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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. It won't work every week but I thought ANB was fantastic replacing Trac in the midfield for a big chunk of the game.
    Petty and Fritsch missed very gettable shots but it would have been the mother of all steals if we'd got up.
    The club won't admit it publicly but I suspect short turnarounds against top 4 contenders at each end is a too big an ask.


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