Monday 1 April 2024

Testing positive for premiership points

With so many other entertainment options available, the best way to stop people getting bored with a long footy season is to string out scandals all the way until September. Odds are we'll be involved somehow, because just when you thought it was safe to open the window and breathe in after a couple of steadying wins, we were back in the news being made to look like a Mexican cartel.

Forget Colonel Mustard, with the candlestick, in the conservatory, I think Joel Smith + 'alleged drug trafficker' + Federal Parliament takes the cake for the most unusual person/offence/location combination in history. There's an extra level of slapstick farce from his dad contributing to the expose, clearly out of concern for his son but neglecting to request the MP plays the 'trafficking' angle down a bit. Not for the first time, a young man (well, younger than me...) who only stands out from a hundred other players because he racked up at the wrong time, who has probably lost his livelihood and gone through massive public humiliation, ends up as the pawn in everybody else's political game when he probably just wants to curl up in a ball until everyone stops talking about him. I hope the club, and especially his teammates, are supporting him properly.

For as long as it took to click past the foaming headline I thought we'd been busted doing an Essendon-style 'throw the paperwork down a well' conspiracy. Didn't take long to realise that a shifty program to supposedly subvert drug testing standards wouldn't be club specific. We got top billing due to our old doctor snitching on it, but obviously the AFL wasn't going to these lengths just so one club could smash gear with impunity. To the disappointment of dickheads everywhere the league confirmed this when they broke the habit of a lifetime and told the truth.

If was an MFC-only rort I'd be hoping for the story to go away quickly, but now that we're all in this together I want to know everything. Did players have to be tested in person at this Heidelberg clinic, or did they supply a foaming beaker of piss with sparks coming off the sides at the club to be transported for analysis? Surely it's the latter, and they weren't making well-known people drug drive from all points of the compass to get there. And did interstate clubs get their own version? If not, this is going to do more for VicBias allegations than eternal MCG Grand Finals and Port claiming 40 something second division flags.

I'm still too scared to take a position on the Bartlett and Friends vs MFC et al legal extravaganza, but at this rate it's unlikely to be resolved before the earth's surface is swallowed by rising sea levels. The last things to go under will be the tip of Mt. Everest and these court documents. Who am I to tell a lawyer how to run his case, but the slow and strange drip-feed of revelations is getting silly now. It's hard to take any of it seriously now, even if I think a lot of what he's saying might be true. We'll never know for sure. As spicy as the eventual Supreme (Federal?) Court Death Match will be, it's not even officially deciding who got on what, just whether public statements about it ruined Glenn's reputation. I was a bit sad that nobody did a proper book about our run to the premiership (ghostwritten Gawn 'diaries' notwithstanding), but it might end up being woven into the larger tell-all story about this saga once everyone's retired.

These relevations play right into my obsession with 2021 being the biggest Sliding Doors job of all time. If [insert your preferred COVID origin story] doesn't happen, the 2020 season doesn't become a travelling circus and Bartlett doesn't fall out with Goodwin after that pox loss to Port Adelaide. Who knows how far the Prez wants to take the supposed off-field shenanigans if everyone's getting along fine, and any chance to justify booting the coach after a bad start goes out the window when Freo set us up by kicking straight into the Lever/May trap. That sets off a run that removes the prospect of Yze by Anzac Day, Bartlett resigns (?), and we avoid the sort of off-field turmoil that would probably have blown the joint sky high. 

The one thing you can say from this fiasco is that they were extraordinarily polite to keep quiet until the end of 2021. I did wonder why it took them so long to expose the Heidelberg Manouevre, but it turns out the doctor didn't mean for that bit to come out. Don't know if he expected that part of the sworn statement to be put in a time capsule instead of read out in Parliament, but that's what you get for involving yourself with a politician. But what the Doc would like you to know is that at some unclear time in his tenure with the club 1/3 of the list were clean living citizens, 1/3 casual drug users, and 1/3 massive gak heads. Which, if true, isn't great, but is hardly helped by anything that's happened this week. He might have been trying to do the right thing for player welfare, but the end result has been a publicity hungry MP getting his name in the papers, the public enjoying some cheap, non-narcotic thrills at our expense, and stiff shit to the next player who comes down with flu on matchday. Next thing we'll be told that the pandemic was engineered by AFL House so players could withdraw under 'COVID protocols' when actually off their tit on illicit substances?  

Contrary to popular belief we're a football club and not an international smuggling operation so there was footy to be played. In Adelaide, where drugs would probably liven things up. We parted last week in the middle of injury crisis panic that quickly lost steam. May is out for as long as they can hold him back, but Lever's knee injury was downgraded from serious, to not as serious, to not even serious enough to keep him out for a week. This was good for everyone, but enjoy the false hope next time a knee victim walks off on his own and is later found to have a disintegrated ACL.

Because this was not a week for late withdrawals, Clayton Oliver had to play in a Nintendo Power Glove due to a finger injury. Because he has superhuman powers it barely slowed him down. That wasn't close to the most objectionable fashion choice of the evening, because somebody incorrectly deduced that the disco jumper needed an MFC monogram and it looks SHITHOUSE. As you might have noticed I'm right into our past, but this outfit is not compatible with historical markers, it's a throwback to the wild west 1970s and 1980s where players only dreamed of making cocaine money. Please remove it immediately, and make the disco jumper great again.

What ended in one of the better team effort wins of recent times started like the Fall of Saigon. Port is sponsored by MG, KFC, and GFG, and have a long history of treating Max Gawn to UFC but there was no need to clobber him at the first bounce this time. All it took was a subtle block to keep him away from the ball and crack the door open for a goal after 19 seconds. Surely we haven't conceded that quickly since Ablett Jr kicked off 2009's Foregone Conclusion Cup by booting one in in less time than it took Ben Johnson to run 100m doped to the eyeballs. 

If you missed that era, all you need to know is that a week later we let one in after 16 seconds. And if you weren't around, consider yourself lucky. West Coast is trying to do a modern version like a footy version of Common People it's not the same when the club is successful enough to stay afloat even if they're shit for years. Their fans only have to stay alive long enough to see the club turn it around, we spent several years watching roaches climb the wall and waiting to be relocated to Paraguay. 

By a combination of good planning and good fortune we eventually recovered, and via the 2018 false start ended up overcoming our natural self-destructive instincts for one season to win the lot. There's no correct path to success, but once you've got there (no matter how briefly), the traumatic years can be seen as a necessary evil. Alternatively, you can be Port and win 10 games every year for a decade, finish top once, and lose three Prelims. By modern standards it's a long time to keep your dignity intact, but if it comes to nothing in the end you're worse off than Eagles fans watching a glorified WAFL team scoring 30. I put it down to reliance on players like Darcy, Jed, and Willam, who should be playing for Downtown Abbey. Return to the glory days of South Australian football and recruit somebody with a 1970s SANFL name like Wolfgang von Schnitzel.

For now, their inevitable late-season implosion was a long way down the track, and they sure looked to have us sussed. A fleeting chance to get things back on track rapidly went from Chandler hitting the post, to Port's second. The only attack we didn't concede from in the opening minutes was the one where they marked the ball about two metres over the line, but it wouldn't be Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval without some level of dudding by boundary umpires. This decision was in the same spirit as holding the ball being replaced by players swinging around in circles like they were on a carnival ride, Petty being told to stand then dancing around on the mark like Michael Flatley, John McEnroe levels of dissent to officials, and the ball being returned to a player's feet after a free kick.

I wasn't quite ready for panic mode when they got a third unanswered, even if it did come from an old fashioned defensive stuff-up. Petty got the blame for spilling a touched ball in the square, but others might have saved the day with any sort of pressure on the guy who kicked it. The margin wasn't fatal yet, but there was a bit of "you can't play Hawthorn every week" sentiment bubbling up. Also, on the evidence of our last game against a supposed top-four contender, you'd be forgiven for thinking we couldn't kick a big enough score to compete.

It took a bit of luck to get us going, but even though the ball fell through a contest to Fritsch he still had to finish on the run. This was very much against the run of play, but turned the game on its head. We got a further leg up when they went from letting everything go, to paying a 50 for the not-seen-in-years rule about restricting a player's run after they dispose of the ball. This led to Oliver, who has done so much of his best work at this ground that he nearly joined the Crows, kicking a set shot and we'd almost wiped out the early deficit.

Appropriately in his 200th game, Jack Viney was at the heart of the recovery, helping stablise the situation by throwing himself into everything with Kamikaze style reckless abandon. What a man. When the club sought fan suggestions for his career highlights, the big tackle against St Kilda that would probably end in a free against and a week suspension now came out on top. That's tainted by us losing ridiculously so I'll nominate him steaming in to punch on for Jack Watts against Richmond in 2016. As the official #fistedforever decade came to a close, this was a perfect contrast to the complete disinterest of Watts' teammates when he was thumped on debut. You can't defame somebody for doing the right thing, so I'd like to bet heavily that if the 33% clean faction actually exists he would be its chairman.

There's nothing better than fans who regularly deceive umpires via mass-sooking being on the end of contentious frees, and we were in front for the first time when Brown half had his run blocked, half ran straight into an opponent. Not surprisingly, the locals failed to appreciate this minor setback after years of getting an armchair ride and howled like they were being carted off to the electric chair.

I'd rather not rely on comebacks every week, but we've had to climb out of a first quarter hole against every reasonable team we've played this year. For many reasons it didn't take against the Swans, so this was more in the spirit of the opening term against Footscray, except with a collective recovery rather than Steven May lifting spirits with a one-man rampage. I'm not for the 'team won X number of statistical categories so should have won the game' analysis, but there's no way we should have been ahead at quarter time. And we weren't, conceding a classic DemonTime goal after the siren when a set shot fell short, and into the arms of Charlie Dixon. It was his only goal, continuing a proud tradition of doing not as much against us as you'd expect - now only having 13 goals in 11 starts against us, and five of those came in one game. There's always next time.

On the balance of things we probably didn't deserve to be in front at quarter time, and as it turns out we weren't. In a tremendous piece of DemonTime business, a set shot in the dying seconds fell short, but was marked and turned into a goal after the siren. You'd think it would be hard to top that for the worst attempt at killing a ball close to goal, but Port had other ideas.

A win was back on the cards, but that late goal still felt like a waste of the good work getting back in the game. Until Sparrow cannoned forward for the reply at the Instant Scoring End about 15 seconds after the restart. I sensed there that this was a game that would be decided by some really weird shit, and it delivered. Both teams blew chances to kick away, the margin was never more than a few points at the end of any quarter, and on a rare night where we kicked straight, enough chances were taken to carry us over the line.

On a rare night when Channel 7 tried sensible, informative commentary instead of shrieking buffoonery, Alex Neal-Bullen joined the Neville Jetta Foundation for players who will spend the rest of their career being described as 'underrated'. It's not really a revival when he's quietly been going about his business for years without anyone noticing, but at a time where most of us are barracking for chaos, it's wholesome to see somebody who used to hold peak whipping-boy status getting a moment in the spotlight. He was in absolutely everything here, playing a role so well that he should be nominated for the next Academy Awards. I'm as guilty as anyone of not appreciating his contribution, and until last week he had fewer career Jakovich votes than Chris Dawes and Matt Jones, but am thrilled to see the man alternatively known as Anal-Bullet get some national publicity. See you next Thursday when the lead commentator doesn't know who he is.

Like our game against them last year (but without rain or Brodie Grundy going early mocking the crowd), this was full of zany momentum swings. For once I think it was even a prime time game featuring us that neutrals would enjoy. Swallow's goal was followed by two more, to the point where you could nearly have believed we would go on and win comfortably. Good luck with that, after consecutive calm finishes there's no way we were going to win another game without going through toil and struggle first. 

I've paid so little attention to non-Demon news recently that it came as a surprise to turn on the end of the Essendon game and find out that Todd Goldstein played for them. See also, Esava Ratugolea at Port. I remember us facilitating a stress-free, do-as-you-like debut for him on the day of Gawn's famous miss, now he's a defender, apparently on a fat, long-term contract. That gives him plenty of time to get it right, and there was a valuable learning experience (e.g. massive cock-up) here, when was all alone in the square for a kick that dropped short, and allowed it to cross the line by trying to mark it in his guts. The bit where he dropped it anyway made it even funnier. God knows why we didn't have anyone on the line, but we've never done better from complete rejection of fundamentals. As far as people returning to Port with tail between legs, at least he was ahead of Captain Dipshit stacking his boat into the Baltimore bridge. 

As soon as it looked like the game had turned in our favour, it reversed course and we were behind again. When trying to work out what school the umpire's kids go to, the braying lunatics in the crowd might want to consider the goal from a player deliberately crumpling into a high tackle. Some of us will admit that every team does it, some think there's a massive, usually Victorian-driven conspiracy against them. Just as things were looking ropey again, enter your friend and mine Jack Viney, continuing his goalkicking revolution by slicing through their backline like a samurai sword for a much-needed one just before the break.

I refuse to believe anyone could see where the game was heading in the second half. I was ready for anything up to winning/losing by six goals. For somebody who has presided over a shitload of wins in the last few years, Simon Goodwin doesn't get much credit from anyone but it was a ballsy move to send Petty forward again in the second half. He didn't win the game off his own boot, or have a shot on goal, but made important contests. More importantly, it didn't backfire at the other end, where Lever overcame a shaky start to do his best Steven May impression while left in charge of the backline - right down to visibly cracking the shits when beaten in a contest.

Midway through the third quarter, the six goal loss option looked far more likely. Other than ANB kicking a lovely goal, our forward line appeared to have shut down for the night, while they got two in a row late to leave us in deepish shit. Then we got some justice for all the games stuffed up by inexplicably going to sleep at the end of a quarter, with two Reverse DemonTime goals that made it interesting again.

Channel 7 left their most objectionable commentators at home, but were able to easily cover the Nuffy Quota with crowd reaction shots. I've had some remote fondness for Port since the Choke Yourself With A Tie incident, but have seen us play them enough at Adelaide Oval that it's now my non-MFC football dream for the weird units in the front row to suffer eternal torment. How much do these people pay to sit in prime spots yelling stupid shit at players and waving the middle finger? Usually the cameras have to work hard to find a fan blowing their top, at Port games they're going off in the background from first siren to last. All clubs have these people, but the goal is to keep them together in the Facebook page comments, not on display for a national TV audience. Later Port kicked a goal and one of them celebrated by shaking a small child in the air. It was a happening.

There should be a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the humanoids who were carrying on behind Ben Brown as he lined up for his goal. At a minimum get some lip readers to work out what they could possibly say to the nicest man in the competition. And when kicked it anyway they're all "ho ho ho, didn't that backfire on me". These people shouldn't be highlighted on national television, they should be imprisoned on Devil's Island. I've still never met a Port fan in real life, but I'm sure the vast majority of them are normal people who are horrified that this is how their club is perceived.

I've got form for engaging in vendettas against particular opposition players who earn more in one year than I do in several (well, one particular opposition player) but this was a level of sad behaviour that should be looked down upon with pity, not treated like a big old laugh. I'll cop people being caught losing their mind in the moment over umpiring, but as much has these statements may contradict each other - get some manners or get fucked. Especially when they're the same fans who gladly hoist scarves in the air and do community singing before the first bounce. If Essendon fans are conspiracy theorists, and Collingwood fans a Waco-style cult, these people would thrive in a North Korean-style atmosphere of national brainwashing. Sure I'll sing the song, sure I'll clap on command for somebody's 351st game, sure I'll denounce my mother for subversive activities etc... 

Despite the best efforts of impolite dregs, Brown converted, and that would have been bad enough for Port if they didn't follow up by gifting Gawn a free after the siren. It was just in the right spot for him, near enough that he didn't need to run out to build momentum, far enough that he could afford to just kick the cover off it. And that he did straight through the middle. He'll do well to ever beat Kardinia Park 2021 for a famous after the siren goal, but this was the best one with a crowd present. 

All these years after BurgessBall, and against the evidence of the Sydney collapse, I like to think we're going to outrun teams, and for a little bit of the last quarter that looked a live possibility. But, based on the shifts during the game you'll have been mad for getting comfortable any time until we led by 13 with two minutes left. Hilariously, the second goal came after about three players should have been pinched for holding the ball and the crowd was so upset I'd be astounded if a couple of them didn't drop dead on the spot. One day we'll be on the other end of something similar, but this was great because it annoyed so many easily annoyable people. 

When Windsor cropped up for his first career goal I was almost ready to believe that we'd hold on without too much drama, which is the worst thing you can do around here. We conceded a normal one, then a weird, reversal from a holding the ball that would have caused them to set the seats on fire if it happened the other way. Now an embarrassing, face-plant defeat from the jaws of victory was back on the cards. If you knew we got out of it but not how, there's no way you'd guessed that our salvation came from set shots. First Brown again, then Fritsch via another course of advice from some junior mutants over the fence, followed by telling them to F O. No need for moral outrage, I'm sure they've heard worse from their parents. 

Given that we've only ever had two players reach 300 games, and both almost had to be carried over the line, it's wild seeing people going well beyond that mark. still playing well. Pendlebury, Hawkins, Dangerfield etc... and while Travis Boak is on his farewell tour after 350 games I'll never take a fading superstar lightly again after the time we let a 37-year-old Brent Harvey kick six in game 412. Alas, any chance he had of fixing us up here went out the window when he collided with a teammate. At last, after all these years we have the chance to say "I believe it was a Boaking accident", and as there wasn't enough time for them to pretend he wasn't concussed, Boak was not a factor in the finish.

The cowards bailing out of the stadium over a two goal margin were even more contemptible than the humanoids in the front row. Even we were unlikely to lose from that position, but they might have seen their side heroically snatch a draw. Instead, they fled like people abandoning a sinking ship to get a two minute headstart on the traffic.

It was made absolutely safe when Fritsch hit the post to extend the margin beyond two goals, and even though they snagged a late one, and had the ball deep inside 50 when the siren went, it was too late. It was another in a long line of solid, professional wins against decent sides, and a nice reminder that from first to last siren players probably don't give a fat rat's clacker about the media scandal of the week. I don't know if the family atmosphere in the rooms after was natural, Viney milestone-related, or a ripping piece of "what drugs, we're a family club" PR, but they deserved to be happy after this. And anyone who doesn't like it can stick it up their nose. 

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jake Lever
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Max Gawn

Large scale apologies to Rivers and McDonald. Regular size to Brown, Chandler, Oliver and Windsor.

ANB was so close to adding a clubhouse Jakovich lead to his career achievements, only to be narrowly pushed out by new top banana Christian Petracca. No change in the minors. 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to ANB in the third quarter, and either Windsor or Fritsch in the fourth, but this year I'm all about Viney carrying on like a lost member of the Pickett family. He replaces himself in the top three, but still fails to dislodge Cousin Kysaiah from top spot.  

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney

Next week
It's back to Adelaide Oval on Thursday for the opening ceremony of Gather Round. Nice that we're considered interesting enough to play the Crows in the first game, but if this is going to be a regular thing it would be fun to play one of the weird, off-broadway grounds eventually. I thought Adelaide was going to improve this year, but they've barely fired a shot in three losses. The obvious reaction is to be absolutely terrified of an upset, but I'm hoping that a week away will inspire a Spirit of 2021 style outburst and easy win. Will believe it when it happens.

Unless there's a surprise withdrawal after somebody is visited by the E Bunny, I don't see the need to make any alterations unless May is available. If he is then Hore makes way, otherwise I can persist with JVR and Billings despite them barely turning up here. There's no reason to rush May, but if he doesn't play, I doubt Adelaide will let Lever play like he did on Saturday night.

I know the AFL coaches don't really care if the reserves win, lose, or catch fire but it looks like Casey have gone to shit this year. As they were ahead of the senior side in becoming good, I'm hoping their revision to pumpkin status isn't a sign of things to come. I've barely got time to watch AFL, let alone VFL, but I can't see anything from the stats to suggest doors being beaten off their hinges. Looks like Verrall is rucking ahead of Fullarton, it's nice to know Schache can kick goals just in case we need him, but otherwise, and I assume the Tom Sheridan here is not the one who used to play for Freo. I'm content to roll with mostly the same team again, with Woewodin as sub and hope for the best.

IN: May 
OUT: Hore (omit)
LUCKY: Billings, van Rooyen
UNLUCKY: Hore, Woewodin (remains sub)

Final thoughts
And on the third round, the rock rolled away and our season was reborn. Praise be.

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