Monday 25 March 2024

Pork A Hawk

NB: Due to the excessive time taken to finish this post, the following scenes of injury-related misery are no longer as relevant. Can't be bothered coming up with a new angle, so enjoy the panic when it was still fresh.

You don't often see a game won by quarter time with the opposition held to five goals and still finish the weekend expecting to be disappointed. There's a first time for everything. In this case, the history books will show a comfortable early season win, but the Veil of Pyrrhic Victory is dangling due to the greatest defensive duo of our lifetime both suffering injuries of TBC severity. At the time of writing, Lever and May could be anywhere between perfectly fine and dead so I encourage you to activate any spiritual beliefs and hope for the best.

Here's to looking back at this alleged crisis in September (preferably post-flag) and laughing at the fear that went through us (me?) when May briefly looked like he'd never walk again, then relaxing just in time for Lever to hobble off with a knee injury. Early indications are that it's not a total blowout, but think of all the times we've been burnt over the years by leg injuries that turned out to be so much worse than they looked.

Ironically, the swathe may have gone through our tall defender ranks about five seconds after we were left unexpectedly flush with big forward options. In addition to the incumbent Brown and van Rooyen, Harrison Petty returned, taking us from the flattest attack in town two weeks ago, to more targets than a Glenn Bartlett lawsuit. It was quite the change to our last meeting with the Hawks, a box-ticking exercise featuring the  Josh Schache for Adam Tomlinson tactical substitution that will have future generations saying "Pardon, what?" End result similar, but this time at the start of the year when trying to get things revved up, not half-arsed end-of-season banana peel avoidance.

Last year Hawthorn had a solid run at the end of the season, causing a lot of people to get sooky towards Leigh Montagna after he claimed months earlier that their rebuild still had a long way to go. We still don't know if this is true, but plenty of teams have perked up at the end of a season, then turned up for the next one looking putrid. Regardless of where they're, and how many injury excuses they've got, I'm not entirely sure we took Hawthorn seriously. See, for instance, picking Marty Hore as the sub. Maybe somebody had a premonition of backline carnage, more likely they thought there was no need for a potential game-changing inclusion late in the piece. 

Bit harsh on Marty, welcomed back with open arms last week, then told to sit on the bench and wait for somebody to fall over. I suppose if it was close they could have opened a spot for him by replacing one of the big forwards with McSizzle, but we all suspected this was unlikely. I never take a win for granted, but while I'd never say it out loud we'd have needed a serious of significant cock-ups to lose.

Considering almost total midfield dominance against depleted opposition, you'd expect the big men to have done all the damage. Only if you were stuck in the David Neitz era. Other than Hogan kicking seven in a loss to St Kilda, every substantial haul (in respect to currently suspended players we will not call them 'bags') has come from a smaller player. That's where the fatal damage came from again, with Fritsch, Pickett, and Chandler combining crumb and set shot for 10 between them. You wonder how we'll go against the good sides, but the required job was done efficiently here.

In a random return of Banner Watch, I enjoyed the complete rewriting of history that suggested "some clubs rebuild, the Dees just reload", when we only recently finished the biggest reconstruction project since Pompeii. I remember half-successful teams using us to make themselves feel superior, so nice to be on the other side of the equation at last. You wouldn't claim it against Geelong, who have been constantly rebuilding for 40 years without collapse. The good news is that you can put anything on a banner at a Hawthorn game and it will never beat their May the Fourth 2019 disaster. 

When we last met, Hawthorn's big tactical idea was clamping an old-school, disruptive tag on Clayton Oliver. Many have tried and failed but they got him one game back from an off-field drama-filled injury absence and had a bit of success. In retrospect, considering what he would have known that nobody else did, you can see why Goodwin went as far off as he ever does about it. 

Sam Mitchell could turn out to be the next Norm Smith for all I know, but even in our saddest years we'd have known the opposition was going to try the same thing. It worked so far as it restricted the  Man Who Made Mooroopna Famous to just a good game instead of BOG, but at the price of clearing the path for Petracca to go right off. It's easy to be casual about routine wins that we'd have jumped off an MCG light tower for a decade ago, but even if the old premiership window eventually slams shut at one and done you'll look back at some of the players who were involved and realise they were 100x more fun than you remember.

This time Slamming Sam had a second idea, trying the AFL equivalent of a non-league side parking 10 men behind the ball in an FA Cup tie against Manchester City and hoping for a nil-all draw. They spent the first quarter racking up uncontested marks and possessions in a game of keepings off that would have thrilled Supercoach fanatics but failed to come to grips with a) still needing to score something, and b) savage punishment of the inevitable turnovers. There would be no repeat of that early-COVID slopfest when Geelong treated us like traffic cones for most of the day. We still nearly came back to win that day, and the gap between Cats 2020 and Hawks 2024 is the equivalent of my house to Jupiter. I'd say we wish them well for the future, but that would be a lie.

Last week we raised the spectre of Ron Barassi's epic "you give me possessions and I'll shut up" rant, but this would have caused him to throttle somebody. There were many handballs, kicks, and marks, and when somebody was standing on his own in acres of space it worked just fine. The problem was that after slowly inching forward to the point where they had to kick inside 50, they found us set up like the Maginot Line. In our premiership year, we were held to a draw by an almost as crocked Hawthorn side when they attacked from different angles, and occasionally just (accidentally?) scuffed the ball along the ground to their forwards. This was frontal attack into a brick wall, and they got what they deserved. 

We've all been there, and if you're watching a rebuilding side it's nearly mandatory to have a few games where you hope to be competitive in defeat then finish the first quarter in fear of a triple figure loss. The Hawks deserve some credit for getting away with half of that, via a brief attempt to keep things interesting in the middle quarters, but after being thrashed so often over the years I'd love to beat the snot out of somebody. Anybody will do.

The ruthlessly efficient clobbering started with a couple of missed set shots, but you got a hint of how it was going to turn out from the first one. You've not seen many better end-to-end transitions that included a dropped mark, finishing with Petracca effortlessly taking up a loose ball and dropping his kick right on Petty's head. After booting them from everywhere in his brief run as Tony Lockett Jr, his return set shot can generously be called 'rusty'. It eventually required Pickett to snatch a mad, loose handball across goal and bounce one through. And bounce it did, taking a massive upward pitch as it crossed the line, vastly improving the visual spectacle for anyone mad enough to be watching a 4.35pm Saturday game.

Petty didn't have much success before being redeployed elsewhere due injury crisis, but he is great at making a contest. This goal never happened without him helping bring the ball to ground, then keeping the defender occupied. If he plays forward again, and once May returns I see no reason he wouldn't, there'll be a game sometime this year where he takes to an opposition like Godzilla in Tokyo. I'd get more emotionally invested if I didn't fully expect him to continue the slow disintegration of the flag club by legging it towards South Australia at the first opportunity.

The best way to eliminate NQR set shots is to boot your goals through an unguarded square, which is where Bayley Fritsch came in. After playing well in a loss, then badly in a win, he realigned the planets with a five goal day. The first was a gift, coming right through the pack and into his arms, but there are years where he'd have turned to play on, tripped over, and watched the ball roll through for a point. 

Another delightful move out of defence saw Pickett go to the other end of the scale, marking on the edge of the centre square, seeing Gawn running towards goal, and realising that a wheeling, long bomb from outside 50 was a better percentage option. He was set up by Neal-Bullen, who had a very good game. ANB is the ultimate middle of the team player, and this is a good thing. He just shows up every week and does his thing within a tightly controlled window of rarely being dominant or playing shockers. He's played 150+ games, would have been a life member this year even without the automatic premiership induction and only gets two paragraphs on Demonwiki. The best compliment is to say he is very much appreciated. Also responsible for a great moment in Australian TV history by spewing on the Gabba.

Speaking of life memberships for premiership players, I note that stopped being talked about once the AFLW team won. They clearly hadn't considered if it would apply to both teams, and there's no way they can't do that without shitloads of bad publicity. If you accept that Daisy Pearce and Paxy would have got one anyway (+ likely foundation players Mithen and L. Pearce in the future), the test case is when Ben Brown retires. There's zero dispute about his contribution to the greatest night of all time, but he probably won't make 50 games and wouldn't get the nod under regular circumstances. 

It's apparently been retrospectively applied to all senior premiership players since 1900 so unless they slip me a bung to go quiet, I'm going to have to call it out for nerd reasons if he goes in (+ eventually James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon etc..) with Harold Hay from Cumloden (?) College and his seven games, but skip over the likes of Libby Birch, Casey Sherriff and Eliza West who departed well short of 10 years' service. It was a silly corner to paint yourself in to start with, but they're stuck now so start bulk-producing certificates. Can't wait to see how it's handled the first time a player from either team departs in acrimonious circumstances. 

Finally, on this space-wasting topic, I'd like to reboot my idea to restart our Hall of Fame and use that to properly differentiate the greatest on-field contributors (including coaches) from deserving players, administrators, volunteers etc... They should keep getting life memberships, hopefully with many more premiership players to follow, but the Hall of Fame is reserved for the peakest of peak players. On paper we've already got one, but it's been done in such a half-arse way that you could almost start again.

Anyway, as I was saying, by the time we'd gone five goals to nil up at quarter time, Mitchell's tactical masterplan had been blown into so many pieces it was only identifiable by DNA. Surely if there's any team to try possession footy against it's not the one that has spent years trying to stop teams getting the ball inside 50 quickly? The longer teams take the better, and here he was trying to sneak through an unlocked side door. Better luck next time.

Holding them to one point in the opening quarter was a blow to Steven May's insurgent Jakovich campaign. If only that was the worst thing to happen to him on Saturday. This week he was not required to launch a one man war on the opposition, and still ended the day being carted off to hospital. 

After years of being regularly walloped by Hawthorn, it would have been nice to claw one back here. Sadly they switched to playing normally after quarter time, ruining the spectacle for bloodthirsty neutrals. This was a lot like our first game against them in 2023, where we opened an early lead that briefly threatened to challenge our record win against them/anyone, withstood a barely serious challenge, then won comfortably without doing anything amazing.

Much to the joy of bored commentators barracking hard for a storyline, Hawthorn got the first of the second quarter. Which lasted about 19 seconds until cancelled by Pickett's third. That didn't stop them from embarrassingly trying to talk up an unlikely comeback. At least when they weren't going full Rankin' Wankin' over a second gamer who is already called 'The Wizard'. Let's hope he has better luck with nicknames than old 'Beast Mode Barometer' Rhys Mathieson, who is now plying his trade at the elite private school sounding 'Wilston Grange'.

Anthony Hudson and Jason Dunstall should have made up for Dwayne constantly talking out of his ringpiece but treated the occasion like a Round 21 game between bottom four sides. It was disappointing to hear Dunstall come out against fun by accusing Sam Frost of defending too aggressively. If you're just playing for time until the kids get good then what's the point of playing him if it's not to keep spirits up with his ferret up the leg style insanity? Hopefully Hawks fans get as much "everything else is shit, but that was fun" comfort as we got from him in 2019.  

If you didn't think we could lose a second quarter after being 32-1 in front, then you haven't paid enough attention over the years. After plenty of pressure for no result, Hawthorn finally got a second after May was crunched in a marking contest. Nothing unfair about it, and when you put yourself about like he does then this sort of thing is inevitable. It's fine once you know he's relatively fine, but there's nothing like the feeling of first seeing a top player on the ground in pain and not knowing if they're winded, slightly injured, or out for the next 12 months. It looks like a rib injury of some magnitude, and as our luck has changed a bit in recent years I'm confident May won't end up in an Iron Lung. May bounced back from Tom Hawkins elbowing him in the head, played a Grand Final with 6cm of tear in the hamstring and survived Le Belting in a French restaurant, so I'm sure he'll be back in fine form before you know it.

To the disappointment of Captain Bollocks, who screamed the immortal commentary line "They were 32 points down at quarter time, now they're only 30 points down!" no miracle recovery was forthcoming. The final margin was up in the air, but even with the gap reduced to 26 points at the half you knew we weren't going to lose to anything but outright corruption or surprise injury crisis. I could take losing May, but when Lever also hobbled off and was shown having a really shit time of it on the bench I was in full disarray over him doing another knee. Doesn't seem to be going that way, but I'm bracing for the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Any lingering resistance was put away when Chandler extended his coveted #37 goalkicking record with a lovely set shot, then Fritsch snapped one mid-bump and any remote chance of the Hawks making it interesting had gone up in smoke. Good. The heartwarming Ben Brown renaissance didn't carry into a second week, but he did pull off a military grade deception in going back for a set shot, then passing to Chandler for another. Then Petracca burst out of the middle to finish a play that began with Gawn being eye-poked Three Stooges style for no reward. Max should have got some back by booting the guy in the shins, but the best revenge is living well. 

I'm all for punting home the underdog, but the talking up Hawthorn still being in it when they were six goals down at the last change was uncouth. "That might get them started!" shouted the usually sensible Hudson when they reached 5.6.36 in the opening minutes of the final term, only to concede the last four goals of the game. It took eight seconds to set up the reply, with Petracca charging through the middle and laying it as well on the leading van Rooyen as he's ever going to get.

Both Hawthorn games last year were so boring they could have been used for general anaesthetic, and this was heading the same way before Bailey Fritsch tried to launch a one man Mad Minute. He pulled down a juggling mark for the first, and was fed another A+++ pass by Petracca for the second, before sadly failing the NBA Jam "He's on fire" test by spraying the third. 

This was all being done on James Sicily, who somehow got to play after challenging a suspension for kicking on the basis that he did it but not very hard. By now he was probably wishing he'd just hauled off and kicked the Essendon player in the dick so he didn't have to be involved in this, but apparently in an era where the league has gone responsible/soft/'woke' (delete as applicable depending on your political affiliations) on everything else, we've got precedent that you can toe-poke somebody in the shins if upset. Meanwhile, last year Lachie Hunter was fined $1500 for gesturing at a passing opposition player while standing over the boundary line, so work that out.

Once that excitement was over, it was back to some of the junkiest, junk time you're ever likely to see. Unless you're Christian Petracca, who pissbolted to the defensive square to put on an ultra-late spoil that saved a near-certain goal when the game was already enormously well won. He celebrated like he'd kicked a goal at the other end, and if there was an election held today I'd write his name on the ballot.

And... err... that was it. I wonder if Petty and McDonald got bored at the end and started discussing whose career high six goal haul was better. The answer is Petty, but more accurately they were both winners because 23 Hawthorn players only got five between them here. It could have been more savage and demoralising to the opposition, but like Fritsch in the fourth quarter we're just heating up so I'm willing to take it without complaint.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Kade Chandler
1 - Tom McDonald

Big old apologies to Salem, Oliver, Pickett and Rivers

8 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
7 - Christian Petracca
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
3 - Judd McVee, Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Kade Chandler, Tom Sparrow
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes (LEADER: Rising Star Award), Tom McDonald

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I didn't mind Fritsch's mid-bump snap, but it's got to be the Pickett party starter from outside 50 in the first quarter. But not enough to vault him into the top three again.

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney
3rd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Footscray

Next week
Party like it's 2020 and you're not allowed more than 5km from your house, because we're playing two games within a few days in South Australia. This time it's Locals 1 and Locals 2, instead of weird opposition like North, Brisbane and Essendon. First Port Adelaide, who usually go off like spoiled milk late in the year but will probably be 100% up for it here.

With no injury/suspension returns, changes have to be judged against our Reserves being easily beaten. The AFL website had to come up with positives from each state league side, and other than an alleged BOG from Tomlinson the best they could do was:

Other big Demons in consideration to fill the hole expected to open through injuries to Steven May and Jake Lever included Tom Fullarton (12 disposals) and Josh Schache (nine disposals, one goal).

Which seems wildly optimistic, and only possible if Petty goes forward again. If both Lever and May are out, then Tomlinson can play, but otherwise I'm happy to leave Petty, Hore, and McDonald together until it goes up in flames. Making somebody a sub first up is putrid, but with apologies I'd like to go for double Brown and pick Kynan. Or Tholstrup, or Moniz-Wakefield. Now that players debuted in 'Opening Round', all bets are off on ruining the experience for first gamers.

IN: Hore, Tomlinson, K. Brown (sub)
OUT: Lever, May (inj)
LUCKY: B. Brown
UNLUCKY: Woewodin + all the potential debutantes.

Final thoughts
We're unbeaten in games with a proper round number, so that's pointing to a 23-1 season followed by the traditional straight sets exit.

Monday 18 March 2024

Where it all begins again

Forget the radical idea of all teams playing in the same round, nothing says "footy is back" like fans queuing at the edge of a cliff to jump off after one loss. As one of the teams lucky (?) enough to have been chosen for Spew and Vom Round, we were able to do both 'fork in toaster' and 'everything's going to be alright' by the end of Round 1. 

Fans have probably been making premature judgements after the first game since 1897, but at least they got to proceed to directly to Round 2, where all the same teams were involved. This year we've had two of the participants in the round so bad they didn't number it play each other in the second week, the other six take on sides in the first game of the season, and byes for Brisbane and Carlton after two games.

I'm sure the AFL has a long list of made-up benefits from last week, but spin until your arm falls off, the whole thing has been a cock-up. Even uncrowned Hall of Fame Legend website AFL Tables went bonkers, just threw digital hands in the air and called the first two games - get this for revolutionary - Round 1 and Round 2. I think the Demonwiki plan of Round 1A/1B was cleaner, but after 25 years doing the league's historical work for them who can blame them for refusing to rebuild the database for what should be a one-off wankfest. 

In 1897 you'd still be seven weeks away from Round 1, but in this ludicrously stretched out season we've already bounced from one side of the misery spectrum to the other by mid-March. Even if you doubt the other side is any good, the best medicine for a first-up loss is to beat somebody for premiership points at the next available opportunity. Things looked ropey at the start, and it took a long time to finally shake Footscray off, but we ended the afternoon merrily sinking the slipper into their lifeless shell, so consider Sydney to be the formation lap and we'll take this as the official start of the season.

The latest stop in the Premiership Hangover Tour nudged the Doomsday Clock back towards 'on-field', but the key danger to our fragile dignity was the next chapter of the administration's war on quiet contemplation. I'm all for Kate Roffey, but will vote for a Glenn Bartlett/Peter Lawrence group ticket if she and/or associated people keep going on about fans not making enough noise withour providing scientific evidence that it makes a jot of difference. To paraphrase Ron Barassi, you give me something to get excited about and I won't shut up. Otherwise you're just trying to force atmosphere, which took the form of fanging chart hits at 3000 decibels before the first bounce. Funnily enough, when we started kicking goals people fired up without needing somebody to yell "make some noise" like an NBL game. We've lost six consecutive finals in all competitions, you can forgive fans for pacing themselves.

Instead of worrying about what people do when they show up, the Prez should go through the membership database from Aaronson to Zakowski and ask where the rest were. I can't believe we ended up with a crowd of 44k, because at the first bounce it looked like a #fistedforever era game against Gold Coast. The more the merrier, but could any of the people hanging shit on us for not drawing more please explain what an acceptable crowd for Melbourne and Footscray at 1pm on a Sunday in mid-March is? 

People who get into games free and are paid to barrack for the code think that because Essendon and Hawthorn got 73k that people are going to come from everywhere to see (relatively) better teams, when it hasn't worked like that in about 50 years. I'm impressed so many did turn up after the comprehensive botching of the usual pre-Round 1 hype.

The announced crowd recovered some moral-highground for whinging about the MCG closing the top of the Ponsford Stand. When I expected the announced crowd to be 25k, there was an element of "I can't justifiably complain about this", but now I've got the green light to go full Karen. Unless the club was involved in trying to fake up atmosphere by packing the crowd together, I'm accusing the alleged 'People's Ground' of being tightarses who don't want to risk a sliver of their $5 million annual profit into paying for staff to patrol the area. These are the same people who turned the lights on in blazing sunshine.

It's good that they've got a sensory room for those who need it, but anything for people who just want to see live games without being around people? I know I'm abnormal, but there must be a few of us. The alternative of Row MM Olympic Stand ended in kids sitting literally next to me at half time, then some bloody family reunion breaking out during the third, leading to flouncing off (and there was a lot of flounce in it) to another section. If that wasn't enough of a live-viewing issue, there was an added degree of difficulty from that bloody camera on a wire that kept swooping down from the stands like Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12. I'm sure home viewers had the best time since IMAX was invented but it gave me the shits. The camera failed to reappear after half time, and as TCL is now sponsoring footy (please enjoy their not at all written by AI announcement of same) I'll assume it got hacked by the Chinese government.

Once all the niche grievances were taken care of, the main event was footy, and for the first few minutes it looked like the humble fan was going to in the firing line for not providing players a more frenzied workplace environment. Against Sydney, we defended well but wondered if that was just because they had sod all good tall forwards. 'Good' is in the eye of the beholder, but the Dogs have a lot of players who can pull down marks inside 50 and they were all queuing up to get involved early. It's a blip now that you know the result, but the first two goals were a big, flashing 'oh shit' warning. Even as somebody who called for calm after the first game I saw the season flash before my eyes.

Getting hands on the ball would have helped. I don't think there was a single disposal before their first goal, and at best one flubbed handball and Salem being caught HTB before the second. I could have made a case for it going tits up against all those talls, with Marty Hore and Tom McSizzle at the same end for the first time since Carrara 2019, Blake Howes without first game surprise element etc... Enter Steven May, whose professional pride was so wounded by early setbacks that he played the rest of the first quarter like Rambo, going on a one-man crusade for justice. He crashed packs, laid clobering tackles, and was just generally ace. I did think "hope he doesn't get too excited and belt somebody", and was scared to death that his high forearm fend in the last quarter was going to end in suspension.

I didn't realise at the time that May's big tackle was on Harmes, and that he put the exclamation point on with a verbal spray. Big deal, Harmes got a week for headbutting him in the last quarter and they still cheerfully embraced at the final siren. And I'll bet the lunatic fringe of Footscray fans were delighted to see that. Harmes didn't do much to make you miss him, but could have done anything on the way out short of sticking Norm Smith's jumper between his buttocks and he'd still be a hero to me. The dickhead minority who booed him should be boiled in oil, but it's a step up from Pies fanatics (ina all senses of the word) going from flag to hooting serving players within six quarters.

Just when things were getting a bit dodgy, enter opening goal specialist Jack Viney. To prove his unexpected versatility, this was completely different to last week's effort. Instead of activating Beast Mode and powering through a pack, he converted a you-know-the-appropriate-reference style burst from the centre bounce, taking on the extra challenge of fumbling a handball, before regathering and belting it through on the run. It was a good finish, and very much needed to calm the nerves. We still didn't know if the forwards were going to kick anyway, but in an era where I expect every game to finish with both teams scoring between 50 and 70 I'll take anything on offer.

Pickett got the second, and even though he didn't add another major until the last quarter you understood how badly we missed him last week. Whether forward or midfield he produces more energy than Loy Yang B. Now we'd settled into the game, what the Dogs really needed was a goal via absurd clanger. Gawn obliged, running onto a ball in the back pocket that he could easily have let go over the line and trying a weird handball that skewed off in the wrong direction and cost a goal. After facilitating yet another Rising Star nomination in Mystery Week, I was ready for anyone from Riley Sanders to Colonel Harland Sanders to get the next one against us, but it was their other first gamer who got the MFC First Game Fun Pack. He didn't do anything else, but will always fondly recall the gift from Big Max.

Other than getting over-excited there, there's no need for the same 'woe is us' ruck content as last week because Gawn was nearly BOG. I thought Footscray might use their bonanza of tall players against him, but like defending the goalside of centre bounce stoppages at crucial stages of a Grand Final they had less other ideas. He was back to his best, in the sort of game where you can't imagine what Grundy would have done as second banana. Certainly wouldn't have contributed as much as the back-from-the-dead Ben Brown, who might have had the mobility of an Eastern European car but contested well, and took a few good saving marks along the wing.

The Dogs still had a handy lead in the dying minutes of the quarter, before going to pieces and letting us crumb a pair to regain the lead. NFI how that happened but we were never behind again, and for all the "no plan B" mockery of the coach, our recovery from a poor start was nearly flawless. 

We did have to survive one attack straight from the next bounce, but everything was going so well now that it turned into Fritsch having a Malcolm Blight style long distance torp after the siren. It missed, with the third (?) review of the quarter determining which side of the point posts it went. Everyone was hanging shit on the goal umpires for not backing themselves, but I feel bad for them because the same people will be calling for blood in the streets when they don't review a howler. After that Adelaide fiasco last year, there's only one direction review numbers are going.

May did his best to drag us back into the game with brawn, but after a decent warm-up last week, the sixth sense ball-getting was provided by who else but Clayton Oliver. He had a shitload of touches in the first quarter and never slowed down. He's had more disposals in a game, but not many better overall performances considering the pressure of everyone watching, and the lowest rungs of society desperately wanting him to fail.

I don't know - or need to know - what happened to him last year, but I sense he's much better in the club environment than left to his own devices. You could see the joy he was getting out of this, and the ovation when he left the field in the last quarter was tremendous. I don't know what he's got to redeem after missing a grand total of zero competitive games, but I'll take a redemption storyline if it ends in him playing out a glittering, legend status career with us and/or a happy, stress free life that doesn't end in medical emergencies or related drama.

The full Oliver experience was on show early in the second when he ran onto a loose ball, bumped off an opponent as he gathered, considered having a flying shot for about 0.1 seconds, before somehow seeing Neal-Bullen standing on his own near goal from the corner of his eye, and guiding a handball to him between three defenders. This left ANB to kick the most casual rolling, bouncing goal of all time. He had so long to set it up that he'd have looked a bit of a tit if it didn't get the all important last rotation as was touched through.

In an episode of Air Crash Investigation, the voiceover would have greeted this by saying "that was the moment when Bulldog Airlines Flight 1 was doomed", but we didn't officially shift them for another two quarters. That's something to go on with isn't it Dogs fans? Maybe not. 

If you'd told me a few weeks ago that there'd be an early season quarter where everything went Brown I'd have thought you meant a) Kynan, or b) the colour of Simon Goodwin's undies if we were getting thrashed. The Ben variety had flown so far under the radar that there was mass confusion when he turned up at VFL level last week, before an extra round of 'is he still around?' from casual fans when the teams were announced. Recent history suggests he doesn't make it through the full season, but he did a great job all day. The peak came here, where he first brought the ball to ground for Chandler's goal, then get one of his own after nimbly (!) stepping around a hapless defender. His second came from a completely unnecessary free kick for holding while covered by two defenders in the square, but they all count. Refer to several hundred previous posts about how if you create enough genuine contests you'll get some lucky frees.  

Down the other end we hadn't quite killed off their forward line, but it was reduced to Jamarra Ugle-Hagen marking everything but spraying kicks, while the law firm of Naughton, Lobb and English were stricken from the record. This was a triumph for the returning Marty Hore, who played in a winning AFL side for the first time since before old mate from China set us on course for a flag by eating an infected bat. Also back in the defensive winners' circle, Tom McDonald, who was very good as more of a running defender (for want of a better term) than his old old job as a flat-out key position back. I thought Tomlinson was unlucky to be dropped, but this did add an extra element of rebounding attack. He'll probably be back at full forward in six weeks when everything else fails, but I'm willing to bet now that he won't get to the cherished (by me) career average of a goal a game after giving it a 60 game head start.

As the Big Book O' Footy Cliches would have it, this is a game of inches and after they got the final goal of the first half you do wonder what would have happened if that hadn't been followed by a miss in the opening seconds after the break. Instead, we went down the other end of ANB's second and some much needed breathing space. Alas, Footscray just would not piss off and leave us to enjoy a nice day out. At about the same time the family reunion broke out in front of me, we let another goal in, and it was only a late Chandler shot that made things even remotely comfortable at the last break. 

That goal was a historical moment that will go unreported because it's strictly for sickos like me. Chandler's third made him the all-time top MFC goalkicker in jumper 37. Hard to see why that didn't make the front of the paper. A cautionary note to young players from the previous record holder Jim Mitchell, whose switch to #1 in his last season has cost him glory 75 years later. Commit to an unusual number and for the record books.

More importantly to normal people, Chandler was a world ahead of last week. Doesn't hurt to have a certain K. Pickett back in the small forward department, but in the absence of the injured Charlie Spargo I'm claiming 'Mission Accomplished' on my theory that you can't play them in the same side. Charleston hasn't had a game this good in a long time, so it's advantage to KC. That's the way I like it etc...

Also significantly better than his first outing, Jack Billings. In retrospect, it does seem silly to pick a sub who's fanging to prove himself after a long career at another club, and after doing nada off the bench in Sydney, he was really good here. He's hardly going to win our B&F and trouble the All-Australian selection committee, but if fit he could be an astute gap-filling selection. 

Running away from Footscray was embedded in our club culture on 25/09/2021, but I wasn't ready to accept a 19 point lead was enough. Last week might have been an anomaly based on occasion, opposition, available players, and conditions, but the most recent evidence of Melbourne in the last quarter was us flailing around as if drowning, reduced to accidental goals because nothing else was working.

My deepest fears got a workout when they stayed forward for the first few minutes. I was ready to demand enquiries about everything up to and including not using the sub early enough on a hot day, when Gawn marked pretty much right in front. To the joy of basic people everywhere he missed, but more importantly they went straight down the other end for a shot that would have made things uncomfortably interesting. It missed, and next thing you know Fritsch fed Petracca with a beautiful handball to goal on the run and they'd wasted their chance to set off our self-doubt.

It was not quite all over yet, because after missing all the easy shots, Footscray's last gasp came courtesy of a recycled defender who only had about two previous career goals cracking one through from distance. Didn't have any long term negative impact, but possibly only because an attack where they had all the numbers fell apart with a fumble and turned into us kicking the reply goal. 

That caused air to finally evacuate the Bulldog balloon with a big "pffffffffffft" sound, and once the body hit the floor we merrily took out some of our frustrations from last week by sticking the boots in. From there we converted a ludicrous (for us) percentage of attacks into scores, while the opposition was losing the will to live. They briefly got it back to four goals the difference with six minutes left, but even I wasn't worried about a comeback... after we turned back an attack from the next centre bounce.  Good thing it wasn't close, because Lever spent large parts of the last quarter in cramp hell. He returned at the end, god knows why, but looked likely to go into full body spasm at any moment.

ReviewMania continued when they stopped the game with the ball in play to try and work out if it had crossed the line for a point. It hadn't, so they bounced it and things were getting really silly. I've accepted that reviews are never going away, but I'd save them for deciding if the ball crossed the goal line, and for hitting the post. Somebody will go off about "what if the game was decided by a point?", but that's a false argument (and here I go with this for another year, see also Score, Expected) because one you pay it the other way, the game goes off on a different path. We'll live if a couple of points a year go the wrong way.

The Dollop of Wallop portion of the afternoon began when Pickett kicked a Pickett-esque goal from nowhere right in front of the MCC Members, delighting the only full section of the ground. Later the same people were pictured going apeshit when Oliver ran off after playing his heart out, but any of our fans who weren't moved at that point need their pulse checked. He had another chance for a running goal that would have lifted the roof off the standards, before doing the team thing and setting up JVR instead. What a man.

As usual I've only paid scant attention to the previous career of our new arrivals, but I'm reliably informed (by who else but AFL Tables) that Jack Billings once kicked five in a game. But then again so did Sam Blease and Brent Heaver. He got his first in our colours here, even if - and you'll never guess what happened next - it had to survive a video review. When the question is the ball hitting the post, why don't they got to the snicko first instead of frame-by-frame vision at the same resolution as full motion video from mid-90s video games?

Footscray's descent into madness was complete when a kick-in disaster saw Billings feed Salem a cheap one from the square, and a Brown miss on the siren is all that cost us a 50 point win. It sure didn't feel that brutal, but who doesn't love reminders of another time we unexpectedly ran up the score against this opposition?

So, the other side may be no better than mid-table mediocrity but watching us win at the MCG (or anywhere for that matter) was a nice way to kick the season off for real. The next six months is going to be a potentially fatal rollercoaster of emotions, but now you know that we can beat somebody, the mission is to do that about 20 more times, ending on a similarly sunny day at the other end of the season.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Steven May
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Jack Billings

Massive apologies to Viney and Chandler. Significant apologies to Brown, Lever, McDonald, Rivers and Salem 

8 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
3 - Judd McVee
2 - Christian Petracca, Tom Sparrow
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes (LEADER: Rising Star Award)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's welcome back Pickett, and straight to the top of the leaderboard for that out of thin air one in the last quarter. In the unlikeliest scenario ever, he shares the podium with 2x Jack Viney. I liked last week's power move goal, but the one this week was very good because he had to regather it first. You'll notice there's no JVR vs Sydney included, even though it won Goal of the Week, because that was the worst thing we've been nominated for at the SCG since Howe took Mark of the Year while we were 85 points down, then immediately botched a handball.  

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney
3rd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Footscray

Matchday experience watch
Our first home game of the year is the activation (*spit and spew simultaneously*) equivalent of Homer Simpson and new billboard day. This year's big innovation was 'Simba Cam', which encouraged fans to hoist their child into the air and... not much else. It certainly wasn't because Disney paid us a huge pile of cash, so wait until their lawyers find out what we're up to. Either that or it'll go the way of Hogan's Heroes/Howie's Hangers when somebody trips over a seat and their child ends up in ER.

Crowd watch (incorporating White Line Fever and Sorted For G's and Whizz)
I've never seen so many young men patiently waiting for bathroom cubicles at half time. Doesn't seem like a sanitary place to whop foreign substances up your nose, but given that the gear is probably cut with 72% oven cleaner anyway, what's the difference? One distant New Year's Eve I sampled the genuine article and ended up walking from Toorak to Southbank to Richmond, via singing the Grand Old Flag out loud in Fawkner Park. Which seems like a much better use of excess energy than watching more wonky footy. 

Next week
I've given Hawthorn no respect this year, so next week will either confirm my suspicions about them or end in an embarassing reverse that will have the vultures back on our doorstep. They pushed us late last year, in a game so tedious that it caused at least one of our players to go on the rails, but on paper things should turn out ok.

Selection gets interesting after Ben Brown's surprise revival, last week it was how quickly can we get Petty back, now there's probably scope to warm him up in the Reserves. Petty has played more damaging games in the last 12 months, Brown has years of experience so you know what you're going to get, and each has lower extremities that could catch fire at any moment.

There's also a question of whether we need all these tall defenders against a side not called Footscray. As far as I'm aware, and get ready to be proven wrong when Jason Dunstall 2.0 kicks a dozen, Hawthorn isn't exactly flush for exciting marking forwards. Regardless, the Cararra Club of McDonald and Hore should be rewarded for good performances. So for once, especially because Casey lost a practice match to perennial stragglers Coburg, let's say no change. Woewodin didn't do anything wrong so he can go again as sub, and after making five changes this week let's relax and not worry about our flimsy depth for a few days.

UNLUCKY: Petty, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
Don't block out your calendar for September yet, but this was a much-needed reminder that we were only slightly off last week. If we keep enough players upright until the end of the year things can still turn out well.

Saturday 9 March 2024

Open. Shut.

Considering our long history of being unwatchable, I can understand why the AFL doesn't trust us with the first game of the season. Given how many years they had Carlton and Richmond bore the tits off everyone I'm surprised we've been the opening act six times in the last 30 years. Don't stay up for the next one, after another repeat of the same low-scoring sludge we've lost 15 times in recent years, they won't be asking us back anytime soon.

This was nearly enough to turn me off the sport of Australian Rules football, but as I set up these links to previous opening games we're going through them anyway. The teenage misery years helped me avoid the unmerciful humping by Geelong in 1996 (made up for it later...), but I do remember being shocked by the next year's 'eventual wooden spooners beat reigning premiers' false start. There was a temporary setback in 2000, and a near-permanent setback in 2007, before we returned to raise the flag 15 years later. Not much joy in all that, but '22 was good.

We'll judge the historical context of this year's loss later. For now, you can either drop your bundle and try to sack somebody, or curl into a ball and hope for the best. I'm taking the second option with a side serving of confirmation bias for my theory that we're a fringe finals side that will need everything to go right to contend for the top prize.

The key difference between all the opening rounds since 1897 and this 'Opening Round' was the AFL torching convention by not giving it a number. Who cares where they play the games, just have a split round instead of playing a full card of Round 1 games next week, featuring all the teams who have already played. It's harmless stuff, unless you're a sicko like me who values order over marketing department bullshit. They also played the first game in Sydney, which has never happened in the history of the game if you ignore 2012.

I thought the focus on the frontier states (where footy is the game of the future and always will be) was a sad attempt to leap into a gap in the NRL calendar, only to find out that their season proper started on the same night. They may as well be honest and admit it was a consolation Gather Round. Hopefully the competing clubs are cut in on what bung the AFL got from New South Wales/Queensland for doing it. Just send a cheque, best we stay clear of whatever coke and hookers side deals they had going on. 

Channel 7 and the AFL are practically two wings of the same cartel these days, but the artificial "how much fun are we having?" excitement about being in Sydney was hilariously overblown. The highlight was their vigorous, dignity-free walloping over the crowd, when the last home and away game at the SCG, against the same opposition, drew more people. I'm looking forward to the crowd for GWS/Collingwood being talked about as the dawn of a new era when 90% of them are going for the visitors. Like the NRL in Vegas, Port Adelaide in China, and AFLX, they're well within their rights to do unusual things, just don't piss in our pocket by pretending it's a game-changing historical moment when any sensible person can see otherwise.

Even before spending four quarters making the sound of a slowly deflated balloon, I didn't want to be involved in this nonsense. Surely the only reason we got the call-up was because somebody still harbours fantasies about a CityWars rivalry between 'Melbourne' and 'Sydney'. This dates back to the Swans' first home game in Sydney (with the added bonus of us coming off a 1-21 season, all but guaranteeing a home win), but in the 40 years since nobody's found a way to make people care about the meekest organisation in Australia against a reheated Victorian side. For this, they got two solid defensive sides with ridiculously malfunctioning forward lines, and not surprising one of them (guess which one) sat on a sad-looking 1.8 just before half time.  

Meanwhile, in the core footy states plenty of people who don't live their life on the internet thought this was another practice match. Like it or not, Victoria is still the powerhouse of the game and there hasn't been a flatter build-up in recent memory. They were rooted for a big Round 1B angle until Carlton launched a miracle comeback against Brisbane, setting up their game against another side who has already played, while we're against... one that hasn't? What a farce.

They'll build up a frenzy eventually, but I'll be interested to see how strong it is by September. This season is so drawn out that it started a day earlier than 2000, which was brought forward for the Olympics. Playing for premiership points on March 7 helped us lose the weather lottery, setting up the sort of greasy, humid conditions that are usually followed by us toiling for four quarters to kick a rotten score. And here we are again, but blaming the conditions would be an even cheaper deflection than blaming umpires, and I sure won't be doing that after they gifted us one of the most ludicrous advantage goals of all time.

Officially, Round Zero Dark Thirty began 2024 but it may as well have been a continuation of last year. We didn't need a moist footy to kick barely defensible scores that left us relying on good luck and/or the opposition necking themselves spectacularly. So that's something to look forward to. No need to drop your toaster in the bath yet, I'm not panicking until Pickett, Petty, McAdam etc... come back and it still resembles the Oscar McDonald at full forward era.

If you're searching for bad omens (and at 0-1 who isn't?), there was a bit of 2019 about it. Troubled pre-season leads to three quarters of competitive footy against decent opposition before total collapse in the final term, while an ex-player has the time of his life in new colours. I'm not expecting the same kind of death spiral, but if we mix a slow start and injury drama it could end in collective loss of will to live. Famous last words, but don't hold your breath if you're waiting for the coach to be booted. He's going to get McGuire/Buckley levels of protection until the lawsuits are sorted out. Though I wouldn't rule out secret documents in the safe that will be used to 'persuade' him to 'spend more time with the family' if things go really bad.

I was woefully underprepared for the new season. It would have been easier to watch a couple of neutral games first before emotionally committing. Like a surprise nuclear strike I only had a few minutes to come to terms with impending doom before the blinding flash and shockwave. We got the doom, but with none of the expected fireworks.   

I'm happy that Blake Howes and Caleb Windsor made their league debuts, but sorry they had to do it in a weird round that will confuse the piss out of everyone in years to come. Howes can also cherish his first touch in league footy being met with a giveaway "no idea who that is" pause from an underprepared commentator, then the second had an equally telltale pause as they frantically scanned the team sheet for his name.

To nobody's surprise, the season started with us indiscriminately hoofing the ball inside 50. As the first one reached the contest I had a brief, hopeful flash of "maybe we'll pull down a mark" optimism. And you know how that went. Cue opening minutes where we had the ball down there a lot but NFI how to turn that into goals, with our backline easily dismissing anything Sydney threw at them. Whoever proposed this matchup for the first game must have been thinking about chowing down on a cyanide pill.

With artisan goals off the agenda, we nearly got the opener when Gawn gently dismissed Grundy in a ruck contest. He hit the post and it was all downhill from there. Max hasn't had a worse Round 1 since Port Adelaide beat him up while the rest of the side stood around going "gee, that's not good". This was great content for simpletons and Channel 7 personalities (plenty of crossover in those groups) who had "stir up Grundy controversy" right under "treat this like the greatest night in the history of our sport" in their talking points. On his return to first ruck duties, Grundy played the sort of quite good but not great game he did multiple times for us in Gawn's absence last year, while the callers carried on like Polly Farmer had been reincarnated.

Any sceptical rugby fans who'd turned in for the first time (and been temporarily paralysed so they couldn't turn it off) would have thought he'd left us in the most acrimonious circumstances since T. Scully, when in reality it was a perfectly amicable split. Unless you buy into the unlikely idea that he'd have replaced Gawn as first ruck, pretending he'd have done exactly the same thing for us as against is incredibly dumb. Mind you, I might have been a bit more interested in holding him to his contract if I'd known we were going to go from two All-Australian ruckmen to an ageing Gawn, a Brisbane discard, and kids so raw that they'd give a cannibal food poisoning. 

While the Grundy experiment wasn't a spectacular success, he was good enough during Gawn's early-season injury, didn't do anything horribly wrong, and helped get Max through to the end of the year in one piece. Now, if Tom Fullarton or A. Random don't come good we'll run the captain into a coma by Round 10. I don't care what happens at centre bounces, we need him in one piece to get us out of jail with contested marks around the ground. 

Whatever the answer to the second ruck question is, I don't think the answer is Josh Schache. Remember picking him instead of Grundy in a final then leaving him on the bench all night? For want of any better options it was fair enough to give him a go, but he's got Jordan Gysberts-level intensity and doesn't kick goals so no need to see him again until we're desperate in about Round 19. 

van Rooyen wasn't much better in front of goal, but I know which one I trust to do something if he gets the right support. The other night he was on the Weideman 2020 plan, expected to beat the entire opposition backline to kicks arriving as if dropped from space. I hope any combination of Petty, Fullarton, McDonald or B. Brown (who I never expected to see again but just played in a Casey practice match) will shift focus enough so he can get his confidence up. There's structural work to be done too, but based on last year's experience we've got stuff all hope of that being addressed.

If this is a replay of 2023 (and to be fair we nearly blundered into a Prelim), get ready for months of May, Lever et al working themselves to a standstill keeping the other side to gettable scores and hoping we can pluck something from our forwards to cover it. Sydney's forward line was almost as bad as ours, but if nothing else they had targets, and we generally kept them quiet. The locals helped with some bonkers kicking for goal, but not for the first time our defenders would be justified cracking the shits about their hard work being wasted. By the end, May should have sent himself forward and ordered somebody else to go back and see how it feels.

It took a goal from thin air nowhere to get us going, with one of the 10,000 forward stoppages ending with Viney struggling manfully through a tackle to put ball on boot. He was very good, but it was easy to stand out in our midfield with Petracca well held and Oliver slowly working his way back into it. Sparrow was fine, but it could have been better considering how many key players they were missing. Salem got a lot of it, but I don't know whether bulk collection of ball in the middle is better for us than accurate kicking in defence. I'm confident Oliver's going to be ok, he was rusty, and perhaps a bit nervous, but you could see that his sixth sense instinct for being in the right place was still there. It was 100% "will be better for the run" stuff.

We wasted all these chances while Sydney produced goals directly from the arse. How often has the difference been us spending minutes/hours/decades trying to find a traditional route to goal, only to concede to some fluky kick over a pack? It was a mark of how (relatively) well everything else was going, and Sydney's equally wonky attack, that we were only a couple of goals behind.

Unless you were committed to one of the teams, the second quarter must have been like watching paint dry. We kept them to one goal, and finally rose above the forward flops to get the much-needed reply from ANB. Then we didn't, as he surely became the first player to have goals taken away by mystery video reviews in consecutive games - as if we needed another reminder of that Carlton final. Now that we've been on the wrong end of this twice, I'm begging for the result of a game to be reversed after the siren when the final kick is shown to have brushed a fingernail. For extra impact, let it happen to a team whose fans will take it really badly. Later the goal umpire asked for replay when the ball had furiously cracked off the post and I'm not sure any of this was good for football.

Just as I was about to spend half time watching the Grand Final edition All The Goals video and crying, Langdon did what the forwards couldn't and found acres of space inside 50. He converted the set shot despite an unnecessary lecture from the umpire about how he wasn't allowed to run off his line when practically right in front. That took us to the dizzying heights of 2.8 at the half, and it was a mark of how ordinary the night had been that we were still a reasonable chance of winning.  

Even in the most self-indulgent era of this page I'd have struggled to go into forensic depth on this game, but the third quarter was easily the only bit worth watching. There was even a brief, lovely moment where we hit the front. It didn't last, but nice to know the evening wasn't completely wasted. After an early goal to Fritsch, we were let off the hook but some dreadful Sydney misses. Then we did our bit for the game in expanding markets by gifting them a goal via a 50. The rest of the game featured players from both sides dancing around on the mark after being told to stand so apparently that rule has gone the same was as dissent, which will lead to controversy when an umpire shocks everyone by enforcing the actual written laws of the game.

The goal that put us in front was one of the most shameful applications of the advantage rule in history. We won a perfectly normal free kick, somebody toepoked it forward, and the umpire didn't call play on until it had gone another 10 meters beyond the spot the original free was paid and Fritsch found the ball in acres of space to turn and snap. That has definitely happened against us at some point because I remember being outraged by it, so as morally suspect as it was, I'm glad one finally went in our direction.

Considering that freebie, you couldn't really argue giving the goal back via a rare defensive meltdown. In the interim, Bowey blew his shoulder with a brave defensive effort, then had to sit on the sidelines watching the game go up in smoke. I was ready to crack the sads when we conceded a late one via Spargo lightly whacking somebody off the ball. Mind you, everything is off the ball when you're watching Channel 7 broadcast everything on 500x time zoom. Thankfully, that was wiped out by Petracca reemerging from the Witness Protection Program to burst from the middle Mad Minute style for the response. It may have been Alice Springs-level humid, but if we were still capable of outrunning teams in the fourth quarter things might have turned out ok. We're not and they didn't.

After 30 minutes of acting like a normal team, it was back to attacking misery after three quarter time. The Swans slowly pulled away, and our only goal came in Three Stooges fashion when JVR dropped a mark onto his upper leg, with the momentum propelling it over his head and through. We were in a better position for a comeback than... say... Brisbane last year, but went back to having all the firepower of the Mongolian Navy.

We were already long finished when the pain was prolonged by ground invaders. It should have been Extinction Rebellion protesting the extinction of our forward line, but turned out to be just two plonkers going for a run across the ground. This seems to happen quite a lot in Sydney, but unless the flange is on display it's not a 'streaker'. In this case it appeared to be a close relative of Jordan Gysberts in long pants, which is about as far away from streaking as you can get. Commentators love to talk up the fines for this sort of stuff, ignoring the fact that the sort of people who are likely to interrupt a major sporting event for the lols are probably not the type to bother paying fines in the first place.

So it ended in slow, drawn out sadness, and you'd be forgiven for getting a bit sad about any pre-season optimism flying out the window at warp speed but I suggest not trying to launch a military coup just yet. Things can only get better, and if they don't we'll have a great time burning the place down.   

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal
5 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Judd McVee
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Blake Howes (LEADER: Rising Star Award)

Apologies to Fritsch, Lever, Oliver, Salem and Tomlinson 

... and a reminder that we're changing the name of the Rising Star after the passing of Jeff Hilton. He was attached it in the early days of this page as a cheap excuse to talk about a 90s cult figure, but I don't want the name to come off as a pisstake now so it's being retired. All the remaining awards are named after somebody from that decade, so it's about time we moved into the 21st century. A snap poll of Twitterists preferred another obscure figure over a fitting tribute to somebody like Nathan Jones. Poor Chunk, first I failed to deliver on the promised LOYALTY statue, now this. Stay tuned for a shortlist of potential nominees.  

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I can't justify sending van Rooyen to the top because it was a complete fluke, but he can start the year on the leaderboard because there aren't many other options.

1st - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney
2nd - Christian Petracca (Q3) vs Sydney
3rd - Jacob van Rooyen (Q4) vs Sydney

Next week
It's our old chums Footscray, who are arriving via the traditional method of playing their first game of the season in Round 1. This season could go in any direction for them, and it doesn't bother me whether they make finals, finish last or burst into flames, but I really need to win so we don't have to put with 'club in crisis' video packages with foreboding music and clips artistically shown in black and white to emphasis trouble in the air.

Because this competition is run like a Tijuana whorehouse, the VFL doesn't start for three weeks so god knows how we're supposed to decide on changes. When I started writing this post I couldn't find any mention of Casey playing a practice game. Then updates started appearing on their Twitter, for the first three and a bit quarters before the person who runs their account finding something better to do. I was astounded to see a mention of Ben Brown, and had to double check to make sure they weren't talking about Kynan. If he's got any mobility left he could come in handy, especially when Petty breaks again five minutes after returning.

As far as changes go, nothing happened to dissuade me from a deeply held belief that you can't have Spargo and Chandler in the same side. For now it's advantage Kade, but not by much. I feel bad for chucking Laurie, but he's never done anything yet to suggest being a first choice player.  

Pickett obviously comes in, and Billings should get a full game to see what happens, but otherwise the depth warning light is flashing before the second game. I'll have a McSizzle cameo to fill the gap until Petty returns, and will give Kynan Brown a run, but otherwise blah. We've still got enough available quality to win but the Veil of Negativity is slowly descending towards me. 

IN: Billings, K. Brown, Pickett, McDonald, 
OUT: Laurie, Schache (omit), Spargo (omit to sub), Bowey (inj)
LUCKY: Chandler

Final thoughts
I'm still all-in on a fairytale run to the flag, where we make finals in unspectacular fashion, then shock the world by making the Grand Final, only for Joel Smith to return on a technicality, kick six, then voluntarily retire while being off on the shoulders of jubilant supporters. Could happen.