Tuesday 28 May 2024

Go Yroke, go broke

Since getting into footy, 1996 was the season I paid the least attention to. It started as standard teenage sooking and only got worse when we frantically tried to put ourselves out of business. Into the void stepped soccer, helped by a) playing about 12 hours a day of Championship Manager, and b) the attractive option of compacting all your commitments into one hour of Premier League highlights on a Monday night, leaving more time for being an emo bastard. 

Based on the results I didn't miss anything except a lat game against Fitzroy and Michael Polley's entire AFL career. The only clear MFC-related memory that didn't involve a velcro Hawk on our jumper was going for Sydney in the Grand Final because they had Kevin Dyson. Just as football nearly came home to the Glenferrie Oval, I got right into the English equivalent in that year's European Championships while waiting to see if I'd have to go through with the empty (?) threat to follow Freo instead of the merger.

We survived because Hawthorn's board didn't go for gold in the Rorting Olympics, but it turns out the first all-Victorian merger happened years between Euro and Yroke. I wonder if there's an Urge To Merge style book explaining it all. What I'm saying is that I was really hoping to merge my love of Stuart Pearce rifling it home from the penalty spot with a much-needed thumping victory and call this post 'Euro 96'. There may never be another opportunity, but I'll be hanging out to see who we played in Assumed Name Round every year in case there's a chance to pay off this not-at-all-worth-it gag for my own amusement.

It was unlikely that anybody would win by 96 in the Chloform Cup between Ross Lyon and Simon Goodwin. Until last week I'd have thought us more chance of going inside 50 that many times than scoring it, but thanks to a few scoring outbursts in another game that must have been brutal for neutrals we narrowly went beyond the magic mark for our second highest score of the year. And that doesn't fill you with confidence then breathe into a paper bag and try to believe that this time we will defend our way to a flag.

Bullshit there were hyphens in the original language, but I take it from First Nations experts (as opposed to the Fist Nations experts who supported Melbourne 2007-2017) that Euro-Yroke means "the grinding stone place where they sharpened their stone axes". That's appropriate, because for the second year in a row, St Kilda helped calm our Narrm after a miserable interstate trip. Last year it followed a truly dreadful attacking performance, where we lost to GWS by two points courtesy of a fluke goal that only became relevant after kicking 5.15. This time it followed a more attacking but infinitely more putrid loss. Both defeats led to tidal waves of babies being thrown out with the bathwater, and while neither follow-up win was special, they were both exactly what we needed at the time.

It's a shame that my random hatred of St Kilda from 'incidents' with their fans during the '98 and '06 finals has cooled. Now I don't wish them any specific harm, but am happy to contribute in any way to ruining Ross Lyon's return. They're the most beige team in the competition at the moment (e.g. a rivalry round where they played the third wheel of 1925 entrants due to lack of options), and I know it can't have been easy watching nuffies like Richmond, Footscray, and us break through in recent years, but that was no reason to launch dignity and self-respect from an upstairs window and crawl back to the coach who'd run off with a floozy just before things went sour.

And doesn't Lyon look like he's having a whale of a time back at Moorabbin? If doing conga lines along the boundary was a mark of quality Ken Hinkley would have won something by now, but Ross the Boss looks like he could do with a Floss is Boss style surprise attack to put him out of his misery. Chris Scott is still the man most likely to end his career shooting it out with the cops in a burning cult compound, but Ross is giving off vibes like somebody who's about to take a splinter group up the river and commit Colonel Walter E. Kurtz style mayhem. If they come good and he gets treated like a hero I'll power spew.

Ross looked like he was being propped up in the box Weekend At Bernies style, but even he must have secretly enjoyed our craft at slowly squeezing the life out of his side. Many wouldn't have been as generous, and our old pals Channel 7 must have thought about coming back after half time with a test pattern.

Enough about them, let's talk about one of the league's other perennial disappointments. We got off last week's horror performance lightly because HarleyMania took all the attention away from the people he was fending into oblivion. I don't know if either Langdon or van Rooyen could have rescued a side that was deader than Kelsey's proverbial nuts, but this was a good reminder that even if neither has been in barn-burning form this year that they both make a difference.

Meanwhile for reasons unknown, possibly part of an elaborate hazing campaign, we continued to play Petty forward and he a) did nada again, b) saw Adam Tomlinson play an excellent game in a spot he might have occupied, then c) required substituting before his foot fell off again. Can we take a collection to send this guy to a holiday resort for a couple of weeks to help him regain the joy of life? I want him to be happy, mobile, and preferably playing at the heart of our defence for years to come but at the moment it feels he's the victim a multi-directional pisstake.

There's no quick fix to our forward woes (unless we pull off the ultimate mid-season draft fluke and pluck an immediate difference KPF from thin air), and once you'd come to terms with that there were no surprises about doing all the early attacking then conceding first goal. We've kicked goals in the first 30 seconds of two recent games (+ getting in first against Brisbane before Farce O'Clock hit) but it's more in our brand/DNA (play the David King home game and delete as applicable) to struggle. At first we couldn't create a goal from open play if our lives depended on it, but saw their midfield crack like an egg at the following centre bounce, allowing Viney to hit van Rooyen on a lovely lead, aided by his opponent slipping and sliding on the spot like Jerry Seinfeld in cowboy boots.

This was the platform for bigger and better things. They certainly had chances, but were too inept to take advantage of the Lever void. In his place came emergency defender Adam Tomlinson, who responded with one of his best games for us. Australia's most patient man should be the test case for mid-season trading. Everyone says it's unfair on interstate teams because nobody will want to join them, but if you offered an extra year on his contract he might prefer to play at [insert whoever needs a defender] every week instead of touring the VFL until our next backman falls over. Seems unfair that he's wasted so much of his career toiling in our reserves but considering our flimsy depth elsewhere I'm happy to have at least one guy who can fly in and out as required.

When the second goal came via Langdon and the returning Hunter converging from their wings to the top of the square this was by all measurements better than last week. Plenty of time for it to go wrong though, so I remained on the highest of alerts for a shambles.

In the continuing saga of "I'm just here to annoy people" it would have been fun if the umpires were forced to officiate using the indigenous names. This would have also been good for the economy because people who secretly love being offended would have been smashing their TVs across the country. For once I'll say something nice about Channel 7 and say that I thought they found the right balance of using the traditional and very traditional names. Compare to the stooges from last week who acted like they'd get an electric shock to the nards for saying the wrong thing. On Foxtel the scoreboard read NAR EUR, so it would be good content for 2025 if two of the teams yet to join in make sure their abbreviations spell APR ICK.

Whoever the opposition were, they had the piss belted out of them after the opening goal. We know exactly who we are, and not surprisingly couldn't take advantage on the scoreboard. It took a shithouse, panicky kick through the middle to set up Fritsch's first, and it might not have been the most convincing four goal lead at quarter time but was better than the alternative. 

The key player here and beyond was Max Gawn, who only played after passing a pre-match fitness test. Part of it must have been listening to the history's most inspirational speeches, because he was tremendous. I'm not buying into this clickbait media theory that he's now the greatest ruckman ever because it's impossible to compare between eras, but it's remarkable that people can even say it without being laughed from the room. Last week showed that he's not invincible and/or capable of turd polishing miracles, but imagine the odds you'd have gotten on him being here at the point where he was doing two knees and getting caught having a ciggy on the way to training. If we'd been able to develop top 10 picks like this we wouldn't have had as many top 10 picks.

This wasn't the modern equivalent of Gawn having 80 hitouts against a bankrupt Bendigo VFL side, he thrashed a good opponent so significantly that for once I'll accept that "if they'd kicked goals instead of behinds" might have been valid. The way we were going, the likelihood is that the ball would have been straight from the middle and into attack again. Whether we had the personnel to take advantage is another matter. JVR was a welcome addition, but after one nice contested mark at the start Petty was ineffective. Fritsch and Pickett did Fritschy and Picketty things, the latter continuing to impress in midfield cameos, and while McAdam didn't get many touches, any goals, or a chance to prove he can kick 40 metres, but had six tackles so is welcome to stay just for forward pressure.

Almost everything had gone right after the first goal, but surely nobody expected us to keep it up after quarter time. One of these days we'll demoralise a team so badly that they'll give up and let us do what we want, but here the door was left open for opposition players scared of reprisals from their coach to briefly make it interesting. Once our goals dried up it was back to the old game of 'can the backline save us?' For 10 minutes they did, via Oliver giving away an unnecessary downfield free and May spoiling Max King's head in a way that suggested he wants to keep Lever company. Their first wasn't quite "here we go" worthy, but when we only narrowly avoided another straight after my blood pressure was starting to bubble up. Down the other end we'd reverted to attacking like raging drunks, the margin was back to a very catchable 12 points at half time, and I was getting to go the full Sylvia Plath on here.

There was no need to worry. Neutrals be stuffed, this is where things got good for us. It didn't feel like a six goal to one quarter, but who's complaining? Things may have been different if they hadn't missed a piss easy shot at the start. It took a few more minutes before Gawn's goal alerted everyone affiliated to St. Kilda, the Saints, Euro, Yroke, and the City of Moorabbin, that it was time to hit the lifeboats. In his best game for the year, van Rooyen brought the ball to ground in a two-on-one situation, nearly stuffed it up considering handballing to a passing Langdon, then Petracca got an assist from opposition players crashing into each other in the middle to kick a third in 90 seconds. 

Any chance of going on with it this time? Against the odds yes, and by late in the quarter we were reaching deep into the Hollywood files. After St Kilda finally broke through for their lone goal of the term, Viney turned their defenders inside out like a lost Pickett brother and kicked what was not in any way a steadier but certainly made me feel better. Then the real deal Pickett plonked one through on the run from an obscure angle and we were back to having a good time. 

The three quarter time margin was slightly under the Chris Sullivan Line, but I adjusted for the fact that the other side had nearly gone to sleep and assumed victory was safe. Ideally we'd have carried on and won by a (for us) huge margin, but after having our fun in the early stages we let the opposition save face with meaningless late goals. 

On a weekend where umpire whinging went through the roof (and wasn't it great to see somebody get finally pinged for not giving the ball back to the umpire?) these ones decided to be difficult about the distance of kicks, as if they can definitively tell the difference between 14 and 15 metres. This came just as we decided to try some short kick ins, leading to a few heart-in-mouth narrow escapes in front of goal. On the other hand they didn't care how unrealistic your marking attempt was, in one passage of play McAdam and Pickett both jumped on top of a pack well before the ball arrived and got away with it.

Things were going so badly for St Kilda that even when their sub came on, presumably the last of them with any interest left, he immediately had a shot on goal from 20 metres out as good as directly in front and missed. Just before Petty departed with his wonky foot, he proved that you can be polite even when you're struggling and handed a certain goal off to Petracca. Good bloke, bad form but I hope his foot is still intact.

Normal programming was thrown out the window at the end and even May got to kick his first goal since a Hail Mary forward appearance during one of those Cairns debacles. Apparently his heart gesture was part tribute to his mum and part recognition of our indigenous jumper, sadly not a demonstration of platonic love for the clearly delighted Jake Lever, or a tribute to Diamond Dallas Page. 

That's where the excitement ended. They made the margin and their final score more respectable, but unless there's another final round percentage debacle we've got nothing to complain about. I think the Saints are crap, so who knows how much notice you should take of this, but on a day where we could have been either fourth or ninth I'm happy just to bank another important win and proceed to what I thought was the bye until halfway through this game.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn

--- Immense gap ---

4 - Adam Tomlinson
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Tom McDonald
1 - Clayton Oliver

Sarcasm free apologies to Langdon, Neal-Bullen, Petracca, Pickett, van Rooyen and Viney.

We've got a new leader, and it's time to stop being silly and pretending that anyone else is going to average 10 hitouts per game and score 24 votes - Maximum is your provisional Stynes winner. Otherwise no alterations, please go about your daily business.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The obvious answer would be Pickett from the boundary line, but I'm applying a Stawell Gift style handicapping system based on him being known for doing wild things. With apologies to the May goal which sparked joy around the country, I'll opt for Jack Viney extracting the piss from the entire St Kilda backline before kicking one.  

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

Next week
It's off to Alice Springs for a pay day... err... cultural experience. We're playing Fremantle in the Northern Territory for the first time since the night Jesse Hogan moved Zac Dawson like a cardboard cutout and Peter Jackson's head shined like the Lighthouse of Alexandria in the sweaty Darwin evening. Everything else has got better since 2016, I'll be happier to revive the spirit of that night than our putrid last outing in Alice or a couple of wonky recent losses to the Dockers. Freo go up and down like you know what, so your guess is as good as mine about whether they'll be heaving and hoing at full pelt next week.

The safest route when considering team changes is to ignore Casey's result. Our questionable depth has left them flailing around near the bottom of the ladder, but as Tomlinson showed on Sunday it doesn't mean individual players can't step up to the next level.

I feel bad for Woewodin, who has done nothing wrong in any of his sub appearances but is probably getting to the point where he needs a full game somewhere. Keep him warm for King's Birthday so we can all be reminded of how badly his dad's trade was handled again.

Last week Howes was rotated out after not doing much wrong, so even though we didn't seem to miss the extra defender all that much I'll assume he comes straight back. And surely for the love of all that is holy this is the chance to rest Petty and try something else up front - the good news is you've now got the safe choice of Ben Brown, or the radical wacky suggestion of wheeling Matthew Jefferson in off the back of a five goal performance. He would struggle to contribute less than the incumbent, so even though Brown did SOD ALL in the corresponding fixture last year I'm having him (after checking that it's not going to rain).

On the topic of debutants, I don't care if Moniz-Wakefield's shitload of weekly touches are spraying out on the full 96% of the time, or that with Bowey and Salem in the way we don't really need him, I've decided to go into bat for him and demand he gets a game. Seasoned VFL watchers can decide whether this is a good idea, or whether I've just been seduced by his exciting name. Not easy  

I'm on a one game streak of assuming we'll lose and being pleasantly surprised, so let's try that again.

IN: Howes, B. Brown, Moniz-Wakefield (to sub)
OUT: Petty (inj), Windsor (managed)
UNLUCKY: Tholstrup, Laurie, Woewodin

Final thoughts
The pulse is back, let's try to keep it going for a bit.

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