Sunday 14 April 2024

Rough landing

I'm a subscriber to the 'marathon not sprint' philosophy, but if there's ever a time to nervously tug at your collar it's after seeing your team limp to the bye after six games. I've been terrified about our depth all season, this was a frightening vision of what things could look like by August if we're not lucky.

Retain your bundle for now, generous final margin aside this was our worst performance in Victoria since late 2019 but there's a long way to go. You'll remember beating the Lions by 10 goals at their ground then losing a final to them three weeks later. I'm alert and a bit alarmed, but conserving energy in case the premiership anaesthetic wears off and I need to throw a massive tantrum later in the year. In 2022 we beat the Lions on their ground by 10 goals and lost a final to them three weeks later. I'm alert and maybe a bit alarmed, but conserving materials in case they're needed for a big FO panic bonfire in winter.

I thought our last quarter against the Crows was just natural reaction to a five day break, then we returned from Fortress Adelaide and dropped this steaming turdburger after seven days rest. Maybe they spent the week on an Ivan Drago-style training program, maybe Brisbane just outplayed, outran, outcoached, and outniggled us. No serious harm done if valuable lessons were learnt.

Years ago there was a game against Footscray that we lost by an unfairly slender margin and I floated the idea of a weather report-style "Feels Like" score. Early in the last quarter this was heading towards the extreme upset end of the scale, before the last few minutes were so comically silly that it just drifted back to "you've got to laugh territory". But not for long. Mocking a shit movie doesn't work on repeat viewings.    

If there's any benefit to kicking 1.7 across the middle quarters in front of a national audience it's that Channel 7 will surely blacklist us from Thursday night. Maybe Friday and Saturday too if we carry on like this. I wouldn't have supported the worst timeslot since 4.40pm Sunday if not for the unprecedented scenario of finishing work just at the right time, but against all odds this drew a home and away record between the clubs. This wasn't enough for simpletons, usually followers of too-big-to-fail clubs, who think the rest of us can pull big crowds from our arse for regulation home and away games. The MCG - who never bothered responding to my sour but polite post Round 1 complaint - is guilty of making it look worse by shutting the top of the Ponsford, but if the people who know everything could tell us the ideal crowd for Melbourne vs Brisbane on a Thursday night we'll carpet bomb the city with free tickets next time to make them happy. 

Maybe take inspiration from the ground's ultimate drawcard and play Taylor Swift at full forward. Like Tay Tay I was left thinking about jumping off a very tall something. There's no point wasting too much time on this game so the TL:DR is that Brisbane gently manoeuvred around rapidly disintegrating opposition for three quarters then played a half-arse last term when the points were in the bag. I'm happy to avoid a thrashing, but there's no doubt we were lucky to escape with our dignity intact.

If you fell into a coma at the two minute mark of the first quarter there's no need to catch up because our night never got better. The first goal suggested bigger and better things, with ANB running into goal, realising he didn't have anyone to handball to and doing an outside of the boot slice over the top and through a vacant square. It was delightful, but regrettably reminded Brisbane to turn up and treat us with contempt for the next three quarters. They beat tomato can opposition last week and didn't face much more of a challenge here. We were flatter than a plateful of piss, and no matter how hard they tried the usual suspects couldn't lift the tone.

Our forward line was back to Round Nothing potency, and the common denominator is that Kysaiah Pickett was suspended both times. I don't know if he'd have saved us here, but playing without him is the equivalent of putting your phone on ultra power saving mode. The obvious solution is for him to stop whacking people, and while I'm sure that's the message behind the scenes we still embarrassed ourselves by challenging the suspension on grounds so flimsy Dennis Denuto would have refused to get involved. Remember when we were scrambling to pay the power bill? Now it's several thousand dollars of hard earned up in smoke to do the equivalent of saying "come on man" to a judge. Not surprisingly, the league didn't fall for it, and nobody went home happy except the lawyers.

I don't know if the X-Men's own Koltyn Tholstrup had been thumping on the door for selection (and how could you when the second tier league barely ever plays?), but wasn't against giving him a go. Nobody on our list can do what Pickett does, and there's not much else in the tank so why not. He was in everything early, possibly setting the record for most involvements in play before first disposal. Like the rest of the side he sank once Brisbane got going, but it's got to start somewhere. He becomes the first player to debut in a 50 point loss since Kade Chandler, and I hope he doesn't also go missing for 2.5 years immediately afterwards.

If you were watching live, you would understand exactly what I mean by saying we just looked off. Everything felt like it took Herculean toil, while they were walking out of packs, pulling down marks from end-to-end, and in Cam Rayner's case aiming for the clearance world record by half time. Brisbane has form for blowing big leads, both this year and recently against us, but by quarter time my confidence was shot. The backline was beaten early but credit to them for keeping the score relatively low considering the pace, ease, and volume of ball they were trying to deal with. I have visions of Lever and May sitting on the front porch/at a fancy French restaurant when they're really old laughing at how many times they gave 110% only to lose because no bastard did anything at the other end. 

Fritsch kicked a pearler of a set shot, but otherwise we were always on the back foot. Their forwards were finding all kinds of space, and we were being undone by that old chestnut of quick kicks inside 50. Obviously, Hawthorn is not Brisbane, but it reminded you of how ludicrous it was that they thought the way to crack us open was by doing 800 uncontested possessions first. May and Lever are the greatest double act known to man and Tom McSizzle is having his best season in years but none can help against players on a lead having the ball kicked to their advantage. And thus it briefly looked like we were going to be ripped to shreds by the Hipwood/Daniher combination. They did their bit early before standing back and letting their teammates enjoy the free-for-all atmosphere.

The mood wasn't helped by Salem doing a hammy. We were already playing Oliver with Dr. Hook levels of hand mobility, and bullshit Petracca was 100%, so losing another important player didn't help. In his place came Taj Woewodin, finally allowed to do something other than a fourth quarter cameo, but in an unfamiliar role that didn't do him any favours. I wonder if a player has ever missed their teammate going off hurt, turned around to see the sub on the ground and wondered what they were doing there. Do they ask who got hurt, or just carry on like nothing's out of the ordinary.

Ordinary was the theme of the night, and it was one of the biggest beltings our midfield has had in recent years. The forwards were bad, but everything started with us getting picked apart in the centre of the ground. It got to the point where Gawn had to try and take everything out of the ruck and boot it forward in hope, because he knew hitting it towards the ground was an open invitation for Brisbane to go into attack. The quick kick forward out of the middle has worked before, but this time it was relying on JVR unable to mark over his head, Brown barely mobile, and Petty so far out of the game that he may as well have stayed in Adelaide. 

Surely the only reason Oliver was playing is that there were no other midfielders left, but I'd have preferred to try Salem (pre-injury) or Rivers at the (cliche alert) coalface if it meant the poor bastard could have a rest. It was as painful for everyone involved watching him trying to play one-handed, especially when somebody had the genius idea to put him in defence and expect him to tackle opponents while wearing the Nintendo Power Glove. Given how badly the forwards were going I don't know why we didn't just park him in a pocket and as far out of the action as possible. Now he's gone for surgery on it and we're in ClaytsWatch mode to see if he makes it for the Richmond game. Just let the man rest, I know it went tits up the last time he had time off but surely we're not going through another fiasco like that.

If you're into excuses that prove it wasn't our fault, there was a bit of wacky umpiring. See, for instance, Daniher getting a 50 and goal against May for a tangle of arms. Then later the ball was flat out chucked over Lever's head and the umpire indicated that it was his fault for not sticking his arm far enough in the air. Then there was the sort of absurdly high standard for 'unsufficient intent' that makes commentators suggest the last touch rule, instead of the simpler compromise of the league telling umps they don't have to be such tightarses about it. But we were so useless that it wouldn't have helped if all the contentious calls went our way. 

After blowing a seven goal lead against Carlton, I was open to the Lions forgetting how to play football after quarter time. This did not happen, and we fell victim to bad luck as much as bad planning + everything else when the first goal after the break came via a scuffed kick along the ground bouncing straight up into the hands of a player to snap home. That was the sort of stuff going in Brisbane's favour while we struggled to get the ball down our end in the first place, much less getting in a position where it could be kicked towards a contest and rapidly turned back. This was quite offensive, and I imagine there was a spike on the PTV website as people tried to journey plan the early train home. 

Their second of the quarter came via acting so hammy it deserved to be on the theatre restaurant circuit. I suggest reducing the risk of frees from endless stoppages by not letting the ball get down there so easily in the first place. Optionally try to make some decent contests at the other end and see if you're the ones who get lucky.

By now our backline had regained control and we were less likely to lose by 98 points, but we looked every chance of finishing the evening on 2.8.14. Under usual circumstances you could dream about reeling in a five goal margin at half time, it was never going to happen in a million years here. This was the day to make an outlandish "if we win I'll XYZ" claim and be safe from eating hats/shit/endangered species. It wasn't worth jumping the gun and conceding the season but I was miserable enough to spend $22.70 on food and drink that would have cost them about $1.70. The sensible thing to do when that came up on the register would have been to declare change of mind and depart, but I was too glum to argue. Consider it my equivalent of the religious types who crucify themselves for Easter.

There was faint light at the end of the tunnel when Chandler kicked a delightful goal a couple of minutes after the restart. In isolation all our our goals had been worthy of the highlight of the reel, it's just that there were only three of them. I'd have taken any quantity over quality slop at this point. We would have given it right back if not for a fingertip save by McDonald and I remained sceptical about a heartwarming recovery. Rightly so too, because we only cleared it far enough for them to kick another point, before turning into an eight point play that left us two worse off than before Chandler's goal.

We'd managed to stop conceding goals hand over fist, but as Brisbane steadily ran the margin up we were facing our first genuine low scoring thumping since Port Adelaide at the Gabba in front of 323 people. Somehow it never got that bad, but I don't know how much credit we can take for that. Anyone still holding hope of coming back to win would be popular with telemarketers, but after Oliver's handball was picked off in front of goal it was as close to the Reverse Chris Sullivan Line as we've come since peak COVID.

Respectability was temporarily back on the cards when Brown got on the end of the sort of kick we hadn't gone close to delivering all night. Things were going so badly that Gawn hadn't even left the centre circle before we were giving it back. I didn't expect to fly home and win this but the express return service was insulting. Fortunately the rest of the quarter was played in a free and easy fashion that would have had TV executives slashing their wrists after the bit where people would have been deciding whether to keep watching or go to bed was as boring as batshit. 

The only serious question asked in the final quarter was, 'What's a Noah Answerth?' Just above minimum wage if his career record is anything to go by, but in the same week a player was suspended for actual offensive language can we not fall into the media trap of getting excited about this fringe peanut doing the fake tears routine to Harrison Petty? Petty didn't actually seem to care, so let's not go over the top rushing to defend his honour. He should invite Noah over for a mediation session and show where the premiership medal is kept.

The best bit about "lol u cried once" is that seven games ago the Lions lost a Grand Final in heartbreaking circumstances, and I'm sure a few tears were shed. Either that or all the emotional damage was channelled into a Las Vegas porkfest. In a surprise twist, I feel bad for Dayne Zorko. He comes off as an objectionable character but I've got no doubt he wishes the original incident would go away and wouldn't appreciate being roped into it again. 

Until Petty says he was offended I'm inclined to not care less. He's probably happy for this low-grade nonsense to take focus off a night where he didn't have a touch for 3.5 quarters. The service to our forward line was 100% Fawlty Towers, but even Brown and van Rooyen got a couple of touches while otherwise doing sod all. The MCG scoreboard operator wasn't helping, flashing up his zero disposal total midway through his run-up to goal. I suppose it was their only opportunity. Around the same time we were told that Ben Brown had 29 metres gained, which could have said anything from 1 to 10,000 metres and added nothing to my matchday experience.

I hope Brisbane were just disinterested, and not out of petrol in a way that we could have run them down if several goals closer. At one point we got two goals in a row, and Petracca just missed what would have been the saddest Mad Minute in history. If point shaving was a thing in this competition the AFL Integrity Unit would've fallen off their chair watching this. Brisbane didn't even bother to give their sub a token run, leaving the poor bastard kicking his heels and trying to work out if he'd have to play a full game in the Reserves or if the VFL had another week off for Peru vs Guam. 

By the time Lever kicked a goal from the top of the square after a 50 I was almost enjoying how ludicrous it had become. Then I remembered how we'd ended up there in the first place and felt cheated for showing up again. I'll admit to having a "I wonder if there's enough time left..." hallucination towards the end, before checking the AFL app to discover there was a minute and a half left. Obviously not, and we appear to have benefited from cue and rack being merged more successfully than Brisbane and Lions, but at least there were some cheap, meaningless thrills on a night that was threatening full doom spiral.

A bit of pressure-free scoring in landfill-sized junk time isn't going to fool anyone, we deserved every bit of the moral thrashing dished out. Weird shit happens, and as much as toppling the unbeaten Port didn't instantly mean clearing a space for flag #14, this is not a sign that we're going to float into space never to be seen again. But if we do it'll be a good example to go back to and say "I knew this was going to happen", whether you meant it or not.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Trent Rivers
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Chandler and nobody else

It's getting crowded at the top, but even in a rare week where he didn't go near the votes I'd expect Petracca to poll better than a defender and a ruckman if they all play the same number of games by the end of the year. Still, nice to have some drama at the top of the leaderboard. No change in the minors, but 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Joke of a contest under the circumstances, but the first three were the best. I'll go for the ANB slice narrowly over Fritsch's set shot and Chandler from the boundary. Lever runs fourth for novelty value. No change to the overall leaderboard. 

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

Crowd watch
If turnout was so disappointing, how come I couldn't get away from people by sitting in the very back row of the Olympic Stand. One of the teenagers sitting a few seats away provided entertainingly over-the-top tantrums as things went from bad to worse, and I thought that at his age it must have seemed a lifetime since we seriously stunk out the MCG, if he remembered it at all. A generation who don't recognise our full legal name as "defeated Melbourne" will be seriously disappointed when we eventually swing back to misery. In a throwback to the good old days of people doing whatever they wanted in level four, one even fired up a random smoke mid-match. At modern tobacco prices that's as big a waste of money as challenging Pickett's suspension.

Next week (+1)
Finally, it's Yze Anzac Day. Not how I'd expected it in early 2021 though. Maybe we should counter by bringing his brother back into the fold? I'm all for remaining calm after this lost, but if we lose to declining years Richmond there will be cause for concern. Against all odds there's no VFL bye, state game, or alien invasion to stop Casey from playing this week. Just to make sure it doesn't come across like a sane and sensible competition they're away to Port Melbourne at Frankston. 

I don't know what this will tell us about changes, but even with a week to reflect on being morally pantsed here we can't just carry on like nothing's changed. Don't know who will cover Salem when our entire fit reserves list with senior experience is Fullarton, Hunter, Laurie, Schache and Tomlinson. Good luck with that. It won't be Woewodin again, but he still should get a full game, and even if it's not a straight swap he can replace Billings, who has played one good game in six. We might be stuffed for depth but this isn't the Make A Wish Foundation. No point making him the sub, so after we chose not to ruin Tholstrup's debut by sitting him on the bench half the night his chance comes in game two. 

One of the tall forwards has to go, and the unlucky victim is Brown. He's welcome to come back later, but we're one tall over. Despite his struggles here I'm saving Petty, because a) he murdered Richmond last time, b) I'm not giving in to media-generated sooking, and c) we need to know if he's worth persisting with forward, because he used to be a shit-hot defender and neither May or McDonald is getting any younger. JVR survives because he's the second ruck and I don't want him to sook up and ask for a trade to West Coast.

I'd like to think we'll win, but my confidence is in the toilet now so I'll revert to the default position of believing we're the better side but waiting for evidence to prove it. I'm never quite sure how many people should be coming in and out when messing with the subs, so if this doesn't balance just add or subtract whoever you like best.

IN: Pickett, Woewodin, Hunter + Tholstrup to sub
OUT: Salem (inj), Billings, B. Brown (omit)
LUCKY: Petty, Tholstrup, van Rooyen, Woewodin
UNLUCKY: Tomlinson for being the best player out of the side but playing the only position we don't need a replacement for. 

Final thoughts
Sometimes they should burn the tapes of a rancid loss and move on. This should be enforced viewing for players and coaches alike over the bye week, even if it involves a Clockwork Orange style aparatus. Take all the excuses in the world and stuff them up your jumper, if this isn't a valuable learning experience for everyone we don't deserve to be in the mix.

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