Thursday 29 February 2024

Better than the alternative

There's a time I'd have committed everything to attending a 6.40pm Wednesday practice game, in 38 degree temperatures, at a crumbling suburban ground. Not this decade. Maybe in the future when this sort of weather is considered mild. Instead, I did the right thing and took my kid to gymnastics, only to completely ignore that and watch the game on the phone while the helpfully provided fan blew the stench of an unrelated child's rogue borry directly up my nostrils. 

Speaking of foreign substances in the nose, it was another perfectly normal week at the Melbourne Football Club. First came the screaming headlines about Joel Smith's supposed 'drug trafficking'. I thought he must have upped the ante by importing millions of dollars of rack from Bolivia in spaghetti tins, but turns out he just (allegedly) offered gear to mates, making it about the lowest level of 'trafficking' you could imagine. After they'd incorrectly led you to believe that Smith had gone full Tony Montana, there was something about teammates being involved and anguished fans were about to set themselves on fire. I'll get wound up about it when the names are revealed to be anyone currently senior listed at the Melbourne Football Club. 

I've got zero professional sympathy for Smith failing the 'fuck around and find out' test, but even if the spontaneous combustion of his career is entirely his fault you're still dealing with a human who's done the most pissweak crime since jaywalking. Even if Joel never plays again, I hope the club supports him, while journalists who have about as much credibility lecturing people on drug use as Pablo Escobar can wind their outrage back a bit.

There was a short departure from self-inflicted woes as we dealt with Angus Brayshaw's immediate retirement. This was the sort of massive story I'd have found about on Twitter before current ownership botched it up. Instead, it was back to the old school (by modern standards) method of finding out crucial information via email, and when I saw the subject line 'Thank you Gus' I knew it was all over. At first I was sad about him having his career taken away, then I realised that it's better if he doesn't come back and risk long term damage. He can't get better than being part of that flag side, and will still pocket a metric shitload of money over the next several years so why not something you enjoy that won't end in serious brain damage. They can't take him starting the greatest hour in human existence away.

Now we'll never find out if Pies fans were going to disgrace themselves booing him on King's Birthday. Never mind, 2024 will still have 'Americans reelect Donald Trump' for confirming stereotypes. Maybe we should lure them into it by holding off on his lap of honour until then. If we can just get one or two red-faced scumbags yelling at him over the fence, or at the very least somebody with a mullet giving the finger, it will provide years of entertainment/moral highground. I'm not slightly into pursuing Brayden Maynard until the end of time, there's far more comedy potential in arguing with their cult-like fans.

Before officially concluding the biggest week of footy you're going to get in February with a match (remember them?), there was hysteria over some bullshit Facebook post about Simon Goodwin. Even the pre-match interview with him referenced it, shortly before he used the word "connected", said Clayton Oliver was "connecting" with his teammates, and was told "we hope you get through tonight" in a way that implied Kate Roffey was going to jam a black hood over his head mid-match. By now if he gets sacked for any reason other than starting 0-10 it'll make Glenn Bartlett look right so that's not going to happen. It did make me wonder if this could be the gateway to a long-awaited Choke Yourself With A Tie reign. Probably not, so best to just stick with the incumbent for a bit longer.

There was so much other nonsense going on that Oliver playing in the earlier Casey game barely rated a mention, but no doubt somebody's got a hot exclusive about him putting recycling in the wrong bin to drop the moment he's recalled to the senior side.

Unlike last week's non-existent game, this got the full Fox Footy treatment. I thought it was a bit rude to show highlights of the Blues knocking us out of the finals, then they balanced the ledger by reminding everyone that Carlton blew a five goal lead in the Prelim, giving everyone the chance to go into the official start/actual end of the pre-season campaign in some degree of misery.

I resolved not to take any of this seriously, but by the final siren was at least confident that if either of these sides goes into a 2019 MFC style death spiral it won't be us. Obviously that will come back to haunt me. For now, we did what was required, nobody got hurt, the players got some sort of minor morale boost from playing in a win together for the first time since R24 last year, and we head towards what I'll refer to as Round 1A until the AFL takes out an injunction to stop me. Well done Leigh Montagna for openly calling it Round 1 on commentary. He obviously got a tap on the shoulder after quarter time and started buying into the nonsense, but if Dwayne Russell worked frivolous contests like this you can imagine how excited he'd be to push the marketing department's line.

We had a lot going on inside 50 early, for about as much reward as you've come to expect. Ironically, Pickett is about to serve a one game suspension for walloping Patrick Cripps but nobody batted an eyelid about him playing against the Blues here. He turned law and order on its head by winning a free for the first shot on goal. It missed, but even after kicking 15.11 I suspect you'll need to get used to us doing that. 

It would help if we didn't set up so many shots 40 metres out hard on the boundary line. The delivery to Fritsch was reminiscent of 2020, when he was subject to enforced social distancing from any reasonable angle. When he finally got a shot, Bayley charitably tried to set it up to the top of the square where it was easily chopped off. Let's have no more of this sharing is caring rubbish, just take the shot.

As the game went on we found unexpectedly large holes in Carlton's defence, but for now targets were hard to find. Enter Max Gawn, who decided that the best way to overcome the shortage was to boot a nuclear missile set shot from about 60 metres out. Hint to opposition teams - when the real stuff begins, probably have somebody standing as close as legally possible to his right so he can't wind up like this. The difference in philosophies between the sides was shown by Carlton wiping this out about 10 seconds later by bursting from the middle and sticking the ball right into Harry McKay's guts. It involved a massive throw first, but good luck if you can get away with it.

We soon found out that forward targets were overrated, when the second goal came via a 50 to Chandler. So if other teams could just be incredibly ill-disciplined all year we should be right. When we finally did kick the ball effectively to somebody inside 50 it was van Rooyen landing it on Schache, and while I'd much rather that happen the other way around it was duly converted. For want of any other options, I think the Schache Attacke is going to feature early in the season. I'd like to say 'feature prominently', but am waiting further evidence. Maybe he's a Carlton specialist and would have done something like this if we'd ever let him on the ground in that final?

There was a claim on the commentary that the crowd was "starting to build with people coming from work", which is the most pre-COVID thing I've ever heard. They would have had plenty of time to get to Princes Park if they'd done the traditional 9-5, the delay was them getting from all points of the compass after a big day of moving the mouse to be seen online and then walking the dog.

In a real pre-season scenario, we had the benefit of kicking with the shade in the first quarter. The Blues had plenty of entries that died because the forward couldn't see a thing. Blake Acres didn't have sun in the eyes to excuse the dropped mark that gifted us another goal, and I would like to ask where were unforced errors like that when he was dicking us in the last minute of a Semi Final? In case you were focusing on that unpleasant memory, Gawn brought back thoughts of happier days with a shot after the siren. This time he couldn't run in via Moreland Road, but converted a weird set shot that looked like it was going OOF, then dragged back to practically straight through the middle. 

It was a solid quarter, but I wasn't ready to have my house on us turning it into flag. Let's just start with making the eight and not kicking ourselves out of finals then work up from there. I'm worried that we'll have a good start to the year, then fall apart when the wafer thin depth is tested. If you thought there wasn't much in the tank last year consider that Brayshaw and Smith are gone for good, Turner is already injured for half the year, Petty probably will be 10 minutes after he returns, Melksham won't be seen until August, and Ben Brown is one step from 'where are they now'. I'm all for Salem in the midfield,  Windsor on the wing, and the ongoing development of McVee, JVR etc... but none of that's going to be any good when we get to Round 20 with Oliver Sestan, Kyah Farris-White, and some rando from the mid-season draft.

If we don't even wait for an injury crisis before going tits up this year, you can be sure that the CLUB IN CRISIS montages will include Lever and May having a frank and honest discussion in the wake of a Carlton goal. I say there should be more of it, if the two greatest modern defenders in club history can't demand more from each other who can? It's not like May was yelling at some poor rookie, he was debating the issues with somebody on his level and good luck to them. At least this time he ended an argument without being punched.

Hopefully whoever was cutting up footage of that 'dispute' left the tape running long enough to see Caleb Windsor kicking a turbo goal on the run. Wherever Lachie Hunter was, I think he might have asked Google for directions to Casey Fields after seeing that. Though are we absolutely sure that Langdon even finished 2023 ahead of Hunter? Either way, I think Windsor will have the memories of his debut spoiled by it occurring in a fictional round but don't expect him to play every game so there's opportunities for all of them yet. Mind you, I thought Judd McVee was just warming a spot for Salem last year and look at him now.

Considering what Joel Smith was reportedly up to at the end of last year, it should be noted that he was having the best forward run of his career. Maybe he was like that snooker player who could only play effectively when pissed? Take note Fritsch, who came in to this game presumably stone cold sober, then kicked for goal like he'd just come from New Jack City. To keep things interesting he even punted one set shot straight into the man on the mark. JVR also missed an opportunity, before the increasingly Todd Viney-looking Sparrow randomly appeared at the top of the square for our seventh.

It took the most blatant two handed shove in the back that you'll ever see to finally get van Rooyen a shot from close range, but that balanced out the rugby pass they scored from in the opening quarter. Things were going better than I'd expected inside 50 but if Carlton doesn't have somebody else to stand in Weitering's spot they may have to rely on another miracle recovery just to make finals. When Pickett unloaded another goal from distance not long after it was almost time to pack the stars away. For some reason we didn't do this, and I can only imagine the CHAOS if anyone had been injured.

Midfield Salem may be a necessity due to the disappearance of Brayshaw, Harmes, Jordon (and temporarily Oliver), but the potential for great things was shown by the beautiful pass he put on for Billings' goal just after the restart. This seemed like the cue for Gawn to finally get the precautionary hook, and coincided with me pausing to drive home, then battling home internet suffering the biggest meltdown since Three Mile Island. When I complained to the kid she said "it must be Drugs o'clock", which makes no sense but proves we've reached the point where even nine-year-olds can take the piss.

By the time I got working vision back at something above Zero Definition, Gawn had returned. No earthly idea why. The internet died again, but fortunately Maximum survived. If Visy was still running Carlton, another cracking goal on the run from Windsor would have been the start of Recycling Time. they got a couple at the end to drag (NB: I first wrote that as 'drug', so even I'm doing it now) the margin back under 30. Which lasted about 30 seconds before Schache put them away again.

I'm not expecting anything beyond a top eight finish, but while these games mean stuff all you can tell the players weren't affected by minor off-field rumblings. Of course they'd be sad about Brayshaw, worried for Oliver, and probably burning their SIM card if Smith has been in touch, but once the ball is bounced we're far more vulnerable to an injury or confidence crisis. We've got six months for one/both of those to show up, see if you can guess the exact minute it'll happen. I'll be waiting in a secure bunker with canned food.

Hands up if you could understand why Gawn was still playing halfway through the last quarter. Tom Fullarton resumed in the VFL practice game earlier in the day, but even if 100% fit he's no Max. There was no need for risk, when it didn't matter a jot if the Blues reeled in a 40 point lead in 10 minutes. This was when we sent in Kynan Brown. If Ben is ever fit again and they're both picked at the same time a Send In The Browns headline would be good. Verrall and Tholstrup were also introduced for cameos, as we tried to turn a meaningless practice match into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sparrow kicked a third, which was nice, as the game ended in excitement levels equivalent to the sixth period against Richmond that I never bothered to watch. I think we're still reasonably good, but are sitting on top of the wobbliest house of cards known to man, ready to be knocked over by the first strong breeze. Here's to surviving far enough into the season that everything turns back in our favour and we end the year elbow deep in the throats of our critics.

2024 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Kysaiah Pickett
1 - Christian Petracca

Final results
It's as ridiculous as ever to judge this off two games, but unless the National Panasonic Cup comes back what are you going to do? Under the circumstances I'm surprised this is the first tie since 2021, and sees Petracca go clear at the top of the Prymke leaderboard with four titles. Other joint winners are, inevitably, Gawn and Oliver. One thing they'll never take away from us is that this is the only award anywhere on the face of the planet previously won by Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt, Heritier Lumumba and Jackson Redvers Watts.

6 - Christian Petracca, Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Christian Salem, Jack Viney
2 - Kynan Brown
1 - Jake Bowey

Next Week
It's Round 1A (it is to me anyway) against Sydney on Thursday night. I'm not going to self-harm if we lose, but it would be nice to demonstrate that we're still alive in a high profile game. We know Pickett won't be there, Oliver is questionable, and if anyone's going to have the sad scenario of their debut coming in a nameless round it'll be Caleb Windsor. Otherwise, there shouldn't be any surprises on the agenda unless something NQR happens between now and then. I predict we'll pick the boring half-half option and make Oliver the sub, allowing him to sit around for three quarters listening to the most boring people in Australia shouting 'funnies' from over the fence. Then he'll have 17 touches in the last quarter, carry us to victory, then romp to the Brownlow. Or something.

Projected ladder
Nothing says yellow-streaked cowardice like picking the reigning Grand Final teams to finish top two. Doesn't mean they'll win the league but I can't see either plummeting to the death, unless the Pies finally run out of luck and start losing thrillers every week. Not sure if I've ever had a bigger bracket of potential finals teams, but everything points to a pre-September battle royale. Even the 10th - 13th selections have their charms, and now that I'm burying them this will probably be the year when Essendon finally turn up, probably to beat us in a final.  

1. Brisbane
2. Collingwood
3. GWS
4. Melbourne
5. Sydney
6. Adelaide
7. Gold Coast
8. Carlton
9. Geelong
10. Richmond
11. Fremantle
12. Port Adelaide
13. Footscray
14. St Kilda
15. Essendon
16. North Melbourne
17. Hawthorn
18. West Coast

2024 betting markets
With thanks to our official gambling partner PovertyBet, lose your house on one or more of these fictional markets:

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

$5 - Christian Petracca
$9 - Jack Viney
$10 - Clayton Oliver
$12 - Max Gawn, Christian Salem
$20 - Steven May, Tom Sparrow
$22 - Bayley Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers
$25 - Jack Billings, Jake Lever, Judd McVee
$30 - Harrison Petty
$35 - Jake Bowey, Ed Langdon, Jacob van Rooyen
$40 - Caleb Windsor
$45 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$60 - Kade Chandler, Shane McAdam
$80 - Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald
$100 - Kynan Brown, Charlie Spargo, Adam Tomlinson
$150 - Blake Howes, Josh Schache
$250 - Tom Fullarton, Marty Hore, Taj Woewodin
$300 - Jed Adams, Koltyn Tholstrup
$500 - Will Verrall
$1000 - Oliver Sestan, Matthew Jefferson
$3000 - Kyah Farris-White, Daniel Turner
$5000 - Jake Melksham
$10,000 - Angus Brayshaw (well, he might get a second opinion...)
$15,000 - Joel Smith (well, he might get a second sample...)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
$8 - Steven May
$10 - Jake Lever, Judd McVee
$15 - Christian Salem, Trent Rivers
$20 - Jake Bowey
$40 - Harrison Petty, Adam Tomlinson
$50 - Marty Hore, Blake Howes
$80 - Tom McDonald
$120 - Jed Adams
$150 - Josh Schache
$500 - Daniel Turner
$10,000 - Joel Smith

Rising Star Award
Congratulations Taj Woewodin for landing right on the four game mark to remain eligible. Bad luck to Bailey Laurie, who just missed out.

$6 - Caleb Windsor
$12 - Kynan Brown
$15 - Taj Woewodin
$20 - Blake Howes
$22 - Jed Adams, Koltyn Tholstrup
$50 - Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Will Verrall
$75 - Matthew Jefferson, Oliver Sestan
$200 - Kyah Farris-White

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
$2 - Max Gawn
$10 - Tom Fullarton, Josh Schache
$20 - Will Verrall
$30 - Tom McDonald
$100 - Ben Brown
$150 - Kyah Farris-White

Final thoughts
I'm a bit scared, but open to being amazed by a series of unexpected positive results. 

Monday 19 February 2024

Sims 24

When the first Demonblog post went up in 2005 you'd have got better odds on Melbourne winning a flag than me going into a 20th season but here we are. It's also been about that long since I was last this woefully underprepared for the new season. Probably since the inauspicious inaugural match review when I accidentally missed seeing the first quarter. It's not that I wasn't interested in 2024, despite all our recent seasons ending in massive flakeouts, my brain just couldn't comprehend that it was time to go, even after realising that we had something approaching a game at the marquee time of 10am Sunday morning.

I'd like to blame my struggle to warm up for 2024 on the Donald Trump Appreciation Society being defending premiers, or our involvement in the absolute nonsense that is 'Opening Round', but it's probably just self-defence because I'm scared that we're going to spend another six months battling our guts out to make finals then blow it by playing as if drunk again. It'll be years until the flag anesthetic completely wears off, but you still can't help feeling like we're walking into an ambush this year. Between our questionable depth, injury concerns, and let's politely say 'off field issues', everyone's waiting for a big, face-first, comedy flop. I don't think that's going to happen, but at the same time wouldn't have five cents in Chinese money on us comfortably finishing top four. Can't lose two finals in a row if you don't get the double chance [insert picture of the guy who looks like Eddie Murphy tapping his head]. 

Hopefully we reread this post at the end of the year and go "blimey, I didn't expect that to do happen", like in 2021 when the campaign of a lifetime started with an even more obscure 9.30 Friday morning game against the Tiges. At least we could watch that for free through the website, I had to reactivate my Kayo subscription before schedule to see the modern equivalent. Apparently they're cranking up their price soon, and you could see why when the long break 'entertainment' provided was an interminable segment of Ben Dixon and Andrew Gaze having a vom while eating sardines. Otherwise I think they've still got the rights to Slippery Stairs and the European Tram Driver Championship, so I'll look forward to that.

I'll be saying this in practice match posts until dropping dead, but it still feels crazy that we can even watch these games. It took long enough to get all the official pre-season games broadcast, and there are still a few from the early 2000s where nobody bothered to record all the goalkickers or quarter-by-quarter scores, but being able to watch really off-brand matches like this is relatively new. If you're past it like me and count 2015 as new anyway.

Of course, this was not officially a 'game', but a 'match simulation'. Not sure what the difference is, unless it's an administrative scam to make sure people can't bet on it then dispute whether the result counts at the end of four quarters, or after the full seven period/episode/chukka extravaganza featuring fringe players, comeback stories and VFL players you'll never see again.

I'll take it that there's a good reason why they don't just play a proper four quarter senior practice match, then another four quarter 'reserve' match after. Nobody's going to riot if the curtain-closer is called off early due to lack of interest, but it would be a lot neater than this weird seven part series. Any credibility the game had went out the window when it was revealed that a Richmond player didn't have to turn up because his sister was getting married. They didn't even make him participate in this tepid kickaround for a couple of quarters first. Just "nah, this is bullshit anyway, don't bother coming".

The players who turned up took it seriously, but they were about the only ones. It didn't even get the real Fox Footy treatment. No stirring orchestral theme, a scoreboard that looked like it had been generated by the Sega Megadrive, and a pair of break-in-case-of-emergency commentators who opened coverage with a reminder that we'd gone out in straight sets last year. Which gender? Doesn't matter.

Somewhere, somebody was probably taking things really seriously, and they'd have been emotionally spent after what turned out to be a ludicrously up-and-down game that everyone would remember for years to come if it happened in the real stuff. But it didn't, so you can file it alongside other low-profile pre-season matches of the last decade like our trip to CraigieburnSpencil Does Subiaco and somebody tripping over the power cord

We've seen enough pre-seasons to know that they can give some clues to the future (e.g. Petracca going nuts against Adelaide), but ultimately there's little relevance to what will happen under normal conditions. They're arguably more interesting when your team is shit because you can squint and try to pretend there's light at the end of the tunnel. Now that we're a couple of years off our glorious peak and you can make a case for going backwards, this was more like watching through your fingers and hoping that none of the key players shattered their spine, or needlessly shirtfronted an opponent into another galaxy. I think we got away with it, and that's about as much as you could ask for.

As much as I'm desperately trying to play down the relevance of this game, the first possession was a thing of beauty. The Gawn years have taught me that centre bounce rucking is the least important thing a ruckman does, but his fancy backhanded tap to a charging Viney was a reminder that there's some things you can't recreate by just sticking any old player in there and hoping to win the ball when it hits the ground. The joy of seeing artisan ruckwork lasted about three seconds before our first forward entry of the season died in the hands of a defender who outmarked two forwards. Barring disaster we've still got Petty and McAdam to come in attack (+ McDonald and Brown if they ever walk again), but that was the earliest 'here we go' moment in history. 

I've got a misguided confidence that we can find a way to put up decent scores this year, but you could have put Coleman, Carey and Lockett down there and they'd have walked off in disgust when the next forward entry saw Petracca scrub the most 10am Sunday kick of all time along the ground. That was a slight blip before he went back to being awesome, but it did make me wonder whether I really needed to be watching this live. But like a complete tool I did, for the first four bits anyway. Mystery players are my passion, but even I couldn't justify hanging around for parts 5-7 just to see Andy Moniz-Wakefield and Kyah Farris-White play the hyphenation derby. Was going to watch the rest later. Didn't.

So far, so 2023. Getting the ball inside 50 was one thing, putting it to the advantage of a forward was another. After JVR dropped what looked from the cheap seats like an easy one, it was time for the old 'everyone get out of the way and let a superstar do his work' when Petracca gathered in the pocket, did a fancy step, then snapped it. According to the on-screen scoreboard we were 6.1.7, which was interesting. By the time Fritsch got another soon after they'd consulted the laws of the game and put us back to 2.1.13.

The suspicion that we weren't supposed to be taking any of this seriously increased when Richmond fielded a player named after the band Steely Dan, who were named after a dildo. So he's got that going for him. It may have been the silliest name to appear at Casey Fields since Freddie Clutterbuck's famous MFC pre-season. 

There wasn't anything new in Gawn/Viney combos, or goals from Petracca and Fritsch, so if you were looking for a new and exciting angle to concentrate on may I introduce you to Kynan Brown. Crazy name, crazy first goal. He gathered with the ball as hard as possible on the boundary line with his back turned, then kicked it off his left foot with chuff all space available. It was tremendous, and he did several nice things that made you think he might turn out to be one of our few father/son success stories. It shouldn't be hard to crack a top five that's currently Barassi, Viney, [THE DISTANCE FROM HERE TO THE SUN], Other, Other.

If you were somebody intent on taking this contest overly seriously, you'd probably have been thinking flag when we pelted straight from the middle for a fourth unanswered goal. Or if you prefer to gently drape the Veil of Negativity over your eyes, romp the regular season then explode in September like a Russian fighter jet. 

This was all very good, and when a Brown HTB ended in Petracca hoofing his second you couldn't have had many complaints, but the house of cards nature of things was best demonstrated when we turned to Josh Schache as second ruckman. He's going to do as much as anyone else when Gawn's not available, but no matter who does it they've got to kick a few goals in the other 95% of the game or we may as well have just held Brodie Grundy hostage.

Because it's the pre-season I wasn't even worried about being five goals up. Normal people wouldn't comprehend that sentence, but I still need a lot of convincing that any decent lead is real and not the start of a slapstick comedy routine. 

Under normal circumstances I'd have been sweating up at the prospect of blowing that lead (or, you know, conceding the next 10 goals in a row) but under normal circumstances there wouldn't be somebody in the crowd dressed as an unhealthily green banana, roaming just behind signage for the local swim school.

And that's where things temporarily went tits up. At this stage of the season, savagely ramming home the advantage isn't particuarly important, but I could have done without going to sleep at the end of the quarter/bit and letting in three. Nobody's at their best in February, including the graphic designers, but the backline looked excessively wobbly all day. I'm very much trying not to fall into the trap of thinking this means anything, but there was a little part of me that thought "we're not going to kick a score, we're going to concede heaps, oh dear god". It didn't last long.

For once it wasn't blowing a force 10 gale at Casey, but the scoring action quickly resumed to the left of screen. Before long scores were level, and if this happened in May I'd clamber up an MCG light tower. On February 18 it had the same effect on me as a mid-winter Port Adelaide vs Gold Coast superclash.  

Conceding goals hand over #fistedforever was one thing, but things got a bit drastic when top draft pick and potential Round 1A (fuck 'Opening Round' in the ear. That will be referred to as Round 1A, the next game will be Round 1B, then we can stop doing American things) debutante Caleb Windsor briefly looked to have broken himself running in an opponent. Fortunately he returned later with no harm done. He was pretty good in senior company for the first time, and given that like 75% of our list Lachie Hunter is injured he'll probably play from the start. Explaining to the kids that you debuted in 'Opening Round' will be like the poor bastards who played 10 minutes as a sub in their first game. God knows what was happening on the opposite wing, where you could easily have missed that Langdon was playing. Might be time to go through the middle a bit more.

Richmond's 10th unanswered goal came from May completely botched a simple mark inside 50. I don't blame him, the poor bastard probably still harbours resentment at playing one of the best key position defender finals you'll ever see against Carlton before being stitched up by everyone else. I'm not that worried, he strikes me as the sort of White Line Fever character that would struggle to get excited about a flimsy contest like this.

What level of rot there was finally ended with a Gawn set shot. Given the A4 paper depth of our ruck division it didn't fill me with joy that he already had massive bandaging around his lower leg. Never mind, there's always Tom Fullarton. Oh he's injured too. What's the Spencil doing these days?

We got another after the siren when Chandler clearly didn't mark in time but the umpire invoked the Fake Game rule and let him have the shot anyway. It dragged the margin back to 19, which was way better than the direction it was heading but still hardly indicative of what we're going to be seeing in Round 23, 24, 25 or however many rounds are in this bloody season now.

By now I knew I had better things to do. So did the coaches, who packed Gawn away for the rest of the game. It would have been a great time to have a look at the rest of our ruck division but we don't have one. Verrall played the rest of the game, but he's a longer-term project than high speed rail so we'll be in a drastic state if he's called on again.

The comeback rolled on with a Pickett goal after half time, before we gave it back x2. Novelty value went through the bloody roof when Lever kicked a goal but it was still unlikely that there'd be dancing in any streets if we overrun them to win. I was still happy for Brown to get his second goal straight from the next bounce, then Schache put us back in front, and for something that didn't even qualify as a real game this was an entertainingly off chops start to the year. Maybe I was just enjoying a Melbourne game where I didn't have to live and die on every kick, shortly before spending the next six months taking things way too seriously. 

Our lead didn't last to the moral three quarter time, wiped out by a Richmond goal after the siren. And that was about where I really lost interest. Coincidentally this came just as Richmond ran away with it, including a homecoming goal to an ex-Casey player who wasn't even officially on Richmond's list yet. And from there Richmond merrily bolted away to win comfortably, despite Verrall becoming the most unusual pre-season goalscore sincer Trent Zomer.

I can't think many people were watching this to start with, but as viewing figures dropped to community TV levels the commentators got bored and started pretending that (relatively) high scores in a defence optional kickaround was going to translate to the regular season. This happens in the first couple of rounds every year before coaches realise that they love nothing more than squeezing the life out of the opposition and scoring floats back down to normal levels. If that's the sort of rubbish they were left with in the main game I'd hate to think how the last 90 minutes went.

And err... that's it. This doesn't bode well for my performance in 2024 but let's just pretend I'm a big game writer and see what happens when a big game turns up.

2024 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Kynan Brown
1 - Jake Bowey

Next game
All our 2023 straight sets disasters come together when we play the team that knocked us out of the men's comp at the ground where we were knocked out of the women's comp. All it needs is for some Collingwood buffoon to shirtfront Angus Brayshaw while he's lining up for a hotdog and we'll have the full shithouse. I'll be taking the result of this one a little bit more seriously but still not reaching for razorblades if it goes tits up.

Final thoughts
Get on with the real stuff.