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


  1. Adam, spot on take of the game. I had a nice and quiet pies fan sitting next to me, who didn't do anything by way of cheering for his team cos I think he felt sorry for me(we chatted pre game and wasn't a dickhead). Loved the Misery Room, Zaprauder ref and your descriptions are gold my friend. Brayshaw decapitation...Love your work

  2. I loved Hibberd’s game; not only did he keep Elliott quiet he also saved our bacon a few times and provided rebound. Sorry to see him retire.
    Rivers into the midfield to replace Brayshaw? It’s been hinted several times this year. That could allow Turner or Tomlinson back in.

  3. The Barnyard decision has been a kick in the guts, on top of our own non goals loss. I'm ashamed to say it, but after witnessing the liquid ass shot on goal, coupled with rabid Madpies fans so loud I nearly had to take half a valium, I ain't subjecting my auditory faculties to the Carlton mob. Gus going down and the pies fans chanting," collingwoooooood" ,was too much. Yes, I'm a soft cock, but I'll have my own Misery room, sans baggers and yelling at my cat...and the TV


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