Saturday 23 September 2023

Solar eclipse

During the week we found out that the AFLW season will eventually be extended to 14 rounds if they draw average crowds of 6000 and a TV audience of 100,000. When the very next game was played at 5.05pm Friday, at a ground where you couldn't see anything to the right of screen for three quarters because of sun, it became obvious that nobody involved thinks those conditions will be met, and they just included it to generated feelgood factor.

The more pressing issue at the moment is that half the competition is absolute slop, but with (relatively) hefty pay increases for players that's more likely to be resolved by 2027 than finding a spot on the calendar where these games have any chance of hitting both targets. If they really want to do it then look out for rorts like playing double headers with men's finals and claiming crowds of 90,000, but it's more likely the season tops out at 12 games from 2025 and the negligent parents in charge of the league pretend somebody else is to blame. 

You can argue the merits of season length until the cows come home, and if there's ever a time to play once against everybody before finals this is it, but I'm interested to see whether they'll jam the extra two weeks in at the start or end of the season. You're either going up against the 18 team suffocation of the last two weeks of the men's home and away season, or dragging it out until mid-December.

Whichever path they take, you're never going to get a clear run in the weeks that coincide with the men's finals. Here's an Eddie McGuire style radical plan, don't play Friday night games in the QF/SF/PF weeks. Cramming the games into late afternoon timeslots does nobody any favours, reducing live attendance and burying the games so deep in the public consciousness that this game didn't even achieve the 20,000 required viewers to make the top 20 subscription TV shows of the night. I know the extra viewers on Kayo make it almost certain more people were watching than an old episode of Highway Patrol but I flat out refuse to believe you wouldn't do better primetime Sunday or Monday. It's never going to draw the same as the men but give the competition half a chance. 

That assumes anyone at the AFL really cares, when their commitment to the league's welfare has been on a par with the Red Cross vaulting a six-pack of nuggets into a disaster zone then putting out a press release explaining how great they are. Even this week, you've got all of Sunday free from men's games and have three Victorian teams playing at the exact same time, then a 5pm game from the Gold Coast which will be lucky to draw a crowd of 861.

It's good to play another round of SimCompetition, because I'm running out of ways to describe us tearing lesser sides apart limb-from-limb. Not conceding a last quarter goal for 13 consecutive games will seem like a glory era once we're challenged again, but for now almost (but not quite) feels wrong tormenting the less fortunate every week.

At least Hawthorn has the excuse of only recently joining the competition, and did their best to make life difficult for us. The problem is that it's not soccer, where you can go in outmatched, park the bus all game and hope for a smash 'n grab win. Class will almost always win in the end, and now that the games are longer I don't think playing 16 a side helps. Not sure there's another 36 players a week worthy of getting a game across the competition at the moment but they'd fill some of the space used for the good teams to easily romp through bad like Operation Desert Storm.  

Ironically, for all the whinging about what a terrible timeslot this was being played in, the novelty value helped me get over my self-pitying misery of last week. It couldn't have been any further from either of the men's Preliminary Finals we missed due to a pair of tremendous cock-ups, helping the CTRL + ALT + DELETE style reset on my brain that will allow me to concentrate on AFLW from here instead. That was until it started and we found out that you couldn't tell what was going on at one end due to the sort of glare you'd get standing 10 metres from the face of the sun, and Fox Footy's attempted remedy of doing 300x zooming on the play.

I came into this about a minute before the bounce and was otherwise occupied at every quarter break so not sure if they ever mentioned Shae Sloane coaching. This was a great development opportunity but had a bit of "let's do this before we start playing the good teams" about it. My first thought was whether weird units like me are supposed to credit Sloane with a game coached, and until somebody tells me otherwise I'm inducting her as an MFC senior coach. I'm sure Sloane will get another go, either with us or somewhere else (and how many good seasons do we have to play before an assistant is swiped for a senior job elsewhere?) but otherwise it's got to be unique for somebody to play and coach exactly one game.

All the first quarter goals came at the end which didn't look like ground zero of a direct nuclear strike, but people who enjoy squinting were still looked after by Hawthorn getting a bunch of inside 50s. The problem was they had no dangerous forwards, so Gillard and Birch were picking off everything in the air, and Heath was calmly removing the ball at ground level like a training drill. And even the couple of set shots they got were brutally slaughtered so you could be almost sure who was going to win. We were upset a couple of times in the early years of the comp via kicking bullshit low scores (men's team - "ahh, there's an idea") but with longer games I can't see another time where we'll get 1.9 and still lose by under a kick.

I'm still not used to being nearly guaranteed winners. All these mismatches can't help the casual viewers, so no wonder people were more interesting in watching iced to the eyeballs tradies being pulled over by Highway Patrol. But as much as I wouldn't cross the road to watch Adelaide kick 106 points against GWS, there's no turning your back on an opportunity to watch an MFC side win by shitloads. Hawthorn didn't need umpires to help them lose so could feel a bit aggrevied that Pearce got away with a Jack Fitzpatrick style tunnelball from the opening bounce, and things didn't get much better for them from there. 

They worked hard enough that you could imagine them being top competitors in a second division, but against us they were toast whenever the ball hit the ground, because it would soon be rocketing towards our goal at warp speed. After a bunch of misses in the early minutes, that's exactly how the party began, dashing out of defence, and working through cavernous holes in the midfield and backline, before a triple-banger handball sequence ended with Pearce in the square without a defender in the same postcode. Until watching the All The Goals video I'd forgotten that it took until the last five minutes for this to happen so Hawthorn deserve some credit for holding on as long as they did. 

The second goal was either heartwarming or the biggest stitch-up of a debutant in years. Any suggestion that Aimee Mackin had been given her debut due to quality of opposition alone went out the window when she took to the first quarter like a natural. That's two sisters who have played senior games a month after arriving in the country and not looked remotely out of place, so if there's anybody else male, female, or otherwise in their family who's keen on having a go I suggest booking an entire flight to bring them all here. She was agonising close to a goal on debut after slipping out of a tackle and snapping around the corner, only for it to take a novelty bounce on the goalline... straight into the hands of her sister to convert instead. I doubt the Irish news will drop all regular programming to show this, but they should.

Who knows where Mackin II's career will go from here (hopefully towards a joint life premiership player life membership with Blaithin), recruiting 3/16ths of our team from overseas and teaching them all to play like naturals is a good advertisement for the mass-swiping of Irish talent. And Hawthorn's goal came from their Irish contingent, so they really are kidding themselves if this isn't front page news north and south of the border tomorrow. Just don't get into the other Ireland - Frankston - Hawthorn connection and remember the time Dermott Brereton was accused of sending money to the IRA.

Even if recent history tells us that a two goal lead (or three if you prefer) means sod all, I was pretty sure that we'd be ok, even kicking to the Manhattan Project End. Here's action footage of the second goal on its way through, via the director wildly cutting between cameras as it was passed to Kate Hore because they had NFI where the ball was going once airborne.

It was a bit farcical but didn't stop us from booting more. As Casey Sherriff went down with the AFLW Worse Than It Looked Injury Scare Of The Week, the previous titleholder Bannan found a way to take the sun out of the equation by storming into an open goal with nobody near her. Fans of MackinMania will note that it came from Aimee's perfect pass. Helps that you could have driven Fairstar The Fun Ship through the gaps in Hawthorn's defence, but I've seen worse kicks to more open players by people who have played the game for years.   

The procession mode button was hit after half time, with Tyla Hanks running around the midfield like Gary Ablett Jr. and more free players than we knew what to do with. Luck was no longer required but it kept coming, like McNamara's set shot veering right at the last minute as if remotely controlled, before her surgically repaired back was tested by a bearhug in the celebrations.

We'll never beat keeping West Coast to a point last year, but I was still hopeful of getting to the end of this without conceding a goal. That went out the window in novelty fashion when Bannan accidentally kicked the ball over the line after mysteriously finding herself at the wrong end. It went down as a charitable donation before being wiped out multiple times over in the next few minutes. Zanker went bang x3, and for all the other nonsense being spoken on commentary I'm upset nobody did a "She's on Fire!" NBA Jam reference. Or, if I'm risking cancellation again, "They/Them's On Fire!" Either way, somebody scoring three in a row absolutely demands 'on fire' getting mentioned in some format.

Zanker's third said all you needed to know about our ruthlessness. Pearce was enjoying a night mostly off in the forward line and chased to put on a smother that nobody would have complained about if she let it go, then gathered and dropped it on Zanker in the square. This, and Libby Birch trying to fight half Hawthorn's side singlehandedly, is everything you could ask for in a team.

By the last quarter the sun had finally gone and viewers could easily concentrate on us trying to pile up as big a score as possible. When Hore got her second in the opening minute I had visions of a triple figure romp, but things went into a holding pattern from there. Harris marked one at a range she couldn't miss from, and played on just in case, but that was it. 

All the action was - for the first time all night - at the other end, and the question of whether Hawthorn could kick a second goal. Discovering via last week's post that we hadn't conceded a last quarter goal in any of the 12 wins was the highlight of my September. So even though this game had been over for three quarters I was still heavily over-invested in keeping that streak alive. There was a scare with one set shot from 30 metres out directly in front but it failed to score and they got nil for the quarter. 

This is the eighth time since the start of last season we've kept opposition to 0.0 in the fourth, so it's not all about the extended quarters but they're doing their bit this year. They had a chance in the dying seconds, but time ran out before a player who looked like she was about to die from exhaustion could get rid of it, and by the look on her face it was lucky that ball even contacted boot.

I'm getting greedy and would enjoyed piling on a few more goals, but when it's got to the stage of being semi upset about kicking 10.10 and holding the opposition to a score of 11 you know things are going well.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Shelley Heath
3 - Eden Zanker
2 - Tahlia Gillard
1 - Eliza West

Apologies to Hore, Sherriff, Purcell, Harris, and Birch

This week we've got a different H in partnership with Hanks, giving Tyla the all-important break that extends the lead to more than a full BOG. No other alterations to the overall picture, except for breaking the logjam of players on three.

19 - Tyla Hanks
13 - Kate Hore
7 - Shelley Heath
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Sarah Lampard (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Ruck of the Year), Eden Zanker
2 - Tahlia Gillard
1 - Eliza West

Goal of the Week 
The accidental Mackin family goal was good but comedy value can only be counted if it helps win a game in hilarious fashion. Due to almost all our goals coming from set shots I'm going to pick Bannan motoring into goal as the weekly winner, with no impact on the season leaderboard.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Eden Zanker (Q2) vs Collingwood
3rd - Shelley Heath (Q4) vs Collingwood

Next week
There's only one way to follow a first game against 2022 competition entrants, and that's by playing... err... 2019 competition entrants. Yes, all these years later it's Geelong at last, coinciding with them (seemingly) being good and having a shitload of our old players. On paper we should get our strongest challenge since the first half against Collingwood but I'd still think our record stacks up against them comfortably beating 3x dregs and losing to North. And if you thought 5.05pm Friday was a weird time, what about 6.15pm Thursday? It's the only game I'll be getting excited about next weekend, everyone else can GAGF.

Final Thoughts
I'm sure this won't rank amongst the top 100 beatings in Frankston this weekend but it was exactly what we needed it to be at this stage of the season. On to the big ones.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Emergency Broadcast System

We already covered my guilt over letting my angst at men's results cloud my experience of watching the women last week, but you can double/triple/multiple by infinity when we had a game less than 24 hours after 10 months of emotional commitment was nuked in the blink of an eye on Friday night. I could have done without football, and perhaps sports in general, for a long time but am so drawn to anything with MFC written on it that I powered through the sweat-heavy drench of misery to back up the next day.

Thanks then to MFCW enthusiast Craig T for stepping in with a surprise guest report. Welcome to the family Craig, and over to you. I'll be back in the italics, then permanently from the leaderboard section onwards.

I'll start by saying that a team must be doing reasonably well, or my expectations are too high, when you walk away somewhat disappointed by a 42 point win. But as I trudged through the Casey Fields car park on my way to the 897 bus stop outside that's exactly how I felt.

My main disappointment was allowing the Dogs to score as freely as they did for the first three quarters. I've become accustomed to this team being incredibly stingy (last season we were, on points conceded per game, the best team in AFLW history), but there they were sitting on 41 points at three quarter time. Perhaps I need to put that into perspective - two goals came (one directly/one indirectly) from dropped marks, including one from the usually highly reliable Tahlia Gillard. Another was, how shall I put it politely.... "arsey", as Kirsty Lamb picked the ball up a fair way out on the boundary, went bang in the general direction of goal without looking, only to see it sail through. And another followed a textbook holding the ball/incorrect disposal that wasn't paid. Maybe it was my Demon Bias coming through, but we seemed to be getting a hell of a bad run with the bounce of the ball.

Despite these irritating goals, I always had the feeling we'd eventually pull away, which of course we did in the last quarter (Current fourth quarter record for 2023, including practice games- 20.12 to 0.5. Ouch). We just had too many avenues to goal for them to cover, the loss of Alyssa Bannan to injury and their fortunate forward success notwithstanding. Two goals each to Gay, Mithen, and Paxman, none usually known for their scoring power, underlined our offensive capacity.

The worst moment of the match was when Bannan went down in front of goal when tackled while snapping. Amidst the tangle of legs and bodies, even from my distant position on the wing I could see it didn't look good. The way she was in obvious pain convinced me she'd done the dreaded ACL. A quick glance at the video on the AFLW website at half time did nothing to dissuade me of that fear. Time for Aimee Mackin, highly touted sister of Blaithin, to be unleashed next week perhaps (One report, one prediction correct. Puts my 13% strike rate to shame). 

You can imagine my relief when I returned home after the three day trip to Casey to discover it wasn't a knee but an ankle, and coach Mick was even talking up the possibility of her being back next week. I know Bannan is young, fit, and probably heals at a rate an old codger like me can only dream about, but given how she looked when being helped off it would be the greatest comeback since Lazarus. I'd be betting on a week or two, but having her back for the matches against Geelong and Adelaide would be greatly appreciated, thank you very much.

What can be said about Kate Hore? It was obvious when we recruited her in 2018 that she was a great natural athlete and had promise as a mid-sized forward, but to see her become the complete footballer she is now has been amazing. With two goals here she became the outright leading goalkicker in the history of the comp, which is outstanding for someone who spends as much time on the ball as forward.

Ellie Blackburn, as always, was outstanding for the Dogs, but as has become tradition an opposition midfielder tore it up in the first half until Shelley Heath significantly quelled her influence while winning plenty of the ball herself. I can't speak highly enough of Heath. To quote the Bard, though she be little, she is fierce.

There are times I can't help think this team plays like millionaires (or should that be billionaires these days?), knowing they'll always have enough in reserve to cover any eventuality. This victory gave them 12 straight wins, a competition record, and in that time they haven't conceded a single last quarter goal. It's hard to criticise that performance, but I feel they've dropped off a little in defence this year and conceded a few too many easy goals. Perhaps Sarah Lampard spending more time out of defence and Heath busy shutting down midfielders has come at a cost. Libby Birch seems a little off, and I can't help wonder if Gabby Colvin wouldn't add a bit of true defensive steel and shutdown ability. When we play North and their three tall forwards I think Gabby is a must to return. 

I concur and endorse all of the above, but would late to wave two offensive fingers at Kayo for randomly jumping forward a few minutes at the end of the second quarter, spoiling the surprise that we let them kick two goals, then wiped one of them out from the middle with seconds left. Otherwise, it was as professional a performance as you could ask for, and more proof that while teams that tormented us in the early years of the competition have dropped off we'll keep operating at full power under the league breaks us up like Standard Oil.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Tayla Harris
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Shelley Heath

Apologies to Gay, Paxy, Mithen, Zanker and Mackin.

Yeah, everyone except H&H (related - I only just found out that H&H Bagels from Seinfeld was a real company. The more you know) is stuffed. There's still around 50 votes available but you'll do well to pick off a two BOG lead this early in the piece. And can anyone seriously object? They're miles ahead of anyone else. And please, enjoy the roadblock of contenders on three. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

14 - Tyla Hanks
13 - Kate Hore
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Shelley Heath, Sarah Lampard (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Defender of the Year)

Goal of the Week 

There was more crumb on offer than the Tip Top factory, but the best was Hore's in Q1 where she gathered a rolling inside 50 on her toes, turned around and kicked the snap. And because she deserves all the medals (no, I'm not guilty about underrating her in last year's medal count, not at all) that's a new leader in the season award.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Eden Zanker (Q2) vs Collingwood
3rd - Shelley Heath (Q4) vs Collingwood

Next week
I'm so late with the post it's become 'this week'. It was only when I realised we were playing Friday night that it put a rocket up me to do this. We already know Aimee Mackin is debuting a month after arriving in Australia, a process that worked well for her premiership winning/future life member sister, but does feel like a bit of "we don't think the Hawks are any good". And given that our pre-season meeting ended with them goalless that may be valid. All will be revealed at the offensive time of 5.05pm. I know they're trying to jam it in before the men's final but I don't think Collingwood in a Prelim needs the help, how about something for those of us who really, really, REALLY want alternative viewing. Stranger things have happened but this time we win comfortably. 

Final Thoughts
I've got a blank space on my wall where certain other premiership merchandise will not be going, this team more than deserves to take it.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Down two then left

I feel guilty for not being more angry about what happened on Friday night. It was an undisputed fiasco, thrown away in a fashion that you'd point fingers at if the Pakistani cricket team was involved, and a fourth consecutive finals loss that leaves us the only side in the top eight era to go out in straight sets twice in a row. But at the time of writing the overwhelming feeling is sadness.

Maybe it'll hit me in mid-December and I'll be arrested for headbutting a shopping centre Santa, but right now I feel bad for Michael Hibberd seeing his career die on the spot after retiring during the week, for Steven May playing another great defensive game only to be let down by others, and for everyone in a leadership position who has to go for another top four finish in 2024 knowing that we're all expecting them to botch it in September.

If we had to blow the season in ludicrous circumstances there weren't many better Melbourne 2023 ways to do it. Throwing away a three goal lead, piling up bulk inside 50s for little reward, booting a shitload of behinds, wasting a heroic individual performance, keeping opposition who were patiently waiting to be killed off alive until the last minute, and losing a thriller. That's a bingo. It's one thing to have done all this on our home ground, after starting favourites but I could have done without one potential sealer falling about centimetres short, and others missing by various methods before a beloved hero did the clanger of a lifetime, leaving our top goalkicking defending 2-on-1 in front of goal with a minute left. 

So how come I haven't kicked an inanimate object to death yet? I had a little foul-mouthed sook at the siren, and might have gone harder if not hemmed in by 96,000 people on all sides, but otherwise haven't been able to muster the energy to join a lynch mob. With respect to people who believe the story isn't complete until we win one at the MCG, I can tell you that if we didn't have flag in the bank I'd be floating down the river right now. There were already serious doubts we'd have won 2021 under traditional circumstances anyway, and as far as I'm concerned this proves it.

Remember the bleak feeling when Sydney beat us by 21 points last year? Compared to what's followed that may as well have been 186, because we've followed up with defeats by 13, 7, and 2. If delusion helps in this distressing time you could say it's good that we're getting closer. But for the second year in a row we were amongst the four best sides entering finals, then not made it that far when the real stuff started.

In the many years we were rotten I never thought you could mix (relative) success with Herculean struggle to the point where there's almost a sense of "thank god that's over" after being evacuated from the premiership race at warp speed, but this season has been a slog. We were always good enough to be in the mix at the end, won plenty more than we lost, and reached the finals in reasonable form but never really felt like potential premiers. Similar to 2021 I suppose, so who cares as long as you get hot at the right time. The difference is that the novelty value of being very good for once helped carry me through that year until things got spicy. This started with an eye-opening thrashing of the Dogs, randomly delivered happy memories, but was always a few steps from disaster and lacked a great ending. 

It's not healthy that we didn't have a solid, easy win against anyone since Round 9. And even that involved the shutters being slammed down after Hawthorn were finished by half time. We lacked scoring power and killer instinct and it cost us when it counted. Injuries played their part, but while being so close in two finals shows we were almost there, anyone who thinks we had a repeat of the 2021 finals in us had a more vivid imagination than me.

The magic number for the week was 10. Not just because we're all thinking of Angus Brayshaw in his recovery from a 'football incident', but because that's how many times we had games decided by that many points or less. If you feel your central nervous system has been tested more than most other years that's our most since 1968. 10 is also for Round 10, which started a run of losses by 4, 7, 15, 2, 4, 7 and 2 points. Even the 15 came after leading at three-quarter time, so while the Grim Reaper is going to be following this group until they win another MCG final (though at this stage any will do), when your last seven losses are by an average of under a goal, despite injury, suspension, and horribly malfunctioning forward structure, you can't have been far away from getting it right. But we didn't, and unless there's a 5th/6th place playoff against Port Adelaide - another shaky team you wouldn't invite to join the Bomb Disposal Squad - the season is over.

It would be easier to channel feelings into anger if we'd gone out without firing a shot in either game like Port, but as painful as it is to go close twice in a row I'm glad we did. It will be hard to watch the rest of the season (if you choose to) knowing we could easily have been in the mix, but I'll give them limited credit for twice being on the verge of the Prelim Final most would have called par for the season.

Friday night ended a shithouse week to be anything to do with Melbourne, coming after a week of Collingwood's dregs trawling the internet like a Russian troll farm, defending Maynard via barely literate arguments with anyone they could find only for him to be found not guilty at the first attempt. The endless replays of him bulldozing Brayshaw didn't shift my original opinion that even if accidental it deserved some sort of token sanction, but when their fanbase from top to bottom went off in such undignified fashion I wanted him to get several weeks just to annoy them. By the end they'd shed their dignity to such a degree that some were arguing without irony that Gus was responsible for his own doom. You would not want these people on a jury.

Collingwood's PR team did a ripper job in making the defendant look like the Australian of the Year, including stories about him being a kindly citizen, and everything short of a friend to furry woodland creatures. Then we cut to Eddie McGuire celebrating the acquittal as if Lindy Chamberlain had just been freed, then responding to criticism by saying he wanted to bring 'fun' back to footy, and I felt really guilty about going for them in 2011 just to stop St Kilda breaking their drought before us.

The bad news is that this low-rent MAGA mob and their canned ham Trump substitute leader are in the box seat to end the season with the biggest siege mentality win since Stalingrad. I've still got nothing against Maynard but the obvious comedy situation is that he does something shambolic to cost them the Prelim. That's about all we've got left going for us in the men's game this year, but please join me for Queen's Birthday next year, in a world where Brayshaw is fit to play and hordes of strugglers show their true colours by booing the shit out of him.

It's our own fault we're not there to stop the dread scenario of a Pies flag, but if we can't have the ideal alternative of GWS, or the slightly less ideal Brisbane, I'll have the Blues as a clear third place option. We've had our issues with them before, and a few years at the top will make them as painful as any other supporters in the league, but the romantic element of them coming from the dead appeals to me. And after they turned Brendon Bolton from the smiliest character in the game to a dour miserablist who's never been heard of again, premiership coach Voss would be a win for smiley happy coaches everywhere. Also, your experiences may vary but I appreciate that the bay of Carlton fans going off their tits at the end were more happy about their own success than hanging shit on us.     

The sad thing is that I shouldn't be writing about our season in post-tense. We had a handy lead early, led by seven points at the last change, had various chances to extend the margin over a goal in the dying minutes, and even when that failed we had one red-hot chance to run the clock down with the ball at our end, but somehow found a way to stuff it all up.

Even though I always expect to lose, I understood the logic behind why we should win. You'd never have convinced me we'd do it easily. After two low-scoring games against the Blues this was always going down the path of another extreme sports, risky attempt to win with defence. I lived in hope of something out of the box happening - Carlton finally hit the wall, we unexpectedly strike gold inside 50, red and blue aliens land on the MCG etc...  Instead, the side on the run of a decade recovered from early nerves to beat recent premiers who clammed up thinking about all the shit that would be flung at them for the next 12 months. 

The blame game started about four seconds after the siren, and while I've seen enough clickbait disasters over the years not to instantly fall for this I'd like to understand the context:

I choose to believe we didn't really open the Chris Scott 2021 Prelim Excuse Omnibus, and journos are mischievously conflating 'Brayshaw injury forces unwanted early sub/no obvious replacement for the next game' with 'players shell-shocked by losing a thriller', because otherwise the trauma must have only kicked at three goals to nil. You can't even claim Pickett's excitable first half was related when he's got form for playing angry against Carlton. We just flubbed it and have to wear the embarrassing consequences of being nearly but not quite good enough two years in a row.

The first omen of a weird night was the mysterious elevation of Josh Schache to sub, after two non-consecutive games against lowly sides this year, with the last as a fourth quarter substitute. I'm still not sure why he was there - if there was any question over Gawn's injured toe then Grundy was the obvious choice, and if it was cover for McDonald not being 'better for the run' I don't know what more evidence they needed from the first three quarters. Maybe Fritsch's foot was being held together with sticky tape? Maybe we're just SHIT at special ops moves. So overall a good night for Josh, qualifying for our list of finals players (pending manual update, we're not running a professional AFL Tables style operation here), but not wearing any of the blame for an ugly loss.

You couldn't pay me to watch any of the post-match content, so I don't know if anyone asked the obvious sub question in the press conference but I assume they thought we were winning, so why mess with the forward formula. Which would be the dumbest idea of all time after we'd gone back to hit and hope kicking + missing opportunities from every angle. Taking McDonald off (and was there any other realistic option?) would leave us without a backup ruckman, but once Gawn had his rest midway through the last quarter surely this wasn't an issue anymore? We'd already used Petracca in forward 50 stoppages or not bothered several times, so all you were guarding against was being caught short at a centre bounce, most of which we lost with Gawn contesting anyway. It's all a bit strange. If club and coach have to get sued for off-field stuff can we waste court time and ask them under oath what was going on here?  

If we'd done sensible things and survived to win then all the selection drama would have been reduced to "we got away with that", before trying to find a way to beat the Lions. Dumping Hibberd from the team entirely minutes after his retirement seems harsh, but I'm sure he'd have been back to resume battle with Charlie Cameron if necessary, and Tomlinson was a long way down on the blame list so I can accept that. Jordon probably had to come in for Brayshaw as the last surviving midfielder, and Spargo had his best game of an ordinary year so in some ways they did pick a side to beat Carlton. Which is fine, because magnets could have been thrown in the air madly after winning by the proverbial any means necessary.

With JVR suspended, the selection call that will be debated forever is McDonald over Grundy. Only one of them has any previous form as a forward, but on evidence from this year neither was going to lead us home with a heroic bag. Ignoring Grundy as starter or substitute is the best thing we've done for him post-dropping, now he's off to Sydney with everyone thinking he would have made a difference here just because the alternative was so unsuccessful. 

The Grundy/Gawn partnership didn't live up to expectation, but was hardly the disaster it's being made out to be. In the end, we bought the wrong Pies ruckman, Mason Cox gives people the shits but we'd have been better suited with somebody who can kick goals/contest forward and ruck a bit, rather than the other way around. Once we'd got Max to September with his body intact (before he joined the growing ranks of Munted Foot Collective victims. Anybody double qualified as a sports psychiatrist and chiropodist?) and it was conclusively proven that Brodie had NFI how to be key forward I had no objections to dropping him.

But if there was ever a time to pull on the emergency Grundies it was after losing Melksham to injury, van Rooyen to suspension, McDonald to a late career black hole, with Gawn under an injury cloud, and literally not a single other ruckman on our list other than a 19-year-old basketballer with a Beatles haircut who barely played for Casey. Everyone from Majak Daw, to Braydon Preuss, and Nick Smith would have risked their own toe injury kicking the couch at missing their opportunity this year. But then again, we had a former All-Australian in reserve here and instead picked a sub whose previous finals experience was getting a sore neck watching us kick goals over his head in 2021 so who knows what they were thinking.

I feel horrible burying The Sizzle because he features in many of my greatest footballing memories, but while gambling on him last week was understandable, doubling down without adequate cover on the bench, against two ruck opposition was Goodwin's worst bet since 2007. Once they decided to replace JVR with Spargo, and have left-hand pinch from right by sending Petracca forward, it makes my brain bleed trying to work out why you wouldn't make either Grundy or McDonald the sub and swap one for the other if it wasn't working, instead of leaving a fringe player sitting on his arse all night while we displayed the killer instinct of Mother Teresa. 

This year has killed off the old philosophy that you can tell how we're going to go from the opening minutes. Shame, because for once this would have been a good thing. We got the first three goals, despite having a likely one taken away due to Pickett trying to fight with everyone, Smith was having the quarter of his life, Lever pulled down everything that came into his area code, and while the score wasn't a fair representation of how the game was going until then it was a serious advantage. One of the goals came from a questionable free but that was somebody else's job to whinge about later. Now none of their fans care what happened in Q1 because they're busy thinking about Saturday evening on the Gabba.

Pickett's reversed free kick was only part of a first half crime spree also involving a one week suspension for a bump, a fine for striking, and a needless 50 metre penalty. This was backed up with f. all concerning the actual playing of the sport. He was influential in the second half, but started dreadfully to the point where I was in half a mind to drop him next week even if he got off at the tribunal. 

For all the questions about our depth players, Spargo was very good early. I still don't know if you can have him and Chandler in the same side, but I'd like to test this theory in a game where Kade gets inside 50 at some point. Remember early in the year when he was taking marks and kicking goals? How does that end up as 'let's maroon him somewhere been centre and half-forward' by the end of the season when our attack was misfiring like a Russian car? Meanwhile, Spargo's reward for being amongst the most influential when we were doing well was to play 59% of the game. In the spirit of 'everything we do is wrong', maybe Toby Bedford was a better long-term prospect than both of them?

If you can ever be convinced by a three goal lead in the first quarter, things were going spectacularly in our favour after Petracca blundered his way into being called play-on after a mark, then casually belted the kick through from an obscure angle anyway. What a way to take the heat out of the crowd, and to convince a nervy as anything opposition that they were outmatched. Carlton teetered on the brink of the latter for much of the night, fortunate that the opposition had no idea how to take advantage. 

The good times ended, ironically, with a second-string ruckman kicking goals. Even better, Tom De Koning came in with seven from 17 games this season, which statistically made him an even less likely goalkicker than Brodie Grundy (10 in 17), and here he was getting them back into the game. First he managed to get into a marking contest with Bowey, before being assisted by a shove from Tomlinson. The second one had full Acting Football League mayo applied, but that's what you get for forcing contact instead of booting the ball straight down a defender's throat all night. This restored full volume to a partisan crowd that had previously been dulled, and they were never silenced again.

Letting them drag our early advantage down to seven points at quarter time was irritating, but hardly fatal. After last week, three goals in the opening term was a luxury and other than their two in 30 seconds Carlton didn't look particularly threatening. As long as we didn't do something stupid like going back to a no forward line policy, then conceding the first three goals after the break. By the time Charlie Curnow finally escaped May for his first we were two kicks behind and I was considering rolling down from Row CC of the Olympic Stand.

In a rare outbreak of centre clearance glory we wiped that last one out at the earliest opportunity, then looked to have pinched the lead back through ANB. But it's not a game against Carlton without video review shenanigans, so after waiting long enough that you thought everything was fine they held the ball up in the middle to show it coming off a defender on the way past. I hate this, because mentally you're convinced the goal is going to count once all clear has been declared but it's still funny when people lustily boo after a replay that indicates it never should have counted in the first place. The closest we got to another goal before half time were a couple of wild snaps that should have tipped us off to how the game was going to end.

By now our forward line had gone back to full Collingwood-style disarray. Petracca was being called on to help in the middle more than was planned for, but what did they expect against a Cripps/Walsh etc.., midfield? That he'd be surplus to requirements, even with Brayshaw applying ice to his scone at home? Oliver and Viney got touches but were beaten overall, and Gawn's preferred centre bounce tactic of grabbing it out of the had been swizzed by the Blues, so we had nothing left to try and stop them. When they got the opening goal of the third quarter I was in full, abject, Johnny Nice-style misery.

Then Pickett nearly went from villain of both sides to hero of ours. Fritsch had barely gone near it until then but pushed up the ground and hit a rocket of a pass to Pickett's magnificent, straight down the middle lead. If he's going to kick like that Fritsch is welcome to play up the ground, but you'd be entitled to ask why the best lead came from the crumber. Pickett helped set up the next two, and kick one of his own to put us ahead again. Neutrals were free to enjoy another close game between these clubs, I wanted to heave over the seat in front of me.

It all led to a very uncomfortable three-quarter time, where I'd like to have had a better distraction than the gimmick where fans can vote on which song to listen to. God knows who's got enough interest to participate, but lucky I didn't hang shit on Pies fans for picking AC/DC last week because the same thing happened in what was nominally our home game. They should have held another vote three minutes into the last quarter and offered the Benny Hill Theme or Circus Music, because we came out of the three-quarter time break as if it was spent huffing paint fumes from a plastic bag. If this felt familiar, it's because that's exactly what happened in our last meeting, where a tight game was burst open by a few minutes of dominance, leaving the team who prefers defence chasing madly to catch up.

Speaking of great defence, this was another exhibition of Steven May playing like full back of the century while all around him filled their shorts. He was good all night but went up another gear in the finals quarter and would be justified calling players and coaches alike a bunch of bastards in the rooms. In our four finals of doom he's now cleaned up Franklin and Curnow (combined Coleman Medals - lots) and come away with nothing to show for it.

For the purposes of coping by getting really angry, maybe it would have been better if we'd just gone fully tits up at this point. Instead we made sure defeat was even more painful by getting back in front first. In the last few minutes before he was refused entry to the playing surface, Spargo set up Pickett's second, then Fritsch put us back in front. 

Cue the most farcical efforts at killing a game off since the last one. It's easy to question selection now, but maybe this was the time to throw Schache on. It looked like we might kick a goal at some point, but I'm almost certain he can't have done any worse than the alternative. If nothing else it would have made Carlton reassess their matchups, possibly cracking open space for somebody else. Maybe if he's there Joel Smith is the one trying to take on two players in front of Carlton's goal instead of Fritsch? Results are rarely determined by choice of sub but this still comes across as a cock-up. Then, and this is my favourite bit, Schache, McDonald, and Spargo spent the last 11 minutes sitting next to each other on the bench.

While this will go down as a lost last quarter, there's no doubt that after the opening burst we were well on top. It just needed a finish that never came. In all the chaos that followed I'd totally forgotten that we were still two kicks in front before they plucked one of out nowhere to make it interesting. Now it didn't matter how much better we'd been for most of the quarter, any tiny incident could kill us off, against opposition with nothing to lose, and the majority of people in the stadium ready to go up in flames with excitement.

This epic piss-take of a result was made even better by the several minutes of the margin sitting under a goal and nobody scoring anything. We had peak May at one end, they had us madly booting kicks inside forward 50 and hoping for the best. Somewhere in this Tom Sparrow tried to liven things up by throwing one of them into the fence but we were doing so well defensively that it didn't come back to haunt us.

It wasn't Oliver's best game, certainly not compared to his rampant comeback against the same opposition a few weeks earlier, but he had the chance of heroics after getting HTB on BOG Walsh. 50 metres out hard on the boundary didn't suit him a bit, but he must have seen nobody of any height except Gawn guarding the line, decided setting it up was only going to end in tears and had a shot. And it nearly came off, touched as on the line as you can get. Unfortunately for us it was touched by Gawn, but it looked like if he didn't get it the defender probably would have so I can see why in the heat of the moment he may have thought trying to tap the ball back into play was a better option. If he'd done that straight into some much-needed crumb we'd have been lauding him as a genius. It would have been irrelevant anyway if the Frantic Last Minute Pickett Snap Of The Week hadn't hit the post.

That made the margin five points. You know exactly what I was thinking about that margin, and was proven correct. Consistent with the rest of the game we had chances to run time down but again displayed the poise of a greyhound with balls slathered in Hot English Mustard. I absolutely refuse to watch the 'highlights' in full, so can't remember if there was a switch that Lever could have used to take more time off the clock, but his 'get this thing away from me' kick somehow ended (via what method I don't know or care) with Viney pelting forward. I'm told he could have thrown a handpass to Petracca, after which we'd probably have been able to keep the ball at that end. Instead he unloaded the standout worst kick at the worst time I've ever seen, straight to an opponent in the middle of the ground, letting them go forward before we could set up the defensive wall. And you know what happened next.    

As the decisive mark was completed I look down in agony and missed the unnecessarily quick play-on. It took until early this week to accidentally see footage and realise that he'd gone absurdly close to blowing it. What a moment that would have been. You say Bradbury, I say yes please. I'd have transported heroin up my arse from Thailand to win at this point. God knows why he didn't take all the time in the world for the set shot, leaving us as little possible time for the reply. Surely he wouldn't have missed from that distance, but we were in such a state that even the lifeline of the century would probably have ended up coming straight back for the winning goal anyway.

I'd been so laser-focused on what was happening on the ground that I didn't even realise it was somewhere around the 33 minute mark. Anybody who refuses to know how much time there is left in their own side's games only has themselves to blame for the inevitable massive heart attack. The people around me weren't interested in surprises, phones were in hand with the AFL app all over the place trying to work out how long there was to pinch the lead back.

The answer was 'long enough if good enough'. And after two weeks of kicking points left, right, and touched through the centre, all we needed was to force one through to get extra time. Unlike Collingwood, where the sense was that we'd have run over the top of them in the added minutes by any combination of goals or points, I can't be certain the same would have happened here but like everything else this finals series just getting there would have been a start.

To get the minimum required point we probably had to go against the trend of the evening and win a centre clearance. I don't expect Machiavellian moves at this stage of a thriller with the season on the line, but maybe it would have helped to force a fake 6-6-6 violation, make Carlton stew for a few more seconds and guarantee a ball-up. Instead we lost more time because the umpire did a Melbourne, lost his nerve at the wrong time and had to recall the bounce. I'm usually into tradition but either throw the bloody thing up or let them play no matter how farcically off-centre the ball goes.

No matter how the game was restarted, this would have been the perfect time for a tap into the path of a player motoring past at a million miles an hour. Or even Gawn finally pulling off the grab/punt violently technique. There's every chance the kick forward would have been picked off anyway, but it's better than the suspicion that there was at least one point left in the game being proven true... by Carlton going the other way and rolling through a slow, time-wasting, behind to finish us off.

There was no time for a coast-to-coast miracle, nobody got prematurely excited and biffed one of our forwards in the face 20 metres out from goal, and at the siren there was a noise somewhere between a jumbo jet taking off directly over your head and an extinction level event asteroid strike. This was my 'you can pinpoint the moment his heart rips in half' moment, I just shouted a couple of obscenities then sat there for a few minutes watching the celebrations. 

Harder people than me would have been cursing Carlton fans at that point but I couldn't help feel a tiny bit impressed at the wild scenes. The other 97% of me was divided between jealousy and outright self-pity. Last year when we blew the Semi Final from a winning position it felt like a near-certainty that we'd have been poleaxed by Geelong the next week anyway (and Brisbane did everything to prove the theory right), but this time I was confident we'd have given a good account of ourselves. 

The Lions would have rightly started favourites but for all the 'thank god that's over' sentiment, it's better having a ticket in the lottery than not. Maybe the absence of Pickett would have made somebody else step up, JVR might have returned with something to prove, or swallowed pride led to a Grundy Does The Gabba forward miracle. If nothing else we'd have had a week to dream about the bad-feelings Grand Final of a lifetime against the Pies, now we're pulling the virtual pud with all the other losers. It's still better this way than the dreck of a decade earlier but the last two weeks have scorched my soul. 

Explaining my feelings would be a lot easier if I'd ended the night fuming at umpiring decisions, trying to sack the coach, and signing up for a joint Peter Lawrence/Glenn Bartlett boardroom revolution but it's impossible to accurately describe my emotional void. Knowing that about 9 million worse things happened in the world that night helps keep it in perspective but I'm cursing the change of AFLW season dates because now I'm struggling to balance supporting our perennially good value women's team and not wanting see another game of Australian Rules football this yer. I tuned in for the end of Port vs GWS just to see the league's other shaky unit join us in straight sets disgrace, and suppose I'll be roped into some part of the remaining three games of the year because it feels mandatory but at the moment I'm bust.

After a good 10 minutes staying in my seat, sort of wanting to stay put until security had to carry me out around midnight, I reluctantly walked back to the city in the middle of the biggest celebrations since D-Day. The last thing I wanted to do was go to bed and wake up the next morning to hear about it again so ended up driving around the suburbs for nearly three hours listening to the blandest, inoffensive AM classic hits available. Then, at about 2.30am my petrol hit 'you're in trouble soon' levels of blink and all my one-foot-in-the-grave, middle aged brain could come up with for a last self-destructive act was to eat a McFlurry. Then their machine was broken and I went home empty-handed. What an appropriately shit end to a shit night.

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
--- All the known space in the galaxy ---
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Joel Smith
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Charlie Spargo

Apologies to McVee, Neal-Bullen, Petracca, Pickett, Tomlinson, and Viney

It's over 10 votes before it should have been and the results were as expected. The only live contest was the Hilton (and even though there were no objections I am getting queasy about that name), but as McVee was the only player out there eligible to poll he was home with a loss. Doubt that will be much consolation, but it's some reward for a very good first season. In all the post-match carnage last week I forgot there's a 'best finals player', and May's BOG gives him some redemption for playing another epic (wasted) game last year and being pipped by the unlikely combo of Oliver and Petty.

70 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
40 - Jack Viney
35 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year, WINNER: Garry Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year)
32 - Clayton Oliver
26 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
22 - Jake Lever
18 - Trent Rivers
14 - Angus Brayshaw, Kysaiah Pickett
12 - Ed Langdon
11 - Jake Bowey, Brodie Grundy
10 - Kade Chandler
9 - Bayley Fritsch
8 - Lachie Hunter, Jake Melksham
7 - Harrison Petty
4 - Michael Hibberd, Judd McVee (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
3 - James Jordon, Christian Salem, Joel Smith, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown, Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Tom McDonald, Charlie Spargo, Adam Tomlinson, Jacob van Rooyen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It must be Petracca in the first quarter, even if he was at fault for getting himself called to play on in the first place, the finish was exquisite. If he'd done that in the last 20 seconds it would have automatically leapt into first place on context alone. Viney holds on to win it all for his snatch 'n grab special against the Lions. 

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

Next year
The carnage count is currently Hibberd and Dunstan retired, D. Smith d. listed, Grundy all but traded, and Jordon 'exploring options' (and on the basis of this game, please explore widely) + Melksham crocked for 12 months, and the suspicion that Brown is permanently broken. Harmes is contracted, but after sticking with us last year there's no way he'll stay if there's a chance to play regularly elsewhere. Otherwise, Tomlinson has been told he's staying and McDonald wouldn't have generated too much list manager excitement recently so will probably play out his remaining year, and that's probably where we're at - at least five gone, with a minimum of one on the long term injured list.   

The term 'mini-rebuild' is fraught with danger, but we've got solid draft picks and somehow money in the salary cap so there's a chance to address needs. Let's do it in a controlled, conservative way this time instead of going 'that guy's cheap, we'll make it work'. From my limited interest in other clubs I take it Shane McAdam slapped the trade request in as soon as Melksham went down, which leaves our immediate needs as a key forward (if Petty's not fit by Round 1), a second ruckman who can either kick goals or provide serious forward contest, and as unusual as it sounds somebody who can win the ball in the middle of the ground. And then we look to the future - May and Gawn are irreplaceable but we better start thinking about trying soon. While I expect to sulk through most of last year I'm excited to see what they do with the list before then. I can't believe we've gone flag, top four, top four, and still gone back to trading and drafting being the most exciting part of the year. 

In Memoriam
I can't add anything to the Ron Barassi story that won't be written elsewhere, but I submit this article as the greatest psychological study ever written in so few words.   
Final thoughts
Thank you again for another season of taking interest. Next year will be the 20th of Demonblog, and as difficult as it's becoming to get posts out as quickly as I want to, this is my own only outlet for making dated references and in-jokes that only make sense to me so don't think it'll be going away anytime soon. Besides, the lineage of the awards is too deep now so I'm too far down the rabbit hole. May as well ride this out until I cark it or get sued for defamation. Just in case, please help the legal defence fund by buying a book, but otherwise until then I'll see you for another two months of AFLW coverage, then take a much-needed break until the pre-season games. 

And remember, no matter what stitch-ups this club pulls at either end of the ladder, at least we're not going around with a velcro Hawk on the jumper. Cheerio and Go Dees.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

It's five o'clock somewhere

As the only Melbourne team to win more than they lost for 7+ consecutive seasons since Norm Smith, it feels rude to lump our AFLW team in with the men, but that's what you get for starting a season at the same time as the finals. All those dead rubber years where I'd have been happy to roll straight out of the last home and away round into something more enjoyable, now I'm both mentally exhausted, and in too much panic about what's going to happen on Friday to give this team the energy it deserves.

Even pre-flag I had nothing but love for this branch of the MFC family, and look forward to getting right into it when the fallout of the other season is over. It doesn't help your emotional commitment when two rounds in half the competition is in confirmed disarray. I'm always happy to win, and unlike 30 years of expecting the men to lose every week there are now times that I can be absolutely certain we're going to win at AFLW. Maybe the real excitement is in worrying about failure, which made Round 1 so good, and left me doing the time-honoured "get on with it" hand gesture waiting for the big matches - and dare I say finals.

Suffice to say, playing post-local derby embarassment GWS at 5.05pm on Sunday, in Canberra, at a ground where every single spectator was on the broadcast side didn't qualify as a big one. Not that I expected to pile on the third highest score in history, but it makes sense that if we could turn the turbo on against decent opposition last week, that things might get ugly for a team which scored 1.0.6 in our last meeting.

The Giants haven't always been poleaxeable, we did have to pull that finals win from the arse against them in 2020, but when everyone else turned up they were left scrambling for players, with help from a draft that allows players to say what state they're willing to play in. Then the AFL let the last four expansion clubs thieve players for free, and not only weren't they able to participate but one of the freebie four are their cross-town rivals. Best of British luck fixing that up. Meanwhile we've been at the top of the ladder for seven plus years, eventually won a flag, watched all the other original clubs have a poor run somewhere, and have practically never lost a big name player. It's got to end eventually, but until then it's been great viewing.  

Other than the furious vengeance unleashed on tired, poor, huddled masses in the last quarter, this game will be most notable as the first without a direct thread to Round 1, 2017. Even Mick Stinear missed a game, but Paxy had been ever-present since day one. After brief rumours about shifting interstate post-flag, the rebrand only lasted one game before injury and late withdrawal. No good comes from losing a five time All-Australian, but we still have star players out the yin yang so I knew it would take some outrageous scenario to lose. Then somebody with the biggest headband since Carl Ditterich kicked their first goal about 10 seconds in and I thought "that's what you get for being overconfident". 

All's well that ends well, and while GWS clung on for longer than expected that turned out to be the classic counterproductive goal that looks good at the time but leads to the other team scoring two out of the middle, leaving you six points behind where you'd have been if the ball got trapped in the forward pocket for five minutes.

Enter the greatest individual AFLW quarter in our history, featuring Kate Hore kicking three goals, missing another shot on the siren, and also randomly bobbing up middle and back as required. And between all that you've got Zanker crumbing the bejesus out of one, and Bannan ready to jump in when it was her turn. If Harris starts kicking straight again this may (and I say may, because we've got to play somebody good eventually) be the season that makes up for all the years of labouring to kick - and often win with - small scores.

We didn't have it all our way early. Big Carl had a set shot for a second but stuffed it out on the full, before repeat entries doubled their tally from the last meeting before quarter time. Turns out a more open game probably didn't the Giants. Congratulations for not just stacking everyone behind the ball and trying to bore out a 30-12 loss, but they clearly didn't have four quarters in them. Two and a half was all that could be mustered before we engaged wallop mode and went for the landslide.

To only be slightly condescending, this was such an easy win that we could afford to not go close to the interchange cap, and use Paxman-replacement Wilson, and Campbell for only 40% of the game each. The cautionary tale to our ongoing success is that our depth is at fish-pond levels. If Wilson is next cab off the rank when Paxman and Fitzsimon are injured then you wouldn't want to be battling an injury crisis. It can't have helped trying to get going on that little game time, behind the ball in a game where the opposition was slowly sinking into quicksand. 

If it was going to look like nobody was there, and without the live broadcast where Fox Sports had to show people to prove they weren't using the old Channel 7 fake noise machine, at least Hore's golden quarter took place facing a grandstand. Imagine if you'd played the greatest wing game in competition history and all the highlights featured a side of the ground with all of one security guard in it.

The Giants should lobby for this competition to be played under AFLX rules, because they were more than competitive in the first quarter. They got the ball down our end enough, usually winding up in the hands Gillard, who should still be bitter than she didn't win the BOG medal in the Grand Final due to not being a midfielder. They eventually turned the mass inside 50s into a second goal, but the turnover that set up Hore's third showed that they couldn't stay out of their own way long enough to trouble us. 

It's almost not fair (but bad luck) that we got to wheel Purcell in from Geelong to go alongside homegrown superstars in the making like Hanks, but credit to whoever's running the Irish recruiting division because Mackin and Goldrick have continued to be good this year. The latter kicked the opening goal of the second quarter and now I was even more certain about where this was going. The Giants were put in full defensive mode keeping us to just three goals. We missed a couple of easy shots, but I don't think it would have helped them going back to the middle.

By the time Lampard (previous tally - 3 in 53 games) became the Shelley Heath style unusual goalkicker of the week, the Giants were holding on for dear life. To their credit, after we missed another pair of shots to open the quarter they did have several very good minutes which included a third and final goal. Then right at the end, even with a lead in the late 20s that we weren't going to lose without the most random sequence of events in football history, Hore pulled down another mark for her fourth and their best part of the day - other than the first 10 seconds - had been wasted in the blink of an eye.

And then the hammer of the gods came down on them, starting with Purcell picking off another turnover, and going through a Bannan goal not longer after to officially kick off party time. Hooray for longer games when you're running them out against the less fortunate. A 7.2 quarter even beat the best in our record win against Freo, and they had the excuse of players called on at a few hours' notice as COVID replacements. Hore's tally equalled Daisy Pearce's club record for goals from that day, meaning that we're now in the interesting situation where we've had 2x five goal performances, 0x four goals, and 20x three goals. Interesting to me anyway, your views may vary.

As a joyous massacre of innocents it was great, I preferred last week for proof that we're going to be a top finals contender again. On paper the first half of the year should be fairly easy, but with the exception of West Coast being as putrid as their men's side, all the action comes from Round 5 onwards. If everyone stays fit and unsuspended I'm hoping we can finally win a Grand Final in the state of Victoria.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Bannan, Gillard, Mackin, McNamara, Mithen

Two games in and there's already a mega-gulf between Superstar A, Superstar B, and everyone else. Best of luck to the chasing pack, we will judge each game on its merits but if a third party wins the big one I'll be flabbergasted.

9 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore
3 - Sarah Lampard (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Blaithin Mackin
2 - Shelley Heath, Olivia Purcell
1 - Tayla Harris, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Ruck of the Year)

Goal of the Week 
There was more crumb on offer than the Tip Top factory, but the best was Hore's in Q1 where she gathered a rolling inside 50 on her toes, turned around and kicked the snap. And because she deserves all the medals (no, I'm not guilty about underrating her in last year's medal count, not at all) that's a new leader in the season award.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Eden Zanker (Q2) vs Collingwood
3rd - Shelley Heath (Q4) vs Collingwood

Next week
It's the Bulldogs, now believed to be no good but always stay on high alert anyway, at Casey on Saturday. If you've ever dreamed about joining the ranks of Demonblog guest reporters this could be your chance, because one way or the other I'm going to be worn out after the night before. I'll still be watching so will be able to do an emergency report if required but will be happy to hand the keys over to anybody up to and including Helen Demidenko.

If either Paxman or Fitzsimon are fit that's Wilson done for. Halfway through I was also considering whether to call for the long-delayed Rhiannon Watt debut in place of Campbell, but being interviewed by Fox Sports midway through inspired her to bigger things. Otherwise, no alterations required if everyone's upright. I'm still relatively scarred by the Dogs keeping us out of a Grand Final in 2018, and the wildcard element of a 25 degree day (probably with the sort of roaring breeze that starts bushfires) has me on my toes. We win but not as easily as this.

Final Thoughts
As they used to say in the Wogs Out Of Work (NB: I am not doing a racism, this was a real thing) ad that I can't for the life of me find online... It. Was. Really. Good.

Sunday 10 September 2023

Did Not Qualify

When you're always waiting for something to go wrong, losing a thriller to the best side in the competition shouldn't feel so bad. But the occasion, the struggle, and the tease of an all-time great comeback in a hostile environment has left me dying on the inside. Win or lose we'd have been playing our next game without a safety net, and if we do the sensible thing next week the only harm done is having to travel for a prelim, but right now I'm paralysed by fear about Friday night becoming Straight Sets II: The Smell Of Fear.

The few minutes near the end where we might have pulled off the filthiest finals win in years was great, but 'it's the hope that kills you' is the truest footy cliche of all. It's better that we gave ourselves a chance, and left them with something to think about if there's a rematch, but I'd probably have been in a better emotional state if we'd lost by five goals. Now I know we matched or beat Collingwood in every category except poise, forward organisation and forcing early substitutions, so feel cheated that we wasted a golden chance to outrun them by scoring bugger all until the last quarter.

With respect to the very good defence standing in our way, we had so many failed attempts to score that I considered calling this post 'Shooting yourself in the foot', before realising we'd have been left uninjured on a bullet-riddled floor. Never before has a crowd this size gathered to see shit thrown at a wall and fail to stick. 

Most inside 50 counts are meaningless, but this one should be attached to use like the stone of shame. You'll never beat the counterproductivity of turning a 72-48 advantage into an 80 point loss, but adjusted for the importance of the event this was much worse. Watching us try to beat a well-drilled, military precision defence by insanely flinging the ball forward like ice addicts on a three week binge must have tested the resolve of neutrals who felt they had to watch because it was a final. Then, just as things were getting ugly and the 'close-knit' home crowd was so aroused that they were ready to slaughter outsiders, the oppressed minority rose up and nearly pinched it.

Purists would have been diving out of windows like Wall Street 1929 if we'd pulled it off, but the last half an hour was basically just wailing on an opposition who'd run out of juice and were desperately holding on until the siren. The funniest win in history would probably have set off the biggest riot the MCG has ever seen, but you get what you deserve for trying to chase down a three quarter time margin five points short of your entire score.

After 34 years without a final against Collingwood, a guaranteed massive crowd, and the prize of a guaranteed Preliminary Final you'd think I'd have spent the week with stress levels so high they could be detected by random breath test. Deep down there was a bit of melt, but calm on the surface. Plenty of sensible people were tipping us, and if we started red hot favourites I'd have been leaking from every orifice, but felt the gap between the sides was enough to merit 'expect to lose and you'll be right or surprised' status.

I thought we could win, just that it was unlikely. It helps that my senses were been deadened by flag, but even after three seasons of evidence suggesting we can beat anyone, anywhere (except in a final at the MCG apparently) it's how I am and always will be. Apologies if you're the sort of person who thinks bad vibes mysteriously transfer to players.

We're all coming at this from different angles, but I guarantee that if footy fans were mass-tested for self-confidence we'd be at the other end of the table from Collingwood. All week I was trying to balance my inner-turmoil with fans popping up Whack-A-Mole style to go on endlessly about how they were going to win, with some insincere "it should be a good game" included to seem even-handed. If I'd followed the extended family and bravely following the most popular team in Australia it would have been a terrible personality fit. Either that or the rising tide would have lifted all boats, helping me achieve my childhood career goals of being a) Premier of Victoria, b) a WWF manager, or preferably both.

My strategy for avoiding fatal brain pop was to engage in as little of the build-up as possible. This was interrupted by the latest Fritsch Foot Drama, where what looked like a near miss in Sydney suddenly threatened to keep him out after all. With Petty and Melksham already on the KIA list, this would have left our forward line in disarray. Maybe it would have inspired us to try something different, but probably not. That was bad enough, then the weather report predicted pissing rain for Thursday night and I thought about holding a seance to contact Demonblog's official patron saint of water disasters, Tony Bullimore.

Regardless of conditions, both coaches were happy to reveal in advance that they were going to play the talls. I believe McDonald would have played no matter what, but even with the AFL's anti-fun policies making it difficult to make late changes I'm convinced Collingwood would done some dark art shit to get the required medical certificate if we were set for four quarters of pelt.

It came down in sheets for about an hour, covering most of my walk from city to ground, but was well gone by game time. Still not sure how they saw what was coming and thought we needed all of McSizzle, JVR and Smith in the same slippery forward line. If you could still make panic changes I'd have seen van Rooyen dropping everything in the warm up, withdrawn Spargo from the hot dog queue and promoted Laurie to the starting lineup. And then we'd have kicked it over his head for four quarters like everyone else.

No doubt the plan was to sub out one of the talls later in the game, but in a 20x more people watching version of the Alice Springs debacle we lost that option to injury, leaving ineffective forwards trying to work miracles from horrible kicks. Yet somehow we were in the frame to either win this or take it to extra time with two minutes left. It wasn't the best night for our defenders but they should still feel aggrieved at another loss where we kept the opposition to a manageable score but couldn't cover it.

I'll reluctantly admit that as used and abused as I felt by the end, there was a tremendous atmosphere. But unless you're a neutral, or your team wins where does that get you? I'd play finals against Gold Coast in Ballarat if it meant proceeding directly to the Prelim. Even with the rotten weather and a key train line blown to bits by lightning 90 minutes before the bounce, 92,000+ narrowly beat the 2018 Elimination Final for the largest MFC crowd I've been in. After arriving early through the better-designed Ponsford tht yer, I didn't think much of entering a Southern Stand bottleneck and shuffling around with hundreds of people, waiting for somebody to yell fire and get us all trampled. I dispute the claim in the Jim Beam ad that 'people are good for you' at the best of times, this didn't help the rapidly building nerves.

The magnitude of what was happening finally arrived as I took my spot halfway down an aisle in the exact same spot I pay to sit in the rest of the year but never do. Then I didn't move until the siren, partially not wanting to take on the crowds to do anything, mostly due to tension. Now I was ready to get involved in something massive, a win that would instantly vault us to premiership favouritism. 

It was never likely to be easy (when was the last time we comfortably beat the Pies when they were good?) but I was willing to believe in nice things happening. Then the bell rang. Cox jumping all over Gawn at the first bounce set the table for what was to come. It might have been a free, but if the remaining 99.9% of the game was anything to go by we'd have just wasted our chance anyway. Even if Max got multiple 50s and goalled from the line I still can't see a scenario where we kicked a great score without several of their defenders spontaneously combusting first. 

The early stages were pure struggle, and while we've been in similar spots recently there's a big difference between a Hawthorn side full of randoms and pressure cooker finals. Didn't mean I had to like it though, and we didn't have many winners early. The best way to take the sting out of it would have been to nick an early goal, but you were already getting a sense that it was going to be a long night. I'd have been happy winning a putrid slopfest 45-44 but it was never likely.

When people waffle on joyfully about umpires "putting the whistle away" in finals, they probably don't mean deleting holding the ball from the Laws of the Game. This worked in our favour when Lever somehow got away with being tackled after breaking into a trot across defence. When that happened I had a quick fantasy about winning via unbelievably lucky umpiring until their fans were queuing to jump the fence at the final siren. Then we gave the first goal up to a free kick 20 metres out directly in front, so that worked well. It showed that if you kept the ball alive in front of goal you might get frees that turn into goals. We saw this, said "that's nice", and went back to attacking from as high an angle as possible.  

All year I've feared being turned over by the Play School sounding trio of Billy, Bobby and Jamie. This came 33% true here. The first was dropped, and the last didn't do much, but 'Bobby' got the first two goals and things were looking grim. We couldn't effectively clear the ball out of defence, and the few times it did shamble forward they were turning it back with the greatest of ease. Then you had Steele Sidebottom, so old his Tax File Number is single digits, romping up and down the wing with all the energy of a 20-year-old after 300 and something games. We've had two players get to triple figures and both were basically dead by then, so this was about as welcome as the time Brent Harvey celebrated three decades in the game by kicking a career-best haul.

If there's anything to be said for the second goal it's that it led to a decent centre clearance. Still, the only way we turned it into a shot was the downfield free kick for Brayshaw being obliterated by a failed smother. I'm not saying the umpires were off their game, and certainly not blaming them for losing, but how did they allow Fritsch to take his kick when Brayshaw was motionless, in an unknown state of medical trouble a few metres behind him? They bet correctly that the set shot would make the distance, but what if he'd scuffed it and the ball stayed live? It was weird, but ended in a goal so I was happy to take it.

Then the focus went to Gus, who has dodged a lot of concussion bullets over recent yers but was in all sorts here. Without knowing what had happened from the other end of the ground I shit myself as random medical people started running onto the ground after the usual club people had been attending to him for a while. Less concerned, the people doing a 'Collingwood' chant to fill in time like it was the Mexican Wave. They are a more insular community than some cults.

The way we'd started, I appreciate players waiting to steam in to remonstrate until after Fritsch kicked straight, but the only action came from Jack Viney, while the non-Corey branch of the Maynard family desperately pled innocence. Nothing says Melbourne vs Collingwood like teammates not standing up for a fallen colleague, but Jack Watts was certainly sitting at home wishing a guy like Viney had been around when he debuted. 

Even though Maynard basically landed the Roman Reigns superman punch, I'm certain it wasn't a planned assassination. Which is morally nice, but not how the process works. Because just handing out  the penalty would cut a few days from the media circus he's been sent straight to the tribunal. I'm predicting it'll start at a Grand Final eliminating two weeks, then Collingwood will 'reluctantly' accept him getting one after a full-scale media circus. 

If they resist the temptation to roll over and do whatever the most popular team wants I look forward to another week of wall-to-wall coverage as Jeff Browne pleads their case before the Court Of Arbitration For Sport in Lausanne. Until then stand by for the AFL to ignore various 'outcome not intention' precedents and do their best to make sure he's available if they make the big one. This will come as a surprise to the Pies fans who told me with a perfectly straight face the next day that the umpiring was part of a rort to set up a blockbuster Carlton vs Collingwood final next week. Sorry for interrupting the conspiracy by kicking like arseholes.

If cramming more than 90,000 people together for a crucial game between traditional rivals wasn't enough, this added an element of spite to it. It became the equivalent of a political rally where our fans would lose their mind every time Maynard went near it, and the other lot tried drowning that out by greeting him like Nelson Mandela. I used to think Essendonians were the most likely to be swept up by Trump-style populism, but while they're probably still #1 for thinking there's a microchip in the COVID vaccine, this showed Pies fans would be first in line to overturn the results of a democratic election by force. I understand getting defensive about one of your players being treated like a war criminal, but the normal reaction is not to double down with a standing ovation whenever he's around.

Controversial tribunal cases are footy's version of an ink blot test. If Brayshaw had gone through him like a freight train they'd have been baying for blood while we'd have been going through the Zapruder Film frame-by-frame trying to prove he shouldn't be rubbed out. JVR spoiling the Gold Coast player's head off was much closer to a 'football incident' than this (and will probably form part of the defence here, which is ironic because van Rooyen later got a week for elbowing some galoot in the jaw) but some of our fans were ready to cut anyone who suggested he was responsible.

It's ok to admit that one of your lot played close to the edge, made a mistake and has to pay the price. I don't believe Bugg meant to biff the Sydney player in the head but once his misdirected jumper punch landed on the chin he had to face the consequences. It's stupid for Pies fans to try and play it down like there's no case to answer, but equally bad for us to pretend we wouldn't see it differently if circumstances were reversed. This is not at a popular view, so I'll be checking my brake cables before leaving home tomorrow morning. 

We might have been struggling to stay in touch, one key player down, and any pre-arranged plan for the substitute ruined, but at least I wasn't interacting with any of the people around me. Then, after years of faithful service the batteries in my radio finally gave in on the one night I couldn't move. My fault for not doing the smart thing and changing them at some point since 2021 but any danger of this happening 27 minutes into the last quarter against Hawthorn, not roughly an hour of use later? This left me stuck between two people who were up for a chat, one who spoke at an absurdly loud volume, yelled out stupid shit, and thought every under-the-breath-muttering was an invitation to join in. 

As the game went on I didn't mind emergency bonding with the quiet one, but the other gave me the shits. I'm not going to hold being enthusiastic against anyone just because I'm damaged goods, but was paranoid that somebody would think I endorsed this nonsense, or even worse that he was my dad. Now that the MCG has a Prayer Room and a Sensory Room, they should also open a Misery Room, where you can still see the game while shielded from other humans.

This looked like the biggest sink in a hotly anticipated final since the 2018 Prelim. This year we had a goal before half time, but that downfield free was our only score of the first quarter. The ball got forward enough, but when it wasn't being picked off via marks, it would soon be in a chain of free players and I was pondering when to bite into a concealed cyanide pill.

Collingwood's defence deserves credit for turning so much back, and we need to have frank and open conversations (e.g. throwing of a kettle) about the delivery, but our forward line looked awful. If there's anything even marginally positive for Melksham's career-altering injury it's just we can believe that he'd have made a difference, even after recent evidence of a promising home and away finish not translating to September. I think he'd have helped, we really lacked a player to fill the gap between Fritsch and the talls. Presumably that's why the bloke from Adelaide has spotted a gap in the market and asked for a trade. He may have had second thoughts watching the way the ball was arriving down there.

Now that it's happened I was probably wrong about McDonald replacing Melk off the back of five goals against mid-table slop in a VFL fake final. More so when the game was going to be played in or adjacent to rain, but what other options did we have? The popular choice now is Grundy, even with zero evidence that he'd offer anything in attack. Even before the Brayshaw decapitation strike Pies fans were so spicy they'd have chaired Joffa off as a hero, so the only benefit I can see is that we might have capitalised on the drama of him playing against his old side. There were only half-hearted boos when he was shown on the screen, but on the way out of the ground somebody who fancied himself as funny was yelling "Wherrrrrrrrrrrrre's Grundy?" The answer was being plenty by your club to sit on his arse in the stands.  

And if not him, then who? A fit Brown's octopus arms would have been handy for contesting the mad long bombs but he was last seen moving like the elderly, Schache is so 'break in case of emergency' that he should be kept behind plastic, and that's about as far as our medium to tall forward stocks go. If I had any faith we'd have lowered the eyes (cliche!) I might have started Laurie (not knowing he'd have one kick in 3.5 quarters), or picked Spargo but until there's analysis from somebody who knows what they're talking about I'm as upset at the ideas as the personnel.

On the topic of forwards, did Chandler ever set foot inside the forward 50? Every time I saw him he was contesting at half-forward. Other than the Crows game he hasn't done much in the second half of the year, but I reckon you'd get more out of him running into scoring positions. And with Pickett barely holding on under the 'could do anything at any time' rule, we were desperately lacking danger at ground level. Maybe we find out the Pies strangled us with the greatest defensive tactics of all time but until then I'm in the camp that we did more to lose this than they did to win it.

It didn't need to be like that, other than surviving a couple of dud set shots at the other end we won the next 10 minutes. The problem was that it came to 0.0.0, before they got one from beyond 50 via a defender who'd previously kicked one all year. That's the sort of goal from nowhere that we were sorely lacking. Even a score from nowhere would have been nice, after a quarter where promising moves died by the dozen.

We almost got to quarter time with the chance of keeping scores so embarrassingly low that our issues didn't matter. Then our response to that goal was to let them sweep straight out of the middle, where their version of the hit and hope long bomb just happened to land in the arms of a guy facing in the other direction. Occupied or not, the seat in front was in danger of being kicked to shards. Famous last words but while I could take a loss, I couldn't face humiliation.

This left us 20 points down, without a mark inside 50, and looking like we'd be lucky to beat their score in four full quarters. Other than some moments of outright stupidity in the third quarter we never played worse, but it didn't leave much room for error. We came back from slightly less against them on Queen's Birthday, and more at the end against Brisbane but you can't do it against good teams all the time.

From here, Oliver and Petracca turned up, and Gawn clearly took it on himself to try and make a difference but my first half favourite was Bowey. He's been blah recently, but was brilliant here and helped launch a few attacks that eventually came to nothing. We were doing so much better now, but failure to convert meant several minutes of dominance was wasted when Collingwood got the first goal anyway. The only thing Channel 7 like more than fans doing their block over umpiring is catching them having a personal crisis, and on the weekend of holding the camera on a Saints fan just long enough to catch the tear coming out of her eye thank god they didn't catch me sulking here. They could have got both in one artistic shot, there was a guy down the front who was so animated that he nearly went over the railing a few times.

Our attack got so bad that Lever of all people was left trying to work out which part of the rotating clump to kick at, thought he'd try something different, and booted it 20 metres directly to a defender standing on his own. It was bad but unique. It took a rare moment of space for Pickett to mark, get our second, and keep up the average of one goal per quarter. 

There were two more points, and god knows how many fails to score, but importantly we were clinging on, not letting them ruin it all by going down the other end and kicking a goal. We gave more of the same after half time, and even I saw a legitimate path back. And then another period on top went out the window when they kicked a goal. As the next followed shortly behind I hated myself for believing.

The problem with scoring bugger all is that you can win (see Carlton part one and Queen's Birthday), but more likely won't (see GWS, Carlton part two, this, and probably Carlton Part three). Either way, it means a lot of uncomfortably tight finishes. No wonder we're up to nine games decided by 10 points or less, all since Round 8. You never know when randoms will go crazy and start booting them from everywhere September 25 style, but right now I seriously doubt our capacity to finish the year with three consecutive winning scores.

For all the shit poured on our coaches about the failed forward line, I've got some sympathy for them. The Grundy + Gawn = Goal plan was always ambitious, but they got Brown to Round 1 fit and firing before he fell apart, then had Petty and Melksham offering various degrees of The Answer before exploding, so in a way what were they supposed to do? In another way, could they not have done something other than this?

This is where things got stupid. Sparrow plucked a much-needed goal from a forward stoppage, before we ruined the momentum by letting them answer immediately. But then we cancelled that one quickly, only to let them fang out of the middle for another and end back where it started. If we'd somehow pulled a win out of our arse you'd look back at stuff like this with glorious bemusement instead of sad regret. Like when Fritsch got a free late in the quarter while we were five goals down and on life support, putting his hand up to say he'd like the shot, only for Smith and Langdon to try playing on, ending in a low percentage miss from an angle. That made me mentally walk out, leaving a three quarter time break bitterly watching some dickhead not win a TV, in the last of some of the lowest rent 'matchday experience' segments you'll ever see.

We did so much farcical stuff that getting within seven points was some sort of achievement, but watching us batter them for the next 30 minutes just made me angry about being closer. The comeback took a couple of minutes to get going, via Cox taking his revenge on Petracca for Queen's Birthday by landing on his leg, temporarily making me think Trac had been seriously injured too. That would have been cause to watch the rest with head in hands while wondering which sport I was going to switch to in 2024, but led to the belated arrival of McDonald, who took an extra step on a close-range shot that would have gone down like a fart in an elevator if he'd been tackled.

That was a start, and when we finally got some luck from a ball dropping right into the path of a sliding Smith even a confirmed sporting emo like me had to admit we might land a famous victory, with burst tyres, on a pitch-black runway ringed by landmines. 

Then we went back to burning chances like pyromanics. The McSizzle revival would have been alive if he hadn't missed the sort of set shot he'd have kicked while blindfolded a few years ago, before Fritsch marked in the pocket for his chance to cut the margin to single digits with shitloads of time left. I was halfway through thinking "Surely to god the man who kicked six in a Grand Final isn't going to be overawed by the occasion", then *boing* it shot off on the full at right angles. That said all you needed to know about this fiasco. Unless his foot fell apart again as ball met boot there was no excuse for a set shot that bad, but I'm willing to lay partial blame on Joel Smith running off the ground straight past him on the boundary side as he lined up. The player on the mark was also wandering around like the lost tribes of Israel but none of that was bad enough to justify such violent shank.

We may never know why Fritsch waited until then to do the worst set shot of his career, but as far as I'm concerned it's evidence for my theory that we'd never have won 2021 if the finals were played here. If they can't handle the expectation now, imagine what it would have been like when the drought was still live. Spending a month in a Perth cult compound was the best thing that's happened to us since Neil Crompton went forward in '64. Maybe it's a good thing that all the focus will be on Carlton next week, and hopefully Brisbane for the Prelim. Maybe it won't help a bit, I don't know anymore.   

After warming up with that terrific clanger, Fritsch made amends by marking amongst Collingwood's rapidly cracking backline and it was back to seven points with enough time to challenge. I was up for extra time if that's what it took, so would probably have died on the spot if they'd gone straight out of the middle for a goal. 

Instead, our last quarter dominance continued, and as I was reduced to checking the remaining time on the AFL app Pickett swept onto the ball, turned to snap and my footy life flashed before my eyes just long enough to realise that it was going out on the full, still leaving us two scores short of doing anything except losing. Collingwood could have done something stupid from the free, but got the ball safely as far away from goal as possible, ran the clock down and it was over. Cue mass hysteria, and in at least one case fans punching shit out of each other

I was as flat as a tack and just wanted to get home as soon as possible, only to be stuck trying to negotiate a crowded stairwell in not-at-all-safe fashion, contemplating gouging the eyes of the fuckstick neutral (?) who was lecturing our fans for negativity because "you only lost by seven". In a condescending, deserving of a gouge way that should have been kept to himself, numnuts had a point. This wasn't the 2000 GF, 2018 PF etc... where you could replay it 50 times and never win. Other than the obvious flaw of only scoring 53 we were more than a match for them, and would fancy our chances in the unlikely event of a Grand Final rematch. We'll have to go the long way to find out, and for now I reserve the right to focus on the worst case scenario.

After stressing about the prospect of getting home amongst 90,000+ people, then having to get up frighteningly early the next morning all that saved me from grabbing the overhead wires at Jolimont was immediately getting on a train that wasn't packed so tight you could feel your internal organs liquefying. If only one miracle finish was available I'd have gladly gone home via replacement horse and cart at 4am after a win. 

See you in 12 months for another go at making the double chance count. 

2023 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jake Bowey
3 - Christian Petracca
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Hibberd, Lever, McVee, Sparrow, and Viney for punching on when nobody else would.

Petracca had this won ages ago, but he has now tied Oliver 2022 for the highest score in competition history. It doesn't feel like a record season but the numbers don't lie. Elsewhere, with anywhere between 5 and 15 votes left, Gawn now can't do worse than a share of the Stynes and by christ if Grundy gets the required 3x BOG to tie him something bloody remarkable will have happened. May could still lose the Seecamp to Lever or Rivers but refer previous statement about remarkability. That means the only real action in the Rising Star. van Rooyen's suspension is great news for McVee, who still clings to a narrow lead. Still time for anyone down to Kyah Farris-White (NB: this is a real person) to snatch it with one BOG.   
70 - Christian Petracca (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
40 - Jack Viney
30 - Steven May (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver
26 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
18 - Jake Lever, Trent Rivers
14 - Angus Brayshaw, Kysaiah Pickett
12 - Ed Langdon
11 - Jake Bowey, Brodie Grundy
10 - Kade Chandler
9 - Bayley Fritsch
8 - Lachie Hunter, Jake Melksham
7 - Harrison Petty
4 - Michael Hibberd, Judd McVee (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal)
3 - James Jordon, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow
2 - Ben Brown, Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - Tom McDonald, Adam Tomlinson, Jacob van Rooyen

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It could so easily have been Pickett at the end, but on a night of slim pickings I'm going for Sparrow's quick goal out of the pack when it looked like we may never kick another. 

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

Next week
Get your blocky VGA through a 14.4k modem score review system ready, it's Carlton again. Like us in 2018 they're going off like a volcano after winning a first final in years, taking things a frightening step further and nearly throwing it away at the end. Here's to their cover version of that season-ending before eliminating a top four side. It'll just save them being humiliated in an interstate prelim.  

Carlton might have fallen over the line against the luckiest finals side since they themselves replaced the disqualified Essendon, but it's a new game on Friday. No Harry McKay is a bonus, probably cracking the door open for somebody you've never heard of before to kick five, but I'm worried about arriving with our forward structure in disarray against a side that's already held us to 61 and 56 points. On the other hand, we won't lose another final to Sydney, and it should mean a spike in discussion of the much-loved 2000 Qualifying Final. Best not rely on another comeback from 30 something points down in the third quarter this time.

We beat them the first time (generously helping boot some life back into them before Voss was sacked), and might have done it again later in the year if not for goal umpires and reviewers playing Choose Your Own Adventure, but I'm on red alert for another rotten score. I'll take a win by anything up to forfeit or disqualification, but until it happens I can't believe we'll successfully hold them to 44 again.I'd like to say they just played their Grand Final and are set to gently ease out of a season that was narrowly saved from disaster, but I don't trust either side to do as expected. With no other big Victorian clubs playing next week, Maynard Tribunal Watch is the only thing that will sap the mind-altering frenzy around them. Stand by for the inevitable 'Ron Barassi wears two scarves' photo on the cover of the Herald Sun

Brayshaw's concussion and JVR's suspension leave us needing to fill two spots from a bare-bones collection of remaining senior players. Now that Casey's season is over we're down to judging the form of replacements from a VFL kickaround where Harmes did a hammy. So that leaves Brown, Grundy, Jordon, Schache, Spargo, Tomlinson, Turner and Woewodin as the only remaining senior players. Which doesn't really inspire confidence.

Unless we do something left field and zany, Jordon will probably replace Brayshaw and will hopefully turn up with something to prove. If poor Dunstan's knee had help him that might have been his chance. Turner and Tomlinson (who must have booted the TV in when McKay went down) aren't what we need, which leaves the rest of them scrapping for one spot in the forward line and a presumed replacement for Laurie on the bench. He took a few steps forward in Sydney but couldn't get near it in 3.5 quarters here, so even though we don't know how Woewodin will go as an impact sub I'll have him instead.

All the focus will be on the forward line, and while he is in no way the answer to the problem, JVR's suspension may set off an unlikely #bradburyplan route for Grundy to return. We'll need a second ruckman, and it gives us the option of parking Gawn at full forward if things get desperate. I appreciate his service and couldn't give half a shit that he's already meeting with his future employees, but can't see how he helps. He's not going to do much with tumbling, 'get this thing away from me' kicks dropping 10 metres to his right at speed, so it's on the rest of them to improve the way they get the ball down there. It doesn't have to be marked every time, just not shot out like a laser beam.

Grundy also gives us the chance to pull off one of the great end of season storylines. We've lost the Academy Award winning potential of premiership heroes May and Melksham embracing on the dais (although... May wins premiership, tries to gives medal to Melk, all cry, *roll credits* would still be good), but Grundy fixing up future employers Port in a Prelim, then the club that's still paying part of his wages in the Grand Final would be good too. Or it will fail miserably and he'll be a convenient scapegoat because he's leaving anyway.  

So if that happens, then the question is what to do with McDonald. He struggled, and with apologies for time missed due to injury hasn't played a really good game against anyone except West Coast since mid-2021. My first instinct is to turf him, but I don't want Schache, and even if Brown is fit how many intercept marks will we feed them with him and Grundy as the key talls. The left-field option for the forward line is to stick Petracca there, but you've already lost one midfielder so it's a lot of pressure on the rest of them. This went alright earlier in the year but I doubt we'd have the grapefruits to try it while staring down a fourth straight finals loss. 

That's about it, other than being right on the verge of ditching Chandler for Spargo. I'd rather let him go inside 50 first, rather than expecting him to play up the ground. And I'm not enamoured with Salem right now, but what are you going to do?

IN: Grundy, Jordon, Woewodin (sub)
OUT: Brayshaw (inj), van Rooyen (sus), Laurie (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, McDonald, Salem

We should win but don't bet your life savings on it. And if we do, is there any half chance of it being comfortable? The ground will be packed with opposition fans in an incredible state of excitement and I'd like to remove them from the equation as soon as possible. 

And if you need a reason to think twice about joining the ticket queue on Monday... 
You win some (home and away games), you lose more (finals). I haven't got the excuse of work to avoid watching us lose again this year so I'll turn up, hope for the best, and end the night under heavy sedation.

Final thoughts