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.


  1. Thanks again for another M season

  2. I suspect Hibberd’s injury is such that he struggles to play two games in a row. He had a ripper against Collingwood but couldn’t back up against Carlton. I agree, he probably would have returned to mind Charlie Cameron.
    I attended both finals. I never thought I’d hear myself saying something like this but the Collingwood fans were grateful to have dodged a bullet, the Carlton fans were obnoxious, ungracious winners.
    It feels like we’re in a similar position to where we were at the end of 2022; a rock solid defence, a gold-plated midfield but with several question marks hanging over the pointy end.
    Best wishes to JJ going to the Swans. I can’t blame him for seeking opportunities elsewhere. He'll always be part of 25.9.21


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