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. 

1 comment:

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)