Wednesday 22 May 2024

RIP Fortress Perth (2021 - 2023)*

* Technically it died on 19/05/2024 but I don't want the glorious memories to be tainted by association with this debacle.

As far as glory eras go, a few consecutive wins at one interstate venue is hardly Norm Smith in the 1950s, but if you're the sentimental type there's no shame in feeling sad about the Perth Stadium bubble bursting. The conditions will never exist again to do much in so few games at a single venue, including the obvious highs of September 2021 to thumping a COVID-ravaged Freo AFLW side that was roaming the streets trying to find players a few hours earlier, and a couple of effortless 10 goal wins while West Coast was in the relegation zone.

It didn't have to end this soon, but here's another reason why it's risky assuming we'll win in advance. At the other end of the scale, lunatics who dared to talk about percentage boosting and players having an easy one to get back into form and probably feeling ripped off now. That's between them and the once again beleaguered club receptionist who has to answer calls from nuffies.

There's some good news from this, it proved that premiership anaesthesia is flowing through my system. It's one thing losing lots of finals but the real test was our first lifeless, sad loss to a lowly side. I may have sworn in front of the children but was not moved to tip the couch over. In a week where Richmond's demise has me wondering what it will feel like to eventually fizz out again, I haven't got enough energy to go off chops this early in the piece.

Last week the round was ruined at the first opportunity, this time you had to hang around while 16 other sides went at it, thinking "surely we won't stuff this up". In the words of top stuntman Rob Sitch, "the waiting. It's the worst part". It was hard to take delight in the misfortune of Geelong or Hawthorn knowing that we were heading directly towards a banana skin. I still thought we'd win, even if it took a plug fugly struggle. Then we played as if in the advanced stage of carbon monoxide poisoning. Unless you're North or post-Anzac Day Richmond this season has had something for everyone, but even if the Eagles are well past their 170 point loss era I didn't expect to make it this easy for them.

Regular readers will recall my role in killing our 2023 AFLW campaign by buying a membership late in the season, now I've provoked a tits up shambles by going all-in for Goodwin until the bitter end due to his emotional scenes after the Geelong win. If you're into mystical shit you may note that neither side has been any good since that goalless quarter and picture Channel 7 execs plunging needles into AFL-licenced voodoo dolls. Whatever the reason, we've got the violent wobbles - just like mid-2021, 2022 or 2023. Except we're not even halfway through this interminable season yet so I understand people getting nervy about just making the eight now, let alone reaching September as contenders. 

I can hear the Bradbury Plan envelope unsealing as we speak, but there's no need to chuck your dignity out the window and carry on like we reunited the Mark Neeld All Stars just yet. I wouldn't bet five Hungarian Pengos on us winning a final, let alone three or four, but teams have survived worse. It doesn't mean we will, but no matter how (relatively) dreadful this was, nothing happened to definitively prove that it's over. 

Now that half the league is stealing our indigenous names bit (after we ripped it off from Melbourne Storm) my remaining interest is annoying easily outraged people in the Facebook comments. It's not the highlight of my year, but this is your annual reminder that a quick browse of the news will reveal a lot worse going on than footy teams playing under an assumed name. In the interest of balance, the minority on the other side who get upset when anyone slips up and uses the traditional names can proceed to the same bin.

My only radical political view is protecting the 2021 flag's legitimacy, and I'm considering civil war against people whose coping strategy for bad losses is to act like it's illegitimate because they didn't see it live. Even if you believe the same path would have been followed at the MCG (which I do not), and regret not rorting the COVID restrictions like everyone else to watch with friends/family, it was a great moment and I'll occupy a major university to defend it. If premierships don't matter unless you see them live, could somebody tell the thousands of fringe Pies fans who go to one game a year but carry on about the 2023 Grand Final like they were whispering tactical moves directly into Craig McRae's ear.

I don't think race relations will break down if I refer to West Coast by their regulation name throughout this post (NB: their indigenous jumper was tremendous and they should wear it every week) but the scoreboard abbreviation of WAA was a fitting tribute to four decades of fans sooking about umpiring. Ironically, they got their first goal via a good old fashioned shove in May's back, and double ironically we were WAAing by the end and saying NAR to any hope of winning the flag. 

We've been five goals down against North Melbourne in consecutive years before winning, so when we did unlike last week and goalled in response I was calm. In retrospect, the Potential Shambles Alarm was going off in the background. The midfield was a step behind and the forwards may as well have still been in the domestic terminal. That's fine if you've built everything on defending... until West Coast's second goal came with a bonus kick to the head for Jake Lever. So that was the end of him, and I'm not saying that doomed us but it sure as Christ didn't help. Now we find out that he's got lingering knee trouble and is being sent for surgery, which makes sense if he's already out for a week and we've got the bye but I reserve the right to worry that they'll leave a scalpel inside him.

Last time we lost a defender it paid off the otherwise curious decision to name Marty Hore as sub. Now the replacement was Taj Woewodin, who did well amongst the chaos but wasn't going to help in the air. Lucky we had a perfectly good one at the other end, playing like he'd just beamed in from another galaxy. So they left Petty flailing around for the next three quarters while the Eagles carried on like they'd reincarnated prime Scott Cummings, Peter Sumich and Josh Kennedy. Who knows if Petty would have made a difference to the disaster evacuation levels of panic when we got the ball, but I'm certain he'd have offered more than he did trailing defenders to the ball all day. Fair enough not making the change at quarter time when he had to get through his own concussion assessment (insert your own unkind comments), but carrying on in the same fashion after half time was waving a white flag.

If I was defending the forwards in Footy Court I'd lean heavily on us having our least inside 50s in a full length game since 2015. The jury would see straight through that, because a large part of the problem was having zero marking power on approach. Last week we had more inside 50s before scoring than any team on record so god knows what's going on, but it's not good. Can't help that van Rooyen was KOed by J(ack)V(iney's)R(right knee) and Turner did a mystery hammy, but no idea why we thought playing Brown and Petty at the same time was a good idea. I didn't mind playing McAdam off the back of injury/limited VFL form, but there had to be something else that didn't rely on more than one forward who is moving like the elderly.

Brown has at least found his way to a few goals this year, but Petty is in all-time dreadful form. In eight games, the first played half in defence, he's kicked 2.8 and half of his marks were in the backline against Hawthorn or in that one really good performance against Geelong. He showed promise as a forward last year but needs to head for the other end or the VFL as quickly as possible. I was there when we had so few real forwards that Frawley, Garland, and Rivers were given a go, and all of them would have done better than him this year. Refer previous posts about not running him out of town because he'll eventually be a quality full back, but if he starts forward next week I may punch on. His confidence is obviously shot, so keeping him up there every week is almost workplace bullying.

It was all getting a bit farcical by quarter time, including May getting lost without the other half of footy's greatest platonic couple and hoofing the ball off the ground straight into the hands of Jayden Hunt. As much as I hated this whole game, it's nice to see him doing well after arriving at West Coast just before the bottom fell out. Last year I was thinking about launching a hostage rescue to get him back from Perth, but if he can hang around long enough Mr. Owl Energy might be trying to save his old teammates from disaster.

While everything was going to shit I'd like to acknowledge that Kysaiah Pickett was having a massive go setting a good example. He might have been going too hard trying to lift everyone onto his shoulders and ended up turning it over as much as anyone else. Still, I'd rather go down in that fashion than standing around watching the opposition do as they liked. See also ANB and Oliver, who will also (spoiler alert) feature in the most difficult set of votes I've had to do for ages.

I always do the votes first, then change my mind a few times before the end. Even after a loss this is usually the easy bit, but this time my shortlists were 'Doesn't really deserve a vote' and 'Certainly doesn't deserve a vote'. It was easier to give Jordie McKenzie the five for 186 than deciding who our 'best' was here. This struggle was vindicated by the coaches' votes, where we got nil for the first time since Port 2020 kicked off the popular Bartlett vs Goodwin feud. And while we're having a shit week, any chance of the latest 'leak' from the Bartlett files? If it fires the group up they can compare us to the Medellin Cartel again. It's a shame Joel Smith's timing was so shit because he'd probably have been handy in our forward line this year.

So, by the point where it was clear Lever was finished, and we were being beaten in every part of the ground all I had left was innocent childlike hope of another comeback. If we could turn the tables against Carlton, then we could overrun a team of half kids and half nearly crocked veterans? Well yes, except when you stand back and let young and old do whatever they like. The best description for this performance would be 'timid'.

It wasn't exactly the passing of teams in opposite directions like Hawthorn in the 2007 pre-season (and for all-time dated references, what about a post title referencing the shortlived Playstation Portable?), but we did pay off years of helping young players get Rising Star nominations by making absolutely sure King Harley Race will win the overall award in a landslide. I'm not bothered whether North are ever good again, but hoped the merits of tanking would decided for good by them missing out on this guy but coming out equal or better eventually, but they're probably secretly regretting winning in the last round right now. Anyone who thinks Dustin Martin would have turned out the same way if we'd picked him is mad, but I suspect this guy could have walked into any club from top to bottom and had an immediate positive impact. 

Probably calm down on treating the kid like the second coming until he's played a few more games and we find out whether people will just start grabbing his fend arm and whipping him into the turnbuckle WWF style, but bloody hell he had our number here. I've avoided seeing him until now by watching approximately 0.00 seconds of Eagles games but turns out the Rankin' Wankin' x50 frenzy might be justified. Very polite of us to let him get on with it too, while our players were being battered off the ball at every opportunity we must have been hoping to stay in his good books for the inevitable 'Return to Victoria' scramble, shortly before he joins Carlton and coincidentally discovers a love for cardboard recycling.

Anyone would fall over themselves in glee if somebody like this turned up at their club, and fans were toppling from their seats in record numbers when Wonderboy followed Hunt's goal with three bounces and one of his own. Fair enough. It was like the time Bontempelli kicked a ripping goal out of his arse and you realised he was going to be a top player. Here's to Harley doing as he likes for the next decade against everyone except us.  

We got through two more shots by the end of the quarter, and were barely holding on. Two goals be buggered, this was a much worse performance than being 30 (and soon 36) zip behind against the Blues. Still, three quarters to get it right eh? Then before you knew it they had two more goals, from a player standing in miles of space in front of goal and McVee trying to defend against Jack Darling. Can't remember if Petty was back at this point, but that should have been the big FO wakeup call that we needed more size in defence. 

Maybe they were fooled by the false alarm of three straight goals. I've seen it done better at this venue, but wasn't in a position to complain about quality. After not doing much else (and he wasn't alone there) McAdam joined the exclusive one goal kicker club from a metre out. Which was good, but failing to make the distance from 40 metres later in the quarter didn't bode well. So we've got two key forwards who can't get to a contest, and McAdam and Billings can kick about 60 metres between them. Imagine the classic 'this is fine' cartoon in this space.

The third one was so weird that it deserved to lead to better things, with Brown kicking one on the run from the boundary that he had no historical right to. For execution and context it was no Pedersen vs Carlton for ex-North player finishes from that side, but now even I was getting sucked in to the idea of a Bellerive-style recovery from near-disaster to comfortable win. We conceded the next goal, but responded quickly and might have been within single digits if McAdam had between 40 and 45 metres in his leg.

More missed West Coast shots before half time felt like a big, flashing neon 'Danger' sign. Then we returned to do the exact same thing, and immediately deflated the balloon by conceding 30 seconds after the restart again. This really was a tribute to the Neeld years, when we usually returned after half time as if he'd spent the break reading them a list of war crimes and atrocities. We kept things interesting for a bit longer, and while it's sad to have waited the whole weekend just to watch us irritate a side that was thrashed last week, that's where this was at. West Coast got the first two, but we continued to hang around like a bad smell by responding. Then they got two more and the response is still floating somewhere over the Indian Ocean. I expected to be teased with another comeback before falling short, but every time West Coast left the door wide-open we blundered into the edge of it like an old school comedy routine.

The way we were playing the only surprise about conceding the first was that it took so long. Unlike the follow-up, which was born of the best non-Mad Minute centre clearance I've seen for years. Usually if you offered me a highlight involving Oliver and Petracca in the middle of the ground I'd like and subscribe in a heartbeat, but now we'll have to watch King Harley dismissing them like peasants on every highlight reel until the end of time. The only way to make it palatable is if you get to yell "yeah, but who won the flag?" at your TV or internet connected device for the rest of his career. This is currently unlikely.

It was still only two goals late in the quarter but we were getting into slapstick territory, when first McAdam realised he couldn't kick 50 and tried to pass to a leading Petty, then Billings missed from 20 metres out. Regardless of how poor we were overall, the margin was a very gettable two goals until the dying seconds, when our wasted opportunities came back to haunt us courtesy of you-know-who going forward and turning Howes inside out before goalling. Game morally over.

The only thing more offensive than our performance was commentary provided by the Western Australian Broadcasting Corporation. If you ever wanted to know what things would have been like if secession took off, here it was. This was audio torture beyond anything Dwayne or BT have done recently, if West Coast had done 9/11 they'd have blamed the buildings for getting in the way. Obviously the goal is to set up for a job for life in the WA media, but I'm surprised Matthew Pavlich lowered himself to wearing the state flag like a cape and talking nonsense. More understandable from the other guy, who graduated from the Kane Cornes Institute For Getting Attention By Saying Stupid Shit. 

Other than Pav and McBain's mate Scoey exchanging their credibility for local jobs, the highlight was the claim that what would have been nothing more than a fringe Mark of the Year contender would have been the "greatest of all time" if held. Shaun Smith retains the clubhouse lead but Liam Ryan gets the consolation prize of dropping the big mark but playing in a win. The lowlight was guffawing over a picture of rapist and women-basher Mike Tyson holding an Eagles jumper two weeks after the league stopped to raise awareness about violence against woman at the suggestion of... the West Coast CEO. By the second half it would have been as big a theft as last week if we'd won but I wanted it 10x more to annoy these people. With a day to think about it I've realised they wouldn't have given half a rats once the broadcast ended, it was just about playing their character for the local market. 

We were closer at the final change than last week, but nothing in the first three quarters gave me confidence of running over the top. If Lever was there and we looked to have the slightest bit of life force intact perhaps, but there was no way we were going to stop their forwards marking while playing one defender short and letting the ball fling down there without interruption. And lo, we did not. They politely waited a few minutes to concede the first, but after that it was a victory lap for West Coast's players, fans, and commentary team. You'd have been justified cracking the shits and walking out of your loungeroom but I felt it important to stay until the end. Well, until there was about 0.01 seconds left. I'll assume the special comments gurus managed to exit gracefully instead of spunking all over the place like him from South Park.  

So this was shithouse, but the good news is that you don't have to wait long for our very good friend Harley to fix us up again. After playing Carlton and Geelong for the only time all season (insert 'except for finals' if you dare) we're doing this all again at the MCG in six weeks. Maybe they'll go easy on us and rest him. Who knows if anything will have changed for us by then. It could be about the time we get Lever back and Melksham is well ahead of schedule. Otherwise we've got the chance to make some random's dreams come true in next week's mid-season draft. I'm not getting my hopes up when one of the headline available players is Kyle Dunkley. 

I don't suppose a 34-year-old Jake Spencer is still one of the options so I've got no opinions on who we should get but surely this is the time for ex-AFL players who can play a role rather than long term projects. And that's where we're at, two weeks after being 'back' I'm pinning my hopes on finding a gem on the May rookie draft scrapheap. Why would you want to follow anyone else?

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Judd McVee

Despite nobody deserving votes, apologies to Fritsch, Viney and Woewodin for just missing out in the process of elimination.

Leaderboard
Not often you get this far into the season and none of the top four poll. In a win this would be a good sign, in this performance... not so much. So, congratulations to ANB for Bradburying a step closer to the top of the table and drawing to within 10 of his entire career total. Otherwise no alterations to the minors.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Any mention of Ben Brown must be accompanied by pointing out that he's the nicest man in football, and on this occasion, I'd like to say thank you for everything (but especially one game in particular) with a nomination for that chip shot from the boundary. Might kick a more important goal for us, won't kick a better one whether he meant it or not. No change to leaderboard.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Remember the years when Ross Lyon derived a near-sexual pleasure from keeping us to absurdly low scores? Well he's relatively under the pump, we're losing altitude, and Lever won't be there, so set a calendar reminder to be furious on Sunday night next week. I'm trying hard to retain my bundle so am going for the coping strategy of expecting to lose and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

It's another week where you won't get much inspiration from Casey, who somehow blew a five goal lead in a game where they only kicked eight. We know Lever is out and Bowey came back in a moonboot, but I'm going to blindly assume JVR's concussion has passed and Langdon will be back from his personal problems. So that's the enforced changes, now for the spite ones. I'm entirely off Billings and it's time to start looking beyond Brown, and as much as I wanted Petty to go down the other end on the day, with a week to think about it he can have a week to ponder his future. And for god's sake give Windsor a day off, he has been very good until now but played like he was about to die here. 

The problem is the inclusions - none of Fullarton, Tholstrup, Tomlinson played so how do you judge their readiness? None are on our suddenly extensive injury list, so I'll assume they're right to go. Tomlinson gets rewarded for hanging out in the VFL all year watching his career ebb away, and if Bowey doesn't play I'm all for giving Moniz-Wakefield a go and seeing what happens. Like people who couldn't say 'Trengove', I'm not even sure if these changes perfectly balance. If not add or subtract somebody to your tastes. I know they probably don't help team balance, and there's no way we'll omit three players and manage one at the same time, but this is as close as I'll get to demanding vengeance for now.

IN: Fullarton, Langdon, van Rooyen, Woewodin (to start), Laurie, Moniz-Wakefield (to sub)
OUT: Bowey, Lever (inj), Billings, B. Brown, Petty (omit), Windsor (managed)
LUCKY: McAdam, Sparrow
UNLUCKY: Sestan, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
There could be another reason why I'm so calm...


Standard 'post delayed' notification


It's on the way. Wednesday night?

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Saturday 11 May 2024

Five day broke

There's always some knob ready with the fun fact that one point is the most common margin in football, but as it's only happened in Melbourne games 48 times since 1897 I'll stick with treating it being a rare scenario. It's the ninth time we've lost under these circumstances since I got into footy, but one of the few where I didn't want to run away to join the circus and/or commit criminal damage at the final siren. Hooray for nearly climbing out of a cavernous hole to pull off one of the most ludicrous wins ever, next time show up at the first bounce and see how that goes.

Because it will delay having to talk about this fiasco, a brief history of the eight other narrowest possible losses I've been around for:

  • Round 6, 1992 vs Essendon - Traumatised me for life. Never trusted a lead again.
  • Round 7, 1993 vs Fitzroy - NFI. Almost certainly cracked the sads listening on the radio.
  • Round 22, 1996 vs Hawthorn - Already mentally checked out when the club started trying to neck itself and missed an emotional scene
  • Round 12, 1999 vs North Melbourne - Not particularly happy about losing a six point lead to seven consecutive behinds but not yet at the seat punching stage of life...
  • Round 17, 2000 vs North Melbourne - But this is where that stage began, cutting the shit out of my hand on a chair at Docklands. Had a bit going on at the time.
  • Round 9, 2007 vs North Melbourne - Yes, them again. By this point the rest of my life was under control but our tumble down the ladder and eight straight losses sent me a bit bonkers and I stormed out at the final siren yelling various conspiracy theories about Andrew Demetriou.
  • Round 2, 2010 vs Collingwood - Where poor old Ricky Petterd ensured he'd be best remembered for dropping a mark, and I responded in a calm and measured way by stomping a pair of sunglasses into dust.
  • Round 10, 2021 vs Adelaide - After avoiding heartache for years (usually by not being less than a point behind from first minute to final siren), the winning streak that started it all was finished by rank umpiring cowardice. Ultimately, the poltroon who was too afraid of the local crowd set us on the course for a flag so all is forgiven.
On the emotional damage scale, Round 9, 2024 ranks somewhere between the unremembered Fitzroy defeat and the 'unpleasant but not life altering' 1999 North game. I'll accept any sort of gritty, ugly win but it was hard to fully invest in our bonkers comeback after finishing the first quarter as flat as a tack. That's a bit harsh in hindsight considering we were the better team for much of the game, but like players caught fanging lines of gak on matchday we played a game of 'fuck around and find out' and found out. 

After two low-scoring home and away games last year, you'd think Carlton would have been right into our mission to ruin the spectacle of every prime time Channel 7. Instead, in the biggest betrayal since the fall of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, they'd bashed our brains out by quarter time. What followed was better, but is almost more annoying when you consider what could have been if we weren't blown to bits early. If you deleted the first quarter and played a fifth we'd probably have won by 50, but you can't, and we didn't.

Five goals down at quarter time was a long way from what was arguably our best post 25/09/2021 win just days earlier. I'd have thought the traditional reaction to coming off a short break would be to start strongly before fading at the end, but we couldn't have done more to make life difficult for ourselves in the opening quarter. Remember the full-ground defensive performance that was so good it sent Jeremy Cameron to sleep during his run-up? There was none of that here, only some of the worst attempts at keeping the ball at our end. That led to the ball flinging back towards our goal as if fired from a medieval catapult, and even if inside 50s are a bullshit stat on their own, surely somebody's paying attention to the ones that are down the other end in 9.58 seconds. 

Not for the first time our backline, and specifically Steven May, could justifiably ask everyone else what the hell they were doing. Everyone except Sam Mitchell knows we want to hold teams up long enough to prop up a big defensive wall, but instead we fed them rebounds like cake. Even the best defenders on god's green earth will struggle to hold back the tide when they clear the ball, take a couple of deep breaths, then look up to see the play coming straight back towards them. 

Unlike those of us viewing from an angle/on TV, defenders probably have no idea what's happened at the other end, they just say "ahh shit, here we go again" in the style of Grand Theft Auto and go back to trying to keep us afloat. Any chance a few repeat stoppages or ball-ups to give the poor bastards a break? Not on a night when our underperforming forward line couldn't get near it. 

Now that I've decided to go down with Simon Goodwin (or even on if he conjures up another flag), I can't have an unpredictable change of heart and start hanging shit on him now, but did we really need all those tall forwards on a wet night? It wasn't full pissing down, and we've played well in the rain before, but tell me we couldn't have forged a water-induced headache for one of Petty, Turner, or van Rooyen and given somebody else a chance. God knows if Laurie would have done any better, or if Woewodin could have successfully gone forward again after his defensive cameos, but no forward combination could have performed worse than our opening term. Fritsch and Pickett aren't off the hook either, with the latter not registering a touch of football or opponent's guts in the opening term.

Turns out the forward answer was Petracca, but unfortunately we only discovered that after serving  the Blues a huge margin. Halfway through the first quarter when he couldn't get a touch in the midfield I did think "we don't we try to shake the tag by playing him forward?" and wish I'd posted it somewhere to enjoy a rare example of being 100% right. It's great that he got the goals, and it's not like we haven't sent him forward after a couple of ordinary games before, but it did leave our midfield looking even less formidable than it has recently. Oliver has gone off the boil, possibly due to having the same hand mobility as Captain Hook, and coaches have realised they can use this to put all their focus on harassing Trac. And once you're rid of them it's Viney, Sparrow, Pickett for a little bit, and not much else.

Against Geelong it didn't matter because the rest of our plans came together perfectly, but we went to pieces here. The thing is that other than the forward 50 we weren't that bad in the first quarter, but we were so charitable to Carlton that we should be able to claim the first 30 minutes as a tax deduction. I still think we could play them again next week and win, but this was putrid.

It took a few minutes of fruitless attempts at going forward for us to go up in smoke. Just give us one forward who can still change directions, and makes a contest, then try to kick the ball somewhere in his vicinity. Other than Petty being denied a borderline free - and except for one celebrated moment of stupidity at the end, if your key takeaway from this event is the umpiring then remove your eyepatch - and getting in Fritch's way, our forward line may as well have been any randomly selected group of Australian males aged 18-35.

I could handle doing a bunch of early attacking before conceding the first goal, but alarms were going off at full volume the fourth or fifth time a Carlton defender either marked unchallenged, or wandered around in traffic long enough for wide open spaces to appear ahead of him. This usually ended in our beleaguered defenders coming under attack a couple of kicks later. Gawn must have had a sixth sense of where this was heading, because even at one goal down he went troppo directly into the face of Marc Internet. Naturally, this led to Max conceding a free kick to him a couple of minutes later, and after kicking bugger all previous goals in his career, Internet walloped through a set shot like he's their latest Coleman Medalist. When they got another almost straight after it had a bit of the Brisbane 'not up for it' about it, only without the false start of kicking the opening goal.

If you thought Eric Hipwood was the #1 AFL player most likely to be confused with a sullen teenager, in came Ollie Hollands to take the Addam Maric memorial My Chemical Romance CD. And about a thousand possessions as we proved unable to stop them casually passing the ball back and forth as if having a kick in the street on Grand Final Day. We were holding their tall forwards as well as possible under the circumstances, but couldn't keep them out without getting and retaining the ball for a bit.

Expected score should proceed directly to the bin, but related measurements come into their own when a side doesn't have any scoring shots and there's no "but if A happened, then B-Z wouldn't have followed" argument. So I'd love to see the explanation for this:

Has a team ever been in attack that much for no reward? You know what you're getting with our forward line by now, but this was an impressive level of suckitude. Our response to May being great was to try and give him All Australian competition by shovelling the ball down Jacob Weitering's throat at every opportunity. The same tactics might have worked against another side, but Melbourne tried their best to lose like they were playing against Melbourne. It could be written off as an anomaly if we hadn't done similar so many times last year, albeit never to this extreme degree. There's got to be something different we can try. God knows what, but if we carry on like this the rest of the season will be a nerve-shattering hellride and the backline may go take industrial action.

Even when we got close to goal there was usually a line of defenders waiting to whisk it away while our players stood in the middle of a crowd of Blues, not knowing which direction to go in and often choosing neither. We've had impotent quarters, but this was truly flaccid. As it got to the last few minutes I remembered that our last 0.0 opening term was 2008, but was surprised to find out later that the next three came in 1991, 1968 and 1953.

Despite sending out teams that were varying degrees of batshit boring, and in one of their cases mostly intentionally, neither Mark Neeld or Paul Roos ever presided over what was once uncharitably referred to in these parts as a Super Bailey Quarter. Bit harsh when was only in charge for one, but what a one it was. While sensible parts of the world turned a blind eye to various atrocities for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony we did our own version of suffering under a repressive regime by going 53 points down without reply and only scoring after a Geelong player botched a mark close to goal. I'm almost certain they just wanted to practice their kick-ins. On that dark - in all senses of the word - Friday night in 2008, half the crowd left after a private school curtain raiser, and there must have been a few tempted to pull up stumps after a quarter here. I'm almost more upset at nearly winning than I would have been if the margin stayed exactly what it was at quarter time, but it's a big step up from losing by 116.

If this resembled any game, it was the first after the original COVID lockout. That day I made the 'just a little bit outside' prediction that the worst of the global pandemic was over, and in front of a crowd of N/A we led Carlton 42-0 early in the second quarter. Their comeback to lose by a point that day would have been good enough to win Thursday night, but that afternoon was reasonably crap side vs disastrously crap side so you could understand either not showing up for large parts of the game. This was an all-premiership aspirant clash with a finish neutrals would have loved, but nothing to suggest either side is going to romp to September glory. The good news is that nobody else in the competition looks like it either, so as long as we finish with a ticket in the lottery and a reasonably intact list then things could go anywhere. This was a shit start that almost certainly cost us a win (we might have kicked the first three goals and lost by 59 for all I know) but I'm still saving my bundle to heave it out of a top floor window later in the year.

Thanks to that famous North vs Essendon game, any margin up to 69 points has been proven catchable, but adjusted for games where the teams don't score 330 combined, anything after four goals is Hail Mary territory for me. So wasn't it great to give up as good as uncontested mark with 45 seconds left? Any score was going to put it above my psychological trauma limit, but in a karma payback for Geelong kicking for goal as if pissed Carlton got a fifth straight. I didn't have enough faith to look up how often we've come back from this far behind or worse at quarter time. The answer is six, and not since using our home ground advantage at the Gabba to overturn a 37 point deficit in 2002

Historical evidence was not required to know that we were in deep shit. Now it was just a case of avoiding a humiliating low final score and not getting beaten by a massive margin. Then we spent the opening minutes of the second quarter attacking for no reward before turning it over in the middle and handing them a sixth unanswered goal. Jesus H Christ, this was starting to get silly. Forget writing on a whiteboard this week, Goodwin should have thrown the board and texta at somebody. He's usually so relaxed as to be nearly comatose, but I was hoping he'd crack the shits and be the first coach ever to use the tactical sub before his team scored. I assume the pre-set plan was to take Bowey off after not playing any sort of game since Round Nothing but you couldn't have done much worse sending him up there for a rest and subbing out one of the forwards.

We had so many thwarted revivals in this game that Carlton fans would have been inconsolable if they'd lost. See, for instance, PetraccaMania delivering our first 13 points (and at this stage I'd have taken 0.13 as much as 2.1) to crack the window ever so slightly open... only to give both back. One was bad enough, before the second came straight out of the centre to the chest of a leading forward. Anyone who walked out at that point has got nothing to be ashamed of. Then came the sort of luck that was missing in the first quarter, as Turner converted a downfield free after ANB was clobbered post-disposal. 

Neal-Bullen overcame a second belting to play his best game since that brief flirtation with celebrity at the start of the year. Somehow the original assailant escaped with a fine for jumping to bump him in the head, so keep that in mind next time one of ours is rubbed out on frivolous grounds. Turner tried hard but relayed frees were the only way he was going to get a shot, and it is now confirmed that he needs further seasoning as a forward in the VFL. I was happy to take goals from any source at this time, as we clung by our fingernails to the hope of making it interesting. 

The margin was a point worse than quarter time, but we'd stopped turning every attack into an opportunity for Carlton to score. I was satisfied if we just got to the end with our dignity and percentage intact. After a half time break to reflect on our disappointment and come up with an alternative plan we... conceded the first goal after 30 seconds. A video review failed to prove that May had touched it and we were, once again, rooted. Until Pickett got on the end of one of our rare centre clearances for the immediate reply... which Carlton then wiped out with a centre bounce-induced goal of their own. Later Petracca got his third... and we gave it back out of the middle again. After years of doing tremendous things our midfield is in a bit of trouble - Viney and Sparrow had a decent crack but overall we were thrashed around the ball, which is a bit worrying for the future.

It only got interesting with the last two goals of the quarter, including Petracca's career-best equalling fourth. In a likely VFL/AFL first, this was set up by Lever swinging a Carlton player headfirst into his teammate's dick. A 22 point margin at the last change which was simultaneously absurd, offensive and tragic, but offered some hope of a memorable win. Then we conceded 30 seconds in, so that says it all about how much we deserved to win. It would have been hilarious if we did, but would have been the heist of the century.

This setback inspired us to go (relatively) ballistic, and the rest of the game was spent hammering away at Carlton's backline for significantly more benefit than the opening term. Maybe the last quarter against Brisbane wasn't just belated efforts meeting opposition giving up. It was all for nada in the end, but as upset as I am that we were in this position to start with, I'm infinitely more upset about the first quarter than falling short.

Even we managed not to give our next goal back in record time, there was no inkling of a grandstand finish. It looked double unlikely when van Rooyen was done for a BULLSHIT 'dangerous tackle' free, that would have otherwise ended in a play-on goal. It robbed us of one of the great assists, with Pickett doing a Fritsch-esque roller to the man himself for a tap-in. You'll struggle to see a tackle adjudicated worse, but it's hard to argue it cost us the game when we were still plenty behind at the time.

Things got a bit silly when Viney kept a ball in play at full stretch to set up Windsor from the square. It was a bit like the Ricky Petterd (and who'd have bet on him getting two mentions in one post?) assist for Matthew Bate in 2010, seen here on a video where the only comment is me complaining about Dwayne Russell's commentary.

It was all Melbourne now, but even when Petracca's fifth made it seven points with three minutes left I was still being sour and refusing to get involved. There was a momentary bit of excitement when Pickett scooped up the ball, before he kicked it OOF, just like the end of the Collingwood final last year when we were also desperately trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Our score here would have comfortably beaten the Pies that night, but that's all part of the dangerous game of trying to win through defence.

I finally broke down and decided to get excited when Gawn kicked his set shot to make it a one point game. And what a fine shot it was too, especially knowing he had to rush it and give us enough time for another go out of the middle. With 30 seconds left there was plenty of time for any of the three available results. As one of history's greatest cowards I'd have accepted a draw, and when we got the ball out of the middle I was secretly hoping for a long kick to the square, a rushed behind, and some sort of questionable moral victory. Instead it went out of bounds 40 metres from goal, requiring something crazy to happen on par with Jeff White in the same spot against Footscray 2005.

For a millisecond as Petracca ran onto the ball and looked like spelunking through the pack my heart rate elevated, before he crashed straight into a crowd of Carlton players and was caught holding the ball. I'm with you all the way on the van Rooyen rort but sorry to say this should have been a free. It doesn't matter what else they do or don't pay, if you try to barge through a pack your prior opportunity is gone. If he'd won the game with his six goal after bursting through Carlton's entire backline in the final seconds people would have been talking about it for years. But he didn't so let's wrap this up and forget it ever happened.

I couldn't see from my vantage point of not at the ground, but tell me we didn't have anyone behind the centre circle at that throw-in. They should have all been standing on the top of the 50 waiting like the starting grid of a Formula One Grand Prix, then charging into position to either mark a hacked sideways kick, or affect a contest in front of goal. Sadly this didn't become relevant, as we ran out of time to pinch a sleazy but memorable victory. It was our third straight loss to Carlton by under a goal, and I think I speak for everyone in saying can we please revert to the 2018 method and beat them by 110?

In a classic "and what good does that do for us?" moment, stats fans can rejoice in this being the highest score we've ever kicked after being held to nil in the first quarter. The previous record holder was also against the Blues, but in 1942 the handful of fans present a) weren't teased with a miracle win, and b) had peak World War II to worry about. Geelong '21 is still the best back-from-the-dead moment ever, but if last week was declared Piss Funny I'm not sure if this would have been Piss Funnier or Uncomfortably Awkward. Wish we'd found out, because there would have been tremendous laughs at the expense of the losing/not winning fans. At least this time they can't follow up by blowing a five goal lead in the Prelim.

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

Apologies to Langdon, Sparrow, and Woewodin on the Bailey Laurie impact vs time on ground metric.

Leaderboard
Technically, if you consider Petracca a forward now, the top five is without a midfielder for what must be the first time ever. Which would be a mad thing to do, but don't let me stop you. His return to form has ensured the leaderboard remains an absolute mess, with three of the top four scoring votes, and all remaining within a BOG of each other. Hard to see a winner coming from outside that group now, but Viney and/or Oliver putting in a run for the ages would be nice. In the minors, May breaks away from his platonic sporting partner, while Gawn is inching towards provisional winner status.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to Viney and Windsor for not winning under the 'team effort' clause, and several of Petracca's goals, but I've got to go with Gawn at the end. It was only a set shot, which pales into insignificance compared to our last goal five days earlier, but was beautifully taken under the circumstances. No change to the top three though.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Usually I'm across the fixture for weeks in advance, but was so focused on this game that I genuinely had to look up the opposition. It's the marquee timeslot of 6.20pm on Sunday against West Coast, who are gradually recovering from their run as a registered charity to the point where this could go tits up if we're not careful. Hopefully returning to the hallowed, flag-touched turf of Fortress Perth will inspire them to greatness.

I'm not taking this game lightly, but regardless of perceived opposition quality it's time to start giving younger players a week off. I'll say now is the time to give Windsor a week to enjoy the TV he won from Channel 7 last week, and will kindly make JVR an emergency so he can score a free trip home. He has a slightly better case to stay in the side than Petty, but I'll give Harrison a chance to prove last week wasn't a fluke. Otherwise, he's got to play VFL until he consistently wrecks a few teams, or McDonald exits the side for whatever reason.

Casey unexpectedly won a game, but by all accounts there's nothing to make you slide off your seat in anticipation for selection night. Ben Brown kicked an uncharacteristic 2.6, while Shane McAdams (who was actually sick last week and not concussed, in further proof that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet) didn't kick any but had a whole bunch of tackles, which might nearly be good enough to get a start at the top level. I'd like another look at Tholstrup, this time allowed to play his natural game instead of being expected to replace Pickett. My original idea was Fullarton for van Rooyen, but I'm so desperate for pressure that I'll reward McAdam for cracking in and having a crack.

Surely we win, but let's not have any discussions about percentage in case we come out looking stupid.

IN: Hunter, Fullarton, Tholstrup
OUT: Billings (omit), Windsor, van Rooyen (managed)
LUCKY: Petty
UNLUCKY: Woewodin (to stay sub)

Final thoughts
The rest of Round 9 and everyone involved in it can FRO.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Tormenting the animal kingdom

Anyone with the same nervous disposition as me would have spent the week expecting to hold Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins better than any team since they've played together only to lose by kicking a pitifully low, barely defensible score. As somebody who tried to rest Windsor and drop Petty before their best games of the year my footy knowledge is obviously wafer-thin, but at three quarter time on Saturday night we were heading right towards this tragic conclusion. See also *[list of similar losses over the last two years dramatically unfurls, blocking out the sun]*

This was one of the times we got away with it, in a third consecutive Channel 7 primetime appearance that would have bored the tits off neutrals. While there's plenty of recent evidence that you can't get away with this often enough to win a flag/MCG finals, it meant rumbling an unbeaten side and reminding everyone (including ourselves) that we're not dead yet. In September maybe, but after the midweek misery of the Brisbane game, this was our return to respectable company. Long may it last, throughout whatever up and down thrills we're set for in the remaining 28 home and away rounds.

We got a goal in the opening minute again, and my first thought was that the game couldn't possibly turn into the same trench warfare meets Vaudeville first half as last week. Then we reached half time with even less total goals kicked. This was an ink-blot test about your footy philosophies, it was either horrendously boring or an intriguing contest that was still worthwhile because every potential goal mattered so much more. I'm not encouraging nine games a week like this, but regular 150-145 scorelines would be equally tedious.

More importantly, after turning 4.2 million inside 50s into not much this season, we finally got a goal from a wonky, hopeful kick that just happened to fall in the right spot. Enter Bayley Fritsch, mortal enemy of sad middle aged men who complain about things being 'woke' and are jealous that they'll never have another chance at hair like his. He'll be back later for a contribution that even Barry from Facebook Comments couldn't seriously complain about.

If we'd lost it wouldn't have mattered where they got their goals from, but from the safety of knowing the result it's impressive how we forced Geelong to score from obscure angles. It helped that two of the best key forwards of this generation made converting from directly in front look more difficult than digging the Panama Canal with spoons. Which was nice, but don't bet your life on a repeat if we play them again. 

Their first goal came via crumb, and the next through one of their suspiciously high number of Generic Blonde Men who look like the East German brothers in Die Hard. My interest in non-MFC topics is at its lowest point in years, but even if I had NFI who this guy was I could sense a stirring at Kingsley Manor when he kicked one from the boundary line, then lined up from the same spot a few minutes later. He missed, and I can't honestly say if he was seen again because so many of them look the same. The whole recruiting system is set up to stop you cloning players in a laboratory, but if anyone's going to have a crack at a presumably non-fascist Boys From Brazil style breeding program it'll be Geelong. Probably using taxpayer money. 

In the early stages our forward line was a bit *nervous adjustment of collar again*, and Petty was probably one lost contest or dropped mark away from retiring on the spot in frustration, so a big thanks to Another Blonde Man for slipping over at the crucial time and allowing Harrison (never Harry) a lead/mark/goal that instantly refilled his life force gauge. He didn't kick another goal, but spent the night taking massive contested marks up the ground and contesting in a way that makes you wonder if he's had the Ebola virus for several weeks. Maybe we just rushed him back too quickly after injury. Maybe it's a one week thing and he'll still end up feeling unappreciated and leg it to Adelaide for a future third round pick.

The quarter ended with your weekly "Where would we be without Pickett?" reminder, as he electrified the otherwise defensive arm-wrestle by snatching a ball out of thin air for a goal. What a man. Also demonstrated admirable restraint at one point where a Geelong player was wide-open for an Uncle Byron-style shirtfront. No way he's going to miss playing Carlton and either break their heart in the final seconds or biff somebody.

I'm against the dissent rule and think people acting like John McEnroe is good for the game, but if it has to exist (And does it? Any evidence that it's stopped umpires being yelled at by evil parents and/or chased with a lead pipe by ice addicted suburban tradies?) then they need to clarify how much players can sook before being penalised. If we knew it was swearing, threatening gestures etc... it would be easier to judge, but as far as I'm aware they haven't altered the rule from when 50s were being handed out for the merest negative reaction. Every team does it to some degree, but early in this game Geelong players treated every negative decision like the umpire had just insulted their mother. 

Fortunately, they were equally as lax on the stand rule, allowing Tom McDonald to shuffle back and forth like he was doing the Moonwalk, because I'd have blown up if we'd been done for one administrative rule after the other was ignored. And what happened to players being rolled for going running past the mark at the wrong latitude/longitude coordinates? Is that still on the books and just being ignored as well? If so, good. Surprisingly AFL HQ didn't send down secret instructions to generate a goal by any means necessary during the second quarter, but they must have been tempted.

You may have noticed I'm into niche MFC topics, and would like to add Simon Goodwin first quarter texta moments to my resume. There was Round 17, 2020 when he was writing with one, holding another, then paused in shock as we did something incredibly stupid just before the siren...

... and four years later he furiously attacked the whiteboard with maximum determination and the most XL-sized marker on the planet. I think it's the same brand as last time (talk about loyalty), but caught at an angle that really highlights the bulk. Lucky for him we didn't lose via baffling coaching decision or the "what was he writing?" memes would have been unkind. We won both games in thrillers, so I suggest having a pack of these things ready to go at all times. 


For all the piss taken out of learnings and connection, and the odd baffling moment like the Carlton final, I don't think Goodwin gets enough credit. He's hardly Norm Smith but some people treat him like Mark Neeld whenever things go wrong. Feel free to trawl the archives for times where I've done just that, but not as much as people who think we'd be on for a fourth straight flag under anyone else. I've gone all emotional in my old age but whenever they show him talking to the team after a win I feel that he's in a happy place, and may go completely off the rails one way or another outside the club environment.

He had a great night here, assisted by players helping execute the plan to jam the middle of the ground up like a lock shot full of superglue. Whenever Geelong got the ball forward they were met with a collective brick wall of epic proportions. After a shaky game last week, I'm back to crediting McDonald for his late-career defensive revival, but as always the main events were May and Lever. 

On the occasion of May's 100th game for us there's no point hiding how much I love these two, but are they both legitimate contenders for the best senior player we've recruited from another club? With apologies to those who Leoncelli, B. Lovett, A. McDonald, Rigoni and Ward who only played Reserves elsewhere, I think the post-1980 field is Garry Baker, Laurie Fowler, Michael Hibberd, Anthony Ingerson, Jake Melksham, Brent Moloney, Peter Rohde, Bernie Vince, Jeff White and Brian Wilson. Fowler won three B&Fs, Wilson won a Brownlow, but I'd say White is the only one in their way. Your views may vary, but the most important thing is that they're here, they're spectacular, and I can't comprehend ever having another defensive pair as good. It might happen, but while we're doing 60 year gaps between flags it's hard to imagine anyone else turning up and having the same impact.

For me, there's no downside to living through the greatest five year run since early Simpsons except for having to watch half of it on TV, but good luck to any kids who have come along at just the right time to know nothing of the dark times except scarcely believable stories. It's a great time to follow this club, and you'll still be talking about a lot of these players in several decades when you're a gibbering wreck in the nursing home, but the rest of your supporting life is going to be spent hoping for another backline combination like this to come along. We might accidentally stumble upon the regens of John Coleman and Tony Lockett at the other end, but you'll never find another pair of defenders like this in an era so well-suited to defensive play. Now watch them concede 16 each against Carlton, but even if they turn to dust now their legacy is secure.

The second quarter won't have much of a legacy, other than being dredged up as a trivia tidbit the next time nobody kicks a goal. Despite the obvious agony of the commentators it was a fascinating struggle. Not sure I'd have seen it the same way as a neutral. The TL:DR is that the teams combined for 0.13, finding creative ways to keep missing. The only other excitement came from the Jack Viney Injury Scare of the Week. Jack and I only have two things in common, we both like Todd, and cope with pain by acting like we've had the limb torn off in an industrial accident. The difference is he's being battered around in a full-contact sport while I'm usually carrying on after stubbing my toe. For the third time in the last 12 months Viney scared the shit out of everyone by going down clutching his shoulder like it was shattered to pieces, before recovering to play on as if nothing had happened. He's made of iron, but I hope his shoulder isn't slowly weakening before randomly falling apart.

By the last couple of minutes I was right into the novelty of a goalless quarter, thinking that it surely hadn't happened in a full length game for years. Then they revealed that there'd been one two years ago, which was a whole lot less fun. We did our best to get an ad break on, but to the disappointment of people who wanted to see Luke Hodge encourage Australia's stupidest people to take high-interest loans, Geelong was unable to take advantage of Fritsch giving away a pointless 50 or May doing a slapstick turnover in the middle. 

Meanwhile, our shots were going off in more directions than the New Year's fireworks and even the most sensible commentary team you're going to get on free to air TV sounded like they were about to self-harm. I felt bad for Nathan Jones when there was talk about all the close games between these teams in recent years and he was probably hoping they didn't mention him playing in losses to the Cats by 116, 186 and 111. By the end of the year Gawn will have captained us more times than Jones won in his 302 game career, so a friendly reminder that if anyone questions his loyalty or commitment to our club I'll fight them in the street with weapons.

Returning from half time, we can't have been far away from Channel 7 'accidentally' dropping a camera on the ground so they could play five minutes of ads while carefully picking up all the pieces. Eventually, after three more behinds that would have had spectacle lovers reaching for poison, Kade Chandler became 7's best mate by kicking straight. Hope it goes better for them than previous best mates Ben Roberts-Smith and Bruce Lehrmann.

I'm sure that, like me, you expected to follow this by conceding straight from the middle, but I'm pleased to say we held out for a good two minutes. It took a tremendous goal from the boundary line to do it, but if they'd got another straight after I'd have been wishing Chandler had missed and we'd kept playing for a 20-19 win. This makes no sense because they might have gone coast-to-coast from the kick-in, then booted the next nine goals but fear is my default setting.

I was comfortable scoring at 1905 pace, before the game became a relative shootout. In that three players kicked straight in a row. Sadly for Geelong their second one kicked straight but not long enough. 

As it seemingly went through, they showed a grown woman in an MFC scarf, holding up a sign in child's handwriting begging for a Cats' player's boots, and went to the same dreadfully written Youi commercial that we'd been spared in the second quarter. By now I was cursing myself for not being bothered to get off the couch and set up the Megawall to watch without ads, but it led to the pleasant surprise that we were finally on the right side of an unrequested video review. May got a hand to it just before the ball fully crossed the line, and was rewarded by the high-tech cameras making him look like he was in a Playstation 2 game.

Geelong fans who lustily booed that turn of events, despite being presented with the clearest possible evidence, would have gone into cardiac arrest shortly after when one of their defenders took a clear mark that was called play on because we swatted it out of his hands at the last minute. And when I say 'the last minute', I mean 'would usually end in a 50'. It left Windsor taking a shot from the same place he was gifted one against Richmond, but this time he failed to take advantage of the kindness of strangers. It was a slight blip in the best game of his career, ending in a well-deserved Rising Star nomination.

Despite the low scoring, I had no confidence in holding a two goal lead. Which was lucky, because soon we didn't have one. We lost the lead after Gawn was flat out kneed in the head at a ruck contest, which was a throwback to a few years ago when he used to get poked in the eye, kicked in the face, and everything but teabagged at ball-ups without being paid a free. Morally this made up for the unpaid mark at the other end, with the difference that they converted the chance. ANB should have replied ASAP after turning a defender inside out like the Road Runner on Wile E. Coyote, but he did all the hard work then missed.

We nearly gave up another at the end, but narrowly survived to be less than a goal down at the last change. If you still buy into us finishing games well, the narrow margin would be comforting. I was worried that after doing all the hard work to grind them down over three quarters that we wouldn't be able to change gears to try and win it, before the inevitable Alice Springs 2023 style 'lucky kick rolls over the top and beats us' scenario. 

If you didn't know what happened in the first three quarters, you'd have thought the 1989 Grand Final had broken out in the last term. We kicked three belter goals, recaptured the lead, gave it up again, then grabbed it back, sealed the deal via the Goal of the Year, and got an assist from opponents with 1000 career goals before them kicking as if stoned to the bejesus belt. 

I wasn't nearly as ill as King's Birthday last year, but lying in the exact same spot I got the same Thriller Euphoria that made me forget all my troubles for about 30 minutes before going back down the drain. It started with one of Gawn's trademark long range missile set shots, as they foolishly let him open up the angle to full extension and he walloped one. When Fritsch got another shortly after I was open to the idea of running away with it. Next thing you knew we were behind again and hanging on for dear life. 

Enter your friend and mine K. Pickett, who had a glorious run as the Goal of the Week clubhouse leader for about 15 minutes. Perhaps more than anything else, this demonstrated how much he means to our forward line. He was the one who kicked it to the contest, then when JVR couldn't mark, Pickett steamed through, picked it up, and snapped the goal. What a man part two. And when Windsor won a holding the ball free and converted to put us 10 in front again I was stupid enough to think that we'd broken them and would go on with it comfortably. This is where Cameron/Hawkins started kicking relatively easy set shots like the ball was made from concrete.  

As expected, we scaled up for the quality of opposition but there were a couple of "can't play Richmond every week" victims. As Petty returned, Disco faded out like it was the early 1980s. Which is fine two senior games into his key forward career. If Petty's restored joy of life lasts there's cover for him to spend a few weeks learning what it's like to play without the element of surprise. And after one of the better one quarter sub appearances last week, Laurie walked into a red-hot game here and got one touch. Never mind, I'm thrilled that we beat the top side with multiple players under 10 games experience. And a word for Taj Woewodin, who will naturally get the boot when Bowey or Salem return, but has done very well adapting to being parachuted into the backline out of necessity.

It would have been cruel to lose after putting on such a good defensive display, but the margin was still under a goal with three minutes left before something truly wacky happened. Petty ended his big comeback by cutting off their next kick at full stretch, leaving Petracca with the ball and an entire forward line to choose from. Doesn't mean any players were in that line, so kicking it over Fritsch's head towards the boundary line was better than jamming it down Tom Stewart's gob like we'd have done most other times. If it went out we'd probably be calling an airstrike on AFL House after he was pinged for deliberate, but instead something truly ludicrous happened. No explanation can beat the actual footage, so enjoy it with bonus unnecessary TikTok shit on the video:

But in case space flange Elon Musk pulls the plug on Twitter and the above disappeares, let the written record show that Fritsch and opponent were gently tracking the ball on its path to the boundary line, when it did a mysterious leg break straight into his path, allowing him to gather and ran away from unnamed Geelong person. Which was nice, and if he'd turned around to square the kick to somebody 20 metres out directly in front we'd all have been very happy, but instead a did the most deft (deftess?) toepoke you'll ever see, causing it to skid around the corner toward goal, before neatly depositing itself just inside the left goalpost.

Dear reader, I ask where you rate this amongst great recent MFC goals? For quality it may be #1, but while Petracca starting the Mad Minute in Perth didn't have the same agonising journey across the line it's similar enough to win due to the occasion and what came next. It's hard to compare set shots, snaps, game winners, first quarters stunners etc... etc... but some suggestions. Context is important, so apologies to anybody who kicked a ripper when we got beaten.

* Jeff White vs Footscray 2005
* Aaron Davey vs Fremantle 2008
* Cameron Pedersen vs Carlton 2014
* Christian Salem vs Essendon 2014
* Clayton Oliver vs Adelaide 2017 and Footscray 2021
* Tom McDonald vs West Coast 2017
* Jack Watts vs Collingwood 2017
* Dean Kent vs West Coast 2018
* Nathan Jones vs Geelong 2018
* Mitch Hannan vs Geelong 2018
* Jake Melksham vs Hawthorn 2018 or Brisbane 2023
* Kysiah Pickett vs St Kilda 2021, Carlton 2022, and god knows how many others.
* Max Gawn vs Geelong 2021 and Geelong 2021

There's got to be more, even if I'm eliminating enormous swathes of history by only counting games we won. Additional suggestions via the usual channels. 

Because I'm old, broken and most importantly soft, a not-at-all serious illness was enough to stop me from going, costing another great moment in live viewing that I can never get back. Like 25/09/2021 it matters not a shite to the overall result whether I was there live or not. The real distress will come in about 10 years when I've got time to go every week and we're back to sucking pond water.

The good news is that I did get to see a few live junk time goals in the last quarter against Brisbane, and being at home on Saturday meant listening to Jobe Watson's unusual, Wrestlemania VIII-inspired claim that two players resembled Randy Savage and Ric Flair. They didn't, but it's nice to get a wrestling reference on commentary that doesn't go straight for the safety of Hulk Hogan. In a week where the league spoke out about violence against women I take it Jobe never saw the documentaries about the Macho Man locking his wife in a room when he wasn't there and Slick Ric waving his dick at flight attendants.

I'm all about protecting the legacy of great moments - like how Gawn at Kardinia Park wouldn't be as good if we'd lost to Geelong in the Prelim, or why nobody talks about thumping Brisbane at home in the last game of 2022 because of what happened two games later. So when this left Geelong needing two quick goals to beat us I was more frightened than usual, hoping to avoid losing in humiliating circumstances AND not being able to enjoy one of the most exciting goals ever captured on film. So when they went forward and found Jeremy Cameron in acres of space I thought "oh christ, here we go". After being held all night and missing two earlier shots I would have had my house on a goal here. And if he was going to miss I'd have expected more drama off the boot than a shank that went off like he was kicking with an ill-fitting prosthetic leg. 

After previously blaming the gastro and the flu for losing to us, I can't wait for Geelong's big "I don't want to make excuses but..." reveal that he Jezzed it while bravely playing through Mad Cow Disease, but Cameron is another in the long line of great key forwards with an unexpectedly bad record against us. He's kicked 57 career goals against Collingwood, but only 22 against us in one fewer start, and we've held him to fewer goals per game than anyone. Still doesn't explain how badly this regulation set shot went, but thank god it did because I did not need the tension of holding onto a slender lead for the last 90 seconds. Also good news for Ed Langdon, who shouldn't have been expected to guard Cameron in the first place but clearly knew he could have put in more of a contest when he started doing the tell-tale 'point to everything to shift focus' routine post-mark.

There was still time to stuff it up, but it worked in our favour that he barely snuck the kick through for a point and we could bring it back on our terms rather than the ball being handed to whoever was closest as it crossed the line. If anything was going to bring us undone it was short kicks in defence, but we got it far enough away from goal to run the clock down to the point where it would have taken an all-time ludicrous scenario to beat us. They were going forward in the dying seconds, before poor old Jez capped off his dreadful night by hurriedly booting it out on the full. 

Cameron will be back, but not against us in this home and away season. They put us against the second oldest club in the 'Rivalry Round' (which was a marginally better reason than Hawthorn vs Footscray because they came into the league at the same time, and St Kilda vs North because they're most likely to be chased out of Victoria by Eddie McGuire), but the dead giveaway that it's not a real rivalry is that we're not fixtured to play them a second time. If you can't get people fired up over Melbourne vs Sydney, good luck doing it for Melbourne vs Suburb of Melbourne. I'm just happy we don't have to go to Kardinia Park for once, but will be on high alert for their forwards to run riot if we happen to meet again in September.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Steven May
3 - Caleb Windsor
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Fritsch, Gawn, Oliver, Pickett and Viney

Leaderboard
Welcome to the unprecedented (?) scenario of a leaderboard this late in the season without any midfielders on the podium. I can't see it lasting, especially once Oliver regains the use of his hand and Petracca starts busting tags, but if you're somebody who hates mids winning everything then grab a screenshot of this. There's plenty of action in the minors, where the defensive dream team are both within range of the Seecamp/Jakovich double, and Windsor's first career votes see him draw level with Turner in a Rising Star race that is far more exciting than the last couple of years. As for the Stynes, I'm almost certain that Max could stop playing now and not be caught so we're not far from declaring a provisional winner there. 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Last week Fritsch lost because his goal wasn't unexpected enough, this time it will take winning a final in the last second of extra time with an overhead kick from the defensive goalsquare to beat him. It's a bit unfortunate for Pickett, whose chasedown of his own kick was so good that it makes the podium, but the challenge is on for anyone to do anything more outrageous than Fritsch and snatch his title.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Speaking of games where scores are low, dangerous opposition forwards are well-held, and the result is decided in dramatic or farcical circumstances it's Carlton again. Last year we scored 61 and beat them comfortably, 56 and lost by under a goal, then blew a final in spectacular own-goal fashion while coach and sub sat on the bench with thumb in fundament. This may have saved us from Preliminary Final humiliation, but I'd loved to have had a crack at finding out. 

Unlike Melbourne 2019, the Blues have mostly gone on with it after their finals breakthrough, and I'm not taking them lightly after losing three in four. Two were close games against good sides, and while they might have had a weird loss against Adelaide, it was followed by beating GWS who are still near the top so this could go in any direction. No doubt a loss will have them back to trying to sack Michael Voss, and I'm happy to help facilitate that.

You won't get much inspiration for changes from Casey, who are heading towards just their third finals miss since our affiliation began. The race is on to beat their 5-13 record in 2014 in a ladder with anomalies including finishing second last but five games ahead of the wooden spooner, and below a side that had less wins but two draws. It wasn't an entirely wasted year, you may recall B&F winner Max Gawn going on with it big time.

I don't think the coaches really care if the Reserves win, lose, or catch fire (well, the Casey coach probably does), as long as the right players are developing/recovering etc... Ben Brown and Hore were late withdrawals in case required on Thursday, and Hunter disappeared after half time for the same reason, so you can see we're giving this half-arse competition the respect it deserves. McAdam got concussed so we won't be seeing him anytime soon, and otherwise I can't see a case for anybody to be promoted. Tomlinson continued to do well while playing a position we don't need any help in, Jefferson seems to be a forward again because he kicked three, and Moniz-Wakefield is plugging away in defence picking up disposals and thinking about how he'd be an established senior player at one of the shit sides.

The problem is we're coming off a short break and have recent history of playing a Thursday night game as if under heavy sedation so is there a risk in not making changes? NFI, but I wouldn't be surprised if Howes or Windsor get rested eventually. I'm desperate to manage somebody so I'll give Laurie a full game and put Billings on ice for a week before his body falls apart again. Spin the wheel for the sub and hope they're not required early. I'll say... Hunter... and admit I have zero qualifications for making selection suggestions.

I'll do the stupidest thing possible, get sucked in by one great result and assume we'll win. See you back for a depression session if it doesn't happen.

IN: Laurie + Hunter (as sub)
OUT: Billings (managed)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Moniz-Wakefield, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
This was a very good win sealed by one of the great MFC goals, but it felt a little less massive once the euphoria died down I realised that we've got 15 more home and away games to go. Maybe it's just because I'm generally fatigued by life but this season already feels like it's been going forever, I can't comprehend that we're barely a third of the way towards finals. It'll be a long, strange, ride until then and I'll do my best to stay upright and alive until the conclusion.