Monday 15 July 2024

Commotion in the ocean

Our season has never been better than the night we beat Geelong by boring the piss out of everyone. Lovers of spectacle, avert your eyes because the 'tedious but effective' method has returned just in time to keep our season alive. The original was pure defensive malice, with karma kicking us in the crack via a scoreless first quarter the next week, but this time we've got regularly pelting rain as an excuse for not putting on a replay of the 1989 Grand Final. 

After the usual review period nobody's ever going to watch this game in full again, in the short(?)/long term absence of Gawn and Petracca it was just what we needed. Wankers and Channel 7 executives can complain about the 'how', this was light years ahead of falling over the line against North. The last few minutes were both literally and metaphorically damp but after 90 seconds of "surely we're not going to stuff this up" we didn't, and are firmly back in the mix to go out in single sets. 

Nobody comes here for the rigorous football analysis, but it's been a while since I watched a game in such a disjointed rush so apologies if anything interesting doesn't get a mention. The second half was a bit more stable, but I started the game watching on a 20 minute delay and having to catch up by a certain time. This required old watching on a phone classics like pressing the Kayo +15 second button three times after a goal, once at stoppages, and a lot in quick succession at quarter time. 

Normal people would have just accepted missing five minutes of play, but I might have fallen down the footy nuff ladder but am not at that stage yet. Could've listened to the radio, but am still recovering from having to follow Footscray 2005 like that so it's best for the community if I don't Demon and Drive. 

By midway through the second I was so far behind that extreme moves like pressing skip at kick-ins and during defensive switches had to be wheeled out. If you've never followed a game that you're heavily emotionally invested in like this, I recommend trying it at least once. There's no breathing space for relaxing and contemplating what's going on, just an all-out information assault that will leave your head spinning. The problem is that you've got no time to take in what just happened before the next thing, so the game ends up as a big blur where you remember the major angles but not always in the correct order.

After kicking our highest score of the year a week earlier, albeit against players who CBF lifting their arms on the mark and a coach who was about to get the arse, I thought they might temporarily detach from the Petty forward fantasy and rotate him out for a couple of weeks. Even after the Gawn injury, it was generally accepted that we'd pick the only player on the list close to meeting the definition of 'experienced ruckman'. Instead, Tom Fullarton was sent to Casey to argue with Tom Linson about who's been unluckier this year, while the great survivor was immediately rushed back to play a role he had no qualification for other than having a large frame. 

I wouldn't exactly say it 'worked', and I'll be horrified if we try to cover Maximum's entire absence with him, but we won so I'm happy to play along with the idea that the move somehow contributed. Bad news for everyone who reacted to the selection like [insert off-colour allusion to recent political violence]. It didn't fill me with joy - and again I'll note that the best Petty looked all night was when he wandered into the defensive 50 - but given that I was ready to set myself on fire in the middle of Brunton Avenue if he was picked at full forward, my Thursday night circa 6.20pm could have been worse. 

NFI if these ratings are trustworthy or the equivalent of inside 50s, hitouts, and "if they'd kicked 10.1 instead of 1.10 they'd have won", but while Petty may be the fifth lowest ranked played in the competition (10+ games department) he's got one teammate below him. To be fair to Taj Woewodin, it's not easy to rack up fictional footy points when you're usually sat on the bench for three quarters thinking how shit it's going to be playing a few minutes, running laps of an empty stadium, then having to back up for some bullshit VFL game the next day. 

Because Demonwiki has been in such massive disarray (and more on that later) I've been slack following milestones, but Woewodin is involved in all sort of sub records this year. He becomes the first modern MFC player to come on 10 times in a season (previous leader - Aaron Davey with seven in 2013), equals Toby Bedford for most times named sub in one year, and goes beyond James Jordon for the most 'activated' (*spit*) player. I'm sure he's happy to be involved at senior level but it must be strange turning up every week to find out you'll be in a tracksuit doing fark all for most of the night. Could always be worse, the unrealistic "why didn't we keep Grundy?" moaning during the week was a sad reminder of the time we preferred Schache as our finals sub then didn't bother using him.

Considering how our depth still feels paper thin we've got a few hard luck stories. Kynan Brown got about five minutes of senior footy before being dismissed, and Matthew Jefferson was probably on the verge of getting a "what's the worst that could happen?" before Jake Melksham rose from the dead to - and let's be overly dramatic here - save our forward line. But there are positive stories, Koltyn Tholstrup not only gives off vibes of somebody who'll be shit hot with more experience but also has a fun habit of picking fights with the opposition, and Andy Moniz-Wakefield has come from the clouds to look comfortable at the top level. Who knows if any of these people will go on with it, but if you'd told me pre-season that Gawn would break a bone and Petracca would be getting dismantled one piece at a time I'd have wandered into oncoming traffic.

Even with some evidence that we're good in the wet, I'm still spooked by adverse conditions. Obviously it should suit a team that lives to win with low scores, but my mind goes straight to the massive debacles. Most recently, the one where we kept GWS to a pitiful score and lost with an even worse one. The mood was helped here by kicking what passes for us as a decent score, and the opposition literally going to water whenever it got seriously moist.

In another world I'd be saying "it started well... but", because the first few minutes was just us piling into the Essendon backline. Fritsch kicked the first inside a minute for I think the third time this season, which is odd considering how hot/cold he's run otherwise, and it came courtesy of a smart punch forward by Moniz-Wakefield. Their only early foray was a shithouse kick straight into the arms of a defender in acres of space, and we went forward again in a way that might have led you to thinking everything was going to be ok if we'd converted any of the chances. 

On a related note, I'm impressed at how well Fritsch's hair bounced back from the early soaking to regain full puffy volume. Things went badly for us shortly after, with their ruckman starting to realise he could have an all-time game against our pro-am division, and if it continued that way I'm sure somebody would have linked Fritsch to a half-time hairdrying and held it up as a sign of everything that's wrong with our club. I wouldn't care if players had a mid-match enema if it put them in the right frame of mind for the contest. 

By the time they'd kicked the next three goals it looked like we'd done our bolt and were going to ebb away to a sad defeat. Essendon's recovery got a bit of help from a trigger happy umpire who paid a 50 against Pickett for encroaching on the mark that was hotter than Mt. Vesuvius. I wouldn't have minded so much if they hadn't all but abolished holding the ball in the opening minutes and let players from both sides dispose of it however they liked. Later in the quarter we semi-evened the ledger with a deliberate out of bounds that caused Channel 7 to cut to a kid in the crowd doing his block a split second before he threw the double middle fingers like he was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Hopefully when special commenter Nathan Jones said "I don't like that" he was referring to the ill-manned little bastard and not the decision.

The third goal was the one that made me nervously adjust my collar and start mentally preparing for disappointment. I can understand the backline being caught out of position if there's a surprise turnover in the middle of the ground, but it came towards them at a moderate pace here and god knows where anybody was. It was the footy equivalent of John Travolta walking into a room and wondering where everyone was. They proceeded to chip around to free range players before finding somebody standing directly in front and I thought was having the same reaction as the angry child - sans bird - while sitting in my car, pulled over to the side of the road in a generic suburban street. Thank god nobody walked past at that point or they'd have called police. 

It was bad enough watching this on a screen where you only realised the escalating doom of how many players were on their own inside 50 as the camera panned, imagine watching that unfold from Row MM, you'd have piffed an object down the stairs. Thank god it was a false alarm, because from there until the last few minutes Essendon was so inept in attack that they'd have got better value parachuting our old pal The Weid in and hoping for the Brent Grgic style 'only good game against his old side'. I'm a year late to finding out that he kicked five in a game last year, but am happy to see it was against Geelong again.

No apologies for any of the issues I've had with the forward line, but I'd like to revisit the bit about how you can have one of Turner or Petty, and say that I'd very much like the former. Not only did he put on a perfect lead for the second goal, but he kicked the cover off a wet ball in a way that suggested that getting him space instead of expecting pack marks of panic kicks may = profit. It also helps when the opposition don't know exactly who you're going to kick it to the moment ball leaves boot. Refer again to Weideman, and the time we reacted to the most consistent stretch of his career by dropping Tom McDonald, leaving absolutely no doubt as to where the ball was going with obvious results. Now they're both defenders, but while McSizzle is reliving his finest days in the backline, Weid hasn't played a game all year so sorry about that.

I assume the stripes on Essendon's clash jumper that made it look like they'd been run over by a car is related to their car company sponsorship, and this was relevant to their performance for the next two quarters. Old mate ruckman was still having the time of his life, but it wasn't as relevant when we had the rest of them well under control. It still felt a bit generous to be within a point at quarter time, courtesy of a late joint enterprise holding the ball/goal by Fritsch, Tholstrup and Pickett, but now that we'd survived the early scare without conceding again I was open to good times again. 

Still worried about how we'd kick a winning score, but the best way to neutralise that threat is to stop the other lot from kicking goals. Not to mention - and I know this might feel unfamiliar - getting some yourself. Cue a very good second quarter that I didn't get to properly enjoy due to watching it frantically like an ice addict. My degree of difficulty didn't nearly stack up to what the players went through when the rain started hammering down early in the second, but against everything I've grown up to believe this favoured us. Certainly helped stop their ruckman having any impact, even when allowed to motor around unchallenged for most of the game. 

Rivers got a lot of the plaudits for racking up possessions galore early in the game, but I very much enjoyed Langdon's best game for ages. He helped set up the second of the quarter, and Windsor finished it by hitting the NBA Jam turbo button and bolting through a pair of defenders, but the genius element was provided by Melksham, who trapped a loose ball, and delayed his opponent just long enough for his teammate to come past in express mode. 

The Milkshake has been through a lot of ups and downs since joining us, and has been written off several times by more astute judges than me, but christ on a bike either he's come back post-knee with a furious vengeance, or we just don't know what we've been missing over this season. He got our fifth out of the last six, but not before Brad Scott got material for his latest round of umpire whinging by Sparrow blatantly dropping the ball. I doubt he'll consider it a payoff for that 50 at the start. Ironically the twin who doesn't look a cult leader has ended up coaching a team followed by extremely cult-vunerable people.

And that was it for a while. For anyone, as either side of half time became the usual endurance test for neutral viewers. By now I was watching in real time from a secure indoor location so it was easy for me to want more hammering rain, because that's when we were the vastly better side. It took a bit of old school Pickett brilliance to get things going again, as he did a Matrix-style spin move through two opponents which unlocked that man Melksham standing on his own inside 50, and he generously handed off to Langdon for the tap in. Later in the quarter he did the most beautiful kick to Turner inside 50, and surely we'd have won a final somewhere last year if his knee hadn't crumpled.   

We're just as likely to turn this outburst of excitement into 4.14.39 as go on with it, but in the last weeks there's been genuine non-Pickett specific spark about our forward line game. There's still a chance for most elements of the much-vaunted Hollywood finish to the season, highlighted by Melksham and May playfully squaring up on the dais with premiership medallions around their neck before heading off to celebrate with a succulent French meal. I'm not holding out much hope of the 'Joel Smith gets off on a technicality and comes back to kick a bag' leg, but there's still time for Clayton Oliver to turn a season of struggle into the Norm Smith Medal. At quarter time he looked more likely to be ending the year in the VFL, but came good at the end. He's still nowhere near his best but who's in reserve that will do better? Best to stick with him and hope that either a) he takes the heat off others and/or b) reignites his sixth sense for ball getting and distributing at a crucial point of the season.

Essendon were being kept at arms' length, but no margin is enough the way our last quarters have gone recently. And who didn't think a 17 point lead was just a one point loss waiting to happen? I sure did when they got the first goal of the last quarter. They started playing 'death or glory' footy, and fortunately for us, the second part of the equation didn't start working until they were already dead. You can argue the last few minutes were a letdown, but once we'd survived their half-baked, late comeback the simple fact was that we'd finally put a team away early in the final term. More of that in future thanks.

Party time started with Melksham probably dropping the ball in a sea of Essendon defenders who were desperate to give the ball to us, then he skidded a goal through, causing some poor bastard to plow into the fence while trying to stop it. Earlier in the night the slide rule was invoked for one of our players tripping over an opponent and kicking him in the head, now I suppose we'll have to stick sandbags or inflatables around the ad boards in case a player collides with it. 

Further brutality was dished out over the next few minutes, including another great lead by Turner against a defender who had clearly run out of will to live, and before you knew it the margin was out to 41 points. This is where I did something silly and not only thought we were safe, but publicly admitted it just before a Bomber attack that had been tits on a bull useless since the first quarter belatedly turned up and started kicking goals at pace. 

With three minutes left it was back to where we'd started the quarter, with the very minimal chance of a Round 6, 1992 style implosion for the ages. One more would have made it really interesting, but despite the commentators fanging home drama with all their might we held on. Good.

Finishing the round inside the eight on percentage feels like a step down from the last few years, but there are no (allegedly) easy games left so holding position (or better?) will be deserved. It's the most mid-table mediocrity run-in you'll ever see, playing the teams currently in 5th, 7th, 10th, 9th, 11th and 12th. Last time we were in this position it ended in a tragic defeat at the hands of Collingwood which ultimately necked our season so let's not go through that again.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Judd McVee
4 - Ed Langdon
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Kysaiah Pickett
1 - Trent Rivers

Massive apologies to McDonald, varying degrees of apology to Fritsch, Neal-Bullen, Oliver (after quarter time), Turner and Windsor.

Leaderboard
I've got no time to trawl the archives but suspect that since this award started we've never had a game this late in the season where none of the top six polled. That's great news for Gawn, who can put his feet up for both medical and relaxation reasons while the all-important votes go elsewhere. There's 35 home and away votes left, so unless we play finals I'm afraid that it's for anyone who hasn't got going yet. If your September dreams are reinvigorated, adjust what's available by up to 20 based on how far you think we'll go.

37 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
27 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Petracca
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Jack Viney
14 - Judd McVee, Kysaiah Pickett
12 - Trent Rivers
11 - Clayton Oliver
9 - Tom McDonald
8 - Jacob van Rooyen
7 - Ed Langdon, Tom McDonald
6 - Caleb Windsor (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Jake Melksham, Daniel Turner
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Turner's Gawn tribute megabomb in the first quarter was good, but as a team effort you can't beat Melksham's marvellous handball and Windsor flying through like the bullet train Australia has never had. No change to the leaderboard.    

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
In the second part of our redemption tour of the WA teams, we attempt to avenge the peak shambles defeat against Fremantle in Alice Springs. I suggest not getting overly excited if we kick two early goals. Before the West Coast fiasco I'd have been rubbing my hands together in glee at returning to Premiership Stadium but now that spell has been broken I reserve the right to fret.

For the love of all that is holy surely they pick a proper ruckman this time. We got away with it against a one person operation, but I can't see any scenario featuring Petty vs Jackson and The Other One not ending in them running riot from coast to coast. If we're ever going to find out that Tom Fullarton is a real person this will be it. Didn't see a cracker of the VFL game but I'm led to understand by various internet lunatics that he was belted in the ruck and dropped marks but got (relatively) plenty of the ball around the ground. 

Ruck it, let's find out if he's any use so we can stop having this discussion every week. If it goes badly we might get our first one-and-done import since Moose Henwood. I'm open to Petty taking centre bounces then dropping back to where he belongs, but don't want to sacrifice JVR into having to do excess rucking, and am not convinced we'll get away with covering up via animal midfield intensity without the element of surprise.

Otherwise, mystical tactical changes or surprise injuries aside, we may as well roll with this group for another week and see what happens. Not sure Bowey and Moniz-Wakefield will eventually both be needed in the same side, but for now it frees Rivers up to play midfield so I'll buy that for a dollar. Looks like the only other serious contender from the Seconds is Laurie, and I'm open to waiting for the great leap forward with him but maybe not right not now. I note Ben Brown is alive and well so he could be a nice surprise option if things get interesting.

IN: Fullarton
OUT: Petty (omit)
LUCKY: Woewodin (he's already got our single season sub record, may as well set the bar ridiculously high)
UNLUCKY: K. Brown, Howes, Laurie, Tomlinson

The All New Bradbury Plan...
Due to the middle of the ladder becoming a deadly minefield some of these serving suggestions may alter based on other results. All things being equal let's go for...

Adelaide d. Essendon
Gold Coast d. GWS
Hawthorn vs Collingwood
Richmond d. Port Adelaide
Geelong d. Footscray (but I can see potential benefits the other way)
Sydney d. Brisbane
North Melbourne d. Carlton

... and West Coast vs St Kilda is your first confirmed useless game of 2024.

Administrative announcement
Remember the bit where I said Demonwiki was up and running again? Well, it is now but for the majority of the week it was in disarray. Restoring the full collection of images is proving trickier than expected, so there's half a chance I'll have to trawl through the archives are manually reintroduce them. That's not going to happen until I've got confirmation that uploading a picture won't cause catastrophic meltdown so hold tight. Design is also still weird, but anything purely related to text is doing well. 

Final thoughts
I won't look back on this fondly if we celebrate the 20th anniversary of their last finals win by helping deliver another one, but for now it was a slightly better version of last week's 'just what we needed' win. Still can't see us wobbling to within range of flag but am willing to buy a ticket and take the trip.

Monday 8 July 2024

Warming up the engine

Not that footy fans are fickle, but the same secessionists who suffered fap-related chafing when the Eagles beat us last time are on the verge of revolution again. They haven't won a game since then, the local gutter press is foaming over players allegedly texting each other that they don't care for the coach anymore, and I say welcome to the stop/start world of rebuilding. Every other time West Coast has been shit since 1987 they've turned it around quickly, now they're following the more traditional path of suffering through wild mood swings before finally stringing things together. 

Don't know why I care so much/at all about how other fans feel, but impatient Eagles nutters can start a faction with their Port counterparts who thought they could finally sack Ken Hinkley before they won two in a row. Be more like Melbourne fans, some who wanted to oust Goodwin before we'd lost another game post-flag. That element would have gone off their collective tits if we'd lost here, and not without some justification. I'm of the opinion that Goodwin's not getting the boot anytime soon unless Glenn Bartlett unveils hidden camera footage of him doing something remarkable, so there's no point ruining the vibe of the place by seriously debating it.

Adjust your enjoyment level as required for quality of the opposition, but we did the most important thing here and won comfortably by kicking a decent score. In a season with nightmare ladder predictor scenarios featuring us having to beat Collingwood by a particular margin in the last game, turning a hot start into a massive win would have been nice but I'm happy just to pocket premiership points and look hopefully to the future.

On the rare occasion of being able to attend consecutive home games, I decided to check in with the faithful and have my once a year crack at the Redlegs area. It's not like the guaranteed Grand Final ticket will be relevant so may as well get something out of my premium membership. This worked well, because after realising they could save a buck by closing the Ponsford Stand last time, the cheap bastards at the MCG went all-in on cost saving by necking the Ponsford too.

There's been no improvement in Redlegs visitor standards, with dickheads still allowed to attend in the colours of different teams. I don't sit there enough to demand a no guest pass policy, but would support turning away anyone in non-MFC merch. This time there were people in North and Richmond jumpers, both keen waiting to start chanting "one of us, one of us" if we lost. Also somebody responded to an Eagles goal by yelling "boo na na! boo na na!" like BT and should have been thrown at terminal velocity towards level one regardless of his team.

Even though the Eagles hadn't fired a shot since beating us, I went into this terrified of a humiliating home loss. Fretting is just what I do, but in this case it wasn't required. Usually you can't win by playing one quarter, except when it's against shite opposition who have had their season highlights and are now searching for the finish line. See, for example, us in 2014 after the Essendon win. The "we're back" boost runs out after a couple of weeks, you have a close loss, and the rest of the season is one big dead rubber while you look forward to what 'the kids' will do next year and start mentally delisting placeholder fringe players.

Long-term nervous conditions aside, everything pointed to a performance vastly improved from the half-baked shit sandwich served up against the Eagles last time. Other than the absence of Petracca, and Lever not being assassinated in the first quarter, the big difference was the return of Jake Melksham. It seemed like a wild move to send a recovering knee victim straight into the seniors without a VFL warmup game but as if they haven't been training him to match fitness in recent weeks, and he's experienced enough to know what he's doing without going through a reminder at some dogshit stained suburban ground.

It's ironic that Petty finally got enough touches to kick 0.4 last week, just in time to get injured. The Milkshake is a different type of player, but with the key difference of knowing how to be a forward. He's had a complicated career with us, written off multiple times, and all but finished midway through last year before a well-received revival that ended in an innocuous looking ACL explosion. Now, after a season of always looking one forward short he's seen as a potential game-changer because all the other options are either too young, too hurt, or too much better suited to playing at the other end.

I need more evidence against better opposition, but our attack looked significantly improved by his entry. It helped that for two and a half quarters van Rooyen looked like he'd reached the point where he no longer needs an older key forward to take the focus off him, and may be ready to be the clear #1 choice. Now watch him kick 0.0 next week.

Even if this season goes tits up, it's not like we're clinging on by our fingernails and about to hit another 2007 and beyond death spiral. Against the odds we've even seen benefits from the Petracca scandal. I'd rather him out there, not suffering from a range of issues that now includes appendicitis and can't be far from typhoid, but it's forcing us to do different things. You'd like to think Rivers would have been playing more in the midfield anyway, and Tholstrup would be getting senior games by now, but with our selection policy I'm not so sure.

For the second week in a row, the best highlights came from a few unstoppable minutes. This time we weren't having to overturn a deficit, and in all fairness the opposition wasn't much chop. It's hard to understand how we played so badly against them last time, but Lever surviving without getting his head kicked off sure helped. Neither he or May were at their best, but in conjunction with a really good game by McSizzle, they took care of more inside 50s than the margin would suggest.

My greatest fear was, as always, doing most things right but losing/nearly losing by kicking a shit score. Cue slight internal distress when two minutes of early attack delivered nowt but Pickett snapping out on the full from an angle where that would have been harder to do than score. 

After weathering the early storm, West Coast's first attack fell apart due to a horrific blunder but we countered by failing to capitalise and soon they were lining up a set shot. I have no earthly idea how we ended this quarter with so many goals. Botchamania continued when they failed to get anything, leading to Tholstrup marking and goalling shortly after. He got another almost literally straight away, when a perfect kick from the middle bounced off JVR's chest and into his path. If Koltyn didn't already have cult figure status because of his name (and am I the only one disappointed in the silent 'h' that reduces its Viking warrior appeal?), and perm-like mullet, it would have been sealed when he celebrated #2 by trying to fight a random defender. More of this please.

Between Rivers, van Rooyen, McVee and Tholstrup (with apologies to Woewodin, back to being marooned on the bench for three quarters), the Eagles took a tremendous amount of damage from Western Australians. By the time the game was lost they should have been sending their runner to our players with fat cash offers. Why not sign up for flying around the country every two weeks and constant scrutiny from the only newspaper in a two horse town. I still don't know why Jayden Hunt did this when he wasn't from there to start with, but I'm happy that he's been rewarded for playing through the worst era in Eagles by reaching 150 games. I still love that guy, even if he's now too old to talk about owl energy and use his abnormally long fingers to massage Christian Petracca's grundle.

For what turned into our best first quarter for a year, it was still only two goals to one halfway through. Then the Eagles did what teams in their position do, went to sleep for 10 minutes and saw the game fly out the window. They'd had the better of things for about five minutes until Fritsch's goal made them hit the abandon ship button and dive for the exits. By the time it was over, ending with two in a row to Pickett, including a lovely opportunistic goal off the ground, we were 36 points ahead and only a chance of losing by doing something incredibly stupid.

Unlike last time we directed some attention towards King Harley Race, and while he was still radiating 'future superstar' there was less of the wading through our midfield like shallow water than last time. He did pull off another double fend later in the game, but this time it was followed by a flub kick so nobody will want to see it again. He was still one of their best, but his greatest impact may have been the smother that led to Gawn's injured ankle. At this stage it doesn't seem to be serious but I've heard that before. Either way, let's cross to Tom Fullarton's house as he tears the metaphorical sub vest off and prepares to enter the conversation. Either that or we'll follow up one of van Rooyen's best games by playing him in the middle all next week so he can get injured too.         

I know West Coast is running on empty, and you suspect we're not going to get the same time and space to roam free and find targets inside 50 against the good teams, but you can only beat who's in front of you. There wasn't much to be upset about at quarter time, but one downer was the continuing struggles of Clayton Oliver. After one of his best games this year last week he looked way off it again here, but maybe there's a human sacrifice element to it? After two weeks of Viney stepping up, this was the best game Rivers has ever played as a midfielder. Get him through this year, give him a pre-season and hope for a thermonuclear return. Meanwhile, enjoy the emergence of midfield Rivers.

We've got a habit of failing to go on after high scoring quarters, but I still tempted fate by checking for our biggest win at the MCG. The answer is 141 points against Hawthorn in 1926, and it was obviously going to stay that way but as long as we went on with it to some degree I'd be happy. The priority was avoiding humiliation by winning, but I still reserved the right to be a bit sooky if we were outscored for the rest of the game. Hopes of a runaway win were briefly raised when a few tentative opening minutes ended with the ball being split into JVR's path on the goalline. Then we conceded one, narrowly survived another, and things were going as expected again. 

Fans of complaining about no plan B would have loved how we went back to making scoring look difficult once the opposition stopped letting us punt the ball from side to side unchallenged. Just as I was hoping for a repeat of the Complaining To A Tree game where we inexplicably won a quarter five goals to nil but lost the game by 98. There was another outburst of scoring that made it comfortable again. Thanks to the gormless fool who gave away a 50 that allowed JVR to kick another goal from a metre out - surely the closest range back-to-back goals you're ever likely to see. It was less a 'steadier' for us as a 'wobbler' for them, as a quarter they'd morally won ended in an increased margin.

When van Rooyen kicked a fourth before half time I thought he was warming up for a savage afternoon. One benefit of sitting near people was seeing the cute old couple in front of me simultaneously do an impression of him holding the ball in the air before running in just as he did. It's nice to reacquaint yourself with the purer things in life for a bit before going back to reading about airplane hijackings and shopping centre fires on Wikipedia.

I'm not going to harp on the absence of Petty until we see how this forward line goes next week, especially if Gawn's not there to float in and cause chaos, but it was a win for my theory that you can only have one of Petty or Turner. In this case Turner was free to only have a few possessions and we were covered elsewhere. I've got more faith in him learning to play forward, as evidenced by his perfect lead into acres of space, before booting the cover off his set shot from a tricky angle. Speaking of weird angles, this was his first career goal in daylight hours so insert your own Disco reference in the space provided.

The latest halftime innovation is 'Horns Up Cam', and I nearly had the horn myself. West Coast are officially shit again, but it was nice to be battering somebody one way or the other. I was as comfortable about winning as I'm going to get with half the game left, but still didn't want the second half to just ebb away without doing something to put the wind other teams. We increased the margin, but there was no big bang. It's too early for a 2021 Gold Coast style 'bloodlust discovered' match, and any margin would have been greeted with "yeah it's just West Coast" (to which I'd say, look how well we finished against "yeah it's just North Melbourne") so I might be clutching at straws. Overall, for the benefit of those not sure of my position, this was a good win and we can all hope it builds to bigger and better things. And if you don't think I'm appreciating it sufficiently log into one of the forums and see how some of those miserable old tarts are behaving.

Any chance of an National Lampoon's European Vacation style "I think they're going to pork 'em" went out the window when we conceded the first two goals of the term. The 'job done' atmosphere was furthered by JVR missing what would have been a career best fifth goal from just outside the square. Admittedly he shouldn't have been paid the mark to start with, but this is no time to be diplomatic. Give me goals anywhere, anyhow at any time. Maybe even in a fourth quarter if you're lucky. Again, the Eagles had a lot of the play but couldn't make it count, only to trip over, fall on their face, and watch us go back to doing what we liked.

The most notable thing about the third quarter was having a box seat view of Pickett finally pulling down a genuinely massive hanger. I felt a bit ungrateful that my first thought was "thank god he finally held one" rather than enjoying it, but as a screamer skeptic I'd be happier with a chest mark that turns into/saves a goal than a huge overhead grab that doesn't. Blame Jeremy Howe, I've never been the same since he took Mark of the Year when we were losing by 90 points then immediately turned the ball over. There's being a completely joyless fuck, and there's just playing the percentages.

So as many times as you'll see the replay of Pickett's mark, I'll have Gawn taking a regulation grab in front and converting. Oddly, the scoreboard claimed that his career record from that spot was 1.1 at 20% accuracy. Does that mean he'd kicked three others out on the full from 20 metres out on a slight angle? He's had some set shot woes but surely we'd remember three enormous shanks like that. 

Once the Eagles had fired all their shots, JVR missed another easy shot by his standards. He still played a fantastic game, but if he's got nerves about increasing his career best tally then I'm happy to settle for four goals every week. 

After our recent fourth quarters, starting across the Chris Sullivan Line was nice regardless of opposition but putting the foot down would have been nice. The first step was to kick a goal, duly provided as a 'welcome back' present to Melksham, left standing on his own in the forward pocket for his second. He didn't look rusty in the slightest, and is a much-welcome addition to the side just as we're threatening to fall off a cliff.

Any chance of the opposition dropping off and letting JVR run riot ended when Gawn and his sore ankle departed. Which was a perfectly understandable safety move, but if there's ever been a time to play A. Random in the ruck this was it. I was ready to punch on if he got hurt in some bullshit defensive contest, but he survived while never looking like kicking another goal. Eventually Turner got a crack at it, but the life force of this game exited at the same time Gawn did. Alas there was no season-defining percentage shift, but I'll get upset about that when we miss the eight by 0.01% again.

The most excitement I had in the final term was the crowd being announced at exactly 32,000. That can't happen very often, and not for us at the MCG since Round 13, 1950. Even that has conflicting numbers in different newspapers, so if you believe these figures were real and not subject to a GWS style 'count the Red Rooster staff' inflation it was statistically significant. Thrilled to have played a part.

Anyway, what more can be said? We won and remain in the hunt, but there's a lot more to be done. Can't see us being involved by late September based on this, but it's a start.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Trent Rivers
4 - Jacob van Rooyen
3 - Caleb Windsor
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Alex Neal-Bullen

Apologies to Chandler, Gawn, May, McVee, Tholstrup, Viney

Leaderboard
Another week of the leaders missing out, but as long as he only missed one game Gawn will remain overwhelming favourite. Obviously he won't be beaten in the Stynes so let's go ahead and declare that over. And please welcome ANB to the podium, as he continues to improve his career best tally, drawing level with the winner of the Leigh Newton Injury Drama Award for third.

The action, for once, is in the Rising Star race, where Windsor has leapt from the grave to break the tie with Turner and take an outright lead. Still plenty of contenders who could nick it but I won't lie, a genuine first year player feels better suited to winning than somebody who qualified on the four games or less rule.

37 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
27 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Christian Petracca
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Jack Viney
12 - Kysaiah Pickett
11 - Clayton Oliver, Trent Rivers
9 - Tom McDonald, Judd McVee
8 - Jacob van Rooyen
7 - Tom McDonald
6 - Caleb Windsor (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Ed Langdon, Daniel Turner
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to the crumb aspect of Pickett's first quarter goal, but I'm giving an inaugural nomination to Tholstrup for his second due to the aggro celebration. No change to the leaderboard.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
This was a perfectly good win but I won't fully appreciate it unless we back up against Essendon on Saturday. Regretfully, they are confirmed good again so it's up to us to save humanity with a win here. Could very well happen, but it won't be this easy.

Casey lost comfortably again, so other than Gawn's dicky ankle I suspect the only other changes will be for tactical considerations that I don't understand. A positive forward performance is bad news for McAdam and Jefferson, who both kicked goals in an otherwise ordinary game. As the theory about Windsor running out of gas has been temporarily discontinued, I've got nothing. Maybe we don't need all of Bowey, AMW and Salem but unless it's time for Tomlinson comes in - Tomlinson goes out episode 921 they can all stay. Bet they bring Petty straight back.

IN: Fullarton
OUT: Gawn (omit)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: K. Brown, Howes, Jefferson, McAdam, Tomlinson

The All New Bradbury Plan...
We're almost at the point where people get angry about trying to Bradbury into the finals and lobby to finish 13th for the draft benefits. Not interested.

Geelong d. Collingwood (if the Pies aren't going to walk into the eight then let's keep them within range before R24 just in case...)
North d. Sydney (just in case the Swans spontaneously combust and make it interesting)
Hawthorn d. Freo
Carlton d. Footscray (there could be benefits going the other way but I don't think you can stop Carlton making it so they can kill a fringe contender instead)|
Adelaide d. St Kilda (almost a 'don't care' but may as well ensure the Saints don't get on a run)
Gold Coast d. Port (willing to keep the Suns in the mix by dragging Port down)
Richmond d. GWS
West Coast d. Brisbane

Administrative announcement
If you've read this far you're probably the sort of sicko who'd have noticed Demonwiki falling over more in recent weeks than Melbourne's forward line. Fear not fact fans, we're not entirely outage free yet but at the time of writing the site is back online. Due to an upgrade from 2009-era software the design looks weird and all the picture links need to be manually updated (insert sarcastic thumbs up emoji here) but your #1 source for obscure MFC content is alive and well for now.

Final thoughts
Because I'm old it still feels like Facebook is a new thing when in reality it was lapped by Twitter about 15 years ago. On my way home it served up a post with my reaction from 7 July 2013, when a 31 point loss with Dean Terlich as our best player was called "not as bad as I expected". This was a good reminder that I'm not in a position to complain about nine goal wins yet.

Saturday 29 June 2024

The bland played on

I haven't gone into any game 100% convinced about Melbourne winning since 1993, but this was the first time in several years that I didn't rate us any chance. After weeks of trying to conjure up a reverse jinx of individual players this almost set one off for the whole team. Sure all the scoring was stacked into one part of the game, but a side who'd been scoring for fun recently was held to a reasonable total at home, and we started the last quarter ahead. Then the Make A Wish Football Club reappeared, finishing the game with 0.4, and losing by under a kick. Goodbye West Coast '98 style season rebooting win, hello confirmed mid-table mediocrity.

So much of Friday night was good that I'm more broken up about losing than any recent home and away game, and even a couple of the finals. But you get what you deserve for kicking eight goals in one quarter, an average of one for the rest, and nil when it counted. Regardless of the cock-up finish and barely scoring for 3/4 of the game I'm happier at how we played than against North. Shame that premiership points are distributed on final score rather than exceeding expectations (this week anyway), because this has left us where we expected to be, in a fair bit of shit.

If you're already treating this as the 2025 pre-season there's not much to argue about in this performance, but those of us clinging onto outside hopes of a revival are entitled to be deflated. Twice this year we've put on an unexpected brisk run of goals against the Lions while looking almost totally incapable of scoring for the rest of it. Last time Brisbane applied the handbrake after they'd confirmed victory, this time the rush came when it counted but was followed by relatively bugger all. Either way, what must have been our most inexperienced side in years put in the desired effort and nearly pulled off something memorable but ultimately it's a case of 'operation successful, patient dead'. Maybe not quite dead, but with somebody hovering over the top with a defib yelling "clear!"     

Last week we won in a rock bottom atmosphere of disappointment, but this felt much more like a final. Mostly because we kicked an average score, slaughtered a bunch of golden chances to win, then lost a thriller. Stranger things have happened, but this may be as close as we'll get to a September atmosphere this season. At the same time, as much as it feels like the Grim Reaper is rounding the final turn, the only completely unexpected loss was West Coast, so pull a couple of wins out of our arse in the next few weeks and who knows. I think I know, but am still holding off joining the anti-everyone picket line. 

This was a brave performance (and I hate that we're back to having brave performances) Lever's return only restored one vital piece of the puzzle, so unless you've got supernatural belief in Bowey, Melksham, Salem or A. Random making a difference I'd be surprised if we even get to the nightmare scenario of having to beat Collingwood in the last round just to sneak into the eight. Some will say they don't want to fall in, but I'd be happy to get a ticket in the lottery and see what we can do without expectation.  

Recent games have included more storylines than the World Wrestling Federation, but I think we can bash through this relatively quickly. If you're in a hurry the TL:DR is - slow start followed by purplest patch of the season, before clinging on for the second half while Brisbane ran us down in slow motion, before botching a few chances to counter-punch, falling over in the last few minutes, then losing to a suicidal free kick.

By full time I was reportedly swearing enough for the whole house to hear it, but started this game doing the emotional equivalent of watching through my fingers. Brisbane has done silly things like losing to Hawthorn and drawing with Adelaide this year, but seem to have found their bloodlust in recent weeks, including two 150+ point scores - which was about 33% of what we'd done all season. 

With Lever back, I had faith we'd avoid the same plundering that fellow ex-premiership contender Port got last week, but had zero faith of keeping them to a score we could cover. Based on the last quarter against North that could have been as low as 0.1.1. We got a bit from columns A and B, nearly halving their score from last week and kicking our fifth highest tally of the season, but just falling short. The problem - and at the moment there's always a problem - is that the fifth highest total was mostly made up by the first highest quarter. The rest was ordinary. And unlike the previous game I wouldn't have been offended if we'd fallen over the line with our gizzards hanging out.

After having to show a string of games where we tried to put the nation to sleep, Channel 7 must have thought their only chance of value from broadcasting this was Brisbane kicking our brains in. They did their bit to hype 'interstate club vs mid-range Victorians in shit form' with a dramatic pre-match video package that heavily focused on the lights going out last year rather than a dozen more interesting things that have happened between these sides in recent years. And that's without risking their broadcast licence by showing Alex Neal-Bullen power spewing on the Gabba in 2022. The most offensive bit of that footage (viewer discretion advised) is being 10 goals up before half time and knowing what happened in the rematch.

Unlike the players called on to have a big laugh about the power outage I'm still upset about being so far behind at the time, but the one interesting thing to come out of it was behind the ball footage that showed the big bang happened just as an opponent was mid-leaping smother attempt against Angus Brayshaw. If that's not dramatic foreshadowing I don't know what is, but I'll note that even in sudden darkness this guy managed to avoid going through him like a freight train at a level crossing. And if there was a murder in the dark incident I think we'll agree that the Brisbane player would have paid the 'early season'/'not Collingwood player' tax and been suspended.

Days after suggestions that Channel 7 might give Big Turd the Big Turf (spoiler: no way this happens), this putrid cartoon character of a commentator did his best to promote network interests by declaring it was a "good start for Melbourne" 28 seconds in. This was based on a single clearance and inside 50 that failed to generate a score, and at the point where most of us still expected to lose comfortably it felt like a pisstake. Especially when Brisbane soon went two goals up without much resistance. These madcap antics might appeal to some sections of society, but none that should be taken seriously. 

This dickhead annoyed me so much I considered the gimmick where you can sync SEN commentary to your TV but flinched at the prospect of every in-game event being tied to some bootleg-sounding sponsor and ongoing mortality reminding mentions of how Tobin Brothers are celebrating lives. Even if much of it will come from people watching TV in a studio, roll on Foxtel having their own commentary on Channel 7 games next year. Until they go out of their way to annoy me and try to counter-program Taylor with Dwayne Russell. Keep everyone happy and have a range of feeds from Complete Lunacy to Hardcore Footy Nerdery, then I can pick something in the middle and switch to the extreme options as necessary.     

Anyone who saw what we did with a legitimately good start against Freo would have wanted a bit more evidence than that, and the sense that this could get disastrous was furthered by Cam Rayner jumping all over Woewodin at the top of the square, then treating him like a peasant after. I'm all for players doing spicy things to keep the game interesting, but Brisbane is quite a lippy organisation considering they've done nothing except let Collingwood win a flag. Once we're no longer eligible to participate in the premiership race I'll be specifically going for James Jordon, but there will be serious moral dilemmas if we're left with Brisbane holding the fort against Carlton, Collingwood or Essendon flags.

After signing up to thousand of dollars in fines for a pissweak 'melee' against North, our rulebreaking technique of the week was the clattering late spoil. It didn't rattle Brisbane nearly as much as the ground level chase 'n tackle in the second quarter, but I'm ready to rerun the JVR vs Gold Coast 'football action' defence if anyone gets rubbed out. 

They nearly got their second goal from another celebrity finee, as May gently tracked a ball over the line without realising it came off a Brisbane player. Lucky for him the replay showed it came via a knee and we survived with a point, but not before a good old fashioned exchange of views with Lever. Despite clear video evidence that it wasn't a goal some humanoids booed loudly, proving that some people need to exiled from mainland Australia. To be fair May did yell at Tomlinson for an even less ridiculous leave against Freo but as a White Line Fever nutter I'm sure he'd appreciate the irony.

This was only a quick break from them pounding away like a huge score was on the cards, before Pickett made his usual Mr. Electricity contribution while all stood still around him. He kicked off one of his best nights (well, best three quarters but he wasn't alone in disappearing late) with a big tackle in front of goal. That helped slow Brisbane down, and with the Gawn to Oliver/Viney service working better than anytime recently we got back in the game. Viney did pretty much as last week, throwing himself at every contest like a mad bastard, stopping them gettting it enough that you can excuse most of the disposals missing a target. After a career worst game, Oliver bounced back for much better this time. He didn't run it out, and is still light years below his peak footy gathering years but the right instincts are still there if we don't do something stupid like trade him to Port Adelaide for pick 37 and a fringe Motlop.

I was happy that we'd stopped letting goals in, but at the price of not kicking them ourselves. This time there were plenty of opportunities, but after zero behinds after half time last week we fed the habit with a 1.5 quarter plus bonus OOF. In another throwback to the worst win ever, Rivers got anothrt one on the run, but not until he'd been pinched running the Olympic Marathon first. 

If they'd punished that accordingly instead of missing from 20 metres out it might have provoked a collapse, but we survived until quarter time looking likely to battle hard but slowly ebb away to our death. Then out of nowhere, the best response to going under siege since Casey Ryback. I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much knowing we'd only kick one more goal for the game, but at the time eight in a quarter was a welcome break from recent medieval sadness. 

A word for Andy Moniz-Wakefield, who survived the dreaded fringe player change of position in the VFL, and had to rack up shitloads of disposals for weeks on end before getting his chance. I was worried it was going to come off like cycling through the list while the house burned down around us, but he looked comfortable against good opposition. Whether it's a long-term thing I can't say, but if we were at full pelt this year he may never have got a chance then got the boot after three years on the list and if we have to be in reduced circumstances I'm happy he got a chance and made the most of it.

For the first time since ??? we genuinely had a decent team on the run for a few minutes. It's happened in patches this year, but not to this level. It started slowly, with our first goal being wiped out via one of May's occasional short kick-in disasters. The old 'wallop it long and to the left' move is a cliche, and maybe Gawn was off the ground at the time, but if we're going to be beaten to a mark I'd rather it happen 60 metres from goal, not right in front. That could've been the green light to fall apart, but instead provoked us to go absolutely boonta. Pickett and Viney were at the heart of it, but Gawn's dominance in the middle helped. It wasn't one of his better around the ground games, but he flayed McInerney at the stoppages, and for once we did something when ball met ground.

By the time Oliver got a 50 that was actually about 40 (after North got one that was 70) for the sixth in a row I was getting excited. This is always the most dangerous thing to do around Melbourne, because naturally the next thing we did was let one in at the other end. But Pickett's fourth before the break restored the lead and by christ we looked good again. My only concern was recent inability to string multiple high scoring quarters together. We'll boot five or six (not usually eight), then follow it with one or none, so I wasn't getting sucked in to thinking this was a life-affirming romp waiting to happen.

The rot started in comical fashion after May took a mark on the wing, then after everyone ran forward the Brisbane player appeal for a free like he was playing cricket, the umpire went "you know what, you're right", and paid a block that left our backline standing around going "pardon?" while three Brisbane players ran into an open goal. Not for the last time in this game they nearly stuffed up a golden opportunity, but finally made it count. 

Turner popped up for a goal not long after, and after his shithouse miss on King's Birthday I'm back to being confident in his set shots, but the petrol light was starting to blink. So was the goalkicking accuracy light, with Langdon and Petty both missing gettable shots. Ironically, after weeks of hanging shit on his forward craft this was Petty's best game in ages. The issue is that he can't kick a set shot to save himself anymore, which was cruelly highlighted by the fact that he got near the ball more often than the last month combined, took five contested marks, and did enough to have four shots. 

One of them would have made the margin 28, but turned straight into a Brisbane goal at the other end, setting basic people who couldn't comprehend how much better this was than him not getting a touch at all off onto all sorts of excessively personal rants. I'm excessively on the record in not wanting him to play as a forward, but you're as late to the party choosing this as a week for a full turn as I will be when eventually cracking the full shits with Goodwin. Both he and Turner showed improvement here, and if we're going to stick with trying to make them a thing then here's hoping the big click isn't far away. Then just as he'd got some confidence in one part of his game, Harrison limped off with an ankle injury, got subbed out in just the week we might have got something out of him at the end, will probably find out in a few days that his leg needs to be amputated. I bet they'd still try and play him, hopping around on the remaining one in the background.

It was heading in the wrong direction when Pickett briefly recovered the momentum with a lovely fifth, leaving us 15 points ahead at three quarter time. I knew Brisbane was far from dead, but dearly wanted to believe that we'd survive a competitive, maybe even high-scoring final term and come out ahead. A trench warfare struggle with no goals was more likely, but surely (SURELY) we wouldn't go full loser and have a second goalless final quarter in two weeks?

If they were just going to take him off anyway, I have NFI why Petty came back on for the last quarter, but he could have made it worthwhile by converting the opening set shot. I don't know if Kynan Brown would have made a difference in a team that looked collectively dead, but it took another half a quarter for him to come on. This time he didn't get to open his account with a flying, goal-saving tackle, but could always look forward to his dreams coming true with a full game in the VFL the next day.

The rest of this was like a nature documentary with a predator stalking wounded prey, waiting to tear it to buggery. We were holding up at the back, including McDonald flying in to stop what would have been an obvious goal, but couldn't for the life of us put the game away. This time there were shots, just not many, and none any good. Between the defenders and Viney flying in for a K. Brown-esque super-tackle to stop a goal, a lot of players were justified in walking off annoyed that we couldn't finish this off.

One person who would have been shocked at our inability to hold on was your old friend Brian Taylor, who issued the ridiculous prediction that we'd done enough to hang on while seven points up with four minutes left. About 20 seconds later Brisbane kicked a goal. Earlier the commentators hung shit on whoever plays the post-goal music at the Gabba for getting the songs wrong, when they themselves got the songs wrong. Not long after, the night of live ladder updates with implications of a win for either side (as if this meant anything in Round 15) were rendered useless when scores were level, at which point these useless tits didn't put up a ladder explaining what a draw would mean.

Now there was no saving the game, but also fat chance of winning it. Brisbane had all the play, and got the decisive goal when the Bullet took a quick diversion from his career best season to fail the Acting Football League test, blatantly walking over the line under no pressure and giving away a free. Try as much as you like, you'll never stuff up a game against Brisbane in a more interesting way than Lever twirling himself into a 50 at the end of that final. It still required a brilliant finish from Huge McLuggage, but we'd finally got as deserved for not being able to make the game safe.

Now any result with premiership points attached would have been a steal but I was into it.  Fritsch had a big swing at a snap that would have levelled it, which opened the door to a seven point play miracle scenario that they could use in the highlights package next time. They gave us a chance, except that Rivers got it too far out to score, couldn't bring himself to square it to McDonald for a running ping, and finally ended up opting for a long kick to Tom Sparrow vs three defenders, which went as well as you'd expect. God knows where any of the alleged forwards were at this point, but there was nobody in the vicinity for the massive snap/bullshit toepoke required to win it and we were stuffed.

I've remained calm for all the other losses this season, but this set me off and ended in a child-size couch (child not included) being flung across the room and into a door. That'll be the premiership anaesthesia wearing off but it's nice to feel something again. 

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jacob van Rooyen

Apologies to Lever, McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Petty and Rivers.

Leaderboard
There's still a minimum 40 votes to be had so anyone's still an outside chance, but - famous last words alert - it's hard to see Gawn losing from here. Even harder to imagine anyone other than May outscoring him at a quick enough rate to stage a K. Brown vs North-style last minute run-down. No movement in the other minor awards, and with Lever's return I'm holding off on upgrading May to provisional Seecamp winner for a bit.

37 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
27 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Alex Neal-Bullen
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Jack Viney
12 - Kysaiah Pickett
11 - Clayton Oliver
9 - Judd McVee
7 - Tom McDonald
6 - Trent Rivers
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson, Jacob van Rooyen
3 - Ed Langdon, Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The leaderboard is all about Q4 goals in wins and I don't see any need to change that. Maybe this would have become relevant if Trent Rivers got onto a cannon at the end, or if the Sparrow vs Brisbane battle had ended in somebody doing a bicycle kick from 40 metres out on the boundary line. Instead I'd like the Pickett one where he fended off, then snapped from distance. Bless that man for providing a spark of entertainment in an otherwise dull operation.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
If you think there's anything left in this season, it's all on the line in our home rematch with King Harley Race, because we either beat West Coast or fold the tent for 2024. Hopefully this time they don't kick Lever's face off in the first quarter, and find the MCG less inviting than Premiership Stadium. Last time we were so generous allowing the Eagles to romp around unchallenged that they turned up the next week thinking the code was cracked and lost to Adelaide by 99 points. 

Even after their best performance together I still refuse to believe we're going anywhere with Petty and Turner in the same side. Maybe after full pre-seasons as forwards, but not yet. But what else are you going to do? Assuming Goodwin would drink poison before doing the obvious McDonald - Petty swap, I'm frightened to say we probably have to go with it again. The whereabouts of Ben Brown have been answered by a 'knee - TBC' injury report, so we'll probably never see him again, Fullarton is about as likely to kick goals for us as Brodie Grundy, and Schache is the only KPF option less exciting than the ones we've got. So you're down to playing smaller with McAdam (nah), or wheeling out another first gamer and hoping Jefferson doesn't get swallowed by the black hole of death inside our forward 50.

Windsor was cooked the last time we played West Coast and we've kept playing him every week, so it's time to finally to finally pat him on the back for a job well done and send him away for a couple of weeks. Otherwise, I've lost faith in Chandler a bit so he can get the spirit of 2021 back by applying tracksuit and waiting 3.5 quarters to be called on. Kynan Brown got to stretch his legs against Preston on a wet ground with a massage parlour clearly visible behind the fence, and from the parts that I watched I'm satisfied that he did well enough to justify starting on the ground next week. Despite the same standalone VFL opposition disclaimer, Jefferson looked alright in the parts of the game I saw, but if Petty is fit sitting through his recent form then chuck him after five contested marks would be odd.  

At the time of writing I've got no idea what's happening with Salem. After the unconvincing 'tactical sub' when clearly hurt last week, he wasn't listed on the Monday injury reports, before missing with injury. If he's mobile I suppose you play him, even if he's been average this year. Same for Bowey, who was a late withdrawal. Whether you need them both and Moniz-Wakefield, who would be extraordinarily stiff to get the boot after one game, I don't know. Send one of them forward and they can hold a reunion with all the other defenders. 

Not making any predictions because I've got no idea what's happening, but preparing for Round 1, 2013 style beetroot-faced yelling over the fence if we lose. I can't bring myself to go fully mental so will just curl into a ball and think about the good times.

IN: Bowey, K. Brown (to start)
OUT: Windsor (omit), Chandler (to sub)
LUCKY: Woewodin
UNLUCKY: Howes, Jefferson, Laurie

The All New Bradbury Plan...
... is irrelevant if we don't contribute by winning, but just for the record,

Essendon d. Collingwood (50/50)
North Melbourne d. Gold Coast
Port Adelaide d. Footscray (almost 50/50, but go against the side with a healthy percentage)
Hawthorn d. Geelong
Carlton d. GWS
Fremantle d. Richmond
Sydney d. St. Kilda
Adelaide d. Brisbane

Final thoughts
Part of me wants to be happy about an improved performance in difficult circumstances and good signs for the future, the remaining 99% clinging to the hope of immediate success is really miserable.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Vent your spleen

Remember when the only consistently enjoyable thing about following Melbourne was self-deprecating comedy gold? Victories were so rare that we treated them like joyful community events for about 48 hours before reality kicked in. This is not somewhere I want to be again, but it sure beat the other 350 days a year when we were pus.

As any sort of forward motion was welcome, there was no concept of a 'bad win'. GWS 2012 at Manuka Oval featured the worst teams I've ever seen in the same place, but even if you couldn't love a slopfest like that, it was a welcome week off from being humiliated. 

The first post-apocalypse win that left me slightly disappointed was Brisbane 2015, but I was still deep in a "shit wins are great wins" mentality that has never really gone away. The key factor is how you see the future. In recent years we've twice come back from five goals down against worse North sides, but it still felt like we were heading in the right direction (2021) or still had enough life force left to threaten in September (2023).

This episode of Seconds From Disaster had none of that. We got 39 points ahead without ever really impressing, then stopped as if struck by lightning, failed to score for the last 40 minutes against a lowly side that has bled last quarter goals from every orifice in recent weeks, and only avoided an after the siren kick because two of their players had a "You first. No you first" politeness disaster. Cue people punching on for 'End is Nigh' placards like toilet paper during COVID.

We could have won by any sort of margin and not believed in it translating to important games, but the collapse was so spectacular that the reaction went from "yeah, but you won't do that against the good sides" to "we're all going to die". They may as well have complimented the Grand Old Flag by ceremonially unveiling a new Veil of Negativity, because this was dire. Feel free to put a brave face on if you're directly employed by the MFC, but even fantasists like me who have been holding onto the hope of pulling off a shock Hollywood ending are realising that 2024 is going down the toilet.

Maybe four premiership points acquired via the equivalent of sticking your hand into a septic tank will prove crucial and later we'll chortle about being such panicky idiots. That would be fantastic, but between injuries, inexperience, form concerns, the suspicion that there's an outbreak of misery amongst the playing group, and our almost religious devotion to a malfunctioning forward structure I'll eat a pair of Brian Taylor's sweaty undies if we're seriously considered premiership contenders again this year.

Optimists will point out that when we were 39 points up North only had four goals, but even if the game stopped then you wouldn't have been rushing to cancel September plans. North has had their best run for years, and are generating some very good players, but still have half a squad who are only there to fill a spot until somebody better comes along. They played a half against Collingwood that was light years ahead of anything we managed, but I was hoping to assert some sort of dominance, no matter how abstract. Instead, we showed less killer instinct than the RSPCA, nearly lost in all time classic slapstick fashion, and left fans flatter than a plateful of piss.

If you're desperate enough for omens, this was our first win after a scoreless last quarter since 1964 so bet heavily now on Judd McVee sneaking forward to kick the winning goal on Grand Final Day. The key difference is that the original didn't lose one of its most important players for the season with crippling internal injuries. I'm sure Norm Smith would have also sent Petracca back on, but he'd have sensible parked him in the goalsquare out of harm's way instead of pointing to the nearest contest and not conceding it was having a detrimental effect on the team until seeing 20 minutes of facial expressions that looked like a man pissing glass.

With his organs confirmed rooted, the Petracca prognosis went from 'lucky we've got the bye', to 'maybe he'll come back for the last few rounds', to 'see you in 2025' messages directly from the intensive care unit. And from the rest of us, a bit of 'Jesus christ, lucky nobody crashed into him'. I doubt he'll go down the same path as our last durable midfielder who battled surprise injury, but am willing to join the #fistedforever death spiral and fret that he'll never be the same. Despite the best efforts of some flat earthers to deny that it happened, we'll always have 25/09/2021. Buzz Aldrin punched somebody who told him the moon landings were fake, and I'm encouraging our premiership players to do the same if they ever meet a flag denier.

I'll take the advice of rug sweeping experts at the AFL that we followed correct procedure in letting Petracca go back on (but am still bitter that they didn't take him straight back off when he was clearly broken), but it was a great excuse for the usual collection of journalists and amateurs who should have their hard drives seized to stick the boots in. Somehow in our longest period of not being shit since John Northey we've reached the point where you can fling any sort of dirt at us and it'll stick. This is only supposed to happen when you're at a Neeld-era level of distress. The classic "if you sit by the banks of a river long enough the bodies of your enemies will float by" comes to mind, but it feels like you might be waiting a while. 

Our best part of this season coincided with the media treating us like the Medellin Cartel, so I thought another round of being dragged through the mud might inspire a backs-to-the-wall response. Except  the players probably thought it was a debacle too. Then how about the chance to save a once-promising year that is now threatening to miserably fizz out? I'll remind you at this point, as you're probably introducing head to oven reading this, that we actually won. But even if you're not prepared to admit it publicly, if there was a midweek replay you'd 100% expect North to win.

There'd have been more heat on us if it wasn't for a free kick staging scandal, but I say it's about time we got into the dark arts after years of opponents diving headfirst into tackles. People were more upset about Steven May pretending to have a sore head than they were when Brayshaw was smothered into oblivion. May is now hated by fans of Brisbane, Collingwood, North and French cuisine, who can all form an orderly queue to piss up a rope. Until he does something closer to murder he's a hero in my book. Tedious people who didn't win a Grand Final with their hammy held together by string can boo until it validates their miserable lives, but he's so good that I'm already sad about him retiring well before it happens. Lever might be the straw that stirs the drink, but at his best May is worth the failed inside 50 that caused the ball to rocket back towards our goal.     

Based on the last few weeks, it wouldn't have been an earth-shattering surprise if we'd lost. Which says something about how far our star has fallen. The best indicator of something going horribly wrong had nothing to do with on-field matters, but me being in the ground. It feels like I've seen as any live losses as wins in recent years, but as much as I'd prefer to be there every week, if you think Melbourne's forward line is disjointed, come and live my life for a bit.

The MCG never had the courtesy to respond to my post-Round 1 complaint about shutting the top of the Ponsford Stand, but against the odds it was back just in time for our worst home crowd against a Victorian team (non-pandemic division) since 2013. That was for a 1-11 team who'd recently lost games by 90, 95 and 83 points, this was full-scale abandoning of a sinking ship and even that figure was propped up by large numbers of downtrodden opposition fans who thought they might be in with a chance..

It's not that the alleged 'People's Ground' was taking up the cause of fans who want to sit dozens of rows away from everyone else, they just realised it's even more cost efficient to neck the entire top level of the Southern Stand, including the AFL Members. There were so few people there that they could have shut level four entirely and put us all up in unused corporate boxes like disaster survivors.

The payoff for all this glorious space was having every seagull in Victoria flying overhead. The MCG's Anti Bird Coordinator must have chucked a sickie and been replaced by Alfred Hitchcock, because they were everywhere, carpet bombing shit on poor bastards who'd gone out of their way to attend this less than glamorous event. It made spectating an extreme sport, and until finding something better to worry about in the last quarter I was terrified about my number coming up next. Turns out level one was the place to be viciously shat upon, which resonates with me because the first time it happened to me was right behind the goals at the city end. That day we were 75% of the way to winning by 121 points, here you might have been pelted with all sorts of avian disease while also watching us play like it was 2015. 

Maybe the birds were spooked by the pre-match appearance of a marching band that had more members than there were spectators. When these American kids were told they'd be playing before an AFL game they probably all went "a what?", rushed straight to Google for more information, and were misled into thinking it would be a blockbuster crowd. By the time I arrived they were tootling away to 90,000 empty seats and still went home with better memories than fans of the winning team.  

Nothing says 'tough times at Melbourne' like a brass band, and we missed a fantastic opportunity by not paying their trombonist to stick around and do this whenever something went wrong...


... but by full time they'd have died of oxygen deprivation.

With all the distress caused by the end of this game, it's hard to believe that we kicked five goals to one in the first quarter. That's undoubtedly a good thing, but the famous 'Feels Like' measurement would have halved that lead. Nothing we did looked easy, and a lot of the scoring was courtesy of unforced blunders by the opposition. You'll take goals any way you can, but this was a long, long way from pelting North on the same ground last year. Back then we also let them kick the last three goals, but not until going 108 points in front first. Final quarter goalkickers that night included unlikely once-off teammates Josh Schache and Brodie Grundy. Keep that in mind in case it ever comes up in a trivia contest.

The first quarter wasn't all that inspiring, but as there were no signs yet that they'd end the game treating us like the Little League I was willing to go along with a glorified training session. There were still challenges to overcome, like the all-hands molestation of Gawn at every stoppage. Clarkson might be a White Line Fever nutcase but he didn't win flags galore by accident, and obviously realised that in lieu of a high performing midfield Max would try to grab the ball and do his own clearances. Not with opponents hanging off him for dear life. He battled this infringement of dignity to put in a solid performance, but if worked well enough that he may as well get used to being humped at every stoppage for the rest of the season.

Challenge #2 was the latest chapter in Clayton Oliver's toil and struggle years. Remember when he was practically untaggable? Coaches kept trying it, he played like the opponent wasn't there and had 30 touches weekly. Now he's without any of Brayshaw, Petracca, Jordon, Harmes etc... for company and no longer has untouchable aura. I get that he didn't have a proper pre-season (not a footy one anyway), and remain hopeful that he'll come back in top form next year but it's a hard watch. He's had decent games this year, but only the occasional reminders of his sixth sense years, when he could handball over his head to the exact spot a teammate was standing.

If Clayts didn't have recent form for going astray when not involved in club activities I'd say send him off on a mini-pre season and reload for finals/a headstart on next year. If we're going to play him every week no matter what, I question the effort put into getting him into the game. He'll never be a Petracca style forward, but just send him to wander around down there for a few minutes as a break from being scragged. It might stop him doing silly things like taking a theatrical, umpire duping dives when lightly pushed by an opponent. It might not work, but it's not like we can score much less.

On that note, welcome to the regular segment where I howl into the void about our Malfunction Junction attack. Jerry Seinfeld was playing over the road, and once he was done being heckled by nuffies he should have come to the 'G and asked "What is the deal with Melbourne's forward line?" I don't know shit about footy tactics, but am convinced that a decent forward line can cover up a lot of other deficiencies. Seems obvious but it's more than the direct kicking of goals, it's about the linking up, the contests inside 50, bringing the ball to ground etc... etc... The handful of footy TV shows don't have enough time to go into the depth you want about your club, but please give me an hour On The Couch special where Garry Lyon and Jason Dunstall spend an hour mocking behind the goal footage of our forward structure. The studio will need to have fire extinguishers handy in case they spontaneously combust.

Our forwards were certainly trying, but after sitting behind them for the 50% of game where our only goal came from a running midfielder, I need expert confirmation that they collectively have no idea how to be forwards. Turner and Petty had their best games in weeks, but that's not saying much, and didn't point to improvement against good teams. They can do something if the ball comes directly to them, but for positioning, leading, and playing together as a unit they're like Mark Corrigan (not the ex-Casey coach) threatening to put one right in the goal hole. I'd be happy for one of Petty or Turner to learn on the job, but expecting both to do it at the same time is madness. JVR is doing his best to lead the group but isn't a miracle worker yet, and with everything glued up like a Beijing traffic jam Fritsch has gone missing. Even if there's no obvious replacement (meanwhile, here's Tom McDonald banging goals from 50 but no thought to trying him for a bit?) try something else. 

It's still too early for me to turn on the coaches (no complaints if you want to), but this has almost cracked me. Do they seriously think this is the best we can do? If you so may as well go completely off the wall and send a mystery player forward every week. Tomlinson, Lever, May, Salem, McVee, Fullarton, Jefferson, Kentfield, Cuthbertson etc... leading to a shock run to the Grand Final where Schache gets left on the bench for four quarters again. There was going to be undue pressure on Melksham to make a difference immediately after returning from long term injury, but he's going to walk in and find everyone dead like Mr. Pink at the end of Reservoir Dogs.

While we're horrifically off the boil in this department, forward coach Greg Stafford is on the end of assistant coach slander not seen since the Bohdan Babijczuk era. Other than the time he gleefully banged rubbish bin lids together I've got NFI what he does so won't join the pile on yet, but do you think the nutter who jumped the fence to stalk him years ago was actually sent from the future to pass on the important message that Harrison Petty is a defender and should be played accordingly?

I will note that Turner turned limited opportunities into two goals, and that Petty took a bloody good intercept mark during the first quarter. If we can get opposition defenders to do more insane kicks across goal he might become the world's first specialist forward 50 intercept player. Otherwise he's at the wrong end and either needs to self-exclude or reveal what sexy inside gossip he's got on the coaches. We don't need intimate details on the emotional state of players, but the reaction of teammates to his goal felt a bit deeper than just supporting somebody who's been struggling with form. There's something weird about the whole operation at the moment, and I'm not declaring a mental health emergency but it's like some terrible, deep dark secret about the inner-workings of the club will be revealed later and we'll all go "ahh, that's why they were acting like that".

The usual disclaimers apply about not trying to run any of these players out of town. I'm frustrated with the way we're playing, but can't take fans whose only solution to underperforming players is to flog them at a discount price. Lucky these campaigners aren't in charge of health policy or granny would be turned into Soylent Green at the first sign of a cold. Clayton Oliver looks like he's getting zero enjoyment out of the game and conceded the stupidest 50 for not giving the ball back since Lever in the Brisbane final, but before we leave a bone fide premiership legend and multiple B&F winner out for hard rubbish, any chance of getting him through a full pre-season and seeing what happens?

So anyway, even if you couldn't take the four goal quarter time lead seriously it was better than the alternative. Even against a backline that has been shelled from every direction for years, we were still making scoring look difficult but it was a start. As long as we didn't concede bulk goals then you could see the path to an unconvincing but important win. Earlier in the day I'd been asked for a prediction and said "if we keep them to under 70 we'll win". This turned out to be correct, with not much margin for error.

Between two sets of fans going in opposite enthusiasm directions, and some spicy on field action, there was more atmosphere than a game like this deserved. The central villain was Eddie Ford, who sounds he should be the drummer for a 70s rock band, looks like a VCE student, and has a flair for agitation.

The more players spicing up games like this the better. I was going to talk about him showing Viney how many wins he's played in, but turns out the 33 gamer was a finger short. Jesus H Christ, even we never got to the point of having somebody with a 2-31 record. Don't let that detract from the fact that we need more action like this in the league, and how much you'd enjoy it if our players did the same thing.

We struggle to play two good quarters in a row, so to nobody's surprise the goals dried up after quarter time. They still weren't kicking any either, and for the first 15 minutes it looked like another ad free Saturday night for Channel 7. In the end each side got one, and we were left pretty much where the quarter started but with what counts by modern standards as a 'brawl' at half time. This article oddly describing it as 'out all carnage' was taking it a bit far. I missed the lot by going for hideously overpriced food at the siren, which probably cost more than what any of the players involved will be fined.

In many ways this game was pointless, especially the second half. For only the second time in VFL/AFL history, neither side scored a behind after the break. We helped by not kicking goals at the end either, but with our recent accuracy woes this was as unusual as kicking the club's highest ever fourth quarter score in 2013, or winning a Prelim/Grand Final via blitzkrieg attack then spending years trying to bore opponents to death. 

For a game that ended in fans having to be restrained from self-harm, we looked to have finally shaken them in the middle of the third quarter. None of it was in the slightest bit impressive, but three goals in five minutes took the margin to 39 and to the outer reaches of what you'd believe we could give away. When Gawn took us to 11.4, North was still on 4.7, and it wasn't quite the Chris Sullivan Line but at the outer limits of what you could believe we'd let slip. 

And bloody hell did we have a bash at letting it slip. Thinking back to when we were in the same boat as North now, the only comparison I can make is Essendon 2014 if it ended with the ball rolling out of bounds instead of Salem marking in acres of space. And we still nearly lost that game straight from the next centre bounce. This time we could have gone a point down after five minutes and probably still never scored again, it was like the power had gone out Gabba lighting style.

It wasn't all bad news. Another reminder that we did end up winning, but also Rivers looked promising as a midfielder, Tholstrup showed signs of good to come in the future, and even Viney got plenty of the ball, even if it regularly ended in slaughter. Now, back to our scheduled program Thanks, I Hate It.

Whinging about the umpires sort of misses the point of everything else we were shit at in the last quarter, but they did get the first goal from a soft as butter downfield free. Consider it karmic payback for the Oliver/May shenanigans. I've got more objection to the next one, via a 50 where the player on the mark was bilked into moving via a fake handball despite this being excluded from the rule ages ago. It was a weird night for umpiring, and without taking sides in the 'who had it worse' debate, I saw a few times where they changed their mind halfway through a signal. Maybe this happens all the time, but it felt like some of them were stressed out by this enormous, high profile game they'd been sent to officiate.

Unlike the rest of this post, you can sum up everything from here until the big tackle easily - North did as they liked, we were less threatening than Mother Teresa on Zoloft. By the time the margin was under a goal with plenty of time left for us not to response, the idea of losing was so comical that I'd almost come to terms with it. Like thinking Geelong may as well kick another goal so I could have been at the record loss, it was like people were already going to be really upset so why not send them entirely over the edge. Good coping strategy at the time, a few days later I can confirm that had we actually lost I'd have kicked an inanimate object off its hinges.

The only part of this fiasco I wanted to see highlights of was Nathan Brown fretting over Kynan's debut. The default setting for first gamer parents is 'going off like a pork chop' so it was refreshing to see him absolutely bricking it. In the company of Daniel Ward and unbeaten MFC senior coach Adem Yze, the man suspiciously nicknamed 'Doggy' had the expression of somebody waiting for their kid's medical results to come through.

I was in such a masochistic mood after the game that listening to talkback radio seemed like a good idea. The callers came from across the drunk/senile/dropped on head as babies spectrum, including one who reacted to Yze having the slightest bit of non-Richmond related enjoyment like he'd done high treason. Maybe get upset if he was wearing our scarf and falling from his seat at the siren, but if you're not sentimental enough for a guy to support a 30+ year friend and a kid he's probably known since birth then there may be a position for you in the war crimes and genocide department. And if you're really upset about it then send Yze back to us thanks.

Speaking of sentimentality (not to be confused with siege mentality), it's a shame that after all these years we finally debuted somebody as the sub. I'm sure Brown preferred it to battling a Casey Fields wind tunnel the next day, and it's better than not being picked at all but still feels uncouth by modern standards. He showed good signs in pre-season but somehow looks younger six months down the road. This is the most baffling age scenario since Charlie Spargo (remember him?) turned up looking like a middle aged divorcee who's slightly lost the plot and is doing his own research on vaccines.

Of all the people we could have given the novelty-size tactical hook to, Salem seemed an odd choice at the same time North was kicking the door down. Not to beat up on the usual suspects, but what more were you getting from the tall forwards as a group? Petty took one good contested mark and may have been jibbed out of another, and Turner had multiple goals on the board but we'd reverted to attacking as if drunk so one could have made way and not made things worse.

The good news for Brown Jr is that we might have made him wait forever, but he joined the exclusive club of players whose first involvement in AFL football was a sick rundown tackle just as their side looked like botching a game in humiliating fashion. It wasn't quite a game saving tackle because we still another vigorous bash at losing, which is a shame because that would have almost made everything worthwhile. Other than, as we're legally obliged to state, the premiership gained for having a higher score than the other team at the end.

And so we had another tentative go at sending the ball forward and keeping it there (kicking the sealer was well beyond us by now), and admittedly Petty was rorted out of what would have been a crucial mark on the half-forward flank. This led to the latest chapter in North pelting forward in convoy and the aforementioned marking mixup that saved us. I'm surprised it didn't bounce straight out the back to somebody on his own in the square. But for what it's worth we hung on for dear life to win and our remaining fans went mild.

If there was ever a time for the captain to take a stand and tell his team that they won't be singing this song this was it. Not the sort of bold stance you'd expect from the MFC, and off they went with a 75% power rendition that nobody except bored journalists would have missed if it didn't happen. We'd have been called bastards for denying Tholstrup/Brown their moment, and it would probably cause unnecessary controversy but fuck a duck, the majority of this side has seen ultimate success, surely they knew pretending to joyously celebrate this was like when the Christmas Eve news reports on the location of Santa's sleigh. 

I'm aware that this comes just a few paragraphs after complaining about people being a joyless drain on society, but the world won't stop if you shelve the jaunty showtune for a week after going scoreless for 40 minutes against North Melbourne. I'm not saying the players should fill the spa with boiling water and write tear-stained apologies to fans, but for once celebrate winning behind closed doors and send a message that you're not prepared to settle for winning like this. Then when you win properly against decent opposition sing it so hard bits of your lungs fly across the room. Instead we continued Going Through The Motions Night before the people involved dispersed to reassure the public that it wasn't all bad, the lunatic fringe of our fanbase got excessively personal towards players they'd have lined up to nosh off 24 months ago, and I sulked off thinking 'is that all there is?"

I'd rather eat plutonium than watch the replay, but we'll judge the long-term value of this later in the year. For now, strap yourself in for Friday night because all signs point to it being putrid.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Steven May
4 - Trent Rivers
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Alex Neal-Bullen

Apologies to McDonald, McVee and Pickett + an encouragement award for Tholstrup 

Leaderboard
As long as they stay upright it's hard to see the big one going to anyone other than Gawn or May from here. There's still a minimum of 45 votes available, so even if he's probably never heard of Allen Jakovich, maybe Kentfield can take inspiration and go bananas in the last few weeks. Gawn is already 99.99% of the way to the Stynes, and May is on the verge of provisional status in the Seecamp. The Rising Star is the close one, where nobody's scored a vote for weeks and any random could come from the clouds and snatch it in one game. Which would be great if it came as part of a surprise match-winning performance, not default votes because everyone else was crap.

34 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
27 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Alex Neal-Bullen
18 - Jake Lever
12 - Jack Viney
9 - Judd McVee, Clayton Oliver
7 - Tom McDonald, Kysaiah Pickett
6 - Trent Rivers
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Ed Langdon, Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Jacob van Rooyen, Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, 
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Pickett's opener was nice, but it's got to be Rivers wandering through half the North side (a Rivers dance if you will) for that goal on the run in the second quarter. He's not Petracca and never will be, but this was a fair cover version. I was almost going to show ridiculous recency bias and promote this to third on the leaderboard but that would mean having to reference this game every week until something else beat it, so no.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
It's been a season of weird results, but I'll fall off the back of the couch if we beat Brisbane. They're prone to wacky performances like losing to Hawthorn or drawing with Adelaide, but have otherwise scored over 150 twice in recent weeks and have the second best percentage in the league. On paper they're going to kick seven shades of shit from us, but in the unlikely event of a morale-boosting performance I'll happily go back to fantasising about a miracle saving our season.

If you're hoping for the biggest post-win turnover since Freo saddled us with the pre-finals bye by chucking a last round game, the bad news is that a) we'll never do it, b) I think they're actually quite happy with how this game went, and c) who are you going to pick as replacements? Assuming Lever comes back, the AFL listed players at Casey this week were Adams, Billings, Fullarton, Jefferson, Kentfield, Laurie, McAdam, Moniz-Wakefield, Schache, Sestan, Verrall, and Woewodin. That's a lot of names, but not much to make your liver quiver. 

With Windsor hitting the wall at force on Saturday night, I thought we might give Woewodin a full game after weeks of substitute wankery, only for him to get injured in a pointless marking dual with a teammate. So that was good. He came back and didn't do much, but I'm picking him for want of other options. Alternatively go back to Billings again so I can throw myself from an upstairs window.

Laurie did nothing against Collingwood but it was a bit harsh turfing him straight away considering how many chances some other players have had, so there's that. Otherwise, your senior experience options are *drum roll* Fullarton, McAdam and Schache. The first has missed the boat, the second couldn't kick over 40 metres last time, and the less said about Option C the better. 

Moniz-Wakefield had another shitload of Reserves disposals, and looked composed when he had the ball in defence but assuming Brown gets another chance, I don't know if we're ready to go full Casey and play 1st, 2nd and 3rd gamers in the same senior side. There was something fishy about Salem being allegedly tactically subbed out though, so if he's hurt then give me primetime AMW off a five day break against a team scoring for fun. What could possibly go wrong?

There's more chance of Putin dropping Ukraine than an unenforced change to our tall forward mix, and as we didn't even let Ben Brown play one last game against North in the VFL it seems unlikely that they'll go for the radical plan of playing somebody who knows what a forward does. It might fail miserably, but on what reasonable grounds can anyone think we'll get anywhere playing Petty and Turner together? One of them fine, but both at the same time is suicidal. 

My next selection in the category of Things That Will Never Happen is to send McDonald forward and play either Tomlinson, Petty, or both in defence. The nuclear option is to reward what passes for VFL form this year and give Matt Jefferson a game, but I've watched enough of Casey recently to know that throwing him into our slow-moving clump of a forward line would be cruel. Maybe later in the year, but can we exhaust all the options involving experienced, big-bodied players who have proven goalkicking history first?

I'd like to preface these suggested changes by saying that I'm aware Petty will play in the forward line unless the game is called off due to an alien invasion. Just trying to set up a scenario where I can either say "I told you so" or be wrong but happy. 

IN: Lever, Woewodin
OUT: Petty, Windsor (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, Fritsch, Oliver, Turner
UNLUCKY: Jefferson, Laurie

The All-New Bradbury Plan
I think we can agree there's no point looking at anything beyond a 'falling into the eight' scheme. Here's to a rethink in the next few weeks, but for now I'm willing to concede that the top sides will stay there and use them to our advantage. 

North Melbourne d. Footscray
Sydney d. Freo
Collingwood d. Gold Coast (Not the end of the world if it goes the other way, but they're going to make it so may as well depress the Suns before we play them) 
Adelaide d. GWS
Geelong vs Essendon (If we lose Essendon, if we win Geelong)
St Kilda d. Port Adelaide
Richmond d. Carlton
West Coast d. Hawthorn

Final thoughts
It's not over yet, but welcome to Italian Job week, where all our collected riches are teetering on the edge of a cliff. Michael Caine had a great idea that was never explained, but I'll bet it was superior to anything we'll come up with this week.