dissecting us from one side of the ground to the other. I doubted they'd be able to do it all day, but was scared that we'd be like Collingwood and let them build too much of a gap before fizzing out. 

The good news, at first, was that they struggled to turn the festival of possession into decent chances for an understrength forward line. This usually ended in the ball either being stuffed down the throat of May or Lever, or breaking down via a failed kick on the way. Problem was that if either side looked like scoring via brute force forward entries it was them. Even with Melksham doing his best to try and contest every long kick we didn't look even remotely potent. His leaping at the ball was appreciated, especially to try and stop their intercept marking, but somebody please have a chat with Pickett and tell him that he's best suited to waiting for the crumbs rather than trying to join in. He jumps for such ridiculous stuff that it's like somebody's being held hostage and the ransom is 1x Mark Of The Year.

Our chances were reduced to quick snaps that didn't make the distance, later becoming a raft of set shots that fell short. It was such a weird day that I'm genuinely surprised we didn't lose in weird circumstances again. Maybe there was something in the tactics of the Har Mar Superstar looking Hawthorn fan in front of me who tried hexing all our set shots by holding his arm at head height and vigorously giving the thumbs down.

For all the space we were leaving around the ground, the regular avenues to Hawthorn's goals were still shut tight enough for now that they had to get the first two via crumb. Now I was having nightmare flashbacks to that zero tackle fiasco against Collingwood. This time we weren't getting close enough to lay a tackle. It should have been three goals to nil, if not for a set shot that missed everything. This got us going, setting up an end-to-end move that ended with Smith goalling from the square. Having to rely on the kindness of 16th placed strangers in the second last round isn't where I thought we were going, but here we were.

I remember a lot of games in our past where we'd kick the first couple then hoist a white flag the moment one went in at the other end, but not here. They got the third, before we responded with the ultimate tribute to doing everything the hard way, as Viney and Brayshaw nearly buggered up a pair of handballs before Gus found space for the goal. Nervous types like me could have done without novelty golfing celebrations before the game was won. 

Then we had a spot of luck when JVR just pulled in a juggling mark before getting pushed in the back, turning what would otherwise have been a gettable set shot into an absolute certainty. Which was nice, but only survived an instant reply because Hawthorn missed three free targets when bursting out of the centre. That bought us an extra 20 seconds before Sparrow, who was otherwise very good, got caught holding the ball and we were back to where we'd started. By the end they had late inclusion first gamers kicking goals, led by six points, and while it wasn't nearly as bad as 2017 you knew we weren't going to win without a struggle.

If the other side's going to kick around you, better win the ball at ground level. So Petracca and Oliver having three touches between them in the first quarter wasn't ideal. Petracca looked like he was playing with the flu, and after his triumphant comeback last week, Clayts had to deal with the clampiest of tags. It's not like he hasn't laughed in the face of them before, but it did the job for three quarters on Sunday. He didn't get much help from the rest of the team though, I know they're all trying to avoid being suspended on the cusp of finals but something better than the performative jostling at quarter time might have helped.

On a weekend where Adelaide got fatally ripped off by the video review system, we got some minor payback for last week when what seemed like a goal from a ridiculous angle was disallowed for contacting the post. While the Hawks were still mid-celebration we were bolting down the other end for Melksham to eventually kick his first after four misses, by giving up on normal goals and just throwing his boot at a ground ball. Any moaning about Hawthorn's goal being disallowed should take in the fact that Viney was well outside the boundary line when tackled for holding the ball in the first place. It was at the exact spot where they missed van Rooyen being tripped last week, so maybe that's an umpiring blind spot? Remember that in case we can use it to cheat in finals.

By now we were in a much better state, before surprise starter Henry Hustwaite went for a Marcus Baldwin style provisional Kingsley with his second. Then they got another from the bounce, led again, and there were genuine fears of a major cockup. Even when we were paid a nine metre kick inside 50 the shot failed to score. Melksham's second got us in front again at the half, but even in an off chops season like this two points was not nearly enough of a lead to feel good.

At the same time we were never really threatened in the second half, nor comfortable for most of it. For example, when a random appearance in the ruck by Oliver ended up spilling to Sparrow for a goal we couldn't have given it back any quicker out of the middle. Even if there was a downfield free kick that stopped the clock it would have physically taken longer to get the ball down there and for the player to go through a set shot routine than this took to move from the middle to through the goals.

There's a bit of wobble in our backline at the moment, but you can't help conceding when the ball comes arrives at that pace. It's in our interest for attacks to come as slowly, and kicked as high as possible and adjusted for playing against homebrand forwards, Lever was tremendous here. More worryingly, at ground level I've got more faith in McVee than either Salem or Bowey at the moment. There was one bit where he bounced out of traffic like a grizzled veteran, and I can't wait for his turn at the Fritsch 2018 treatment of playing every game before being dropped for the Prelim.

After Melksham got his third it was on the verge of breaking open but we couldn't capitalise. Finally all that unrewarded attacking paid off when one of them did an unnecessary shepherd on JVR as a hopeful punt forward was proceeding directly into the hands of another defender. This should have given back via a horror turnover but we were saved by a novelty bounce. They weren't getting nearly as much free space now, so another couple of goals would have probably made sure of it. This happened eventually, but not before a few minutes where we could have been dragged into something unpleasant.

No matter what had happened in the first quarter we were never more than a couple of goals down, so at this stage of the game it would have been comical to give away a 13 point lead. That's why them running straight out of the middle (do you sense a pattern?) to kick the first goal within seconds had me clenching like I was in a Turkish prison. It made me wonder if any team has ever stretched a straight sets exit across five games.

Things went alright after that, they didn't have the legs to keep us running around all day, and as their short kicks slowly became more chaotic we could take advantage. Just 'could', not 'did'. The downside to picking Schache as sub, vaulting him out of the Wayne Moose Henwood Club for one game imports, was that he wasn't really needed, and we had to do a reshuffle to take Tomlinson off, and send Mr. Total Football Smith back. 

I know they'd have cooked this up during the week so he'd have been prepared for all potential opponents, but I'm not sure about voluntarily changing the composition of your backline with the game in the balance. After two goals, I could have done with keeping Smith down there. Instead Schache came on just as we started piling on the pressure, and only got one kick for a missed set shot. He had a go, as you would when trying to save a career, but can't see why you'd pick him again. Looks like it's up to Lachie Hunter to redeem Footscray's losing 2021 Grand Final team.

Even when van Rooyen's third put the game back to where it was before the last break we weren't safe from something truly ludicrous happening. Enter Oliver, shed of his tag for unknown reasons, and able to pinch a goal from a stoppage to make it safe. Then on cue, Petracca made it even safer and we were free to pile on a few more goals. Or, more accurately, to not score again. After tormenting the score worm a few times recently, the last few minutes of this game look like the heart rate of somebody who's just been taken off life support. But who cares, it did what it was meant to do. I'd like to have piled on a bit of misery but shit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which fills up first. It's not what happened here that's important, it's what follows.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Jake Melksham
3 - Trent Rivers
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to Gawn, Langdon, Neal-Bullen, May, Smith, Sparrow, Tomlinson, and van Rooyen.

And that is indeed it, with a maximum of 25 votes available Petracca is YOUR outright Jakovich winner. It's his second win, leaving him alongside Nathan Jones (x5) and Clayton Oliver (x4) as multiple champions, and once again making me feel old that I've been doing this so long.

We all knew the main event was over, but there's hope for the defenders that May's lead is not insurmountable. I can't see Lever or Rivers mowing down nine votes from here but hope they have fun trying. And the Hilton (retaining its name due no objections received) is very much up for grabs, with any of the rookies able to grab the lot with a single BOG. Best case scenario is JVR to win it by kicking eight in a Grand Final.
64 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
36 - Jack Viney
28 - Clayton Oliver
27 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
21 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
18 - Jake Lever, Trent Rivers
14 - Angus Brayshaw, Kysaiah Pickett
12 - Ed Langdon
11 - Brodie Grundy
10 - Kade Chandler
8 - Lachie Hunter, Jake Melksham
7 - Jake Bowey, Harrison Petty
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
3 - James Jordon, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown
1 - Tom McDonald, Alex Neal-Bullen, Adam Tomlinson, Jacob van Rooyen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
As much as I enjoyed the Melksham super toe-poke that broke his duck, for quality + context and invoking memories of Viney vs Brisbane I'd like a slice of Oliver's stoppage goal in the last quarter.

1 - Jack Viney vs Brisbane
2 - Jake Melksham vs Brisbane
3 - Kysaiah Pickett (the second one) vs North Melbourne

Social Media Watch
I've always had sympathy for footy club social media people, especially when they accidentally linked to IKEA furniture instead of the team changes. For a frighteningly low wage you've not only got to post every time something happens, but deal with replies from people who think they're speaking directly to the coach, captain and CEO combined. For however long Twitter survives they can, and should, ignore the replies, but now that you're liable for what's posted on your Facebook page they've got to moderate all those mad comments. Especially while defamation is a flaming hot topic at HQ. I wouldn't be surprised to find they've added a filter to automatically block any mentions of a certain ex-stakeholder.

Now that we've established my sympathy for these people, what in the name of Adobe Photoshop is going on with our match preview images? They always look like AI gone mad, and this week... 
... looked halfway between a tribute to the Field of Women, and an invitation to join a futuristic death cult. You've got to watch the quiet ones, but I'd like to know what Ed thinks about being pictured like the modern-day Marshall Applewhite.

The All New Bradbury Plan's Final Siren
Now it's down to who you want to play and where. I'd prefer Port also win so we finish fourth and play Collingwood at the MCG, but will take whatever's offered. There's also one last twist for the popular Draft Bradbury, where we'd like Freo to lose to Hawthorn, then drop below Gold Coast after they beat North. Having said that, the Suns are such a shambolic organisation that they'll probably find a way to stuff it up.

A special Bradbury Time mention for whoever decides free agent compensation, and has to deal with North's attempt at getting a James Frawley-style priority pick by any other name for Ben McKay. If that comes at the top of the draft it pushes us down one spot, so here's to them getting shafted for our benefit. Either way, enjoy all the simple people complaining about what Hawthorn got for Franklin, not considering that they lost him after winning the bloody flag.

Next week
After just enough games to kill off the most exciting finals race in years, we know that there's a minimum of two finals on the cards, and 6/7 of the teams who might stop us, but not yet who we'll play and where. We're the second last game of the round so the result might be irrelevant, but the last time we played at the SCG in Round 24, The Ox kicked nine so let's have a bit more of that.

Unless Brisbane jump Collingwood and we need to win to get an MCG final it's practically a free hit. There's a free week before finals so no need to roll out the randoms, but a little bit of tinkering is fine. For instance, bringing Woewodin in for Laurie, who eventually did enough to suggest he might be handy next year but doesn't seem ready for finals. Spargo is also around somewhere but Chandler's got the "he'll only get seven touches but they'll all be good" market sewn up.

We've developed a fetish for substitutes who can play at either end, so I'm going to move from Smith, to Hibberd (who was concussed at Casey, so is out of the equation), to Schache, and onto McSizzle. I still think you run the risk of snookering yourself in having to find a spot for the tall sub where none is available, but if we're going to do it I have faith that he can step back in and do a job.

I genuinely have no idea what's going to happen, the Swans have come back from the dead to be finals qualified with a week to go, may be trying to get a home final, and will be desperate to show off in front of the parading Lance Franklin before he leaves and never gives them a second thought again. I'm so down on our record at the SCG that I think they might sneak it. But remember, we struggled to 1.5 wins against the Hawks and turned in a turd in Sydney during 2021 as well. 

IN: Woewodin, McDonald (as sub)
OUT: Laurie, Schache (omit)
UNLUCKY: Grundy, Spargo

Final thoughts
What? Me worry?

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