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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Said it before somewhere here... is it time for us Demons fans to crack open each other's heads and feast on the goo inside? Or do we save that for when Norf beat us in a few weeks time?


Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)