Wednesday 12 June 2024

Royal Crumble

My only philosophical view on the state of the game is that there should be more feuds. We don't need to dial it up to fans punching on, but some good old-fashioned spite really livens things up. After years of one-way rivalry where we tried to hate Collingwood but they didn't give a rats about us, things are getting interesting now. The problem is that since 2022 we've had one soon discredited mid-season against their three wins, scot-free escape from causing career-ending injury, and flag.

The unfortunate side-effect of restoring traditional balance has been the joy at our expense from Australia's neediest fans. You can spot them getting more enjoyment complaining that their big, successful team isn't acknowledged at every turn than following the big, successful team in the first place. This sizeable faction of deadshits are more to be pitied than despised, but I'm still upset at giving them something to be smug about. The bit where our season swirled down the toilet was almost as bad.

The main event was our first meeting with Corey Maynard's brother since Angus Brayshaw was smothered into oblivion. Thoughts with the Channel 7 video packages producer who had to play up alleged ill-feeling between these sides (spoiler: players not really that concerned) without dwelling on the 'football incident' that ended a man's career. Instead they had to rely on archival footage and Ed Langdon's off-hand duck comments that weird units took unusually strong exception to at the time. They must have limited outrage capacity, because the live crowd forgot about Langdon and focused on moaning about everything else.

I'm on the unpopular radical fringe of Melbourne fans when it comes to Maynard. Obviously he should have been suspended, but it doesn't rank close to the most heinous assassinations in modern footy, and it's pure awful luck that the guy on the other end had been one big hit from enforced retirement for years. I question his character based on the classless post-match interview where he was at full mast over the crowd reaction without a hint of "shame about the circumstances" respect for Brayshaw, but if the same thing happened in reverse our fans would be the ones doing Olympic standard mental gymnastics to try and prove it wasn't his fault.

There wouldn't be nearly as much hate towards Maynard himself if not for all the Collingwood-connected people who have acted entirely without self-awareness since. Like the sad tool dancing around a restaurant when the not guilty verdict arrived, or thousands of people who couldn't stand to hear this poor man booed and countered by treating him like a hero. This was the footy equivalent of a soldier who accidentally blew up a village coming home to a rapturous street parade.

Suggestions that we should punch on with him were optimistic. After last week's limp performance, I'd have accepted a token pile-on at his first possession to get the blood flowing, but we haven't got the cult-like atmosphere to pull something like that off. They've done stacks-on aggression towards Jack Watts for being somebody else's prized possession, and Langdon for saying something no normal person would give a shit about, while we would struggle to convincingly pull off a pre-determined brawl if they burnt our mascot alive. 

Having said all that, I'm not usually one for complaining about player reactions at full time but could have done without Oliver and May yukking it up with him after we'd dished out four quarters of slop. Mind you, I don't see May as a spokesman for serious collision vendettas after once nearly turning a Brisbane player's brain to mush.  

You'd think people wearing beanies to raise funds for a serious neurological disorder might have more sympathy for the person with brain damage instead of acting like giddy simpletons at a Donald Trump rally, but now that the first meeting is done can we move on a bit? Even the Scully vitriol was never the same after the original Carnival of Hate. I predict we'll have better things to complain about by the time we play them in the final round, and carrying on like this will be sadder than Jeff Kennett writing sooky letters about token government awards.

That's what we were mad at, what about the other side? They're still howlingly upset that May expressed the opinion that we should've beaten them in a final. The obvious response would be "that's nice, but you didn't, then we won the flag" but in one of the great ironies, fans of the club that once put out "I don't care what you think" bumper stickers acted like he'd shat on the grave of Jock McHale. The great news is that an Expected Score from this game had us ahead so they can now go to their grave feeling hard done by about statistics despite winning comfortably where it counts.

All this made for a genuinely spicy fixture, but made me realise that it's more fun watching neutral crowds baying for blood. I didn't fancy being in the minority at Nuremberg Rally '24 so wasn't really upset when my half-hearted midweek attempt to get a ticket died in 'allocation exhausted' land (for an attendance of 84k in a 100k stadium). I'm starting to get middle-age phobia about dropping dead on the spot, so hanging out with the family until 3.19pm and from 6.01pm felt like a better use of my time. I'll be happy to cark it at the 'G but want a minimum five rows of empty seats in front when it happens.

After missing a lot of epic live moments in recent years, this saved me from a slopfest on the same level as when we sullied the marquee fixture by kicking three goals. Until recently our "I love you but you're boring" era was balanced by knowing we'd hold the opposition to a catchable score, but now ball movement has ceased to be, the midfield is expired, and any hint of forward structure has gone to meet its maker. This meant we were more tedious than watching paint dry on a public holiday in Adelaide, and if Channel 7 hadn't just been handed an annual Carlton/Essendon blockbuster (if you thought Anzac Day Eve sounded fake, what about King's Birthday Eve?) they'd be lobbying to turf us from this fixture, if not the network entirely.

You probably suspected what was going to happen when the teams were announced. For the first time they came as an interactive game where you had to work them out on your own after the Sunday VFL game started. Once Ben Brown appeared at Casey I knew they were going to have another crack at the Petty/Turner combination that did sod all in Alice Springs, and that it wouldn't work. They did, it didn't. The reserves cupboard might be almost bare, but even with van Rooyen back, anyone who thinks this is going to work should be piss tested by Glenn Bartlett's personal doctor. 

You can't blame Turner for taking every opportunity, but if they won't stop picking Petty then he's got to chuck a sickie eventually because it's looking more like a cruel pisstake every week. I'm desperate not to make this look like a weekly vendetta so would like to point out that in the rare times he was at the right end of the ground Petty took a solid defensive mark and put in a timely spoil before returning to Centre Half Bermuda Triangle. Even his contribution to JVRs second goal came from a intercept mark. What could the message be? Answers on a postcard/flaming bag of dog turd to PO Box 'He's a fucking defender you clowns' in your capital city.

We started the day only a sliver of percentage behind the Pies, but even with blah recent form and a raft of injuries they led us around by the nose all day. With a few exceptions we were terrible at everything, and in another advertisement for my 'Feels Like' margin system, it's almost admirable that we only lost by 38. Choose your own adventure, but it felt more like 58 to me. That's more than our sad final score of 6.15.51 which felt like 3.18.36 with five out on the full.

Under exceptional circumstances you could win scoring 51 (e.g. against us in Alice Springs when it's a bit damp), but good luck making a habit of it. Collingwood did convert an absurd number of goals from strange angles, but the real story is the horrendous toil and struggle we went through just to get in a position to miss shots. Maybe if we'd converted an early one the rest of the game would have turned out differently, but anything after Petracca's injury is irrelevant because that was the official end of us. Off (eventually) went one of our few consistent performers, leaving many others who were out of form, couldn't handle the atmosphere, or have lost the will to live. You never know what sort of weird shit is in store for the rest of the year, but unless something drastic happens or Jake Lever is a miracle worker we may be in shitloads of trouble.

After the first couple of minutes it's hard to believe that they didn't crush us beyond recognition. Highlights included an attempted bear hug tackle by Pickett being brushed off, and May desperately chasing an opponent back into the 50 before a goal. Imagine going two goals down and recovering to win by 92. And that's what you'll need to do because the only recovery here was belatedly putting the brakes on and stopping them from piling on goals for a few minutes. It was a bit like last year's final, except that our laughably poor forward line that night looked like world beaters compared to this version. I'm always open to a game swinging at random (love you 25/09/2021, no matter what anyone says) but this was so disjointed and ugly that Collingwood would have needed to commit football suicide on an epic scale to avoid a winning score.

We did have a few shots from novelty angles early, for a couple of hit posts and Chandler shanking one in embarrassing fashion. We still looked horrible, but when Turner marked 40 metres out as good as directly in front I hoped for a tide turning moment. Then he kicked it into the behind post and it was 'Hello darkness my old friend' etc... For about 0.001 seconds it looked like Pickett had one, but the enthusiastic protest from a defender about touching it was a hint not to get too excited. I'd have thought the reaction was enough to review it on the spot instead of waiting for everyone to go back to the centre before taking it off us, but any excuse to get an ad break in.

If the upside to sitting on the couch in misery was avoiding a depressingly negative live atmosphere, the trade-off was another rock-bottom shit call from the worst commentator ever to breathe air. The Pickett replay led to some 'hilarious' Footy Record-related 'banter' where 'BT' was asked if he had a rubber, and I wondered how much better our viewing experience would be if his parents used one. Whether he's playing a character or not, this buffoon adds insult to injury when your side is already having a shit one. Minutes later Big Turd called a Collingwood player's first career goal, then came back from the break to clarify that he'd actually kicked four. People think he's not wacky enough on TV compared to radio should be removed from the electoral roll.    

That ended a brief period where we were sort of in the game but unbelievably poor at creating and/or converting chances. I don't know where a game-changing forward is supposed to mysteriously appear from at this stage, but the only hope I'm holding out for this season is that we find somebody who can take marks, or just make a decent contest to keep the ball at our end. Amongst all the confusion, JVR was very good but he can't do it alone. I know half our side has gone into witness protection but am (semi) convinced that a lot of our issues can be fixed by them not spending 75% of each quarter furiously defending.

If conceding late, (sort of) against the run of play goals to somebody who hasn't played since early 2023 while kicking nil ourselves wasn't bad enough, the quarter ended with Petracca suffering a heroic demise while trying his best to do something/anything. A big old knee to the vital organs in a marking contest left him struggling to get off the ground as if he'd been dropped from a third floor window. Some people complained like he'd been the victim of a mob hit, but as much as I love siege mentality you can't just fire off into the outer solar system about everything. Never mind what they did to him, the call was coming from inside the house on this one.

Petracca had been one of our few decent performers in the first quarter, so I was pondering whether we could score double figures without him when he unexpectedly reappeared on the ground. I don't blame him, the doctors, or the coaches for letting him return based on the available evidence, but it was blatantly obvious about 15 seconds after returning that he was actually quite broken. Everyone loves a heroic last stand, but the problem is they're usually accompanied by a 100% casualty rate, so how he made it all the way to half time without being removed is the biggest question since the sound of one hand clapping.

It would have been one thing if he'd come back to life like Hulk Hogan, played like a man possessed, and was revealed to have serious internal injuries later. Instead he could hardly run, and winced when kicking the ball as if being squashed in an industrial vice. At this point somebody should've thrown the towel in. Thanks for having a go at getting him back, but if the doctor says grandma is fit, then she topples over in the hotel foyer you take her back inside, not to your car. The severity of his injuries wasn't known, but as he couldn't actually do anything what was the point in risking him? It hardly inspired his teammates, most of them were so passive they wouldn't have flinched if a hand grenade blew up behind them.

At first I thought they might have been waiting for the painkilling gear to kick in, but could that not have been done on the bench? Lucky he could barely get to a contest let alone participate in one, because if he'd been anywhere between generously bumped or cleaned up this could have been really ugly. Imagine Maynard going through him in either 'football act' or 'other act' fashion? Even our placid and reserved fans would have turned it into Milburn vs Silvagni II.  

While all this was going on poor old Jack Billings was sitting on the bench with his Resting Terrified Face thinking how they preferred to risk major injury to a 1% fit star player than let him on. Once he was introduced Jack did nothing of any consequence, and while I don't expect him to replace Petracca the problem is that he's not replacing any of Brayshaw, Harmes, Jordon or Spargo either. We got Melksham to be a defender then turned him into a handy forward when that didn't work, but if there's no Plan B for Billings he may follow the Luke Dunstan path of St. Kilda > Melbourne > Casey > Retired.

Trying to get Petracca to half time in one piece was like that movie where they drive trucks full of unstable explosive materials through South American jungles with obvious results for half the cast. Like the time we nearly drowned him in 2019, Trac survived our best efforts at an insurance job before mercifully being replaced at half time. Next time you saw him, he was being loaded into an ambulance with family present, and later ended up in intensive care, which makes sending him back out there for so long look like an even worse idea. Great news for NQR humanoids with conspiracy theories that we're actually at fault for the Brayshaw KO because [scene missing]. Hope they invest their life savings in a Glenroy tobacco shop.   

Until those last minute goals and effective loss of a key player we were starting to get back in the game. Last year we had two similarly shit starts against Collingwood and recovered to one win, and one close enough to hurt loss. This was more like the final, as we barely clung on by our fingernails while looking unlikely to kick a decent score. That night we only got one in the first quarter from the downfield free after Brayshaw was carried off, this time there were posters, and the near miss with the video review, but it just felt like everything was such hard work that there was no way back. There wasn't, but thanks to van Rooyen for briefly making it interesting with a couple of goals. Nobody since 99 goal Fev could have successfully overcome playing forward in such a malfunctioning side, but he had a crack. 

It was JVR's best game since kicking four against Richmond last year, a game that will also be remembered for Petty kicking six. Andrew McQualter has gone from coaching the Tigers that day to working for us, and if this was a TV show they'd have cut to his inner monologue wondering how the hell he ever let that happen. The most frustrating part of the Petty debacle is that there's a perfectly valid alternative position for him to be playing. At one point you'd have gotten more out of swapping him with May, but we just kept doing what wasn't working. Meanwhile, Meanwhile, Tom McDonald kicked two quick goals last week and was never seen forward of centre here.

I'm trying my hardest not to do a cowardly but satisfying U-turn on Goodwin, but the first question at the press conference should have been "Do you seriously expect to win anything with this forward line?". Instead he got to summon his inner Mark Neeld and claim we'd made improvements. Which is technically true, but compared to losing by 92 points is like bragging to the rest of the burns unit that you've only had half your face singed off. If it was any worse than the St Kilda game - which wasn't exactly our finest hour regardless of the result - then this was a failure. You didn't need the coach to admit that it was, no matter what spin they put on it we were putrid.

We didn't have many winners, but ANB did a good job tagging the premium Daicos brother. It could lead to a second half of the season a'la James Harmes 2018, but the way we're going it's more likely to backfire and derail one of his best seasons. For now it was good, even though the other Collingwood players jumped straight into the void, and it cost us the Bullet's contributions as a forward. Maybe we'd have been better letting Daicos get 50 touches, but ANB could only do what he was asked. In an alternative universe the bit where he chased hard to stop a Daicos goal might have been the turning point, instead all their players you'd never heard of ran riot while half our side looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. 

Just when you thought we'd successfully applied the boring filter and might be within range at half time our inability to take chances came back to haunt us when they casually lobbed through three in the dying minutes. Queen's/King's Birthday may be the atmosphere-free public holiday in the book, but one great tradition is Collingwood players unexpectedly going off their nut against us. Enter Nathan Krueger, who has previously done nothing except rehab before kicking three here. He pulled up in the second half, but is still a worthy induction in the Kingsleys - joining two-time nominees Brad Dick and Mason Cox as the first Pies inductee without a flange-related surname. They're playing North next week and I bet he kicks 0.1 and finishes the year in the VFL but he'll always remember doing as he pleased against what was once the best defence in the league.

At half time the players were shown awkwardly milling around the meeting room, reportedly because the coaches were making them wait. Given that there's no windows for the coaches to have been trying to escape through, I think they were frantically wheeling out the iron lung Petracca was going to spend the break in until the late goals made them realise there was no point risking him further.

If you held out any hope of a miracle win then I'd like some of your medication, but JVR's third not long after the restart left the door ever so slightly ajar. And then it was slammed shut with our fingers inside seconds later. You can wear the odd immediate return goal while kicking a competitive score, when you've had three in two and a bit quarters then it's a death blow. After another unexpected goal from the boundary line (remember the bit where we kicked OOF from right in front?), the Collingwood bench went into full "we've broken these kents" elation for Steele Sidebottom pulling down a screamer about 10 career games beyond where we've been able to drag any player since 1897. He didn't score, but nobody cared because they were toying with us by this point. I'm retaining my childlike hope of a recovery but it was getting a bit sad now.

If we did anything of note in the last 1.5 quarters it barely deserves a mention. I enjoyed Pickett flipping somebody the bird but that's about it. Gawn did his best to keep things happening around the ground, but even he couldn't be arsed with the usual "grab the ball and do it yourself" move when we were getting flayed at stoppages. Whatever's going with Oliver's finger, emotions or OTHER, he's a shadow of his best, and Viney always has a go but isn't having a huge impact. About the only player you can trust to get near a centre clearance is Pickett, and around the ground we were in full traffic cone mode. 

It's hard to find players who have improved this year (ANB, Lever, McDonald?), but Chandler seems to have come to a complete halt. Laurie deserved his full game here, and probably should get another chance at it instead of being rotated directly out, but we're yet to see any suggestion that he's a long termer other than that feasting on a defeated Richmond. You can go back to the earliest posts this season to see me fretting about our depth, but the frightening thing is that until recently we've had a reasonable run with injury. It's just that the players we've got aren't performing at full power, and even if there was selection pressure coming from the VFL, the coaches wouldn't reward it. I'm more depressed thinking about this game now than I was on the day. Take me back to the glorious afterglow of us boring Geelong and the nation shitless.

In the end we barely covered Collingwood's half time score and departed with minimal fuss. I'm surprised we didn't make things even easier for them and chair a couple of players off. Making us play them again in the last round is cruel, not only will it bring up memories of our hari kari job at the end of 2017, but if they keep us out of the finals it'll be another in a long line of things you'll never hear the end of. For that to happen we've got to reach the final game with a mathematical chance of making the top eight, and every day I'm less confident that will happen. Never mind, if it all gets too much at least we can switch codes and start following the Melbourne Rebels right?     

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Jacob van Rooyen
2 - Kysaiah Pickett
1 - Judd McVee

Apologies to McDonald, Salem and Petracca before he was crippled.

Leaderboard
A few weeks ago this was looking like a thrilling race, but as most others have sunk or been sunk by injury, Gawn continues to risk serious injury pulling teammates onto his back. He's a great man and deserves to win this outright but there's 10 games to go (plus... no, I can't say it) so any offbeat shenanigans are possible. No change to the minors, except for the Rising Star trending towards a bit of a farcical result if there's no more scores.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Pickett in the third quarter, but what does it really matter? I don't need screamers, somebody kick bulk goals from the bloody square.

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

Next week (+1)
Thank god for the bye, because now we get a fortnight to fight amongst ourselves plan to revive this rapidly disintegrating season. More likely - the same players get rotated in and out and we turn up basically unchanged from this limp and lifeless performance. Thank the good lord that North finally won again this week, because we're in such emotional freefall that even if they do beat us it won't have the same Sydney '93 air of humiliation. So that's something.

It's a long way down from a year and a bit ago when the Roos were held in such contempt that Josh Schache was called up for the lols and we still won by 90. That went so well that we tried it again in a final but forgot to let him on the ground. If he was fit I wouldn't even argue about them picking him ahead of the other two. I'm kicking myself for not being able to join in the serious Goodwin whinging, but could do an America vs Iraq and find any flimsy reason to have a crack.

Like Saddam Hussein circa 2003, our weapons of mass destruction have long since disappeared but my tipping point could be reached by them playing Petty and Turner in the same forward line again. One of them if absolutely necessary, but both would be criminal negligence. None of the other options will make your liver quiver, but they must try something before it's too late. In an ideal world Petty gets some touch back by clubbing North, but as he's done BUGGER ALL against everyone else except for a half against Geelong how can you have any confidence that it'll happen? And even if it does, what faith would you have that it would continue? And as they're clearly never going to put him back where he belongs then sadly he must tour the VFL until a) finding goalkicking form, or b) all the alternatives suck and we're back to throwing magnets in the air.

It would be hard for any key forward in the known universe to have less impact as them in the last two weeks, so regardless of where his career is at I'd like some Ben Brown please. He's had as many goals in six games as Petty and Turner in 14 combined, and even if an individual Fox Footy style pressure gauge would probably show him on -50 a proven goalkicker is better than waiting for miracles to happen. Also, because we're a friendly club dedicated to making everyone else's day it would be wholesome for him to play in one last North game. 

Next to him comes Tom Fullarton, who could still be a fictional character for all I know but things are desperate. I've seen four non-consecutive quarters of VFL in the last two weeks and he's never been on the near side of screen yet so maybe they're just making him up. If I take his AFL Tables page as proof of life (including last playing seniors in a finals win over us), six goals in 19 career matches doesn't bode well but if he can compete, and take the second ruck so van Rooyen gets to stay inside 50 then it's worth a try. Maybe it's not, but at this point I'd rather play Troy Davis, Declan Keilty or a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man than 66.6% of our talls. You could pick a smaller player (then boot it a metre over his head), but even though Shane McAdam kicked four at Casey I say do it a couple more times before we start thinking it will translate into the seniors.  

Tholstrup gets his chance to be mini-Petracca, Woewodin gets a full game somewhere, and I'm going to give Laurie another chance. There's some talk that Lever might be back, but for the love of all that is good and pure in the world the man has just had knee surgery so can we look somewhat into the future and not rush him back too quickly? If we can't beat North then we've got bigger issues than him having another week off. 

You'd think we'd win, but funnier things have happened.

IN: B. Brown, Fullarton, Tholstrup, Woewodin,
OUT: Petracca (inj), Billings, Petty, Turner (omit), Chandler (to sub)
LUCKY: Laurie, Oliver, Sparrow, Windsor
UNLUCKY: Tomlinson + anyone who is MFC listed and can walk.

The All-New Bradbury Plan
Welcome back to the ever-popular segment where we choose preferred winners based on results that suit us best. None of this means dick if we don't also win, but it doesn't mean you can't find some interest in neutral games. It may mean secretly going for teams you hate but we're all about the big picture here at Plan HQ. For now I'm only brave enough to aim at the top eight, but the plan is open source so alter as required to match your lofty ideals. Due to the bye I'm going to chuck in two weeks' worth, but please check your fax machine for any amendments after next week.

Round 14

St Kilda d. Brisbane
Footscray d. Fremantle (Better to jam up the middle of the ladder than let any of the other mid-table mediocrities get too far ahead)
Richmond d. Hawthorn
Sydney d. Adelaide (Swans too far ahead for either plan, may as well kill off the Crows ASAP)
North d. Collingwood
GWS vs Port

Round 15

Carlton vs Geelong
Port d. Brisbane
Sydney d. GWS
West Coast d. Essendon
Gold Coast d. Fremantle (Suns more likely to fall over at the end of the year so may as well do us a favour now)

Final thoughts
Shame my daughter doesn't care enough about footy to take over the Demonblog empire, because she summed this up far more succinctly than I ever will. Late in the fourth quarter she walked past the TV, said "Well, Melbourne are really going downhill again" with perfect comic timing, then kept going. Hard to argue, but I reserve the right to go full Bart Simpson at Kamp Krusty and believe that somebody is going to turn up and save us.

Monday 3 June 2024

Dead heart

If you think it's time to be dramatic you might say our greatest modern era started and ended against Freo. The undisputed opening ceremony was Round 1, 2021, and you can either retrospectively bring the curtain down the day they ended our big winning streak, or when they kicked seven shades of suitcase out of us here.

The Dockers are sponsored by the Max Hardcore-affiliate sounding 'DP World' and they celebrated by doing us from every conceivable angle. We once kicked the first goal then lost by 120, but this set a new benchmark for futility by turning a 13-0 lead into a record-breaking trip down the tube.

After demanding a Euro '96 reference last week, we unexpectedly rolled the clock back to 92. It wasn't just the margin, but a coach deploying players in positions they weren't suited to and watching it all go sour in spectacular fashion. Graham Taylor was silly enough to let his reactions be captured on video for eternal mockery but sadly we'll never get a similar fly-on-the-wall documentary about this atrocity. An optimistic staff member was taping Goodwin's half time address just in case, but I guarantee that footage has already been 'accidentally' wiped.

Era-adjusted, this was one of the shit performances. It was up there with John Longmire kicking 14 in 1990, the twin mid-season thumpings of 1998, the 2000 Carlton calamity, or any number of Football Park/Subiaco games before the arse completely fell out of things post-2006. None of those are relevant examples unless we bounce back to make finals, which suddenly looks a bit ropey. It's not our first mid-season dip in recent years, but this was by some distance the most violent.

Most of the traditional post-loss whinges are valid, but thoughts with the people who'd have gone triple troppo if we were still called Narrm. Seems a bit weird playing in Alice Springs directly after two indigenous-themed rounds, but I suspect rank and file local fans couldn't gave a rats. Instead, we did this under the old-fashioned name - inspired by some deve who whipped orphan girls and had a brother called 'Peniston'.

The old 'flogging home games' debate was ready to step into the void until we lost by such a significant margin that the focus went straight to coach and players instead. And rightly so. Even I'm noting where the Goodwin Bunker emergency exits are just in case. It's on all of them though. Remember the struggle to find players for the votes against West Coast? Whoever gets mentioned here should officially decline to be named.

This was by all metrics the worst game of Simon Goodwin's coaching career. Not only the biggest margin, but the most disorganised team playing as if stoned to the bejesus belt. It was a replay of the Eagles game, but with a more advanced opposition causing us to collapse in a heap. Shame 'Things can only get bitter' has already been a headline, because the next eight days (and beyond?) promise to be extra spicy.

You could easily see us losing this game by kicking a poxy score, but anyone who predicted a surrender on this scale should be studied by the government. It was like Brisbane and West Coast combined and mutated by radioactivity. The club got a fat cheque for turning up, but other than the Chief Financial Officer we had no winners.

The first few minutes were soon spectacularly discredited but were actually really good. Shame about the bit when the other side turned up. It was the equivalent of somebody sprinting to the lead in the Olympic Marathon, getting exposed for jumping the fence mid-race, then being forced to finish the course even if it killed them. 

First Gawn snuck through a set shot, then Petty was handed an open-goal confidence builder before not getting another kick for the rest of the game. Not a cracker. I'm determined to hold off on joining the mass panic for a few more weeks, but the continuing saga of him playing forward may set me off. What more evidence do you need that it's not working? He was great against Geelong, but has done chuff all else forward of centre. They couldn't help van Rooyen being hurt, but when you know Turner is learning to be a forward, Fritsch is low possessions/high(ish) impact, and McAdam hasn't looked remotely likely to impact a game yet, leaving him to get pulverised again is just cruel. At some point it's partially on the player for not putting their hand up to stop being humiliated, but the other 99% is on the coaches.

JVR hasn't been dominant this year, but this is twice in recent weeks we've gone down in a screaming heap without him. Again there was a putrid low number of inside 50s, and again a lot of that was down to nobody able to mark the ball forward of centre. Putting peak Wayne Carey at today's equivalent of CHF probably wouldn't have helped, but some level of deep forward entries to a genuine contest would have been nice. The B in BBB may now stand for 'broken', but I refuse to accept that Brown couldn't do more than Petty and Turner combined, and if he can still kick 41 metres he's one ahead of McAdam.

Based on all that, I can understand how a two goal lead might not have been as safe as it (briefly) looked. Conceding 11 of the next 12 goals was a bit surprising. Ironically, in the week of the great holding the ball crackdown we were dudded out of a third from what should have been a free kick directly in front. That might have spooked Freo into winning by less than 90 points, but instead became the green light for an epic fiasco to break out. he opening ceremony was Rivers burying May with a flubbed switch kick under no pressure, and it was off to the races from there. For unknown reasons the people calling this game off a TV from Victoria originally assigned this kick to Bowey. This was quickly clarified, probably because the Fox Footy lawyer hit the emergency button before the biggest AFL defamation case since Hutchy called the wrong St Kilda player a sex offender.

And from there Freo went whomp, whomp, and whomp, as the TV kept pretending the 'Pressure Gauge' meant anything. They stopped talking it about as we were being dominated for the rest of the half, and I could see why when it rotated through the on-screen graphics in the break and we were only slightly behind. You don't need a number to explain pressure when you can see opposition players charging around doing whatever they want, however they want.

As if we needed any more help to lose, their first goal of the second quarter came via a 'mark' that was held for about 0.25 seconds, then dropped the moment he hit the ground. Still, see what happens when you have forwards who are involved in contests and get their hands to the ball. Things were going so badly that Freo botched a certain goal in what would usually be hilarious circumstances, with an attempt to hand one off to a teammate in the square ending in a literal handoff and free kick. That would have been a great turning point if the game had turned anywhere but straight down the crapper. Enter, about 45 painful seconds later, premiership player Luke Jackson for his first of a season-high three goals. He would have come in handy at the other end, and while I'm not as bitter towards him as most other defectors I hope he's enjoying flying across the country every two weeks. Seems like Adelaide is our flight time limit before turning into pumpkins.

Every thrashing has a point of no return where you can't imagine any chance of a comeback (Unless we're in front, then one mark inside 50 by the other side and I'm panicking about a humiliating collapse), and the rest of the game is about nothing but damage limitation. Reasonable people would have treated the next goal as a good time to depart to do something more important, but like a complete tool I stuck around until the miserable end. The pisstakes came thick and fast, including goals from May being kneed out of a contest, and a 50 for Turner wandering through the protected zone like Jim Stynes in 1987.

Most of us would be old enough to remember games regularly being over by half time, but it must have been an experience for the kids who have taken up this lifestyle in an era where it's considered a good day out if we're not stripped of all dignity. And not just kids, we haven't lost this comprehensively since the last round of 2016. Sure, the Port 2020 game was headed in that direction if not for reduced quarters, but if you were 10 when we finished Paul Roos' coaching career on a low you've almost reached legal driving age without seeing us being pummelled senseless. Now you are truly an adult.  

If there's a pond in Alice Springs, we were sucking the water out of it with an industrial vacuum. We hadn't played this badly against the Dockers since the Air Farce One game where this happened:


The key difference between Round 9, 2013 and the present is that a) we were expected to do offbeat and stupid things then, and b) in their own special way three of our defenders got near the ball. This was an open invitation for any Freo forward since Clive Waterhouse to roam like native animals in acres of free space.

I thought Woewodin replacing Hunter at half time was an admission that we'd been so bad it was worth trying a young player over somebody who is probably on their AFL exit lap. Then they cut to an injured Hunter and you realised that even as everything burnt to a crisp they'd probably have left Taj sitting on his arse until the last quarter if not forced into it.

We've overcome a 50 point deficit to beat the Dockers before, but this time there was more chance of [insert unlikely example] than a repeat. I still wouldn't have been happy if we'd broken even in the second half, but expected some semblance of a response. We did get the first goal after half time, after surviving a couple of near misses down the other end, only to concede it straight back after 20 seconds due to having a backline you could have flown a plane through. If the truck behind the goals had gone full Maximum Overdrive and taken off the only people in any danger would have been Freo forwards.

Even considering previous form I don't think Lever will go anywhere else (and I'm voting for him as next captain), but he must have been sitting on the couch mentally adding thousands of dollars to his contract while seeing this shambles unfold. The performance was so dire that he might have not have prevented us from losing, but I doubt there would have been the same level of abandon ship panic going on. Not that I'm pinning all the blame on the defenders, they were certainly thrashed but any danger of not letting the ball get down there so easily? After those (relatively) magical early minutes we moved the ball as if navigating a Cambodian minefield.

I knew we couldn't win, but was open to a crack-papering second half stalemate. Should've known how things would turn out when Langdon and Petracca almost buggered up the first goal, then got an even bigger hint when we gave it straight back. No need for detail about what happened next, just imagine Freo players having a training drill, while some red and blue traffic cones looked increasingly miserable.

As the margin hit 63, Anthony Hudson nuked years of hard-won credibility by yelling "They're going to take some catching from here". You reckon? Unless he was talking about the handful of fans who'd travelled to see this running out into the desert to escape. Even as the club tries desperately to flog what a great cultural experience these games are I'm only into them for the financial benefits, but how long do you think the Northern Territory government will keep paying us to show up? It's one thing when the game is shown on Channel 7 and they can flog tourism benefits to a national audience, but this was buried (preferably under concrete) at 1pm on a Sunday, with 7000 people in the ground and only about twice as many watching. I'm not cultured enough to know who you're paying taxes to when living in a territory, but thanks for the free cash. 

At 70 points with a quarter and a half to play the big structural change was finally made... with Turner going back instead of the premiership defender. McSizzle then plucked a goal out of a stoppage in a way you suspect neither of the other two would have done if the game lasted 24 hours. Then at the end of the quarter Turner was back forward having a shot, so it may have just turned into a Little League style 'go wherever you want' fiasco. Later Fritsch and Turner were in defence and somehow Petty still forward, suggesting he may have blackmail material on the coach that would make Glenn Bartlett bar-up.

All McAdam has done so far is defensive pressure, so ironically he looked to have injured himself by doing a tackle. We're currently heading towards paying a pick in the mid 20s for him, which doesn't seem like good value. His other main contributions were a pretty looking bump on a player mid-disposal, and randomly having a bounce as he played on after a mark. He's got solid novelty value so I'm not against him playing again, but for the love of all that is holy can we get some of these players form in the VFL before picking them?

Without Lever to argue with, May escalated to difficult conversations with Gawn at three quarter time. He hadn't played well but was probably complaining about all the times we've kept a side to five goals at three quarter time without scoring 115 in response. There was a very real chance of a triple figure loss here, not helped by Sparrow copping a bullshit 50 after being beaten to a mark. It probably saved us from them kicking a point, then getting it straight back for a goal. Not much use in shaving single points off the margin by now, we were already a confirmed basketcase.

Nobody deserves votes, but Petracca gets credit for having a go. Anyone upset with him for cracking it at teammates should boil themselves in oil. I thought he was quite restrained, given that he'd just been in the middle of Freo's defence casually punting the ball around him without a teammate to be found. This is the level of angry reaction I respect, not soft as butter loser fans announcing they're off to follow another club.

Later some bloke marked in the middle of May and Tomlinson, who shared a "what in god's name is going on?" look in the aftermath. Eventually the margin landed right on the dreaded 100 points. It feels like we've lost by that much more than 26 times in my life, let alone the history of the club, but only because morally you can throw in all the 90 point defeats as well. I knew we'd be back in this position eventually but really didn't think it would happen this soon. There's bad days, this was toxic. 

McDonald had already made the most of his forward cameo for one goal, and he saved us again with a nice mark in front of goal. Everyone else please note, it can be done. For some reason rushing his set shot like he was trying to bring the margin under a goal with 20 seconds left. I don't know if you can say he's still got it based on this alone, but even his horrid end to last year looks like a glory era compared to Petty's season so this opens the argument to sending him forward again. How can he do any worse than the non-van Rooyen players we've tried down there?

While that goal reduced the margin to just (?) 94, we were still only one kick from crossing the great psychological bridge to doom. Enter Ed Langdon with the most bittersweet handy point of all time, ensuring that even in our degraded, possibly oxygen-deprived state, we'd keep the margin in double figures. And that really was that was left to get excited about. Remember when Channel 9 found a guy lost in the desert for 43 days and made him walk around doing an interview before rescuing him. That's about the level of power we finished this game with.

Just as I was finishing writing this I decided to take on the distress and see how AFL360 and On The Couch covered it. Incredibly, nobody talked about the forward line at all. We did get Nathan Buckley looking at shirtless players in the rooms after and deciding they're not fit looking enough for him. Of course he knows more about footy than me, but that's rock bottom 'nutters on Facebook' level analysis.

This looked like a sad reverse of the greatest day in the history of Alice Springs, when we clubbed Adelaide and sent Don Pyke bonkers. They've never been any good since, and I'm not saying the same will happen to us but it does make you wonder. I was non-commital in tipping us to finish somewhere between third and ninth, and less than a month after thinking we were back after the Geelong game I'm concerned we'll struggle to get there. The Bradbury Plan returns next week, but I've been tempted to look in the future. This prediction has us 10th, one game behind 2nd, which shows there's still a lot of weird, unpredictable stuff to happen before this season is over. I invite you to join me living in silent, quivering fear.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Ed Langdon
2 - Jack Viney
1 - Christian Salem

Apologies to McDonald for doing more in a quarter than the alternative has in two months, and Woewodin for only getting half of this king size borry on him.

Leaderboard
More votes for the leaders whether they want them or not. No alterations to the minors, though Turner's share of the Rising Star based off one game is looking a bit shonky now.

27 - Max Gawn (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
23 - Christian Petracca
22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
18 - Jake Lever
16 - Alex Neal-Bullen
10 - Jack Viney
9 - Clayton Oliver
8 - Judd McVee
7 - Tom McDonald
5 - Kysaiah Pickett
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Christian Salem, Tom Sparrow, Adam Tomlinson
3 - Ed Langdon, 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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Tempted not to award this out of spite but going for Oliver from distance just to tick a box. 

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

Next week
Special events unite on King's Birthday when we play Collingwood for the Disappointing Premiership Defence Cup. They're coming at it from a different angle than us, losing at the start of the year instead of the middle, and hopefully at the end. Either way this could be (massive cliche alert) season defining for both sides, so if there's ever been a day for on-edge fans to have an embarassing punch up this could be it. Get ready for a massive fortnight of content from the AFL's neediest fans. People who don't get enough satisfaction from following the most popular, generally successful club and need constant reassurance that everything Collingwood does is right and everyone else is an idiot for not joining in. I predict unpleasantness on a grand scale.

Casey's results mean nothing in the overall scheme of things, but comfortably losing to standalone strugglers Coburg was a bit high alert. I watched the second half to confirm that Tom Fullarton did exist and discovered that a) he does, but b) the depth cupboard is almost bare. Which is a shame because I'm ready to cut a swathe. Your fit AFL experienced players to choose from are - B. Brown, Fullarton, Howes, Laurie and Tholstrup - with potential first-gamers Adams, K. Brown, Jefferson, Moniz-Wakefield, Sestan and Verrall. There's a couple of options there, but not enough to replace all the players who need a week to think about where they're going.

I'm terrified that if JVR isn't fit they're going to play Petty again and somehow expect him to turn around some of the worst form ever seen on the Australian mainland. The only reason I'm not trying to drop Petty, as if it's possible, is that he should fill the spot from McSizzle going forward again. Bet you there's no hint taken from him being the only person to compete in the forward line here and we carry on in disarray. Alternatively, he stays in defence, Petty goes entirely, and we give Brown a one-for-the-road shot at glory.

Howes comes back, Laurie and Woewodin get a full game to sink or swim, and god help us all if there's a similar debacle next week. NFI if these changes do anything for team balance but I'm in a mood for change.

IN: B.Brown, Howes, Laurie, Tholstrup (to sub), van Rooyen, Woewodin (to start)
OUT: Hunter (inj), McAdam, Petty, Rivers, Turner (omit)
LUCKY: Chandler, Petty, Sparrow, Windsor
UNLUCKY: Fullarton, Jefferson, Moniz-Wakefield

This was already going to be a hot one before both sides sank to mid-table mediocrity but will now go right off. God knows what happened to Angus Brayshaw after his early-season bench cameos, but we should ramp up the tension levels by bringing him back. Maybe as guest coach for the day?

Final thoughts
Watching this live would have caused me to commit violent public mayhem, but seeing it on TV from half a continent away left enough separation to go outside and play with the kids at full time. I miss getting really angry about footy but am open to recapturing that vibe by the end of the year.