Thursday, 23 March 2017

Updated 2017 betting markets, predictions and general buffoonery

A lot has changed since the original markets were framed in the now reasonably redundant season preview. We extended our pre-season winning streak to five before Perth did us in as always, Jake Spencer is back, Colin Garland is gone and dozens of otherwise sensible people are tipping us to finish inside the eight. The last time that happened I was a fresh-faced youngster, now I'm an embittered old man so I'll believe it when I see it.

Anyway, on with the show. And a reminder again that these odds are strictly for the purposes of entertainment only, and if you're in any way considering betting on them (or Melbourne in general) then help is available by calling Gambler's Helpline on 1800 858 858.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
We're reasonably stable here - the co-captains remain level while Gawn is slightly dialled back based on his reduced time in the middle during the pre-season. The big movers at the top are Lewis and Hogan -$5. Outside the top five Petracca is -$17 while Watts is +$5 after his weird pre-season.

Other significant gains include Hunt ($42 to $35), Melksham ($70 to $60) J. Smith ($500 to $225). As for losses, other than Garland the notable ones are - Tyson ($25 to $35), Kent ($50 to $60), Frost ($100 to $150), vandenBerg ($100 to $200), Pedersen ($125 to $150)

Based on the history of midfielders almost always winning this award it would be a staggering upset if any talls other than Gawn, Hogan or possibly McDonald contend but god damn it anything can happen at this club.

$5 - Jack Viney
$9 - Nathan Jones
$11 - Max Gawn, Jordan Lewis
$20 - Jesse Hogan
$25 - Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
$35 - Jayden Hunt, Clayton Oliver, Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
$38 - Angus Brayshaw
$40 - Michael Hibberd, Tom McDonald
$45 - Neville Jetta, Christian Salem
$60 - Dean Kent, Jake Melksham
$70 - Billy Stretch
$80 - Jeff Garlett, James Harmes
$85 - Ben Kennedy, Sam Weideman
$100 - Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald
$125 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$130 - Jake Spencer
$150 - Sam Frost, Cameron Pedersen
$200 - Jack Trengove, Aaron vandenBerg, Mitch White
$225 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Joel Smith, Josh Wagner
$275 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$300 - Dion Johnstone
$350 - Liam Hulett
$400 - Mitch King, Pat McKenna
$500 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty
$1000 - Corey Maynard
$5001 - Colin Garland
$9999 - Heritier Lumumba

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
The big mover here is Hunt, one of the joint winners of the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance, who has come in from $10 to snatch favouritism. McDonald senior has been slightly wound down from $7.50 to $10, while Jetta moves down to the third line after his troubled pre-season. With our rapidly thinning defensive stocks Jack Watts is up from $500 to $100, while ANY OTHER PLAYER and NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE have both firmed. Also turns out I totally forget to include Joel Smith the first time, so he comes in at $60 with a bullet.

$6 - Jayden Hunt
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Neville Jetta, Bernie Vince
$16 - Michael Hibberd
$20 - Christian Salem
$25 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham, Billy Stretch
$60 - Joel Smith, Josh Wagner
$70 - Sam Frost, Mitch White
$100 - Jack Watts
$115 - Cameron Pedersen
$175 - Tomas Bugg
$300 - Declan Keilty
$4000 - Colin Garland
$7500 - Heritier Lumumba

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Weideman - who remains eligible as he debuted in the last month of the previous season - remains favourite, but in a very thin field of major contenders the biggest mover is Joel Smith in from $80 to second favourite. NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE has also come in from $100 to $90.

$8 - Sam Weideman
$10 - Joel Smith
$15 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$25 - Liam Hulett
$30 - Dion Johnstone
$50 - Mitch King
$60 - Pat McKenna
$80 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty
$500 - Corey Maynard

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Gawn reigns supreme, but the resurgent Spencil jumps from $50 to in front of NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE. Watts is another big mover - recognising that we're one injury away from him having to play in the middle enough to trip the 10 hitout per game qualifying mark.

$1.25 - Max Gawn
$15 - Jake Spencer
$50 - Jack Watts
$80 - Cameron Pedersen
$100 - Lachlan Filipovic
$125 - Mitch King
$250 - Sam Frost

The final chosen 22
B: Vince, T. McDonald, Jetta
HB: Hunt, O. McDonald, J. Smith
C: Oliver, Viney, Jones
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Kent
F: Watts, Weideman, Garlett
Foll: Gawn, Lewis, Tyson
INT: Brayshaw, Stretch, Salem, Melksham

Taking a risk on Garlett, Jetta, Kent and Tyson. Probably too much of a risk, but ironically for all our much vaunted new found depth I'm not all that confident in finding replacements.

IN: J. Smith, Melksham, Oliver/Brayshaw individually
OUT: Hibberd (inj), Kennedy (omit), Pedersen/Frost (omit/inj)

Apologies to Spencer, Harmes and Bugg + Hibberd who would be in but for injury. And christ only knows what's happened to Ben Ken, but our recent history with Collingwood imports is that it's one season and barely seen again.

Updated ladder prediction
No changes at all in my top nine, I'm extremely confident that we can narrowly miss the eight. No change in the bottom two either, at least until Carlton beat us in Round 2. All the action comes in the middle, where I've gone off Port and Freo and feel more confident about Essendon, Collingwood and North. I've also added another bracket to split 10-12 and 13-16. You may wonder how I can come to these conclusions having not seen more than about 10 minutes of a non-MFC pre-season game and you'd be right to ask. Like my successful 2016 division two FMI Tipsters League promotion campaign it's all based on the vibe.

1 - GWS [*vom*]
2 - Adelaide
3 - Sydney
4 - Geelong
5 - Western Bulldogs
6 - Hawthorn
7 - West Coast
8 - St Kilda
9 - Melbourne
10 - Gold Coast (up from 11)
11 - Essendon (up from 14)
12 - Richmond (up from 13)
13 - Collingwood (up from 15)
14 - North (up from 16)
15 - Port Adelaide (down from 10)
16 - Fremantle (down from 12)
17 - Brisbane
18 - Carlton

Let's have it shall we?

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Carnage in Cranbourne

The last line of Melbourne's franchise agreement with the AFL states that we are required to suffer one demoralising loss to an inferior team at least once in the middle of the year and once at the end (if not for the other 20 weeks as well). Fortunately in a shortened competition we were able to get both out of the way in one go against GWS, and instead concentrate on snacking on a group of hapless Dockers offering scarcely token resistance. They were like a low rent version of the Adelaide prison gang, all about giving away clumsy frees but with none of the artistic merit the Crows provided.

You'd be demoralised too when you started the season as premiership favourites, won next to nothing and had to fly three hours for a dead rubber THEN get in a bus and go 80km to Casey Fields. The commitment to players doing their normal job five days a week then going around the country for this is impressive, I know back in the day male players used to be PE teachers, pub owners or in the case of the late 80s Brisbane Bears unemployed but it was a different time. Now I'm impressed half their squad didn't chuck a sickie and watch on TV. Freo might have done better if they'd plucked a few fresh randoms out of the south eastern suburban leagues, because the players they brought look like they had enough before leaving Perth Airport. All teams have been there, in our case almost every season for a decade and without having to leave Victoria most of the time.

Intergender MSDS suggested that given the first equation for keeping our season alive was to simply win, we'd probably suffer another shock defeat to a mediocre side which rendered the result of the Adelaide vs Collingwood game meaningless. On paper the Dockers should have been a doddle, but who could honestly rule out another week of domination of inside 50s for no reward before the other side did us on the counter-attack.

Then, in a record setting quick settling of nerves, we kicked the first goal in 15 seconds flat. Straight out of the middle, and perfectly into the arms of Alyssa Mifsud at the top of the square while her opponent stood there going "oh shit, it's going to be one of those afternoons". Usually our problem in these games has been converting forward entries into shots, then converting those shots in goals. These issues were jointly solved by converting our midfield domination into a series of attacks that landed 20 metres out with Freo's defence at sixes and sevens, or gathering the ball within range and waiting for them to give away an inevitable free kick.

This game was massive finals implications was not being treated with all the respect it deserved, we all know for a men's game in the same scenario I'd have been bunkered down at home for three sleepless nights eating nothing but canned tuna but in this case the first roughly quarter and a half took place while I was in the supermarket. The chances of somebody blowing the result with a loose text message or by walking down the aisles of Coles singing Heave Ho were next to nil so I could afford to take the risk of watching on delay. If you're confident in avoiding spoilers, and don't have a ridiculous need to follow what other people are saying about TV games on Twitter this is not such a bad way to approach life. The worst time of any game is when you've got to amuse yourself for 20 minutes at half time, this way the siren goes and you fast forward for about 90 seconds then carry on.

The skill of dominating the early minutes and having it come to nowt is transferable across genders, and after kicking that first goal within seconds then attacking immediately after again we allowed Freo to go down the other end and kick a goal via a long hoof into the forward line for somebody to run on to. Something to warm you up for the 21 times St Kilda are going to do it next Sunday. I'm no expert on the rules, and why would you need to be when you spend six months a year howling from the stands about how they're incorrectly applied, but when we gave away a free in the middle and a Docker played on from about 1.5 metres ahead of where the ball had been dropped should that have been brought back? I feel like it should have, otherwise you should be able to take off from anywhere that a wacky bounce takes it post-free.

I thought that was the signal for another GWS game to break out, where we'd keep attacking for almost no reward and would lose despite conceding a relatively low score. No need to worry, that was the invitation for our lot to start cracking heads. It only took 20 seconds for another lightning attack out of the middle to find Shelley Scott practically in the same spot Mifsud had been earlier, with a new Freo defender beaten all ends up in the one on one dual.

The third, and the official floodgate opener, was created by a sublime piece of vision from Deanna Berry. It's easy to look good against an opposition as flat as this, but she was great and her handball through three Dockers while being simultaneously tackled by two others was a thing of beauty. It cracked the play open for Aliesha Newman - who is apparently a postie but is so quick she probably doesn't bother with the bike - to run into space and eventually set up Mifsud to find Phillips on her own in the square. After looking wonky in the first few quarters of the year, and to be fair the pissing rain we played the first game in was no help, Mifsud has been a great target. Considering she's one that barely played before being drafted that's a big win for our recruiters. I'm willing to reject the theory of the commentator that she was having a shot and instead put it down as a perfect pass to a teammate charging into the square. For the third time a Fremantle player stood in close proximity but was left looking confused.

The third goal was very quickly followed by the fourth, set up by a free kick against the Freo ruck where insult was added to injury when the ball was lobbed right into her face while being returned to Lauren Pearce. She was still busy ensuring her nose was still attached when it went through. A fifth straight all but ended the game. The only thing that soured the quarter was needlessly conceding a goal with 30 seconds left, but all that did was keep Freo afloat for a little bit long when they were clearly the inferior team.

As I'd missed all the pre-game reporting while perusing the roast chicken rack at Eltham Coles it didn't register with me until goals had stopped flying in every 30 seconds that it was an all-female commentary team. No dramas there, the guys on Channel 7 are excellent and probably should be called on to replace some of the buffoons they employ for the main games but I could do without Fox Footy's previous tactic of employing a famous man who only partially knew what he was talking about to lend the coverage an alleged air of credibility. Star of the show was Kate Sheahan, she of the shortest debut since Rohan Bail, who demonstrated the family traits that made Mark 'Jacko' Jackson want to her punch her dad by hanging shit on the Dockers all day. It was good, because the comments were explained rather than just being "oh wowee they're so shit LOL ROFL". It's what Dermott Brereton would do well if he explained himself succinctly instead of waffling on for 45 seconds.

Once the initial damage was done the velocity of the battering slowed for a while, and it became an extended torture session instead. Freo could barely get their hands on the ball, and when they did they looked like a country pub team having a kick and hoping for the best. The comeback was shortly lived, the second goal of the second quarter came from Cranston yanking an opponent down in such spectacular fashion that my better half confused my mouth full of food cry of "WHAT A TACKLE!" (or as it came out "WHUBATTTTTTTTTTLE") with a yell of distress.

The Dockers had no answers, like a Best of Baileyball compilation every turnover they generated was usually greeted by the player looking up to see nowt but empty space and/or Melbourne defenders in front. Their attacking made the worst we've served up this season look like Geelong 2011 in comparison, and a rare few minutes of competitiveness in the second quarter were wasted when they ran through a list of new and exciting ways to flub simple chances. There was no coming back from that, and from there it was death by a thousand cuts.

By the time Paxman burst into an open goal for our 10th goal without a miss, the margin was an AFLW record and our percentage was rapidly closing on Adelaide. With so much time lost because they don't stop the clock for routine stoppages there was never enough time to bang on the further six or so goals required but it felt pleasant to be unleashing a record setting defeat on somebody no matter what the competition or how thin the existing record book is. Now we've got the record loss in the men's game (well, the two record losses if you really want to be pedantic) and the record win in the women's. Following this club is a real rollercoaster ride let me tell you, and I'm glad we've got another branch to share in the confusion.

We were scoring at such a rapid rate that the Casey Fields DJ was going to have to start repeating his post-goal CDs before long. Why anyone allowed a match played for premiership points to have some galoot spinning pop hits throughout is a matter for another day, but don't rule out some atmospheric strugglers like Etihad Stadium or the Sydney Showgrounds bringing that in before long.

Once we hit 10.0.60 the scoring slowed down, suddenly there was a reason to think about self-preservation in the heat and after six weeks unbroken suddenly Paxman and Mel Hickey were on the sidelines receiving treatment. We stumbled along to the end missing chances like the MFC Women of old, continuing to lose players to novelty injuries such as Mithen being accidentally shirtfronted by an opponent who simply forget to stop running at her after the ball had been kicked.

We wanted 100 but had to settle for 70. That would do considering we've also kicked scores of 1.4.10 and 1.9.15 this year. You don't get to play a dispirited, disinterested opposition like that all the time (unless you're playing the MFC men in Round 23) so when you do grab it with both hands and enjoy it.

If it is to be the end of our season it's appropriate that the final quarter was spent with one of the little girls whose dreams are supposed to have been thrown wide open by this new competition pestering me to change the channel to Hey Duggee. It was a fun seven weeks (and we hope for an eighth), true to senior game form I lost interest in the non-MFC teams about halfway through but really enjoyed watching our girls play every week (in general - the record shows I CBF during the GWS match, but that had more to do with the nuffy timeslot and our inability to convert a score than anything) and they've definitely got a bright future in this competition even if we have to wait a year.

In a couple of years when a few more footballers are developed and some of the pure athletes who are lucky to be there fall off the side this will be a reasonable standard to watch. It's not bad as it is, but there's a deep frustration that all Melbourne supporters have known for decades when there's two or three lovely links in the chain and then somebody handballs it straight up in their air because they're dangerously underqualified to be participating. Nevertheless it was fun, and as long as the AFL don't do something amazingly stupid like expanding the number of teams or games played too quickly then it should go well again next year. When we will win it.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Cat Phillips
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Alyssa Mifsud
1 - Deanna Berry

Apologies to L. Pearce, Mithen, Paxman, Grierson, Cranston, Duryea, Hickey, Scott and Kemp

Final leaderboard
What bad timing for Karen Paxman to be swamped by the rising tides of a game where almost everyone won their position. According to an interview in the paper she has not the slightest interest in the AFL and doesn't watch a second of it, which (with appropriate allowances for MFC content) is something I aspire to. She should run in the top three in whatever the Brownlow Medal equivalent is, and here she finishes a strong second behind your inaugural champion Daisy Pearce.

Congratulations Daisy! Over to her #1 fan for comment:

26 - Daisy Pearce
22 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Alyssa Mifsud, Cat Phillips
4 - Laura Duryea, Katherine Smith
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Deanna Berry

Looking forward to introducing a Rookie of the Year competition next year, and there's no doubt that one day we'll retrospectively be awarding Duryea/Smith and Lauren Pearce the Defender and Ruck Of The Year awards. But not now.

Next Week
We'll know tomorrow whether it's off to a Grand Final or Mad Monday. That will determine whether Tuesday is spent taking the day off to do an in-depth study of the Lions or nursing a killer hangover. It's difficult to turn end of season celebrations into an all-out drunken chunderfest when your entire team are semi-professionals who have to return to their real job the next day but we hope they'll find a way. At least you can be reasonably sure that none of the players are going to pull off a Terlich/Georgiou-esque costume disgrace.

I used to work with a woman who played high standard local footy in the early 2000s, and once after losing a grand final her team arrived at a pub to drown their sorrows only to find the premiers having their celebration there at the same time. It ended with both sides beating the pish out of each other, and if we can get a bit of that happening with Carlton, Collingwood, Footscray or all three on Monday then this game will truly have achieved equality.

Assuming the Crows do as expected and beat the Pies our players will disperse and reconvene later in the year. When they go back to their normal club are they still going to be playing with the condescending "we did a scientific survey and discovered women have smaller hands" reduced sized ball, or will it be back to the standard size? That's going to give elite players the shits. And what of the basketballers, soccer players and frisbeeists who we signed not having played for a club before AFLW? Do they carry on playing footy on godforsaken suburban grounds covered in dog turds and broken glass or return to more traditional pursuits then come back for some more AFLW at the end of the year?

If the good times keep rolling and it's off to Brisbane for the Grand Final then I presume they'll clog up the space 0-30m from goal and we'll lost after kicking 1.10.16. I assume the league is going to take the piss out of everyone and make it the curtain raiser to the Gold Coast/Brisbane game at Metricon Stadium, which would be a great result for me considering I'm on full obsessive alert for the men on Saturday and unavailable during the day on Sunday. Not going to be an issue is it?

Final Thoughts
That's two GWS wooden spoon seasons where we've been their only victim. At least this time we might make it for it with a flag.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Peekaboo I.C.U

NB: Two days later I realised that we were actually level with Adelaide on points, not four behind. So ignore that bit.

With our grand final hopes hanging by the barest thread and a side whose heads had dropped after bashing GWS' brains out but being beaten on the counter-attack I expected the Crows would clean us up relatively easily. At quarter time when we were 13 points down, only had one inside 50 and no score that looked like it would come to pass comfortably.

It didn't feel right playing a game in the Northern Territory without our fans complaining and somebody forking over a massive cheque to us. In this case it wasn't even our home game as Adelaide includes the Northern Territory in their zone. Let's just assume we finish third next week, at least we can be sour and complain that we had to split Victoria four ways while Brisbane had access to an entire state and Adelaide to a state and a territory. If nothing else, for the first time since the 1993 Reserves saluted we'll be the best side in Victoria at something positive.

What I like about the Crows, and this remains relevant even after they went missing for most of the last three quarters, is that half their side look like members of an outlaw bikie gang. That's the sort of footballers I came to appreciate over our decade of deepression. In 2006 I still had fancy high ideals about us winning with a side of clean-cut VCE high achievers, and by the end was happy to recruit Carlos The Jackal if it got us ahead. On the other hand barely any of our side - even Cranston who should instead be overturning barricades at anti-globalisation protests under a haze of tear gas - look like they'd be happy shanking somebody in the shower block. There's a recruiting market to target in the off-season.

At first they had our measure, the combination of good players that had carried them to five wins to open the season and the thumpers scared us out of it. For all the good signs we showed over the first five weeks there were times where we looked so unlikely to score that you wouldn't be surprised if we became the first team to end a game without a goal. With the Crows still in reasonable form despite their loss a week earlier this looked like our time. At least unlike the GWS and Brisbane games we couldn't go home disappointed at spurning dozens of opportunities if we didn't have any to start with.

Inside 50s are a ridiculously misleading stat in this competition given how few players can kick that far, inside 30s would be far more interesting reading. Until the second quarter you could have dragged it out to inside 75s and we'd have still been in single figures. Other than conceding our traditional goal from unnecessary ill-discipline, the defence were the only group holding us together by quarter time. Given that in almost every other game this year we've been the ones doing all the attacking - usually fruitlessly - it was a rare opportunity for the defence to get some air-time. Two goals notwithstanding they did well - Katherine Smith and her Rapunzel style hair had their best game yet, Laura Duryea continued to impress and Mia-Rae Clifford might not get many touches but is rock solid one-on-one. We didn't have much trouble getting the ball out of 50, it was the next kick across halfway that usually did us in.

The stat of the first quarter had nothing to do with footy, it was the one about the Adelaide player who was one of 18 children. It's not completely unheard of, if they were American somebody would make a reality show about it, but I was wondering if it might have been a fun fact disaster by the commentator and they were actually supposed to say 'eight children'. Like a game earlier this year when they confidently told us one of the players was an electrician, then had to come back a minute later and admit she wasn't. Either way I feel like we should send her mum some flowers for being such a trooper - I've got no bloody idea how to manage one. In a great milestone in our family Junior wandered in yesterday wearing the 2014 member's scarf and the junior beanie I forced onto her head the day she was born.

Considering our attack had done a 180° turn from the GWS game, albeit with similar end results, the most exciting aspect of the first quarter from my perspective was the murderous shirtfront by one of their Wentworth Detention Centre style bruisers. It was thrilling, and sure you can't go around sanctioning that sort of stuff etc... etc... but I was secretly happy that we didn't get a knee-jerk reaction free for it. Based on the umpires practically making things up as they went along for the rest of the game I'm not sure the Crows player would have been penalised if she'd cracked her opponent over the back with a length of wood.

After two goals in five quarters of toil and struggle since three-quarter time of the Carlton game, the second quarter was ripped open in the first 10 seconds. Forget trying to carefully craft a goal, we just whacked it forward from the first bounce for Deanna Berry to run on to and kick the first goal. If we'd maintained that sort of 50% attacking strike rate against GWS we've have won by 233. That caused the Crows to wobble, but it didn't translate to more goals. After 10 minutes of flubbing golden opportunities the Crows went down the other end and ran onto a loose ball to cancel Berry's goal out.

For once we cancelled out an opposition goal almost immediately, with Daisy Pearce finally allowing that kid from the Chemist Warehouse ad to show his face in public again by kicking her first of the season. Now to work on saving the reputation of the lady in the other Chemist Warehouse ad who does an overtly erotic dance routine on a local bus. Daisy's goal came at an opportune time, if we'd gone to half time two goals two or god forbid conceded another it would have been curtains. This left our wafer-thin chances of a Mighty Ducks Light run into the Grand Final alive. There should have been more, Mifsud was so surprised to have a perfect lead supported by an equally good kick that she dropped a simple chest mark well within her range. Nevertheless we were still up to our necks in it, which is usually as good as you can ask for with this team.

If we were going to come good at any point it would be the third quarter, on the limited historical data available that's our time to shine. After today we're 12.10 to 3.5 in front in that time. Not only have we dramatically outscored the opposition - we're -38 points over the other three quarters - but that's roughly 44% of all our scores. The party continued here, with two goals to no score grabbing back the lead. Mifsud got the first, making up for her dropped mark by kicking a lovely rolling snap around the corner under pressure. Once again domination meant next to nothing, continually thumping the door down but being unable to convert against an opposition all but inviting us to get it over with and kick a goal so the ball could go back to the middle.

It took until the last couple of minutes before a Crows defender went to water in spectacular fashion after getting in trouble trying to play on quickly, she plonked it straight on an opponent like Cale Morton on Queen's Birthday 2012. Shelley Scott - whose fun fact about being a dairy farmer from Colac is almost more popular than Cat Phillips' pace - looked around as if to say "did that really happen" and run in kick an easy goal. This no longer in any way resembled the first quarter. I thought it might have been touched, but the defender showed no interest so there was no need to go to then non-existent video replay.

Never mind that we'd spent a quarter and a half thumping the Crows everywhere but the scoreboard, the margin was still only eight and still vulnerable to one lucky Adelaide attack. Then enter Aliesha Newman and her magic sidestep:
Another goal right after that left the Crows needing three goals in the last 90 seconds, and that should have been the end of them. We blew a few good opportunities to waste time and protect the 14 point margin, but as this league hasn't yet been infested by cynical gamesmanship we didn't take it. Which is a shame, because we could have done with some cheating. They probably thought there was no need, what are the chances of a team kicking multiple goals in a row in this competition? Err, next question please.

The first wasn't all that concerning, unless of course you were hanging on the live ladder to work out how far we were away from the grand final, but when Tex Perkins showed up for almost the first time in a month to snap around the corner with only her second kick for the night and the margin was back under a goal the farce whistle was blowing at a frequency that only Melbourne fans can hear. I dare say we didn't expect the first or the second, because Lauren Pearce was left relaxing on the bench after a job well done while Harriet Cordner - who had all of one hitout before tonight - was left at the crucial bounce. It was reminiscent of that breakthrough win in South Australia in 2014 when the Crows were mowing us down and an interchange fiasco left Jamar sitting down for the do or die centre contest. Even after we won a second bounce Lauren was nowhere to be seen and the Crows went forward again.

Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome is gender transferable, so at this point who wasn't expecting an arsehole of a bounce a'la Toumpas vs St Kilda to put us away? We held on by two points, now all we have to do is pick up roughly 10 goals on Adelaide next week. So, good time for us to start converting some scoring opportunities. If there's any hope of sneaking past them and onto a plane to Brisbane for the decider it rests on first us beating Fremantle handily, but also Collingwood toppling the Crows. The only

It won't happen, but I'm sure like me the frustrations of following any team representing the MFC have thoroughly warmed you up for the main event in a couple of weeks. By the time we're losing to Carlton in Round 2 you'll be pining for these carefree, naive days.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Katherine Smith
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Laura Duryea
1 - Elise O'Dea

Apologies to Clifford, Hickey, Mithen, Newman, Lampard, Grierson, Scott and Kemp.

And then there were two. The first award to be handed out this season was a three-way tie, so why not a share here? What I can assure is it that if there is a draw it'll be after a rigorous process, not just deliberately rorting the figures to engineer a feelgood tie.

23 - Daisy Pearce
22 - Karen Paxman
13 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
7 - Alyssa Mifsud
5 - Cat Phillips
4 - Laura Duryea, Katherine Smith
2 - Lauren Pearce

Another triumph for our fancy iSelect banners. Roll on the men's season, where the opposition put in some sort of effort.
Double points to the Dee Army for going to Perth on Thursday night, then coming home the long way via Darwin to represent the club here. I'd give them all medals. Dees 6-1.

Final Thoughts
If Fremantle hadn't just won their first game of the year you'd almost be convinced that we'd lose. Back on home turf - Casey Fields anyway - they shouldn't pose too many problems but you never know. At least it's all in our hands. The last time I said that we were playing Carlton in Round 22, 2016 to keep our finals hopes alive and we all know how well that went.

Friday, 10 March 2017

A gentle reminder

When it comes to time zones it's Australian Eastern Standard and variants or nothing for me, so you can understand how distressed I was to discover that the 5.40pm start time was really 8.40pm to us. In another win for my worst pre-season since 2007 I only then realised the game was on Thursday night, and not Friday like I'd first thought. The unsociable working hours that allowed me to be home for an AFLW game at 5.05pm last week came back to haunt me, with the game starting at roughly the time I'd have to go to bed to get a full eight hours sleep.

All the early evening timeslot did (other than providing West Coast fans the opportunity to stay away in droves to the point where it might as well have been played at Leederville Oval) was to make the first quarter a confusing ordeal for players who were forced to shield their eyes from the sun. Playing in WA with a 'feature' most often associated with Docklands? It's a wonder we didn't just forfeit. Then there was the patchy mid 80s MCG style turf that you expected to lift up and reveal a beach volleyball court underneath. Our recent history in Perth is the only thing more miserable than the atmosphere at the Adele concert that caused the trouble in the first place.

Since 2004 we've played Subiaco as a fringe finals contender, an outside premiership chance, a rapidly degenerating shambles, a side that should have been refused entry to the arena and various levels of mediocrity in between and we've never been good there under any circumstances, so there wasn't much to be gained here win, lose or draw. As long as we could avoid a soul-crushing defeat which would cause half the squad to fall out with the other the result was inconsequential. Which is of course what you say after a defeat. Had we won comfortably I'd have been down at Aussie Disposals buying a sleeping bag in which to queue for finals tickets.

For now we'll just have to console ourselves by making it through the pre-season games without serious injuries and the fact that nobody got rubbed out for Round 1 with misplaced biff. I was also hoping for the unnecessarily controversial Jack Watts to lift his jumper and reveal a "fuck the media" t-shirt underneath, but that's too much to ask for. The most defiant he got was a cracking tackle in the first quarter, which would have been a great time for some Jakovich style "up yours" but he remained calm. Which is probably for the best because you would charitably describe the rest of the game as 'working his way into the season'.

We lost, but there's no need to introduce head to oven and fumble around for Gas Mark 8 just yet. What's happened over the last three games has strengthened what I thought before they started, we're going to be better than last year but it won't be a quantum leap forward. Last night looked a lot like all the games we played against mid-range or better sides where everything worked well until the other side got the ball, then party time broke out while our team looked for the lifeboats.

Like at least half a dozen games last year we steamed out of the first bounce but couldn't properly take advantage. There were minor delays at the first bounce, where for once a Matrix style handball by Oliver failed to hit the target and instead landed straight in the hands of an opponent. It was one of the few things he did wrong in a dominant first half that seemed to indicate that if his fitness levels improve he could be the best of all our mids. Once that initial attack was defused, and we handled it relatively easy because all our defenders were in place instead of 50 metres up the ground and having to run back into whatever the hell a zone does, we took over in an un-Melbourne at Subiaco-like way. The tide must be turning, if anything it was like our last start there where we troubled them in the first quarter but couldn't go on with it.

The initial spell of pressure got an assist from a few loopy decisions. There's never been better evidence that umpires are influenced by pressure from the Subiaco crowd, the moment they were removed from the occasion we started to get a good run - like Neal-Bullen being done all ends up for holding the ball before getting the cheap free for having his back leant on. If we're going to move heaven and earth to change the rules to satisfy broadcasters and wankers what about altering the laws here while you're at it - if you tackle somebody for holding the ball and lean on their back or have a hand slip high then it doesn't stop the tackler from being paid the free. If you plow somebody into the turf or slap them around the mush fair enough, but while we persist with dinky frees for incidental contact like you can have 16 a side, zones or the Great Moscow Circus juggling with polar bears on the 50 metre line and it's not going to help enhance 'spectacle'. And because mocking it is my favourite subject in 2017, more on 'spectacle' later.

It wasn't all freebies from the umpires, before we began to wilt in the heat there were a few moments of lovely play. Like Brayshaw marking a one-on-one at the top of the square like he was a forward, or Melksham realising that he'd been set up with a hospital handball and instinctively whacking the footy out of mid-air towards a teammate instead of taking it and being instantly buried. There was also a big Spencil mark inside 50 that didn't come to anything but still caused a stirring in my loins. The problem was there were few four quarter performers, players flitted in and out for little bits but nobody had a full game in them. Maybe they just didn't care and were all trying to get to the finish line uninjured, I can dig that. Better that we lost a casual kickaround than Hunt being carried off deep in the last quarter with Gawn's thigh bone sticking through his chest.

To make sure nobody was prematurely excited by the pre-season, our now famous 10 minutes of belting a side at the start of the game for little reward was turned into two Eagles goals in a row where they bounded inside 50 unchallenged to find multiple players standing on their own and all our defenders trotting back from the wing. That's the side I remember from last year, much improved with the ball in hand but often dazed and/or confused when the ball was turned over.

It was a standard MFC in Perth first quarter, the sort that makes you think that if absolutely everything went our way we might win but it never does. A nine point deficit it certainly well under our average deficit at the first break there. It was almost more, the returning Dom Tyson was as rusty as you'd expect somebody who suffered a knee injury in December to be and he tried to run the clock down in the last few seconds by kicking across the face of goal only to land it in the arms of the two time reigning Coleman Medallist. That's what you get when players are too shitscared to just thump it down the line in case they're pinged for deliberate. By Round 5 the 'focus' on deliberate will have gone away and you'll be able to roost for the line with impunity again.

We were still very much in the game, but it was so far so much like 2016 - some fancy ball movement from defence but an elastic defence and grim struggles to connect with the last kick inside 50. What I did like, and sue me for it, was Jake Melksham across half back. He wasn't being asked to do much other than mop up shit attacks, but we've had plenty of players over the years who have had all the time in the world to dispose of the ball in those circumstances and stuffed it up. I'm sure somebody will write in with a list of examples of things he didn't wrong but you wouldn't be a Melbourne defender if you weren't prone to the odd gaffe. He all but disappeared after the first quarter, but we could do - and have done - worse.

The second quarter was almost even with four goals apiece, but what it offered that the first - and indeed all of 2016 - didn't was The Spencil marking inside 50 and confidently slotting the set shot. The run up was still unconventional, but whack straight through it went with no questions asked. I'm in no way expecting him to kick three every week, but if he can even get one a game and slaughter a few packs (for what that's worth when there's no crumb left) while giving Gawn a hand in the ruck. There's some question about whether playing him in Round 1 will be wise considering St Kilda are gearing up for another Etihad Stadium slingshot extravaganza but you'd have to be a hard hearted BASTARD to deny that he's been really good this pre-season. The first game might not be his go, especially with Watts returning, but he'll definitely get an opportunity somewhere this year.

Meanwhile, I've tried to get over some shocking lookalikes in my time but this is dead on:
and you know what they say...

With the result basically irrelevant - though while we were still up to our necks in it I wasn't completely dismissing the benefits of a win - the best thing in the first half was watching Oliver rack up touches and tackles at will. He has now officially surpassed Big Red from That 70s Show as my favourite ginger. His fitness is in question so I wasn't surprised when he wilted in the heat as the game went on, but watch out if he builds his tank.

I don't rate the Eagles as much better than us, so sticking with them but not quite managing to get in front at half time was good enough for me considering our dreadful record in the west. There were still issues - the loose defence, no crumb and a ludicrously underdone Tyson flubbing everything he went near. The first terrifies me, the second hinges on Garlett and Kent recovering, and the last will come good with time. And soon Subiaco will be turned into a housing development with street names like Phil Read Boulevard and Andy Lovell Way, so we've got that going for us too.

By the time we're ready to lose the first of our five consecutive grand finals to GWS we'll have an entirely new Perth stadium to contend with. Are the dimensions going to be the same? Because we sure have troubles coming to grips with the incumbent. After half time the Eagles trotted away merrily, while just like our last visit to the ground we burnt shitloads of inside 50s on hit 'n hope kicks to the top of the square that were easily turned back. It's just not an MFC visit to the west without dozens of attacks hopelessly dying 0 to 30 metres out. We might have tried something new and kicked to somebody 40 metres out, but the Eagles were having none of that.

It took The Spencil of all people to gather a loose ball and kick through an open goal from distance to reinvigorate us after the Eagles had walked all over us in the opening minutes of the third. It was a neat finish just when you expected his kick to spray all over the place like an out of control fire hose, but the goal was pure Angus Brayshaw. I'm not convinced he's 100% match fit and battle hardened yet, but he's shown some really good signs over the pre-season. This time he battled two Eagles to win a loose ball, followed through to get involved in the next contest and set up Harmes to tap it into Spencer's path.

We weren't just bamboozled by the unusual dimensions of Subiaco in the forward line, but in defence too. After a reasonably shambles free night we chucked the game with some more insane attempts at switching the ball across the goal. Tyson's blunder at the end of the first quarter was the worst pre-season kick against goal since Viney lost us the game against Essendon B but by the third quarter everyone was trying to join in. The other thing this game had in common with Essendon 2015 was that we named a player and didn't use them, but at least when Jordie McKenzie was asked to trot about in a green vest for four quarters and have 0% game time he could get in his car and drive home, Jack Trengove was carted to the other side of the continent only to occupy the bench for four quarters. By the end I'd have been happy for him just to play the last five minutes and ensure that Gawn and Hogan were free to sit in the dugout ensuring they didn't get hurt. Couldn't even get that, hope he enjoyed going on a six hour round trip for no bloody reason.

By the time the Eagles were gifted a goal from a ripper of a deliberate decision where our guy tried to handball to a teammate and missed him I'd already lost interest and was pondering where I should give up and go to bed. But I couldn't, I had to stay until the final siren to make sure I didn't wake up to Jack Viney having fallen down a sinkhole in the back pocket. But given that I can't even remember what player it was I think you can see how my commitment to the contest was going.

Like last pre-season 2016 the increasingly harsh interpretation of deliberate proved a talking point, and not in a good way. Here's a conspiracy theory to go alongside vaccinating your kids causing them to grow flippers, every time the AFL can create an argument about whether an OOB was deliberate or not it's one step closer to them achieving their dream of a last touch 'frees for all' policy. It'll be sold as "removing doubt", only for us to enjoy a shitload of doubt from the first game where it's implemented. For instance when Drew Petrie stuck a giant mitt out spoil a ball straight out of a bounds is he going to get pinched for that as well? If you're that desperate to raise scoring bring back the rushed behind. Maybe it's because I'm getting old and discovering that I've got lots of better things to do than care what happens when Port Adelaide play Gold Coast in Tiananmen Square but I'm over this sport - it's still not all that bad, but the ongoing misery about how terrible every aspect of it down to the time of the grand final has affected my enjoyment of the industry as a whole. Any chance of a 'press red for no speculation about the rules' button? 17 over teams can get stuffed, just give me 22 MFC games, disgust me with a GWS flag and I'll see what else I can fit in between now and the first week of October.

Err, anyway. Collusion by league authorities is the only explanation for some of the deliberates. Like one on Melksham in the first quarter that offered absolutely nothing. They do the sensible thing and suggest not giving free goals for deliberately rushed behinds, then start handing out practically free ones for deliberate out on the full. What about Sharod Wellingham - who never seems to have any luck against us - stubbing his toe trying to boot a loose ball up-field and watching it skew off at an obtuse angle before being pinged. It's the exact sort of scenario that will lead to media puppets with the league's hand up their arse like Sooty agreeing that we may as well just give frees against everyone to "remove confusion". Last night there was a mention of it being "the way the game is going", which is a ridiculous way to justify it. It's not a natural phenomenon like the melting of the polar ice caps, you can decide not to be tight in adjudicating it.

We didn't need the Australian Spectacle League's overly enthusiastic interpretations to put us away, we were quite capable of doing that ourselves. While forward thrusts continued to die a terrible death the Eagles were going down the other way whacking through goals with gleeful abandon. It was still not worth getting upset about, call me when the Saints are kicking 10 goals from the square and Riewoldt is manhandling somebody half his size and then I'll properly crack the shits.

All was not entirely lost, somehow after Jayden Hunt broke the sound barrier while sprinting to heave through a rare nine point goal we were only 11 behind with 15 minutes left. The problem was exactly like our last start at Subi - except that we kicked a goal in the last quarter this time - once we got within range we could have played for hours and not kicked enough goals to win. By the time Oscar McDonald suffered a horror flashback to his debut game on the same ground and handballed straight up in the air to gift them the sealer I'd come to terms with defeat. It wasn't a great night for the younger Sizzle brother, and for all the shit Senior gets for his contractually obligated botched kick of the week we're dead if he goes down and leaves us with Garland/Junior vs massive forwards. I suppose we couldn't leave Dunn hanging around in the 2s all year just in case but I'd feel a lot more comfortable if we had another proven performer in the tank.

All in all a night that only existed to shepherd us through to Round 1. Like any good Melbourne-related performance the quality shepherding was relatively shithouse, but let it play out and see where it goes.

Round 1 team update - incorporating the iSelect Casualty Club
There will be collateral damage to the side that played this week as we reduce to the normal team size, leaving us with some reasonable depth. The only first choice players missing were Hibberd, Jetta and Kent and I'm not expecting to see the last two immediately.

It was also revealed during the week that the reason nobody's seen Sam Frost is that he's suffered another toe injury. First he loses the vast majority of 2015 to one, now this. There are people who have been caught in a blizzard halfway up Mt Everest who've had better luck with their extremities than him - gags about his surname on a postcard to the usual address.

Uniform Watch
It goes without saying that this is the second worst away jumper we've ever had, right behind the silver monstrosity of the wooden spoon years, but what was with some of the numbers intersecting with the red bit at the top of it and some not? If I was the kit man I'd phone in my performance when forced to handle that rubbish as well.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year (pre-season edition)
Jayden Hunt in the fourth quarter. That is all.
2017 Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Jake Spencer
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Salem, Gawn, Hogan, Brayshaw and Neal-Bullen who tried his guts out but was untidy.

Well this makes a total mockery of things, with Hogan missing out the other two manage to set up a three way tie. That's the rules, and with no countback in place spare a thought for me when I have to go work all three of their photos into the Plate section of the End of Season Spectacular. Congratulations all, somebody give the Hamburglar a lift home from the after party.

9 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt, Clayton Oliver
7 - Max Gawn
5 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jake Melksham, Bernie Vince, Jack Viney
2 - Dion Johnstone, Nathan Jones, Jordan Lewis, Christian Salem, Jake Spencer
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Joel Smith

I didn't see it in person due to coming into the coverage at the very last minute before the first bounce, but the good news is that at the third opportunity for 2017 we've managed to get a banner to go up and stay there without collapsing in a pile of crepe and plastic. The good news is that for the second consecutive week we could have extended a roll of toilet paper for the players to run through and still have won because the other side didn't bother to enter. So our side carted one to the other side of continent for a pre-season game at a venue where we haven't won since 2004 and the locals were supposedly told by the club not to bother. That's the sort of attitude you can afford to take when your team usually wins. Dees 2-1.

Final Thoughts
A loss you "had to have" is an irritating cliche, but at least it calmed everyone down and focused them on Round 1 instead of going off on all sorts of flights of fancy about being a guaranteed top eight starter. Lower your expectations and you'll come out of the season much more comfortable.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Miss Shop

There's nothing like the family friendly, traditional footy timeslot of 5.05pm Friday. Good thing I work such unsociable hours or I'd have missed us doubling another team's scoring shots and bashing their brains in with 55% more inside 50s but still losing after kicking one goal. It was like that boxing Simpsons episode where Homer took a grand beating then pushed the other guy over when he got tired.

I understand the game was being played as a curtain raiser for the men, but clearly this was scheduled well before the AFL realised people were going to care about the competition. Maybe they've done their research on the Sydney audience, after all those mad bastards in the NRL have introduced a 6pm Friday game for premiership points. The crowd certainly looked like a typical Sydney league audience.

The upside to all this was that we were expected to thrash the Giants, and even though I've got nothing against their women's team (or to be honest their men's team other than one player who brings the whole thing down) any time we can do that is good for football. We should have known trouble was afoot when it was raining. As good as the team has looked since the second quarter in Round 2 you don't have to look back far to remember how awful we were in the slurry against Brisbane. It was only about half as damp this time, and the Lions have turned out to be quite good, but the official results are in and like the men we know this is not a wet weather side.

It didn't start badly, and if you only saw the first minutes the only thing out of the ordinary you missed was the Giants counter-attacking three goals. We locked the ball inside forward 50 and looked like a much better team. The problem was that like the last quarter at Casey nobody could kick a goal to save themselves, and this time GWS were smart enough not to leave a player standing on her own in 30 metres of space to run into an open goal. Adjusted for shortened game time it was one of the great wasteful Dees performances. At least when we got 34 behinds in 1940 there were 12 goals to go with them.

AFLW = novelty free kicks and 50s courtesy of over-enthusiasm, and we were given what should have been the opening goal courtesy of a Giants player kicking of ours' fingers off. The shot missed and set up the Giants to go down the other end for the first goal. Then just as you think that might be the required wake-up call they add another. The second was just the sort of classic goal that any team called Melbourne (excluding 'Port' and 'North') usually concedes, a player flinging her boot at a rolling ball in the square and getting the barest of hint of toe to it. After a good run for a few weeks the backline carked it in the last quarter against Carlton, and here they conceded three scores from the first four inside 50s.

Even at two goals to nil down I thought after quarter time there'd be a revival, and it started well with Harriet Cordner attacking an opponent with something that looked halfway between a Triple H Pedigree and a Jake The Snake Roberts DDT. She could turn moves like that into a big money gimmick - "her grandfather was a doctor, now she's sending people to the hospital" etc... The head wasn't driven into the ground, but good luck getting away with a thrilling move like that these touchy, concussion obsessed days. You'd have been handed a medal 30 years ago, unless you're a woman and then they'd have ushered you off the field and behind the counter of a canteen.

The second quarter started a lot like the first, this time the weird free kick was for a dumping tackle (I mean really...) but once it again it came to nowt courtesy of a shot on goal that was flatter than a shit carter's hat. Like Brisbane all over again we attacked non-stop for zero reward. We could have done with a fluke goal from the pocket to fire us up like the Pies game, a wild snap around the corner would have been the only way any of our players were going to get a goal before half time.

To be brutally honest as the second quarter wore on I lost interest and started flitting in and out of the room doing other things. Frustration at not being able to score from a million inside 50s and the general background distress of losing to any GWS team did me in. What I did confirm was that Mifsud is definitely the new Trengove, commentators just cannot help call her "Misfud" as if that's a real surname. Nobody had any trouble pronouncing it when the AFL one was accusing our old coach of being racialist.

My commitment to the game was so poor that I went out to get something to eat at half time. Not my fault they scheduled it at such a stupid bloody time, and the reason why this is almost certainly the worst review on this site since I didn't even bother one week in 2006 and just listed the votes next time around. Or the one game where in a fit of youthful pique I angrily refused to give votes at all. At least I paused the live stream on the AFL website, which considering the amount of time it spent buffering was probably unnecessary because it would have stopped itself soon enough. Helpfully whenever it got behind and you clicked "LIVE" it reversed another 10 seconds into the past. This must be what it's like to watch the Premier League on Optus.

I walked back at what turned out to be halfway through the third quarter. I know this because when I unpaused the stream it stalled 10 seconds later and hung for a minute before pressing pause then play again caused the stream to return to what I assume was live action. No harm done, we still hadn't kicked a goal. The Giants had, leaving us with a mountain to overcome given the conditions and the general slurry on offer in the first half (and presumably the first eight minutes of the second while I was at the chicken shop). For once I was a good omen for Melbourne, returning just in time for Cat Phillips to kick our first. She was an appropriate contender, because surely Blacktown International Sportspark has never hosted a world class event any higher up the totem pole than frisbee.

To nobody's surprise if you've been watching Melbourne this season we should have conceded a goal from a pointless 50. Wooden leg kicking by the Giants saved us, much like a wonky shot from a Carlton player helped us get away with it last week. The problem was this time there wasn't an immediate swing where the other side ran across the mark and gifted us a goal. It was another life, but even if the game had carried on until 10pm we wouldn't have kicked another goal.

Meanwhile in the land of commentary I'm not as down on Kelly Underwood as most, after all it's not like the male commentators are covering themselves in glory, but when she said there were "more turnovers than a Pancake Parlour" it was like the unwanted spirit of Dwayne had wafted in. He can't have been feeding her lines, the 250 times a ball bounced around awkwardly from a rushed kick were never referred to as a 'chaos ball' with all the excitement of somebody about to be gored by a bull in Pamplona.

The last quarter was a non-stop cavalcade of attack, with GWS literally unable to get it over halfway until the last minute and us torching opportunities at a world record pace. We should have benefited from one of the worst free kicks in a televised game, featuring Lily Mithen being tackled as she kicked then falling over a teammate and somehow being awarded a shot on goal. She proceeded to slice the bejesus out of it, because that's what we do best inside 50.

After throwing everything at them for 15 minutes and missing the worst bit about losing was that they went down the other end in the last 60 seconds and had the two best opportunities of the quarter. Like Sam Frost trying a running bounce in the middle of a typhoon in Sydney last year Frisbee Fever hit its nadir when Phillips tried similar. That was our last good attack, but unless there was another 15 minutes left to overhaul them in behinds.

And so, with two weeks left it's all over for the Dees. To be fair it probably was anyway given the gap in percentage to Brisbane and Adelaide. At least we had fun for a while thinking we might win a second level competition, like the good old days of becoming extremely interested in the Reserves when they made the finals or where you'd treat qualifying for a Wizard Cup semi-final like a positive sign for the future. I look forward to us chopping some of the dead wood in the squad, the top end is good and there are promising kids but there's a few who could afford to go back to whatever the equivalent of Casey is.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
Difficult one this week, plenty of players racking up touches, not many doing damage with them. I was going to defer to the votes on the AFL website, where the reporter has shown such a lack of interest that they've only named three in the bests and have put Aliesha Newman's injury down to 'corked' a'la Garry Lyon's general soreness.

Back to the old favourites I suppose. That's the problem when you don't at least feel like you understand the subtleties of a team. At least it makes it easy to exclude the seven players who had six kicks between them.

5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Laura Duryea
1 - Elise O'Dea

Apologies to Kemp and Lampard.

For the first time the line appears, and for new readers that denotes when a player can no longer even pinch a share of the title. You would think it's down to the top two now.

20 - Daisy Pearce
17 - Karen Paxman
12 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
7 - Alyssa Mifsud
5 - Cat Phillips
2 - Laura Duryea, Lauren Pearce

GWS put in a reasonably good effort, let down by some baffling left aligned formatting.
But while $cully is around I refuse to declare GWS superior in any aspect other than their Moscow, Moscow theme song. 4-1 Dees.

Final thoughts
This is nothing new, I'm used to our season being over after Round 5.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Chipping away at the glass ceiling

It didn't compare to any of our other great losing streaks, but finally winning a practice match at Casey Fields feels like a moderately symbolic way to begin our first proper tilt about a drought-breaking finals appearance in almost 30 years. Since debuting at the ground and losing to North Melbourne by 48 points in 2008, we were 0-5, with an average losing margin of 51.8. It felt like we'd played there many more times, and indeed most of our players have during the VFL season, which was probably because each trip felt like it took a year off my life. Even in the Demonblog Towers V era when I lived in Cheltenham and occasionally went to Scorpions games when at a loose end it felt like an excessive distance to go to freeze my tits off.

If we'd never won a game there, at least we'd never lost to Carlton. Which is surprising because they seem to beat us everywhere else. I expected that Neil Craig would continue his almost flawless record of being involved in Melbourne losses, but in the end we were never seriously troubled. The signs were good, nobody was seriously hurt, let's bank the zero points and head towards the next battle.

Even after squashing them in what is undoubtedly a set-up for a shock Round 2 result it still didn't feel like footy season. Obviously the fire for Melbourne related topics is still burning out of control or I wouldn't have motored down to Cranbourne for a practice match, but maybe I am getting over the game in general because I've tried to watch every non-MFC game this weekend and found myself doing something/anything else within five minutes. I've watched more AFLW, and it's not in an attempt to be trendy it's because the games have something on the line whereas the men's pre-season might have been better kept in an era where nothing was on TV.

The first step to enjoying the game as a whole again is obviously to get some meaningful matches, but I'd also do well to stay away from the exhausting non-stop media wankfest about how shit the game is and why we desperately need to play the Grand Final at night etc.. etc.. If it's all rubbish and they're just going to change everything to engineer spectacle anyway then it makes watching a Port Adelaide vs St Kilda trial match seem even more useless than usual. I'll be there until the last dog dies for the Dees, but everyone except us can get stuffed.

Before we could tackle a trip to Casey and parking on a surface that resembled the moon there was a week of controversy over Jack Watts being sent into exile. He showed up after summer with hair like Eminem and was left out last week due to never fully explained reasons about his 'preparation'. He was on the sidelines this time as well, and after the team has put in two decent performances must be battling to get a start in Round 1. What would a pre-season be without rampant Watts coverage? Most years it was the coach telegraphing where he'd be played then putting him anywhere else, last year it was his contract and stomping grapes in a barrel with a fulsomely chested woman, and now this. Do you think our prospective second ruckman dropping out of favour is why future life member The Spencil has suddenly re-rocketed to prominence?

I'm not going to start panicking until he's seen wandering towards the half-back flank at a VFL venue. Hope he turns up at Etihad Stadium for Round 1 in his own brand of board shorts, looking like he's just woken up, parks sideways across three disabled parking spots, then kicks five. There's still very much a spot for him, either Weideman (who looks promising but could do with some extra seasoning in the twos) or vandenBerg (NB: not a vendetta) could make way. But unless he goes to Perth and plays a reasonable game they probably won't, because at footy clubs process trumps everything else. After all, we are the club who made Colin Sylvia wait until he'd recovered from a broken back to serve a one match ban for off-field shenanigans.

I'd hoped to arrive in time to see the last quarter of the women's match, until I drove past the Cranbourne exit on Eastlink and ended up taking a 20km detour through somewhere called Skye. Which was a nice name for what was effectively endless paddocks and a prick of a traffic jam. By the time I finally got to Casey the game was deep in the last quarter and the Dees were busy choking away a comfortable lead. If I got a decent park I could have made it inside for the last few minutes, but my penance for showing up late was to have to drive past the footy ground, the athletics complex, and three cricket ovals before eventually parking next to a rugby league arena. If Paris and Los Angeles drop out of the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics I'm sure the City of Casey would be able to step in at short notice.

Given that I'd already landed just in time to miss the end of the curtain raiser and instead stand around Casey for an hour waiting for the next game to start I thought I'd at least hang out in the car and listen to the end of the women's game. Once we'd won (and you'll be hearing more about that from our intrepid guest reporter soon) I tried to work out how to get to the footy ground. Usually you'd follow the people, but in this case they were all going the other way. For the second week running an impressive number of people were there just for AFLW and could not have given the fattest rat's clacker about the men. Could you blame them if they'd seen us there last time?

Having never parked any further away than the long jump pit this was like going beyond the Do Lung Bridge in Apocalypse Now. I was so far away from the ground that Phillip Island penguins might have wandered past at any minute, and the 15 minute odyssey to locate the Australian rules section of Sports City really helped waste time that would have otherwise been spent kicking dirt and questioning my life choices. All this would have been significantly more painful if the City of Casey hadn't insisted on letting everyone park for free. If you're a ratepayer in that area don't waste your time punching on at council meetings over houses of worship, go and ask why they left $20k on the table by not charging the 4000 cars $5 each. I bet it's because the place is so hard to get into that the financial transactions would cause traffic jams for miles. I know even less about local government than I do footy, so I'm not telling anyone how to run their council but there's being generous to visitors and there's this.

Via an oval where Springvale South were 0-15 off seven overs, chasing 120 for the win I eventually made it - with significant dirt kicking time left. With nothing else to do, no headphones and a mobile rapidly running out of battery I instead paid big money to eat popcorn chicken from the most disorganised food stand ever. The others had queues 40 people deep and this lot didn't bother to show up for another half an hour. Must have been run by the council too. By the time they opened and I got to the front to see them pouring generic homebrand Popcorn Chicken pellets into a vat it didn't matter - I suspended by disbelief in their claims of the chicken being "Southern" and went all in. How the Kaiser wasn't persuaded to attach the trailer and drag it down to Casey is beyond me.

Other than Watts, Jetta, Tyson and Kent we were effectively playing our best team, so for all the usual caveats and the extended squad it was a reasonable look at what we're going to see in the real stuff and I liked it. Not everyone played four sparkling quarters, but for the first time since White, Yze, Johnstone, Neitz etc... it feels like we're developing match-winners. And that's winners plural, because it's no good just having one. Here's to also finding the players at the other end of the scale that we never seemed to have 2004 - 2006, leaving us ready to plummet into greatest sporting abyss known to man.

Given the opposition it's a shame we gave Trengove and Garland the old Jamar 2016 'picked in the extended squad every week then not required' treatment. I'd be especially careful about throwing Garland on the scrap-heap, the brothers McDonald can crash a pack and punch effectively but they were at their wooden leg kicking worst today. What I did like in defence was Michael Hibberd, despite the year off and a moustache which suggests he performs dastardly deeds in his spare time he was excellent. If that's him rusty (though let's have another round of disclaimers about the opposition) we might have done a good deal here. I was less enthused about Milkshake, he wasn't terrible and there was one long bomb into the forward line in the last quarter that dropped perfectly to cause the maximum chaos in the Carlton defence but nothing to make me roll around on the floor in glee. Maybe it's because we've got higher expectations now, I would have jumped the fence to embrace him if he'd put that performance in a couple of years ago.

One of my main footy fetishes was ticked off at the first bounce, with Hogan right at Gawn's feet for the first bounce. I love when that happens, and when we've got a forward with the presence to pull it off. Remember when Mitch Clark did it a couple of times and we experienced simultaneous orgasm? Whatever happened to that guy? My all-time favourite example was Garry Lyon against North in Round 2, 1998 where he hit a blockbuster tackle to save us just as they were about to mow down our lead. At one point Hogan won the ball from the middle, and set up vandenBerg to thump a pass straight down Jay Kennedy-Harris' throat. For added degree of difficulty he took the mark one handed, and it was already starting to look like showtime in the south eastern suburbs.

JFK's mark and finish were great, but I was more impressed with him up the ground. Ever since he turned up people have tried to pigeonhole him as a crumber for reasons possibly no better than the fact that he's an indigenous player, but I reckon he's got heaps to offer in the midfield and our traditionally wonky half-forward line. It's one thing to float through for marks and a few goals here and there, but if anyone acts like he's the second coming of Jeff Farmer again I suggest you treat them like that Nazi fellow and punch them in the chops. Remember, his best game yet was when he had 25 touches against the Crows on the day we snapped the South Australia losing streak. I don't know if he's in serious contention for Round 1 just yet - and what shithouse timing to be unfit when we had a rudimentary midfield then return just in time for it to look relatively star-studded - but I'm glad I listed him as a 'hold' rather than 'sell' in the pre-season preview.

I'm still reasonably confident on my other sells, other than Bernie Vince who was very good today and can feel free to continue sticking it up me for suggesting his best is past him. Which it probably is, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute for a while yet. We can certainly do with somebody in defence who can kick, especially now that it looks as if Salem is being groomed to become a full-time midfielder. God bless the draft for eventually landing us a bounty of mids. Morton and Toumpas must be looking on in anger and wondering where this was to give them cover. You could bring either of them back in their pre-Melbourned state today and Oliver, Brayshaw, Jones and Viney would protect them like a shark cage.

It wasn't just the midfield (INSERT DISCLAIMER HERE), how far have we come in the world that we can honestly say our forward line was light years ahead of the opposition? The 21 marks from 48 inside 50s to six from 36 hints towards that, and that's not even counting the number of times (probably about 27) that we just aimlessly roosted it into attack in the hope of catching the Blues out. It led to intercept mark numbers going through the roof, but it wasn't a bad tactic considering how shaky they were. Certainly generated a few goals, and if we could bring the ball to ground they all stood around looking each other with a confused expression.

It was unnecessary to greet each goal with cuts from Now That's What I Call Hits albums 1985-1995 like we were at an NBL game, but at least we were keeping the CD changer busy. Nobody would be blamed for bringing a limited selection to a Melbourne vs Carlton game, but by the end we'd kicked so many goals they had to spin 'This Is How We Do It' by Montell Jordan twice in a row while I had uncomfortable flashbacks to Year 8. Though it did feel appropriate when Jack Viney's first goal, featuring him gathering inside 50 and having all the time he wanted to get onto his preferred foot before snapping the goal, to be followed by a quick burst of 'Walking On Sunshine'. Later in the day when the DJ had lost interest they'd forget to hit play until the ball was almost back in the middle, meaning you'd get a sliver of the song and had to guess what it was like you were at a pub trivia night.

You had to be realistic and tell yourself it was only the first quarter of a practice game. I'd have added "against Carlton" if we didn't have such a disappointing recent record against them. And who better to teach us about the folly of taking pre-season results seriously than the two time pre-season cup winners? Still, even adjusted for the opposition and the prospect of the latest Round 2 disaster (2008 - lost by 95, 2009 - lost by 53, 2010 - Petterd mark game, 2011 - turned 19 point HT lead into a 45 point loss, 2012 - lost by 108, 2013 - lost by 148, 2014 - lost by 93, 2015 - turned five goal lead into 56 point loss, 2016 - lost to post-ban Essendon) we looked very good. Christian Petracca is about to go absolutely supernova, every morning I suggest waking up and cursing that knee injury for putting him back a season because he's a year away from something spectacular. Remember when we used to play without a half-forward line? He carried on like two HFFs and a CHF at the same time.

It was another day for the Spencil Truthers, those of us who believe he's heading for a first round start. Him giving Gawn a hand in the ruck instead of running Maximum into the ground like a draft horse looks like our only concession to managing players through these games. Otherwise everyone who's anyone is playing out the game as normal rather than being put on ice in the last quarter - and we've got one more week for this to backfire on us when Hogan gets hurt in junk time. Spencer has declared his intention to form a tandem with Max, which you may mock now but remember how dismissive people were when Gawn said he wanted to be the best ruckman in the game? The conclusion is obvious, Spencil for All-Australian.

On the topic of ruckmen, apparently recalled bounces are now almost officially dead. They eventually had to admit some were ridiculously off-centre, but several skewed completely one way or the other and were allowed to go on. As previously discussed I'd just abolish the bounce, but if you're going to keep it then let's just deal with wherever it ends up. If somebody gets screwed bad luck, it's better than some coming back and others being let go. One was so ridiculously out of place that it flew away from the two ruckmen and Gawn crumbed it after it hit the ground.

The more I see of us this year - e.g. two games - the more it looks like Goodwin's fingerprints were all over our style last year. They are playing on like madmen, and most of the time it's coming off a treat. There was one moment in the second quarter that was a masterclass (us - putting on a masterclass for god's sake) in quick ball movement, when Petracca leapt for a high ball and spiked it down into the hands of Harmes as he ran past. I'm not going to know what to do with myself if we start pulling out Harlem Globetrotters shit like this in the real stuff, but suffice to say it's fortunate that I'll be way up the back in Row MM and nobody will be able to see me.

We were clearly the better team from the first bounce, and kicked five goals to one for the quarter from nine scoring shots. Even Carlton's goal came via a sick banana from the pocket rather than anything particularly well crafted - and are you as upset as I am that we didn't draft somebody who can do that AND has a name that is practically "Ladyboys"?

Otherwise their attack was toothless, Levi Casboult can mark alright but I'd rather have Juice Newton back than give this bloke shots on goal. He ended up kicking two, and I can only presume they were from the square because he wouldn't have beaten Earl Spalding, Ben Holland and Jamie Shanahan in a set shot kicking contest.

It's only etc.. etc.. but for once handballing everything paid off, as we split Carlton apart running up the ground for end to end goals. Now Hogan is not only kicking set shots but he's finding space to run into open goals as well. If it unexpectedly all goes wrong it's possible that this might be the peak of my positivity about 2017. Weideman showed a few good touches in combo with him, I think they're going to complement each other perfectly when Sam really gets going.

By the time Hogan set up Salem midway through the second quarter we were five goals in front and flying. Oliver was doing the old Time Splitter routine in packs, Hunt was dashing about at light speed, Lewis and Vince were mopping up everything that came near them in defence and presumably Tomas Bugg was telling somebody he'd rooted their mum. As we continually switched play into acres of space the only downside of the first half was when the Carlton bloke played on from a kick-in with Petracca just metres away but just managed to avoid one of CP5's bear trap tackles. It was about the only thing that didn't go right for him all day. Somebody's even taught him how to kick set shots, put the champers on ice we're going to Disneyland.

While we were running away from them - quite literally most of the time - I was having a grand old time. It was only during the long break that the old doubts about being there surfaced. My mind has been destroyed by on-demand entertainment, there's no time for quiet contemplation anymore. I was like an alcoholic who's quite happy on the gas but bored to death while sober, when the game was on I was fully engaged but the breaks were torture. That's when I really started wondering if it wasn't just better to stay home and watch on TV. The real reason to traipse across town for games like this are the little things you see off the ball, like Dion Johnstone demonstrating an admirably Bugg-esque level of niggle. He'll be spending a lot more time at Casey this year because he could barely get a touch, but I loved his attempts to be irritable by nudging and bumping into Carlton players.

Part of it was probably because I just wanted to keep playing, half time was wasted minutes where I could be enjoying a Melbourne side smashing long passes to targets in a mile of space or gathering the ball in the pocket and centring for a teammate in a better position. It doesn't matter that it was against the team I expect to finish last, and I'm not saying we're going to do this every week but I've got renewed confidence that we're going to eke out some revenge for what we've been through on other miserable teams this year.

As we pushed past the Chris Sullivan Line I felt comfortable enough to accept that we'd finally see a win at Casey, and not for the first time that provoked the other side to pile on a run of goals. Three in a row cut the margin to within striking range if they were good enough. Which they most certainly were not. God knows who most of them were, but sending out sides that can only be identified by the Bluest enthusiasts hasn't stopped them in either of their last two starts against us. My favourite bit was when Charlie Curnow met Clayton Oliver, presumably telling him that the best way to avoid being pinged for driving over 0.00 on your Ps is to just not stop at the booze bus in the first place.

We didn't really need a steadier at 34 points up in the last minute of the term, but I wasn't going to say no. Another long distance kick by Melksham found the Carlton backline in total disarray, leading to first Gawn marking unopposed, then lobbing it over the top for Weideman and Viney to raffle. They were so far in the clear running into the square together that I had a moment of panic about them stuffing it up with a bit of Warner Brothers style "You first", "no you first" hesitation. I note on the replay that Dwayne being the shit bloke he is tries to make out that Viney demanded the ball rather than it actually being pure Gentlemania by Weideman.

They got a couple of token goals in the last quarter to briefly make it tolerable for their fans, those who weren't already filing out the door, before deciding that they'd done enough and rolling over in the last few minutes while we racked up a near 10 goal margin. There was even an unexpected highlight of Joel Smith trying to contribute to the family business with an attempt at a massive screamer. I'd already forgotten Jeremy Howe existed until I heard him doing a radio ad on the way down, but if Smith can start holding those then we won't have lost anything. The guy standing next to me was very keen to tell anyone he could find that Joel's dad used to do that. I just avoided eye-contact to stop from being roped in.

With 7000 people in the ground - less all the ones who'd racked off after the women's game or during the last quarter - I trudged back to the car expecting a minimum 60 minutes spent puttering along at 3kmh, not fast enough to feel you're achieving anything but too quick to amuse yourself by browsing your phone. I was lucky to get into the queue to begin with, first the guy in front of me jammed his 4WD into reverse unexpectedly, and if I didn't have clear space behind me to do the same would have copped the old sandwich job. Then once that was cleared up the bottom of my car was nearly ripped out attempting to traverse a dinky little 'ramp' set up to bridge kerb and road.

By now I was starting to stress, and having heard *CLUNK* *THUD! THUD!* as my trusty Toyota Yaris (bought immediately after the 2006 season, it has hosted hundreds of one-man post-match debriefs since) bounced over the concrete I thought I could hear 'a noise' and smell something sinister. The last thing I needed was to sit in a queue wondering when it was going to die and leave me stranded. Against all odds not only did the car make it out of the Casey Fields precinct and all the way back to the Towers but since the last time I was there they've opened a second exit back to the main road. Apologies to the poor traffic management person I made snarky faces at when he directed me towards "South Gippsland Highway", which sounded more likely to land me in Leongatha than Lower Plenty but eventually via several dozen residential streets put me back on the main road and on my way within 15 minutes. What a feat of modern engineering.

While I was finding my way out I enjoyed a masterclass in radio broadcasting by SEN special comments man and former Tankquiry scapegoat Chris Connolly. In the space of a couple of minutes he praised the performance of "Christian Slalom", referenced St Kilda's Paddy "McCartney", wondered if Jeff "Gartlett" would be returning and suggested vandenBerg provides much needed "angro" to the team.

And so, we exited Casey Fields with one real win in an AFLW game and one fake win in a practice match. How did this club suddenly become the pre-season form team? We should get some sort of tawdry shield for our contributions over the last two years. In lieu I'll take 10 boxes of whatever JLT sell.

2017 Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Bernie Vince
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Gawn, Jones, Viney, Oliver, Hunt, Brayshaw, Kennedy-Harris and Hibberd.

With one voting scoring opportunity left the ball is in Jesse's court, and perhaps he will finally receive a life-changing bounty in Western Australia after all? Personally I'd take him, let him chum around with friends and family then not pick him to play. What's left to prove now?

9 - Jesse Hogan
7 - Max Gawn
5 - Jayden Hunt, Christian Petracca
4 - Clayton Oliver
3 - Bernie Vince, Jack Viney
2 - Dion Johnstone, Nathan Jones, Christian Salem
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jordan Lewis, Joel Smith

After last week's controversy where our banner fell to bits before the players could get to it there was a shock repeat. This time it couldn't have been better timed, with the players about to run through it. If it was a few years ago it would have come down just as they were running underneath and half our team would have suffocated.

The good news for the cheersquad is that as Carlton couldn't even be arse to put a token effort together we still win just for turning up with one. Here's to the same banner being wheeled out every week for the rest of the season until it finally stays upright. 1-1 for the Dees in what is already promising to be an exciting season for this feature.
Crowd Watch
If you're going to have to be rammed shoulder-to-shoulder against other people with nowhere to escape it was the perfect combination of teams. We're still not confident enough to get chippy and Carlton fans know they're in for a shithouse season, so everyone around me generally kept quiet. For some reason I always seem to be near horny couples at footy games, and my key concern was about the two in front of me during the second half who looked quite a bit alike and were standing with an older male who was presumably one (or both) of their dads. The guy effectively dry humped his female companion for the entire third quarter without the responsible adult batting an eyelid. I expect the Casey carpark is a dogging hotspot on non-matchdays but this was a shameless exhibition of lust. By three quarter time I had to move away because it was becoming embarrassing. We wish them well in their future fornications.

When a female umpire turned up I was bracing for 'terrace humour', but in a further demonstration that the corner might have been turned on gender issues the only mentions she got were the usual crowd moaning about decisions. Imagine the hypocrisy of somebody arguing against a female umpire being used, as if they sit there every week praising the work of the whistleblowers and are concerned that the standard's going to drop if ladies are admitted.

And we assume that the kid wielding an inflatable banana in a Carlton jumper was trying to bring some summer feeling to the game rather than preparing to be involved in a race hate scandal. These days it's not easy to tell which way things are going to go.

Cash Money Brothers
The rear of our jumper remains without a sponsor, and for god's sake surely somebody with a few dollars behind them must realise it's the right time to get involved. If like that guy from Kaspersky you work for a foreign company with endless supplies of wonga, why not suggest your to your boss that he also rings the membership hotline and asks who he can write a check to. If you're lucky you won't be on the first flight home or end up floating down the Ganges River.

Random House
In case you missed our expansive promotional campaign, a revised version of the Demonblog book is now available. Here I was in mid-October thinking that it was safe to close off a Unabomber length manifesto about the #fistedforever decade. Then Harry O retired with concussion, the Hamburglar was picked up drink driving and Christian Salem dropped a brick on his head. Ironically the new version is likely to end up even rarer than the original, but if you haven't got a copy yet now would be an excellent time to start. If nothing else you'll be able to assault a St Kilda fan with it at Round 1.

Next Week (+1)
We've got the pre-season bye, then with our form in nothing games approaching certified world standards where better to end it all (figuratively speaking) than at Subiaco? Also if you're into omens, the last time we played St Kilda in Round 1 we lost our last warm-up game by 110 points. At one point there was a suggestion players would strike over the new pay deal negotiations instead of playing the third pre-season match, and I say there's still time for them to convene a union meeting and save us from another of our traditional disasters in the west.

Was it worth it?
With the unexpectedly speedy exit and the bottom of my car not dropping out on the Monash Freeway I'd have to say yes. The place shits me to tears, and if I move even one street further north there's every possible chance that I'd stay home and suffer Dwayne next time, but you can't argue with seeing further signs of recovery.

Final thoughts
We're 2-0 for the immediate post-#fistedforever decade. This is either setting us up for the time of our life or a royal screwjob that will send the whole place under.