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

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)
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.

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