Saturday 27 April 2024

Disco Demolition Night

The natural reaction to a game like this is to fret that we wouldn't have beaten any of the good sides, but think back to all those 'only good because we won' slogs in 2021 and how things went supernova at the end of the year. Try not to think about how many of our 32 wins over the following two seasons required the same level of patience and understanding before things went tits up in September.

Many consider the post-premiership years a waste (not without some justification), but as it took us eight seasons to win that many games from 2007 I'm still graciously accepting victories in any condition from pristine to soiled. Which is fine when it's your club, but after another prime time appearance that would have had neutrals reaching for cyanide pills, we'll be lucky if Channel 7 lets us play on any special occasion beyond Lapland National Day Eve next year. For the second time in a row we did our impression of the old SBS 9:30 Movie, only getting interesting after everyone else went to bed.

In what we hope will be several years, somebody (spoiler: me) will do a list ranking every game of our relative glory era. This one will probably be near the bottom of the wins list, unless you're Daniel Turner and have fond memories of coming from the clouds to play a great game. Turner already had one of the wilder stories for a four game player - a mid-COVID, mid-season draftee who arrived just at the right time to see the premiership run first-hand (P.S - I rewatched the video of the Grand Final post-match to make sure he was in it and almost started crying, so the impact is still as strong as ever), debuting thanks to Steven May punching on in a French restaurant, ending the game concussed, then randomly turning up for games at either end of last season before starting this one injured. 

None of this would have rated a mention if he hadn't put on the most unlikely goalkicking performance since NFI. Even by modern standards three isn't a massive haul, but tell me a time anyone did it more unexpectedly. I was there for Brent Heaver and Sean Charles kicking five on debut, both the Sam Blease/Mark Jamar surprise efforts in otherwise shit losses, and nearly toppled over from a heart attack when Tom McDonald's fifth sank West Coast in 2018, but this was pound-for-pound weirder than any of them. Factor in the occasion, his recent return from injury, a one game/one goal warm-up in the VFL, and the fact that nobody's ever thought about him playing forward and this was truly odd. He may never kick a goal again, but somebody send word that he's only 28 goals off Peter Walsh's record for the most in #42 and not to get seduced into seeking a Hollywood Boulevard number.

Hopefully, he reduces the novelty factor by doing it again, but for now it's one of the all-time great exceedings of expectations. When he came into the side at the expense of Brown, I fully expected them to send McSizzle forward again. I know we were highly likely to beat a side on the downhill slide from glory and with a shitload of injuries (which we did... eventually) but out-of-the-box key position shenanigans still felt risky. Shows what I know. Last year Petty kicked six against Richmond, now this, so it's your guess which defender will be next to exploit their vulnerability to wildcard moves.

The focus on somebody kicking the princely sum of three goals is necessary to avoid talking about a first half so bad that we're lucky Channel 7 didn't switch to the test pattern. Clickbait fanatics sooked up over a headline about Goodwin and the coaches 'laughing' at some of the errors, but how could you not? Imagine spending two weeks preparing your side to go into an important game as favourites, then watching them kick it 20 metres to the left of the target for an hour? Surely these people are familiar with the concept of nervous laughter. 

Maybe the players were distracted thinking about the list of brave war casualties that we stuck on the bottom of our jumper under a Hertz logo. More likely history's only unbeaten MFC men's senior coach Adem Yze came armed with a raft of inside ideas about how to stop us but a team only capable of keeping it up for a half. Which is fine now, but at the end of that half I was about to run off and join the Navy. On a night we were asked to think about wars, this paid tribute to the ones where the more fancied country takes far longer than expected to break through. The result and margin were fair enough in the end, but now before the traditional "oh, we're not going to stuff this up are we?" fear when playing lower sides.

I would give nothing of the last few years back except the narrow finals losses, but while we'll spend the rest of our lives trying to find another Lever/May combination, the only downside to building on defence is the lack of rampant, sadistic thrashings. I just want to tip our balance of 100 point results a bit more towards the middle. Any win is a good win once it's confirmed, but while we're on the topic of odd scenarios it's NQR that the only time we've had back-to-back 10 goal wins in recent memory were a Prelim/Grand Final.

So while I never expect to win big (and haven't been entirely confident about winning at all since 1993), when we fanged straight from the middle for a JVR mark and goal part of me wondered if we might be about to give it the full USA vs Grenada treatment. And from there until half time we were outscored by seven points, had disposal efficiency that was probably in single figures, and generally made the host broadcaster consider selling rights for our games to community TV.

Other than the world's greatest defensive duo having their way with a discount forward line that may have been discovered wandering down Punt Road, pretty much everything we did from here until the long break was shite and I care not to relive it in too much depth. One of the few highlights was Gawn laughing mockingly in the face of a ruck double team, but otherwise this was not a banner night for our midfield superstars. None of previous BOG winners Oliver, Petracca, Viney went close this time. It didn't matter this time, and no doubt they'll all be back in the thick of it soon so good to do it without for once. I'd still punch on in the streets to defend their honour.

I know we'd be better moving the ball if Bowey and Salem were available, but the forwards have some right to argue about how badly the ball was coming towards them. Mainly because it rarely made it that far. van Rooyen likes the place enough to sign a contract extension but he must wonder what it would be like at (insert alternative top eight side). I hate to think how we'd have gone without Pickett hoovering around the ground floor again. This wasn't his best game but it made you realise how badly we've fared without him twice this year. So for god's sake please stop hitting people. Solid advice too for the opposition Pickett, who signed up for a big fat fine by whacking Oliver in the guts. Somehow this translated to Clayts ending the night with two black eyes like he'd gone 10 rounds of bareknuckle boxing with Mike Tyson.

Other highlights of the first half ranged Turner kicking his first career goal despite the corner of his teenage boy moustache being invaded by what looked like an epic cold score, to the siren that ended it. Almost everything in between was like pulling heavy machinery up a hill with your teeth. A day later the world's most boring people were demanding extra time, this needed five minutes each way shaved off. We both deserved to be ahead at the break and further than a point behind. The game itself deserved to be euthanised.

In all senses of the word, the action kicked off after the nervous half time wait. Gawn fired the starters' gun for party time with a mark and goal in the pocket. For me it's not Max from that spot unless being heckled by an Essendon fan who was later arrested for car theft, but even without some peanut yelling in his ear Max kicked it. This, like basic speech and comprehension, came as a surprise to Brian Taylor, who referred to a reasonably straightforward snap around the body as an 'impossible task' just as ball left boot on its way straight through the goals.

Mocking BT's commentary is the next best thing to being at a game live, and he was in full bozo mode here. After an earlier discussion about the origins of the nickname 'General', Professor Taylor did some study during the break and explained that it came from Robert E Lee who "tried to reunite the United States after the Civil War". Which is slightly true in that Robbo caved in easily after the conflict instead of carrying on a guerilla war but somewhat missed the point of him being a top Confederate general in the first place. This was so baffling it was good, unlike the Dwayne Russell-esque setup in asking Nathan Jones about somebody called Dow so he could say 'Dow Jones Index', much to the joy of the commentary box and the bulk switching of TVs around the country to any other station.

The game was effectively over via several strong minutes of the third term. This is where Discomania took flight. His earlier first goal was from a run into the square, but the two that blew the doors off Richmond (via some mass whinging about umpires) were very good set shots. I was baffled by this turn of events, but probably because in the same situation I'd have been overcome by the pressure and shanked them on the full at right angles.

His second goal only narrowly missed being followed by another,  and now we were on the move. The white flag went up with a horrible blunder that allowed Pickett to convert at the second opportunity. I respect that Richmond had a better run than any of our teams since Norm Smith and wish Adem Yze as well as possible under the circumstances but it doesn't look like they'll be joining Geelong and Sydney in staying afloat forever. Thank god Steely Dan wasn't playing this time because you can only imagine the nonsense that would have created on commentary, forcing poor Jones to try and play along with the old farts like he knew who they were.

Just when it looked like we were going to stomp away to a comfortable three quarter time margin, the attacking machine spluttered and came to a halt again. McDonald looked wonkier than any time this year, and helped contribute to one of their rare goals after being pinched holding the ball while being overly ambitious. I'm not sure he cares what anyone thinks at this point of his career, but it can't be hard having to compete against May and Lever for attention. Even adjusted for playing against a zero potency forward line, May did all the Mayish things we've come to know and love, while Lever had more interceptions than the Iron Dome.

In a few years we'll need to replace 66% of our tall defender stocks, so can we please not separate baby from bathwater and run Harrison Petty into the arms of Adelaide for pick 32. The forward experiment has hit the wall with force and velocity but if his foot stays attached he's May's long-term successor. Even in the joyous event of Steven playing until he's 50 then Petty will be a solid part of the package. And next time we're losing a close game via a putrid low score you know he's half a chance of snatching one if sent up front.

The good news is that while we'd stopped kicking goals again, the opposition still made scoring look harder than splitting the atom. All sensible analysis pointed to us running the game out better, but they were still in range of a ridiculous comeback until the dying seconds of the third quarter. Live viewers may recall their hopes ending with a comically failed kick across goal, but if you just went off the media coverage you'd think it came directly from the ball rebounding off a boundary umpire and back into play. Except that happened 30 seconds earlier, helped them clear the ball out of defence, and they still had ball in their hands seconds before the siren before a tremendous cock-up gave Windsor an easy set shot. Sure, if it had gone out of bounds they wouldn't have been in a position to give up a goal in such comic fashion but that's like blaming it on Captain Cook for landing in Australia, Tom Wills for pioneering the game, and Hitler for stuffing up World War II by invading Russia.   

After the slightest of scares from them getting the first goal of the last term, the final quarter was junk time for everyone except Bailey Laurie, who arrived just as Richmond departed and looked better than ever. He got two goals, and when Howes looked like he might kick one too I was right into the novelty of three players kicking their first career goals in the same game. Sadly not, but this was the sort of novelty value that we were reduced to now. The game was well won, Turner set up Fritsch with a handball over his head, and I was already thinking about next week.

No issues with Gawn getting the medal, but I was desperately hoping for Turner to snatch a couple of late ones after Richmond's surrender and make it interesting. Nobody will live up to Jack Viney doing an Australia Day speech last year, but if anyone was ever going to accidentally drop the magic on national TV, in front of a big crowd minus the bit where Richmond fans used to be, it would have been a shock winner who's never done media in his life. Instead it was back to "It's Petracca!!1!" style organisational chaos when Maximum was invited to speak into a microphone set for somebody about two feet shorter. And as I have no further comments we will move on to the administrative portion of the review.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Daniel Turner
2 - Steven May
1 - Kysaiah Pickett

Apologies to Howes, Oliver and Petracca. Special mention to Laurie for performance per minutes played.

This contest is more interesting than watching us play, with Maximum clawing his way into the lead and Petracca being swamped by more non-midfielders than any time in recent memory. May and Lever go to battle for the Seecamp, and hello after all these years to the 'if they've played four games or less at the start of the season' Rising Star rule. Bit harsh on Howes to lose the lead after being solid all year, but that's the system we're playing under - until it gets changed again on a whim.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The prettiest one was Fritsch on the run in the last quarter, but for "didn't see that coming" potential, and because the season leaderboard will remain unchanged I'm going for the Turner set shot from an angle.

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Bayley Fritsch (Q3, #2) vs Adelaide

Occasion Watch (Incorporating Cancellation Corner)
Bill Hicks was for the war but against the troops, while I'm for Anzac Day but against Anzac Day Eve. Commemorate the fighting forces for the rest of the round until your bugle falls off, but the full ceremony should be reserved for a standalone game on the day itself. Whether that's played in Victoria, interstate, or the Mogadishu Cricket Ground I care not but coming in early while trying to flog commemorative merch feels crass. And to make sure my brake cables are slashed, enough fawning over New Zealand anthem. There's nothing wrong with it, but for one day a year people act like Leonard Cohen has just teleported in to sing Hallelujah.

Next week
Regardless of my belief in us shapeshifting to match the opposition, it's all gets a bit serious over the next couple of weeks. First Geelong, who just flat-out refuse to the do the polite thing and far cough so somebody else can have a go. Like cockroaches after a nuclear attack, they will never be eradicated and good luck to them for it. Doesn't mean we can't win, but since the epic Preliminary Final mauling they've beaten us twice, and reasonably comfortably. At the risk of being called defeatist I'd be surprised if we won, but maybe they'll all get the alleged shits again? Either way, it should be a good week for replays of Gawn After The Siren and/or Gawn Goes Bananas.

I've got no idea what to suggest for selection. This was far from an inspiring performance, but now that Casey's gone to god after several good years I'm not sure how much is in the tank. I'll give Windsor a week off rather than running him into dust by the end of the year. Petty is playing like he's seen a ghost so give him a week to get some touch in the seconds, and when the Turner experience suffers the natural law of diminishing returns we can wheel him back out. My initial thought was to bring Brown back, but I'm reliably told he didn't go near it in the VFL so bad luck. I'll give Fullarton a go while Shane McAdam warms up in the background. And Laurie is rewarded for one of the better sub games we've ever had by... doing it again.

IN: Fullarton, Hunter
OUT: Petty (omit), Windsor (managed)
UNLUCKY: Laurie (to stay sub), McAdam, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
God knows how many times I've said this since winning stopped being a novelty, but while it wasn't pretty we did what needed to be done, nobody got hurt, and I don't think Pickett belted anyone so bring on the next challenger.

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