Sunday, 16 April 2017

Touching cloth

In July 2014 I wrote a post entitled "A return to traditional values" after yet another debacle of a loss against Fremantle, where it was suggested that we could wheel out whatever coach we liked and it wouldn't matter because Ross Lyon "has got us on a leash like we're at a fetish club". In 2017 it's new coach, same result.

The numbers don’t lie, Lyon is now 15-1 against us since that we got his coaching career off to a hot start in Round 1, 2007. Even last year when we had Jesse Hogan manually removing Zac Dawson from contests like he was shifting a cardboard cut-out we unconvincingly wobbled to victory against a four win team. Now both Hogan and Dawson were gone, and our forward line reverted to the toothless, directionless rabble of the pre-Hulk years. Our most potent tall forward turned out to be The Spencil. I love that guy, but if that was the case no bloody wonder we unexpectedly lost.

Indeed it was unexpected, even I thought things would get uncomfortably close but that we'd eventually get over the line. It was meant to be an afternoon free of the myriad pressures of relocating to an actual god honest house for the first time in my life, instead I was left trying not to blow a gasket, before eventually blowing a gasket. Moving is a painful process, and I should know because I've done it enough, so if there was ever a day to put my hand up, admit defeat and stay home this was it. But I desperately covet that Nathan Jones bobblehead doll, and even though I've passed the Florence Nightingale stage of having to hover over the club like a typhoid patient that may die at any moment without constant attention the idea of not being there to see games live still affects me emotionally.

So, down went the sticky tape and off I went for the last time from Demonblog Towers IX. A location that covered the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons, making it probably my most successful residence since my return to Southbank (Towers VII) from the end of 2010 through 2012. From now getting to the footy is going to a baffling and traumatic ordeal, but it's not like I'm going to stop going so I'll just have to deal with the consequences.

Because my entire life’s philosophy is based on making things harder than they need to be, I ratcheted up the degree of difficulty by taking my kid to her first game. It was as much because I felt guilty leaving Mrs. D at home to deal with her in a half-packed house while I escaped the chaos as anything. My footy life started with a win and has gone 238-4-363 since, maybe she’ll enjoy the reverse and turn defeat into great things. Like refusing to get involved in footy, or risking being struck from my will by supporting GWS. Ironically that 2014 post about Freo owning us so comprehensively that our players should have had anchors tattooed their foreheads came the week she was born and I shamefully snuck out of the hospital to watch. At least just under three years later when we lost to the Dockers again we scored more than 50.

Some may think this was a cynical attempt to get her off to a good start with a win, like when Dom Cassisi retired the week Port played us at near rock-bottom because he knew he'd go out on a high, but you and I have been through enough to know that no win is guaranteed in my book. It was more the happy set of coincidences with the moving, what I thought would be a pitiful crowd (and didn’t I pay for that later by sitting in the car park for 30 minutes waiting for people to merge from eight different directions), and my mum agreeing to make her latest surprise return to the fold to act as babysitter in case little Hashtag lost interest and started screaming at the big screen to play Peppa Pig instead. This came in handy deep in the last quarter when I started to suffer internal combustion from the tension of the comeback and the knowledge that we were going to find a way to stuff it up.

The lessons about being over-confident against supposedly lesser sides still hasn’t been learnt by everyone. The players might have taken heed, but there were still queues of fans who deep down must have known a disaster was on the cards but tried to be outwardly butch and suggest we'd romp to victory. Even with their win over the reigning premiers a week earlier I tried to console myself that young teams might be able to pull that sort of shit off at home but it never translates away. Which is how you think when you follow a side that made the surprise to instant let-down transition legendary. In fact I was packing it from the moment Freo won, and probably would still have been if they’d lost. New eras and new coaches be buggered, we are still a mental outfit and finally got what we deserved from the Carlton game.

World War III might be about to break out, but on Saturday 15 April 2017 the organisation on the highest level of alert was the Kent Kingsley Klub after we missed two chances (including Tomas Bugg of all people nearly screwing one through from the pocket), only for Freo to go down the other end and kick a goal from the boundary line through Shane Kersten. He never got another, instead we were tormented by the Unmade Bed Cam McCarthy and a running cavalcade of unsung goalkickers and players you’ve never heard of but who will probably be collectively nominated for the Rising Star this week.

When Hannan missed a relatively easy set shot it looked like another round of last week’s peg-leg style goalkicking was on the cards. We dragged it back to a reasonable level by the end, generally by having the shots from barely outside goalsquare range, and if we had to grab the lead back then lose it again I’m glad we got in front via a set shot and lost by missing a speculative long range bomb rather than the other way around.

Sanity was briefly restored by the Spencil, marking at the top of the square and converting a kick that none of us were 100% confident of. In the international history of Dockers and docking, that should have started the footballing equivalent of this:

... but to paraphrase baseball coach Casey Stengel, the football public want to see goals and our defence are doing everything they can to help. It wasn’t just their inability to clear the ball for 20 minutes of the third quarter (punctuated only by brief trips back to the centre after goals), or the numerous howlers by hand or foot but the way they still look like they have no idea where they’re supposed to go when the other team have the ball. It’s very easy to play forward against Melbourne, just run into acres of space, put your hand up and wait your turn. Players should be able to take a ticket like a supermarket deli as they enter 50. We’ve obviously had much worse times defensively, but that was usually because we were subject to brute force entries where you could stand anywhere and it didn’t matter because the ball was always down there anyway. Now we have raised expectations and it’s killing me watching a second year of what feels to the untrained eye like a gigantic technical flaw going unchecked.

I don’t purport to know enough about tactics or football in general to start a futile Sack Rawlings Facebook page, but for the second year in a row having players woefully out of position when defending any attack launched at more than walking speed is costing us. Last year it usually happened when the defenders pushed up, turned the ball over and were left trying to work out where the damn zone started and finished but this time it’s just open slather chaos whenever the ball exits the attacking 50. It’s not solely the fault of the backmen, free players run in waves all down the ground while they are desperately trying to organise who’s supposed to be standing where. By the time it arrives they’ve run around in circles so much that the other side are gleefully queuing up to take a mark. There was a moment yesterday that I wish I could have taken a photo of, and which I hope will be shown on any number of footy analysis shows that I'll be refusing to watch this week, where four Freo players were standing on their own inside 50 with their hands in the air and not a Melbournian in sight. If somebody got a picture it would become as iconic in the history of Melbourne vs Freo games as that one from 2013 where three of our players contested a mark against each other. I’d say this is just what the Dockers do to us – and have been since that fateful night in ’99 when Tony Modra ripped us a new ringpiece at the MCG – but it happened last week, and about 10 different times in 2016.

The next thing you knew Tyson took advantage of a 50 metre penalty to kick out on the full, and not long after we were two goals down. Nervous adjustment of collars commenced across the MCG, as 20,000 people said "here we go again" at once. For all the inaccuracy it is an indisputable fact that we've been better at Etihad Stadium than our home ground so far this year, and we haven't played any particularly good sides at the 'G yet. How's your confidence level going? Mine was never that high to begin with. The second goal showed how important it is to find a real-life superstar who can consistently do ridiculous things, Fyfe going back with the flight of the ball and marking despite a concerted effort by Dean Kent to try and spoil by spinning around and ramming Fyfe in the breadbasket with his buttocks. Talk about relying on the top end of your team to carry the rest - they had five players with less than 10 disposals to our one, and it didn't do them any harm.

Just as I was about to lose all hope we got one of those centre bounce moments that make life worthwhile, Spencer taking advantage of Freo's 2nd string ruckman performing one of the worst run and jump combinations at a ball since 1897 to effortlessly smack it into the hands of The Hamburglar, who kicked long and for the first and possibly last time all day found one of our forwards in front and winning a contested mark. Watts converted, and I mistakenly thought we were back in town. As much as I love Jack, and have come to accept that he will have moments where it looks like he's taking things too easily, even I cracked the sads when he followed up this goal with a lazy snap towards an unguarded goalsquare soon after. That opportunity was set up by Garlett, who has been fantastic so far this year after a rocky second half of 2016, and his work to make the opportunity deserved more than a casual ping around the corner.

Going into quarter time three points down shouldn't have been an issue, but given all the times I've seen Freo beat us at the MCG I could hear sirens blaring and see red lights pulsing everywhere. Could we not just have a day where everything goes right and we stomp a side from siren to siren four times? It doesn't even have to be the elusive 100 point win, just 60 or so will do. Arguably we did this against Brisbane and Collingwood last year, but even then there were large patches of slurry - especially in the Lions match where we fell into the age old trap of trying to play like millionaires when not even remotely qualified.

It was a day for false dawns, when Harmes put us back in front at the start of the second quarter I thought - not for the first or last time - that we'd put everything back in place and were going to romp to a comfortable victory. By the end of the quarter it looked like that again, but not before our loose goose backline gave up more easy goals. In the middle of their first two, Kent kicked one from the boundary line after eventually convincing a photographer to piss off out of his way, proving that some players are better kicking from ludicrous angles with the pressure removed rather than directly in front. The kick came from a moment that was so ridiculous we will probably steal it, somebody called E. Hughes desperately trying to kick the ball forward from a pack and accidentally putting it on out on the full closer to goal than where he started. Give up a pick in the high 20s for that man.

As if to say "stop complaining about free players inside 50, we can concede goals any way you like" the reply came when the ball was pulled back from the boundary line for the very unforward-like David Mundy to hold his ground and mark against Jetta (his weekly appearance as the last line of defence) and a quickly closing Sizzle McDonald. I resolved to stop being sucked in by goals, because we'd only give them back the moment Freo got the ball in any sort of open space. Of course the moment I lowered my expectations we began to romp away to a comfortable lead. Then when they went back up we died in the arse.

The first came from Petracca, the master of manoeuvring in confined spaces, then after Viney missed the gift of a rare 100m penalty and Freo stuffed up a pair of chances for a steadier we played what passed for a golden five minutes but still wouldn't have been spat at by a good side. Two of the three goals had Garlett's fingerprints all over them, setting up the first and kicking the last after another predatory chase/tackle inside 50. Now we had them spooked, and the 15 players they had who were relying heavily on the other seven to carry them were shitting themselves with or without ball. All it lacked was either one killer blow, or at least getting to half-time with the big lead intact.

The whole game was MFC Gold, from losing while favourite, to being beaten by the Dockers at the MCG, but their final goal of the quarter was the moment most worthy of instant elevation to the long since shuttered club Hall of Fame. We’d just put together one of the least impressive seven goal quarters you’ll ever see, but it was seven goals nonetheless that opened a 27 point margin heading towards half time. Realising this our players went into shutdown mode with what must have been two minutes to go, but unable to pull off enough clean disposals in a row to run down the clock they turned the ball over. Freo, being an equally inept team, then fell apart trying to attack and gave the ball back to us with free players streaming forward everywhere – for once our Achilles heel situation working for us – and after some hesitation when the players wondered if they still had the green light to try and attack they walked right into a rope-a-dope scenario. The attack petered out due to a lack of proper targets, Freo whipped down the other end, found Lachie Neale standing in the middle of three Melbournians like he was the middle point of a triangle, and he kicked what turned out to be a reasonably crucial goal after the siren. I didn’t see the ad for Melbourne Experiences today, after the Carlton game they must have realised it would seem sarcastic.

It was a great day for professional Josh Tynan lookalike Neale. After 96 games we enabled the first four goal haul of his career. He only kicked seven all of last year, but we’re here to help players make lifelong memories. Arguably even worse was allowing David Mundy – sent forward presumably because like Vince they’ve lost interest in him as a midfielder – to rack up only his second three goal performance in 255 games. I’d love an unusual player to kick four for us – other than Daniel Ward inexplicably doing it against Brisbane 15 years ago, a youthful Nathan Jones against the Lions in 2008 and Sam Blease’s mysterious five against St Kilda it’s hard to come up with many irregular goalkicking performances by our lot. One day Petracca’s going to kick six or Hunt will unload four long distance bombs, and then you’ll know we’ve made it.

It’s simplistic to blame Jordan Lewis and Jesse Hogan for playing a part in the result by not being there, but it’s not without some merit. Of course it didn’t look like they were required when we were opening up a near five goal lead, but we could have done with Lewis’ experience when the tide turned against us in the third quarter and Hogan as a target full stop. Even if Jesse wasn’t kicking goals he would have been marauding the half-forward line getting involved and setting up others. Instead he was sitting in the stands, probably fanging for a gasper and cursing the MCG’s no smoking policy.

It’s not the smoking, I wouldn’t care if he was cycling uppers, downers, steroids and substances usually only found in oven cleaner if he was playing well, but I still just don’t trust him. When he signed the contract extension I thought that would be all I'd need to fully embrace him as one of ours, but the punch – which was admittedly light on, played up for all it was worth and not worth more than a week – has unleashed the beast again. Maybe this is what happens when you’re landed with a player who is anointed as the chosen one. It might just be a defensive stance so that if he turns out to be serviceable, or dicks us and returns to Perth in a couple of years I won’t feel as hurt. This is not an SEN style provocative statement to try and get publicity and boost my audience, as much as he (incoming cliché alert) straightens us up and draws heat away from other forwards there’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me. I would appreciate if he could wait until he’s back and firing to send over payslips demonstrating that he could easily afford to have me killed.

While writing this in an otherwise empty house, with a computer that won't connect to the internet so I can post the damn thing, I followed Tom Lynch of Gold Coast rattling home five first half goals against Carlton. That’s who I dream of, somebody who treats Blues defenders with contempt by thrashing the pants off them, not petulantly lashing out at the most pissweak provocation ever. It's hardly a controversial decision to say I’d have Lynch in a second, but that’s not going to happen. If we’re going to pick at the corpse of Gold Coast – who after all their trials will probably still reach success before us – what I would very much like to do it swipe the SME Killer Steven May and stick him in our backline. I can't explain why, but I have a major fetish for that guy.

While Hogan and Lewis might be at fault in their own way for what happened – though like umpires screwing you on days where you give away a dozen goals from turnovers, they can’t be blamed for those who did play stuffing it up from a winning position – you can’t lay any of the blame for this on Gawn. Once we went from "oh shit knee" to "oh good hamstring" then back to "oh shit hamstring" and found out he was gone for 12 weeks we had to confront the reality that this was going to open the door for Jake Spencer to become the man. Which admittedly he was well on the way to doing before Maximum stormed into the team like a runaway elephant in mid-2015. People forget this, and instead concentrate on him dropping the ball in his run-up in 2009 or scuffing one of the worst kicks ever along the ground against GWS in Canberra in 2012. Jake's come a long way from there, and while he lost the hitout battle against Sandilands here I thought he played his role really well and chipped in with Gawn-esque goals.

I don’t have full time figures, but at the half he'd had many less hitouts than Sandi but almost as many to advantage so I’m confident in saying he will massacre some lesser ruckmen over the next three months if he stays fit. And if he doesn't stay fit, well that serves us right for drafting rookie ruckmen with years of development required instead of plonking a mature body ruck on the rookie list just in case. Even if he stays fit and totally loses form what are they going to do? King and Filipovic are nowhere near ready, and as game as Watts is at the bounces you can’t string that out for more than a few minutes at a time. In Spencil we trust. Just always have a player running past for the optional handball when he gets it.

We've got more trouble than players needlessly getting themselves rubbed out. Both Tyson and Vince have both got the Heather Mills-McCartneys, and Viney still can’t get near it a month into the season. Despite Jones doing an ok job on him Fyfe still killed us, and I'd have used Viney on him instead. He needs something to help him break out of his funk, and if somebody had to be dragged around in Fyfe's wake we may as well have used the guy that needed to be taken to where the ball was rather than wasting Jones. There’s already talk about a staged exit from the joint-captaincy, which is stupid if it's not working the best thing to do is just pretend we’re going on as normal until the end of the year and let Jones do everything. He’s used to that.

Neale’s goal scared me to death. I’m generally a nervy character when defending any lead under the Chris Sullivan Line (and even then it doesn’t become real until the last quarter) but there was a definite sense that it shifted things. That shouldn't have translated through a 20 minute break, but it did and how. I didn’t know a surprise Heritage Round had been declared, but it was an unwanted flashback to the days when Neeld’s motivational speeches made the team run out after half time to be violently mowed down the moment the siren went.

Harmes, who has been very good the last two weeks after I whinged about them picking him, had a chance to cancel out the late goal at the start of the third, but after he missed one of those American bombs that obliterates everything for miles dropped on us, leaving Freo to mercilessly shell bedraggled survivors for the next 30 minutes. Speaking of returning to traditional values, it's been a while since I've seen us so panicky and inept at extracting the ball from defence on such a grand scale. Usually we get slaughtered on the rebound but this time the Dockers expertly executed a press so heavy that we never got the chance to turn it over on the run because we were pinned down inside 50 and unable to exit with anything more than a big, terrified hoof which usually came straight back. Whenever Freo kicked a goal I thought that at least it gave us the chance to escape from defence and craft something, but the moment the ball crossed halfway it was on for young and old inside 50 again.

After their first two goals we had a chance to reply, and as we were still in front Kent's sloppy handball to the goalsquare which rolled over before Watts could get a foot to it was received with big smiles and all-round "oops, sorry!" because it looked like we were turning the corner. Turning straight into an ambush as it turns out, the ball went down the other end and stayed there. There was an element of luck in the rampage - how many times did they get a novelty bounce in their favour? - but like we briefly found out against Geelong you make your own luck with insane pressure. We went to water under it and they merrily ran around yelling Heave Ho until we were as good as dead.

We were so loose that at one point they worked a goal courtesy of three different kicks to spare players increasingly close to goal. The only surprise was that they didn’t also have somebody standing alone on the line for the cheap handball over the top. We were like a frightened caterpillar, curling into a ball to protect itself only for a big boot to come down and squash it anyway. By halfway through the quarter they were in front, which was distressing enough, and by the end four goals in front after kicking eight in a row. If it wasn't Round 4 there would have been a riot.

I remained hopeful, if not confident, that we could pull off a comeback but it should never have got to that in the first place. When they were walking all over us it looked like the Grimgove era where the other side would get a roll on and nobody stepped up to take control and settle the team down - which is ironic because the leadership group had about 50% of the list in it those years. I'm not surprised considering Jones had his hands full trying to quell Fyfe and Viney is on another planet at the moment. Could I say again, with no prejudice against Viney who I do love dearly, how much I hate the idea of co-captains?

Both ends were going so badly that I'm surprised we didn't rip out the old T. McDonald to full forward move for the last quarter to try and get somebody down there to take a mark using the element of surprise. Even Frost, who was very good one-on-one but got lost in the same black hole as everyone else when the ball came in quickly, would have provided a target that nobody else was offering. Turns out that wasn't necessary, first Watts and then gloriously Spencer turned out for big marks right in front of goal in the first couple of minutes and the comeback was on. Then it was off/on/off/on/off again. In the classic Melbourne style we mounted our comeback on death or glory footy, then when we got close enough reverted back to doing what had got us so far behind in the first place.

It shows how well they thought Melksham was going that after James Harmes probably did the best job in the traditionally graveyard-like defensive forward position since the Ricky Petterd era, they sent him back in the last quarter and Milkshake forward. He almost kicked a goal from the same spot where Pedersen kicked the sealer against Carlton in 2015, but that may have been his only touch for the quarter. No doubt Harmes has rolled himself into playing the forward role for the next few weeks until they lose interest and send some other victim down there to wither and die. On the other hand I’m happy to explore alternatives to Jake the Snake. Suffice to say his role in the comeback was minimal. He might go well in bruise free slopfests where he gets two hours to size up every disposal, but under heavy pressure there were no lovely tap-ons and not much lovely anything else.

Freo were on the run again, courtesy of a Hunt-style long bomb from Petracca, and even as we couldn't help but gift them opportunities they were stressed out under the weight of the comeback and didn't take advantage. But I knew they would eventually. Weideman had played more like Weetra all day, so when he got a free kick right in front of goal I think everyone knew what was coming next. Having been so accurate from set shots until now he was so surprised at getting a kick that he missed. Sam has got a lot of time to develop, but without Hogan (who should punch himself next for missing two games where we were dying for a target) to take the focus away from him has looked way out of his depth.

He shouldn’t have even been playing given how much better Tim Smith was last week. Goodwin said Smith was dropped because they were doing “something else” with the forward line. Apparently that was the innovative move of kicking long to Garlett against two defenders or just plain old roosting it as long inside 50 as possible straight to a defender. Harmes conquering the death seat was the only success, and that was just a straight swap of him (and occasionally Bugg, but that didn’t bring much) into the role that has killed Brayshaw rather than anything to do with the talls. I don’t give a rats what the behind the scenes explanation is, they flubbed this decision and Weid needs to go back to the VFL and get some form before coming back for another go. He’s a 19-year-old key position forward, senior experience is great but there’s no need to force it on him unnecessarily. If not Smith I’d have gladly had Pedersen in that role, but clearly he’s seen as nothing more than spare parts and will undoubtedly be chopped at the end of the year.

Garlett expertly created another goal to get us back within a kick with plenty of time left, only for the ball to ping straight out of the middle and to some mystery man called Brady Gray, who may very well have been another player appearing under an assumed name for all I know, for the instant reply. I knew it still wasn't over, but it felt like it. If they got the ball forward they scored, we had no such guarantees. Salem kept us afloat with a well taken kick along the ground, but deep in my Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome diseased heart I knew we were still going to lose even if we got in front.

In the middle of all this, with my tension reaching absurd levels at the thought of us pulling off another ridiculously undeserved comeback, I heard a commotion to my left and looked over to see some kid bawling his eyes out after royally necking himself trying to run up the stairs. A few years ago when I was a confirmed shit bloke without any parental instinct I might have told the kid to hush up because there was a thriller afoot, but now here I was like Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny trying to get him to identify where his parents and/or legal guardians were so I could let them know. Fortunately they were right in front of us, so it didn’t take long to alert them and get back to my seat. For some reason, probably related to the tension of the last quarter, I gave the kid a pat on the shoulder and said something like "hope you’re alright buddy" on the way back up the stairs. It was literally the first time in my life I’ve ever called anyone ‘buddy’ (what’s wrong with 'Lance'?), and I hope it’s the last. By the end I was considering adopting the same position on the stairs and having a sob too.

I hadn’t been listening to the radio all day, thinking to myself at the start that it should be unnecessary to have to know how much time there is left in any quarter, but the tension of being within a kick prompted me to remember that I had it in my bag. With no earphones I was forced to adopt the old radio to ear look like it was 1985. It was still tuned to the Tobin Brothers after I'd had to find an alternative to escape Liam Pickering on SEN last week, and do you think those miserable arseholes ever once said how long there was to go? This is not the era of the Channel 10 five minute warning, we know you have access to the TV coverage, just give us a hint every once in a while. At one point Gerard Whateley, who I quite like other than his strange fetish for a horse, said something happened "as security guards start ringing the MCG". Just give me the god damn time pal. I stand by previous comments, probably made after that St Kilda debacle that killed Jimmy Toumpas’ career, that while I never want the players to know exactly how long is left I as a fan want to know to the second. Even the countdown clock on the fence that's supposed to run down to the last minute now didn't appear. Even fence sponsors don't want to be involved with us?

After struggling to get a touch all day, and already missing one set shot from practically the same angle, Viney showed that while he might be desperately out of form he’s still a calm character by marking one of Neal-Bullen's few accurate kicks and converting to put us in front. Which was ace, but I just knew there was more to come. Obviously it was too early to stack the backline, but if we could win out of the centre and keep the ball down our end we’d be fine. The concern was that the moment it crossed halfway towards Freo’s goal we were horribly vulnerable. It would have been a good time for Spencer to get any sort of tap, to advantage or not, but the Dockers won it and the countdown to disappointment began.

No doubt somebody’s reflex blaming Spencil for losing but centre bounce hitouts are as overrated as inside 50s. Blaming a ruckman for a loss because he didn’t win enough hitouts is like blaming the car for a speeding fine. Other than those few magical times when the ruckmen sticks it into a midfielder’s mitts with a perfect hit the whole thing is pot luck to the point where if Spencer goes down we may as well put Tomas Bugg in there and concentrate on what happens at the fall of the ball.

I knew the 10th lead change would not be the last, for a game where we 'only' conceded 106 points my confidence in our ability to keep them out was next to nil. Even when it was going well I said "we'll never get away with playing like this against a good side", and as it turns out we wouldn't get away with against a middling-to-shit one either. We held out for about 60 seconds before Freo went forward in waves again, fresh as if it wasn't the 30 minute mark of the last quarter, and found two players goalside of McDonald and Frost. As Frost's despairing backhand punch towards goal fell short, The Unmade Bed got a touch so light that it's surprising they didn’t go to the video to confirm it, the mask of sanity slipped and I freaked out in front of Junior (my kid, not Oscar McDonald), banging the seat in front of me and yelling “FUCK!” before quickly lying to her that it was all a game and I was having a wonderful time indeed. Meanwhile all my internal organs were about to explode.

Remember last year when some anonymous arsehole was calling rogue video reviews once all the players had gone back to the centre? I presume he was too scared to get involved here because there was so little time left. Still with no idea of how much time there was left (the replay shows 90 seconds), and hands too shaky to manage a change of radio station, the sign of Freo rolling half their side back into defence was a good indication time that it was almost over.

Despite setting up to try and absorb pressure Freo won the clearance, and it ended with one of their players having a shot on goal. In a moment that would have rivalled James McDonald vs Port in 2009 if it had happened to us it rolled wide and was called deliberate. Now, he may very well have been trying to kick it out of bounds because that would waste more time and not give us the ball back, but how you can adjudicate that from a shot towards goal is criminal. This is the second time we've benefited from one of these after the Gold Coast win last year, and on the day it happens to us I will turn beetroot red and probably snap the top of a seat.

We recovered from Vince's NQR decision to kick the ball wide towards the boundary line to force a Dockers player to kick the ball out of bounds on the half-forward flank. It set up Harmes for the last opportunity. Knowing that he was unlikely to find a marking target inside a completely congested 50 and probably not seeing Jetta storming down the middle all on his own he took off, hesitated about whether he really should pass after all just long enough to be put off his kick and missed. Fate and destiny are a crock, but in those milliseconds I knew he'd miss because we just had to lose. It's not his fault, for all he knew there might have been five seconds left and he'd have ended up looking like a poon for running the clock down.

They managed to avoid making a hash of the kick-in and it was clear we were stuffed. Eventually at another stoppage 70 metres out from our goal I had to resort to Twitter, and the ever helpful timecheck posts of @demonsbeth, to find out there was only seven seconds left. First instinct was to cop a ban by hurling the radio off the top deck, but I’d already disgraced myself in front of immediate family so I just conceded it was over, turned the thing off and vowed to nod furiously in agreement the next time a politician tries to defund the ABC. As Kurtis Blow helpfully reminds us whenever we get upset, these are the breaks, but try telling me that at the siren. Thank god for having to be a responsible adult, because I could have kicked an inanimate object to pieces.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
This was so hard. 186 is the gold standard for rancid performances, but even then Jordie McKenzie was the standout alongside four others lucky to get a run. This time I have nothing, everyone who got a vote would be lucky to score one if it was a merit-based system. But it’s not, and keep that in mind when somebody wins the competition by a razor-thin margin. The top three are the most deserving, after that it was a crap shoot.

5 – Jeff Garlett
4 – Clayton Oliver
3 – James Harmes
--- Roll the dice, throw the dart, train a circus animal to make a random selection ---
2 – Christian Petracca
1 – Jake Spencer

Apologies to Frost, Hunt, Jetta, Salem and Watts – all of who could have featured in the 2 or 1 by default.

With two more players scoring their first votes of the season this leaderboard is looking kookier than ever. Oliver’s lead extends, but the even nature of the competition means even fading favourite Jack Viney is only two and a bit BOGs away with 18 games and a maximum 90 votes left. Based on voting patterns from previous years The Hamburglar and five-time champion Nathan Jones would have to be favourites from here.

Meanwhile Garlett enjoys an unprecedented appearance on the podium, and despite winning his votes today as a forward Harmes still qualifies for the Seecamp at the moment and moves into a tie with Nifty Nev. Any more of playing as a forward and the organising committee will be forced to meet and discuss his eligibility.

11 – Clayton Oliver
9 – Jeff Garlett
6 – James Harmes (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Neville Jetta (CO-LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Nathan Jones
5 – Christian Salem, Jack Watts
4 – Jayden Hunt
2 – Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent, Christian Petracca
1 – Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With apologies to Viney's co-captain's goal at the end and Kent's kick from the boundary line in the second quarter I'm opting for Petracca starting the avalanche by gathering a bouncing ball, rotating in tight space and snapping truly from 35 metres out past a defender rapidly charging him down. For the weekly prize Truck wins a full oil and lube job at that massage place on [practically every corner in suburban Melbourne] that's open suspiciously late and only ever has men emerging from it.

It’s another win to the Dees here for a lovely Jeff Garlett 150th game banner. I’ll even forgive the text crashing into the graphic of him in the left corner because I'm unbelievably biased towards everything we do. Bonus points for keeping sponsors happy  by working a mention of him into the ad on the other side. Maybe get the cheersquad to negotiate the back of jumper sponsor deal?

Freo's effort was not bad, including an old school slogan that referenced us and how they were going to win without going over the top and trying to do humour that an Australian sketch comedy show would turn down. The only issue was that it scanned terribly, and I reiterate my offer to provide a consultancy service to any cheersquad in the competition where I'll edit their novelty slogans so they're not as clunky. My weekly manifestos may be error-riddled, but I'll provide a money back guarantee on three line slogans.

P.S – On the occasion of his milestone I was thrilled to discover Jeff Garlett’s son is called ‘Nason’ – presumably after that Richmond bloke with the worst set of white boy dreadlocks ever seen.

Crowd Watch
There was an outrageously large crowd there for a game against Fremantle, and maybe it was just because I was in traditional enemy territory at the top of the Ponsford with the Dockers cheersquad directly underneath making plenty of noise but it felt like there were a ridiculous proportion of Freo fans around.

The problem with taking normal people to a game is that you’re compelled to sit reasonably close to the front, which means having to be surrounded by strangers talking a tremendous amount of shite. Take for instance, the lady sitting next to me in the first half. I eventually had to move before bringing my family into disrepute by getting into an argument with her. She was of the "just kick it!" school of thought, majoring in breathless panic about any kick that went sideways or god forbid backwards. The switch can end in disaster, and didn’t we collectively hold our breath when The Spencil tried one across goal that nearly rolled through for a point, but if you can’t see the purpose of it or think back to a time when a perfectly executed one has set up a goal-scoring opportunity you're bonkers.

There was a moment of unfortunate karma when after screaming her head off about us kicking sideways, Freo got the ball and did exactly the same to open up five loose players down one side of the ground. The good news for her is that there was also plenty of kicking it long into the 50, usually into the arms of a waiting defender. The worst thing – other than outing herself as a knob by loudly chastising the first Jack Watts error she could find – was when she’d be screeching like a mad fishwife for them to go forward while they were dinking sideways kicks across the defensive 50. It’s one thing to want to try and roost it onto Garlett vs the world, but even somebody as tactically dim as I can see that the last thing you want our defence to do is turn the ball over into the middle of the ground. What a helmet. Better to stay silent (random outbursts notwithstanding) and have people think you're an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

The many Dockers fans present were well behaved, including the three gentlemen in front who were desperately trying to inject class into the occasion by drinking wine out of plastic glasses, but in a blow to traditional stereotypes it was our lot doing all the stuff you’d accuse opposition fans of being terrible humans for doing. One person held a clearly baffled child up for the benefit of the TV cameras, and another made me look like Father of the Year when he’d jump to his feet and celebrate our goals by screaming with a baby strapped to his chest.

On the way back to the car I’m sure a Fremantle supporter was talking to me when she turned and yelled, “HEY! GO FREO!” across the MCG concourse. I looked to make sure there wasn’t some other sucker standing behind me, but no. God knows why she picked me out of the hundreds of Demons fans miserably trudging out, and obviously I didn’t respond with a venomous spray due to a) being a family man and b) still not being 100% sure it was at me, but if you follow a team that’s been wank for its entire existence and rubbing it in to Melbourne fans (and we’ve only been that way for about 60% of ours) is what floats your boat then god bless. Just don’t be surprised when somebody eventually stuffs a rolled up Footy Record into your gob.

Matchday Experience Watch
I was outraged (relatively speaking) at the allegation that the players don’t choose the songs played under their name in the Melbourne Music segment. This came to light after Neville Jetta’s 'choice' of Working Class Man lit up the MFC Twitter community, now it turns out that it might be a pro wrestling style swizz. If it’s a work I'm not sure how Bernie Vince ends up with Ring of Fire of all songs. At least Nifty got a classic track, I doubt any players give a red hot toss when they’ve got bigger fish to fry but I’d punch on if anyone even alluded to me listening to The Flying Dickheads in front of 30,000 people.

The level of seriousness you’d take in choosing your song is probably a good indicator of who's going to be an AFL player and who's going to be a fat porky blogger (it’s a wonder they don’t set the kids this task at draft camp, then automatically DQ anyone who doesn’t just go "play what you want, I don't care"), but how about something to bring the house down instead of Triple J dross that sounds like the vocals are coming from inside the singer’s oven. To any players reading, I will spit in the face of societal norms and go back to regularly wearing a footy jumper bearing the number of the first player to get this played at the MCG:

Ironically that’s also the song from the "Is losing fun? What are you having fun for?" scene from Moneyball, but that’s just a coincidence.

Corporate Corner
No wonder nobody will pay to get their name on the back of our jumper. The other losers in the same position are Gold Coast, and now that they’re officially back in town and everyone loves Rocket Eade again I've no doubt sponsors will be clambering to get to them before us. It’s time to start searching for brands that share the same core values as us – United Airlines, the coal industry, big pharma, Exit International. Somebody with a logo that will still look good in black and white “LOL @ Melbourne” montages on AFL 360 must have a few bucks to spare. Shame you’re not allowed to advertise cigs anymore, we’ve just turned up the perfect spokesman.

Next Week
Richmond may turn out to be significantly better than expected this year, but if there's even a time to rip out an upset victory and set their fans off on another round of despairing talkback calls this is it. It’s silly, and yet again is probably more self-preservation than anything, but my confidence is totally shot. Pre-season I’d have expected us to be in exactly the same position as now – only having lost to St Kilda and beaten Freo – but going into this game on a high against another side in the same boat. Now the Tigers flying (pending a hilarious surprise loss to Brisbane) and we’re back to rifling through drawers trying to consult the instruction manual.

The good news is that search and rescue teams have located the VFL and play starts on Monday, so we might get a decent look at some our other players under real-life conditions for a few weeks until they take a break for a state game or two.

Hogan is an automatic inclusion, and Hibberd will be too as long as he makes it through without tripping on an exposed sprinkler head and breaking his arm. So that’s two definite changes, but as much as it’s tempting to open fire on half a dozen players I'm going to remain calm and restrict myself to two more. The same people who'll tell you Weideman has to play because Hogan is back are probably the same who thought he should play this week before Freo are shit and he can rack up a few goals. He is crying for a spell, and if I don’t see him as OUT on either Thursday or Friday night I'll complain on the internet. I reiterate in case you’re ducking in and out of this post (and I don’t blame you) that it’s not a call on his long term future, it’s just that he needs to get a kick at a lower level.

After Neal-Bullen, Tyson and Vince made a joint bid for the most total disposals for the least effective impact I’m dumping two of them, and only holding Bernard because dumping Melksham means there’s a lack of alternatives to take his place. Tyson can accumulate but has been horrendous this year, it's time to give Brayshaw a proper game in the middle instead of hanging out on a flank desperately trying to get involved.

IN: Hogan, Smith, Hibberd, Brayshaw
OUT: Melksham, Weideman, Neal-Bullen, Tyson (omit)
LUCKY: Hannan, Vince, Viney
UNLUCKY: Pedersen (hey, I just like him alright?)

Was it worth it?
For family bonding and giving my kid a seven year headstart on when I got involved in this ridiculous pastime, yes. For the enjoyment of the sport and any sneaky hopes I had of playing finals absolutely not. As Hashtag had absolutely no idea what was happening on the ground (though she did clap at several appropriate times), her highlights seemed to be trying to push the emergency button in the lift, eating chips and when the siren went off and she called it the horn. If you could introduce the guy writing this in 2017 to the original 2005 model there would nearly be fisticuffs at how much my life has changed. I’d win the fight by TKO when he wound up in a ball sobbing after being told what was going to happen from 2007 on.

Final thoughts
It had been a long time since I'd felt such pent-up rage after a game. But only because of the off-season, because six competitive games ago in Round 22 against Carlton I was several times angrier.
We've played one big burst against St Kilda and Geelong, fallen over the line against the Blues and won three quarters here but lost due to 30 minutes of inattention. I’m not fooled by the 2-0 start, my predicted ladder might already be in MFC third quarter style disarray due to Richmond being good and Hawthorn/Sydney starting poorly but I remain comfortable in predicting we were no better than a 7th to to 11th placed side if everything went right. Which it hasn't, for both controllable and uncontrollable reasons, but this is what’s going to happen for the next couple of years. Mid-table mediocrity feels shithouse at the moment, but it’s a necessary step considering how far back we’re coming from.

What happened yesterday doesn’t shake my belief that we can be very good soon, but not this year.
What we will do is knock off a couple of good teams this season that will give a hint of what’s to come, but we haven’t developed a ruthless killing machine yet. That’s Goodwin and Co’s challenge, they’ve got the parts they just need to assemble them. The goal this year is to get games into the best kids, develop Plan Bs to cover the potential loss of the important spine players and do enough to convince good, ready-made players to sign up for the ride. This was total bullshit, but retain your bundle for now and let’s see how they respond next week.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Kicking into danger

It was all going so well at our old nemesis - a winning streak, a closed roof just as the weather was going troppo, more manual ticket scanning so you weren't stuck behind some dickhead who couldn't read instructions, and even an aroma from their Kaiser rip-off gourmet snag bar so appealing that I was lured into dropping $11.70 on a kransky. Then the footy started.

There was no problem in the first five minutes, in fact we were quite good. Then a lot like St Kilda 2016 x2 the walls caved in after we stopped fruitlessly attacking and gave the other team a go with the ball. Our early domination came to nothing more than two behinds, one by Garlett from a zany angle that barely scraped the post, and the other featuring Anal-Bullet starting the day's big storyline by missing a complete sitter.

Even at this point, with Gawn dominant in the ruck (if not around the ground) and the ball pinging towards our goal at a rapid rate, I still didn't think we were going to win. Although we've toppled both of them recently I still never do at Etihad or against Geelong. The rarefied air of 2-0 wasn't fooling me, even as Richmond were confounding expectations across town by winning their third game in a row I knew we were mid-table fodder at best and would have been satisfied getting out of this with a battling loss to set us up for Freo next week then the dual bubble bursters against the Tigers and Essendon after that. Like every other time I've gone in thinking I'd be ok with a competitive performance and we've nearly won I threw all that "just happy to be alive" shit out the window when it started to look like we might, then left in a foul mood when we didn't.

My nerves about being exposed as frauds are still so raw that I was even punting Richmond home against West Coast, with the theory that the better they go now the less it will hurt when they finally beat us in the Anzac Day eve game. I thought mid-table mediocrity would be a fun place to be, but it's even more stressful than being flat-out shit. I thought being mediocre it would at least be profitable, but tell that to the poor bastard trying to sell the ad space on the back of our jumper. When our five minute bubble was popped with three goals in a row I had visions of a dozen prior debacles against the Cats and started to expect we'd be thrashed. Precisely the same thing happened against St Kilda, but they are no Geelong - the club that turned a steeplechaser into a best and fairest while we were busy massacring the career of multiple top five draftees.

The problem with a smaller forward line, especially with the Weid nearly anonymous and Watts bouncing from end-to-end trying to keep us afloat once Maximum went down, is that you can't rely on the old thump and hope methods that work when you've got leviathans like Hogan and Gawn wandering around inside 50. It took a while for anyone to realise this, and they kept kicking into attack as if they expected Garlett or Kent to climb over a pack like Shaun Smith and haul in the mark of the 21st century. With no properly constructed goals on the agenda it took Petracca expertly snapping around the corner to get us on the board, and we'd have gone a lot better after this if everyone had treated their set shots the same way and kicked them on the run through a crowd.

Even though a loose first kick set up Geelong's second goal I enjoyed Tim Smith's game, especially discovering that he was the next cab off the rank for emergency ruckmen when Watts needed a rest, and though he didn't tear the house down he's definitely gone ahead of Weideman for now. As much as I loved that goal against St Kilda when the ball burst off Sam's foot like a Scud missile he needs to do what Smith has been doing for years and toil for form on some slagheap VFL grounds. There will be a school of thought that you play him next week so he can fill his boots against a shit team, but that way lies madness. Even with Hogan unable to manhandle Zac Dawson again due to a sooky punch I wouldn't risk him. Pedersen and Spencer are the no frills faction but both will at least get near the ball, and if Weideman is able to locate where the VFL has gone this year he should be able to get his development moving with a few full games as the focal point for Casey.

The best bit about Smith was how he pumped through a set shot with no fuss, which is more than you can say for almost everyone else. My favourite part was how Jetta and T. McDonald were taking their defensive responsibilities so seriously that they didn't leg it down the ground to jump all over him in celebration. I'm sure he knows they care without having to be manfully patted on the buttocks. The way our defensive structures were going they probably didn't want to get too far up the ground in case they got lost.

Other than a couple of their traditional howlers our defenders were good with ball in hand, but like the Saints, Dogs and god knows how many other games last year did a convincing Burke and Wills impression whenever the ball was turned over or came towards goal quickly. While we were torching half a dozen opportunities in the third quarter Geelong had more chances than that to stream forward quickly and find so many men waving their hands in the air that it looked like the aftermath of a maritime disaster. All that saved us was that they compensated for their deadeye goalkicking by burning an endless stream of free players inside 50 with horrible field kicks.

My key finding was that we'll do fantastically against teams that don't have good forward lines - though we played one last week and barely fell over the line so perhaps it's more accurate to say we'll do very badly against teams with good forward lines. Especially ones that can move the ball quickly out of defence and find us out of position, with multiple players running towards goal and one small defender to guard them.

Like St Kilda all over again we recovered from a disappointing first quarter by immediately romping back into the game at the start of the second. Two straight goals cut the margin to a couple of points, but unfortunately there was no bulldozer rampage on the cards this time, and a clever tap-on in the Cats' forward line set up Dangerfield - as relatively well held as you can be when you have 35 touches - to waltz into an open goal and restore control. The re-introduction of the tap-on has been a joy this season, the problem is that our foremost practitioner of the art is Melksham and he's at the other end of the field. Still, he did a couple of rippers yesterday amongst probably his best game with ball in hand (or bouncing off the hand towards a teammate) yet. Without ball in hand he was like all our other defenders - trapped in an alternate universe well away from dozens of Geelong players launching a human wave attack on goal.

We might have recovered from that goal to keep the momentum up, especially considering our fierce forward pressure was scaring the shit out of Geelong's defence, but despite having them under siege across the field couldn't convert a set shot if our lives depended on it. Smith followed his perfect strike from a difficult angle by missing a sitter, but so did practically everybody else.

We've been through this before, but for those of you who are just joining in 2017 let me reissue my theory on missed goalkicking. You cannot assign one miss to another and build them up as a case that if a team kicked (lots of goals instead of lots of points) rather than (lots of points instead of lots of goals) the result would have been different - because once the first kick that should have been converted was, then the game would have played out differently and the conditions that allowed the team to have the next behind (and the next one, and the next one, and in our case this time the next one after that) wouldn't exist. Garlett getting the first goal might have propelled us to kicking 20 straight or not scoring again and losing 1.0.6 to 35.30.240 - it is needlessly simplistic to say that we'd have won if we'd kicked 19.13 or even 14.18. The worst you can do from a missed shot is lose 11 points, the extra five you'd have got from kicking it and any immediate end-to-end goal by the opposition.

Raw and joyless statistical analysis aside we necked ourselves big time with the ludicrously bad goalkicking. There were times where one straight kick would have had untold morale boosting benefits and we flubbed it. Times when Geelong were visibly wobbling under a ferocious amount of forward pressure and one more goal might have tipped the game in our favour, but they were given an out and went down the other end to exploit a defence that was ok in one-on-one contests and decent with ball in hand but were more often than not trapped dangerously out of the position against fast breaks.

The three quarters of missing sitters made everyone forget about how we were being ransacked by the umpires, and that both holding and dropping the ball had seemingly abolished from the laws of the game, but that's how the Wheel of Decisions goes. Last week it was Carlton fans howling as we got a spectacular run of dud calls, now the leveller. Of course when the Cats got robbed blind once in the third quarter their fans nearly tore chairs from their sockets and tearfully hurled them at the field. It's frustrating, but impires don't cause a backline to crack like an egg and leave Neville Jetta and Tom Hawkins in a marking contest with acres of space in front of goal. Once we've sorted out a sponsor for the back of the jumper we should get somebody to pay to be associated with all the times the zone dies in the arse and Nifty is left desperately trying to spoil a much bigger player. Prozac would be good.

If I may continue on the rules - for a second week in a row after complaining about the focus of the AFL always being on the rules rather than the play - does the advantage rule give anyone else the shits? In a normal situation where the free is played while a player has the ball in hand or it's right in front of him there's no problem with it, but what about when the ball bounces several metres forward as the free is being payed and somebody's allowed to just scoop it up and take off? Anything to keep the ball moving apparently, no matter how unfair it is to the team on the end of it. Let's talk again when one goes in our favour and we can agree what a great rule it is.

Of course after we missed two in a row they went down the other end and found Hawkins to make no mistake. Fancy having a big focal point in front of goal rather than sitting in the stands for two weeks. He is the man all Kingsleys aspire to be - somebody who saves their best for Melbourne every time but has also gone on to kick 400 goals and win three premierships. It helped that he was left with Melksham half defending him with the other closest players being Vince, Salem and Oliver. It was not the first time they took advantage of Tom McDonald being on the bench to stitch us up - if you think you're gloomy about Max being out for four weeks imagine what will happen to us if Sizzle goes as well. For all the ridiculous panic about his occasional wonky kicks we'd be dead without him at the moment.

It took another goal from open play to show the forwards how it was meant to be done, with a panic kick under tremendous pressure out of Geelong's defence landing in the arms of Jayden Hunt with acres of space. He looked up, pondered his options for a second, realised everyone else would miss and just plowed it through from 50 on the run instead. Like the commentator I too like Kent and Hunt. True to form we missed another pair of set shots straight after, I know we had the Cats on the rack but it was a bit ambitious to be trying to set up 10 point plays.

My favourite miss - and I can't remember who was kicking it because they all eventually blend into one - was when the Geelong player on the mark turned his back during the run up. I wait with bated breath for him to try that against a better team and be standing there facing the other way as the kicker plays-on, dashes past him and runs into an open goal.

Gawn had been playing angry all day, including provoking Selwood into a free-kick winning overreaction so violent Lindsay Thomas would have applauded, so it's no wonder his hamstring went out under the strain. When he hobbled off in visible pain I thought not only were we gone for the day, but probably the season as well. Aided by the same radio dickheads who called "Tim Salem", "Oliver McDonald" and said "I love Hunt and Kent!" going on about him clutching at his knee I was having horrible flashbacks to all the times I'd ended an off-season discussion with "... but we couldn't be as lucky with injuries as we were last year". Turns out he's only done his hammy, and while that's good news for unrestricted free agent/future life member The Spencil over the next four weeks it exposes our good fortune in getting through all of 2016 without Gawn missing a game. Watts has been a competent second ruckman since mid-last year but the idea of him doing the entire second half solo (or as it turns out, with the sort of battling but not as good cameo from Smith that Jack usually provides for Gawn) didn't seem like it would end in anything other than tragedy. As it turns out he played one of the gutsiest games of his career, but you wouldn't want him doing that every week.

Thanks to the pressure we were hanging around and annoying Geelong without ever being able to get in front. It took a bit of Watts magic to keep us withing a goal at the break. In came Jack - often accused of not showing enough effort by people who were dropped on their heads as children and the rest of us whenever we get frustrated and need an easy target - having just realised he was going to have to ruck for two quarters straight in Gawn's absence, tackling two players, bouncing it to himself like a basketball on the hardcourt Docklands surface, then summing the open goalsquare and smashing the ball through with a perfect roll from 70 metres. We weren't going to get far if it was going to take goals like that to stay in it but I won't say no to random outbursts of magic.

The third quarter was more of the same, scaring the bejesus out of the other side with lightning transition (give me a C! give me an L! give me an I! You know the rest...) and violent tackling but blowing a procession of easy shots. Watts was doing well enough in the ruck contests for an enthusiastic amateur, and put in a mighty effort around the ground as we finally got in front via 5.6 of often frustrating attempts to put the ball through the middle two sticks. At the same time Geelong couldn't miss, kicking 14.2 for the first three quarters while we were burning good opportunities left, right and centre.

The pattern of scoring speculative, fluky goals but missing sitters continued. Neal-Bullen kicked one out of mid-air to open the third quarter and put us in front, and I'll forgive Jones for missing one on the run because I'd probably forgive him for murder, but then the otherwise excellent Kent joined in the missed set shot party. Fortunately he got a dodgy free in the square not long after, and converted from a range that even a Melbourne player couldn't miss from to give us a buffer of over a goal. This complete madness was quickly brought to a halt by another Hawkins goal almost immediately after. Then Garlett missed one of his casual around the corner set shots from the boundary and Geelong bounded down the other end almost unchallenged to walk through our elastic defence and go back in front.

We pottered through several more missed opportunities, before a chain of handballs where nobody wanted to have the shot finally landed with Jetta. Like Hunt before him, he showed everyone how it was done and kicked truly. The game went up a notch as we traded goals with them, before first Kent converted a classic counter-attack goal on the run then Harmes got a set shot from MFC range (0-10 metres) to leave us 15 points up deep into the quarter. This was quite ridiculous, but as long as we could get to three quarter time with that lead intact then we'd outplayed Geelong in so many ways that we'd just have to stay fit and break even in the ruck and we'd have been every possible chance. So we conceded two goals at the 31 and 33 minute mark. After the first one we tried to stack the defence and avoid conceding, which worked about as well as you'd expect. You can throw a dozen seals into the water at Sea World, but unless you train them what to do they're just going to lie there looking stupid.

After Harmes' goal we stopped playing and suddenly it looked like everyone was out of gas and dying to get to three-quarter time. We've gone into a last quarter out on our feet before and responded - remember the second Collingwood game in 2015? - but like Carlton last week one numpty kick instantly sucked all the air out of a team and the opposition responded by cartwheeling to a surprisingly easy victory.  I do have feelings for Neal-Bullen, and maybe it's protective instinct considering he reminds of Cale Morton, but what in god's name was he thinking trying to kick backwards from 30m out to a player in the defensive square? It deserved to be chopped off and converted into a goal, and that gift was soon followed by another to really rub it in. We'd outplayed them for much of the day, but when you get right down to it there is still a massive gulf in class between the sides. At least we got 90 points closer than the last time we played, and didn't need to go to Kardinia Park to see it.

If I didn't already know it was over at the end of the third quarter those two goals put it away. They looked like a side who were going to run until the final bounce while we had a ruckman playing a heroic innings that seemed likely to end with him being carted off in an ambulance through over-exertion and half a squad with hands on their hips looking like they'd done everything they could. The real problem in the last quarter - before and after we were given an extra life by Hannan snatching a failed handball in front of goal to bring the margin back to less than two kicks - was that everyone was either too fatigued or too scared to take the game on like they had for most of the day. That's what built a 15 point lead to start with, not flat-footed kicking to stationary targets. There was still effort, there just wasn't much system to go along with it. When even Jetta was stuffing the ball down an opponent's throat inside 50 to concede a goal - probably his first fatal error of the season - you knew we were cooked.

Who knows if it would have turned out the same way with them, but Hogan and Lewis would have been handy. Recruiting Lewis was buyer beware due to his known history of gleefully thumping people (though he could have waited until his carryover ban ended in Round 5 before reoffending) but this is the second time Hogan has been rubbed out for overreacting to off the ball niggle. It didn't matter that there was barely anything to it, or that the Carlton's players 'delayed concussion' fortunately cleared up in time for him to play this week, you can't go around swatting people in the head. You're on massive money to be the focal point, best get used to people scragging you without reacting like a petulant kid every time.

With the game dead and buried Sizzle Sr clattered into the back of Selwood after a mark on the wing, and like Hogan's little jab last week there wasn't much to it but you knew it would be penalised with a 50. To rub it in they paid about 85. Tom should have made it worthwhile and added a bit more force to see if he could get his head to spontaneously erupt in blood like Mt. Krakatoa again. Of course Selwood sold it as if he'd been clubbed in the back with a baseball bat, but like that NQR bloke dressed as a glittery cat in the crowd there's nothing I can say that won't end in him pointing at a room full of premiership merchandise so go for it. We'll probably finally get into ducking and diving just as the AFL really get serious about eradicating it - like when they introduced reports for staging, and in one of the five weeks where it was actually enforced the late, lamented Lynden Dunn managed to be pinched for it. We should get that guy back on a short-term loan, he would walk into the side at the moment.

Fittingly it ended with Vince missing - this time a shot on goal, rather than any target like the rest of the day - and we got a valuable lesson in our development. Take your chances and play four quarters instead of pulling up comfortably after executing a blistering comeback. It fired me up for more though, I want to play again tomorrow. This is like stumbling through the slow, early episodes of a TV show that you're convinced is going to turn out to be great.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Clayton Oliver

Maximum apologies to Billy Stretch, who was just nudged out of the last spot. Other apologies to Melksham, McDonald, Jetta and Garlett.

What a many and varied collection this is so far, and still nothing for red-hot pre-season favourite Jack Viney who is suffering a Trengove-esque post co-captaincy fall from grace. Time to have him torment Fyfe for four quarters next week.

7 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Nathan Jones
5 - Christian Salem, Jack Watts
4 - Jeff Garlett, Jayden Hunt
3 - James Harmes
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent
1 - Jesse Hogan

This was a strong showing from the Cats. Unlike North they didn't spell their captain's name wrong, there was no gigantic curtain for players to cheat through, the font and kerning were of an acceptable quality and most notably in the International Year of Banner Banter they managed to do one with a rhyme that scanned properly but didn't stoop to trying to get rock bottom cheap laughs at the expense of the opposition. They even did the polite thing and rotated it so all parts of the ground could see both sides - one of them was an ad, but you've got to pay the bills somehow.

So, we commend Geelong for their strong showing but they still lose. Ours had a better font, superior kerning, and two lovely flame effects down either side. Like Nathan Jones there's a lot to be said for being solid and dependable rather than trying to be unnecessarily flashy when it's not required. Dees 3-0

Capitalism Corner
The rear of jumper saga is getting a bit ridiculous now, there's only 19 rounds to go (finals?) and the price must be dropping by the week. All you can do is put your faith in the most attractive bald head under god's green earth and expect that the result will still be lucrative and preferably long-term.

Crowd Watch
As I get older and progressively lazier I'm coming to appreciate Docklands for its convenient location, and for the roof as long as it's closed at all times no matter what the conditions outside, but one thing they will never beat the MCG for is the ability to get away from people. There were 29,000 people there - roughly 25k under absolute capacity - and yet even in the back row I had strangers surrounding me. It was one of those days where I just wanted to go to the game solo, swear openly and make a dickhead of myself in seclusion where it wouldn't offend anyone else, but even after changing sides at half-time I couldn't get away from children.

This was especially problematic in the first quarter when I greeted Vince's deliberate out of bounds with a loud "get fucked with deliberate you fucking arsehole" (not sure if towards the umpire or Vince) only to realise when I saw a bunch of heads turn in my peripheral vision that not far to the right was a family with two kids old enough to know what the f-word was and that anybody who used it in public was a shit bloke. I momentarily considered apologising, before chickening out and never looking in that direction again for the rest of the half before moving. You'd never get that in Row MM of the Ponsford for a game with less than 60,000 people - and if there are that many people there it's probably Queen's Birthday and you've got more to worry about with the opposition supporters than us.

From the back row, with only families of Geelong supporters and some crunt who was lying across multiple seats like a drunk sleeping it off in a park for company, I got a great view of hundreds of people joining in a 'Dance Off'' like they were having the time of their life. And maybe they were, who am I to judge people who are happy to cut a rug in public with the express goal of being shown on the big screen. It just makes me uncomfortable because I'm the polar opposite to these people, painfully self-conscious and not even wanting to walk down the steps to go and take a whizz because it means people seeing me go back up again. If you thought the Dees needed a psychologist - and don't let two wins in a row fool you, they still do - they've got nothing on me for crippling mental issues. Thank god for having 42 bays to myself next week - and god help us all when we not only go back to Etihad at the end of the month but have to mingle with Essendon fans.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
You could have the Ben Holland Medal for Missed Sitter Of The Week, but for once let's concentrate on the positives. There were four very good contenders here, and despite this well written threat (sadly not constructed from letters cut out of a newspaper) I'm relegating Jetta showing the forwards how it's done to a tie for third place with Hunt's Howitzer. Besides, as The Beatles found out people torching your product (right here sports fans) is the best advertising you can get.
Second goes to ANB and his speculative thump out of mid-air - a goal the AFL highlights people don't deem worthy of qualifying for the showreel. The only thing I love more than a goal from a player just lobbing his boot at the ball and hoping for the best is crumb, and in any ordinary week this would have been a worthy winner but not when you've got this. Say hello to your clubhouse leader.
For the weekly prize Jack wins a voucher donated by a Dr Josef Heiter, giving him the right to take to any three media personalities he likes with surgical tools for 60 minutes.

Next Week
Who knows if the VFL has started yet. The Casey Scorpions Demons website can't tell me because they've posted one update since September 2016. I assume the actual competition has been cancelled, and it's been reduced to a barnstorming series of exhibition games like a low-rent Australian version of the Harlem Globetrotters featuring Dean Uthoff. I suppose it doesn't matter, practice matches are as good as the real stuff when the only goal is giving players a run in live conditions.

Next it's Freo at the MCG, for what should be on paper a violent thumping victory for us. But who's actually confident of that? I'm assuming another Carlton style battling win, or in the worst case scenario Cameron McCarthy and Shane Kersten launching a joint bid to become a Kingsley by sharing 13 goals. It's better for us that they beat the Bulldogs, if they'd only given them a scare people might have remained tempted to predict a massacre while they would have been desperate to go one step better. Now let's hope they've got winning out of their system, tire themselves out singing heave ho and arrive in Victoria completely unprepared. Let's just settle for four points and any unusually large victories that come along the way will be a lovely surprise.

The first two ins are relatively obvious, but Kennedy is just a red hot guess. Hannan's last two games haven't been much chop compared to the first, and he can go and get some form alongside Weideman in the seconds.

IN: Spencer, Pedersen, Kennedy
OUT: Gawn (inj), Hannan, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Tyson, Vince
UNLUCKY: Who would even know?

Was It Worth It?
We imploded from a winning position in a stadium where you're forced too close to humans for comfort, but ultimately yes. One day we'll look back at afternoons like this and realise it was a vital step towards becoming a really good side, but at the moment I'm still bitter and twisted about it. That's probably a good sign, imagine the glee you'd have had even last year kicking 96 points and pushing Geelong for three quarters? That sort of mid-table mediocrity shit is very 2016, and even if I think that's exactly where we'll end up this year it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Final Thoughts
Some people go to games and vent their frustrations by screaming vile abuse at all and sundry for four quarters, and they will probably live to a ripe old age while people like me who internalise the pressure will topple over and die before reaching 40. I've got four years before then, and I'm still convinced there's a very good team brewing here. The most important thing is selling that to good players from other clubs so we can accelerate things a bit, Geelong were handed Patrick Dangerfield in gift-wrap but look at everyone they've managed to knock off from other clubs. In recent years the only even remotely premium player we've got from anywhere else - with apologies to Hibberd who is still an unknown quantity, and Lewis who is on the downside of his best years - was Vince. Everyone else has been a bit-part player, and most of them have been ok but we're just lacking the big hits that will push us over the edge. I'm not expecting to get Fyfe and Martin at the end of the year, but plugging gaps at either end of the field is going to be important if we're going to get anywhere quickly. Now watch us end up tackling our accuracy issues by signing Levi Casboult.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

I'm no longer used to defeat, and it's impossible to operate a keyboard with your head stuck in the oven.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link on Sunday.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Mediocre Escape

We had to take the long way, via a frightening flashback to last year's Round 2 fiasco, but eventually it ended in the Melbourne Football Club being 2-0 for the first time since 2005 and Simon Goodwin becoming the first coach to win his opening two games since John Northey. Forget the bit where we almost lost to Carlton again, what's not to enjoy?

Who didn't secretly fear another debacle here? We tried to turn over a new leaf of positivity, but deep down you had to be terrified of what we'd do as red hot favourites against a side coached by somebody out of the Clarkson School. After Carlton 2015, Essendon 2015, Essendon 2016 and Carlton 2016 most people had learnt their lesson about making outrageous public pronouncements about winning by triple figures, but even though 95% of me was terrified of humiliation the other 5% wondered if this would finally be the day we graduated from errand boys to assassins. The wait continues.

It wasn't just the prospect of completing another unwanted Full Shithouse by adding our third loss to Carlton to the two against Essendon, I knew our recent record in Round 2 was disappointing but didn't realise that the average losing margin since 2006 was 73.7 points. Bernie Vince must have recognised the high potential for humiliation when he got his traditional early season report out of the way by punching a hapless St Kilda player in the back of the head last week.

Following Melbourne has affected me psychologically to the point where I've started to get into omens, so when I turned up to discover that we were not only taking on half a side recruited from GWS but also a boundary umpire called Scully it felt like bad times were brewing. I was clutching to anything to convince me we weren't going to win so it didn't feel like such a crushing shock when we didn't. Ironically the scoreboard kept encouraging us to sign up to a Melbourne Experiences program, and what more Melbourne experience is there to sit in the MCG with the air slowly deflating from you like a faulty hot air balloon? If the next phase of our supporting life is for that to happen but we still win then I can dig it.

The way it started you might have been fooled into thinking an avalanche was on the cards. Everyone loves Centre Bounce Hogan™, and his mop-up from defensive side of the square wound up with Garlett 50 metres out. Jeff (under no circumstances 'Jeffy') had a cow of a game in his first start against the Blues, then missed last year with a surprise skin infection, so given that record it was unlikely he'd finally make them pay for giving him away in a fire sale. Then he was one of the best on ground, so thanks again for that Carlton. It wasn't just crumb and run-down tackles, his pass to Watts for the first goal was perfectly weighted to leave Jack 20 metres out practically directly in front.

It was a good first minute, and you'd think keeping the ball off the opposition would have been an unbeatable tactic but the way they set up defensively after this we couldn't help but continually give the ball back. Roll on an afternoon where we couldn't take advantage of our attacks and suffered a bunch of goals (relatively speaking from a team that scored 64) from fluky bounces.

We still have a deeply ingrained desire to put teammates under pressure. Like the first quarter against the Saints it was get the ball and handball it to any teammate in the vicinity, no matter what position they were in. It came good that day, but that's because their pressure went from 100% to 1% for two quarters. When we're allowed to run free like playing Melbourne 2012-2013 it looks majestic but the complication is when the other team tries to defend. Which most teams are going to do, though I hope to god we take advantage of a few who can't before the end of the year and pulverise them. We couldn't pick our way through Carlton's biblical flood, and they didn't stop tackling until halfway through the last quarter. That left us far too close to defeat for comfort.

For all the hanging of shit on rapid handballing our second goal was created by it. Eventually they threw a couple of kicks in, landing with Jones standing on 50 who took a step and hammered it through. At this stage I began to believe in a glorious massacre, which is clearly what you never do as a Melbourne fan because the reversal is never far behind. In came somebody fans of no other clubs have ever heard of called Matthew Wright, who is making a bid for a spot in the Kingsleys by rumbling us every time we play. He kicked the first of the lucky goals when a speculative tap-on fell right into his hands, and all our early momentum was wasted.

Their first goal came from an aimless tap-on which just happened to fall into the right place but I've been impressed at how we've added the perfectly sensible tap-on to our game this season. Since the first pre-season game players who've had the ball floating over their head have realised that they'll be buried - and probably pinged for holding the ball - if they take possession so they've done cute flicks to teammates. That can't last, like whatever that fancy shit we were doing with our centre bounce set-ups last year, surely other teams will work out what's going on and put a stop to it quickly.

It wasn't all disaster after Carlton's first goal, Viney might have been almost absent and both Tyson and Melksham turning the ball over whenever they got it, but Weideman took a massive pack mark right in front of goal for the third and looked like normal service was being resumed. After the second lucky bounce goal we went into our shell, shit ourselves whenever we got the ball and fell right into Carlton's defensive trap.

Though we were almost three goals up just before half time the momentum had shifted. Our disposal efficiency had gone through the floor and there was no more comfortable marauding down the field into attack. Maybe if we'd got to half time with the margin intact things would have been more comfortable, instead who didn't know that Dale Thomas would do something spectacular after the morning papers had about five pages on what a terrible recruit he'd been and why he should retire immediately. He took a screamer and set up a goal on the siren to cut the margin back to 10.

They didn't look much like a team who'd be able to create enough goals to win, but we looked like one who might be provoked into handing them over with horrible turnovers - even in a week where McDonald Sr risked breaching contract by not unloading a single goal conceding howler in an otherwise strong performance. His brother wasn't bad either, but given that Carlton's attack is about as fearsome as ours was in the year where Chris Dawes was leading goalkicker with 20 it's better to wait for more accomplished opposition to judge where we're really at.

It started going wrong in the third quarter, but not until after 10 minutes where neither side could kick a goal and it looked for all the world like a Round 21 game between 15th and 16th placed sides desperately hoping for the season to end so half of them could be delisted. Because we won I'll say it demonstrated we have plenty to work on, like Hogan not missing sitters from directly in front or conceding four of the first five Carlton goals through turnovers. Like last year turnovers were death for us, because whenever we did one the opposition would have half a dozen players standing on their own. This usually led to the rock solid as ever Neville Jetta trying to take on shithouse but much larger forwards. It feels like we haven't improved all that much from last year, but we're 2-0 and have another 20 games to work on it. I'm still convinced we'll narrowly miss the finals this year and be ready to go crazy in 2018.

The turning point had come well before Hogan killed another attacking opportunity by unnecessarily biffing somebody in the goalsquare, but it didn't help and will probably end up with him rubbed out. Not long after they got lucky again, a smother, and a fumble landing with a bloke to kick what was admittedly a ripper of a finish from the boundary to put them in front. The sad trombone music should have played, because every Melbourne fan in the joint was thinking "Jesus Christ, here we go again"

Then Jordan Lewis - who didn't do much for me until his experience came to the fore in the last quarter - biffed somebody as well, and at least if we couldn't beat a Carlton side full of kids and GWS rejects at footy we could beat them up. Lynden Dunn may be gone, but his spirit of nastiness lives on. Meanwhile it's good that the AFL website highlights won't show you every goal but they will show a slow-mo of the Hogan biff and 30 seconds of the post-Lewis jostle. They know what people really want - but not me, give us all the goals or GTFO.

When they went nine points in front I was about to throw myself down the stairs. We were making scoring look as difficult as any time in the past few years and now had to overcome a two goal margin against a team with their tails up. Have we not learned over the last few years that you never let an inferior team get their hopes up? Everyone knows we're flaky, all they need is a sniff and their confidence goes through the roof. Fortunately Garlett got another late to steady the ship and keep us within a goal at the last change.

After another few tentative minutes where we tried to set a world record for uncontested possessions it was Garlett again, starting a chain which went via the very impressive Harmes, to Neal-Bullen and then Watts in the square. His mark had all the hallmarks of 'player stuffs up trying to play-on and kick it immediately' but he settled down, went back and put us in front again. Harmes set up the next as well, in the play twice before Tyson delivered what might have been his first effective kick of the day by gently dinking a kick through the square past a haplessly wrong-footed Carlton defender.

Our lead got out to 14, and that should have been it, but when they kicked a goal to bring it back under 10 with more than five minutes to play we still looked worryingly vulnerable. What more Melbourne-esque way to make things interesting than the notoriously wonky Levi Casboult converting a set shot. Who else was having flashbacks to Joe Daniher finally sinking us last year after missing everything all day?

Then Carlton suddenly spontaneously combusted. You can't help but love a team full of inexperienced players who can't stretch it across four quarters. There was a moment where they stuffed up an attack with a loose kick, and from there we took over. You could see they'd hit the wall, it was just a matter of taking advantage. After all hadn't we fought back in similar fashion - albeit from further behind - against Essendon a year earlier only to collapse for a second time just as we were ready to win? Considering how many players we had that hadn't fired a shot for two quarters it was no surprise that we were ready to run over the top.

The finish came in the sort of way that we'd have lost a game in the past. After we fumbled our way out of what should have been a goal from a crazy Carlton kick across goal, Hogan self-reported that his snap had been touched and made sure everyone was set up to defend the kick-in. My favourite bit was when our fans booed the video review decision even though Hogan had admitted it was touched straight away. That's why for all their faults the league doesn't take supporter whinging about free kicks seriously. It was a better review than the one earlier when they called for the video to confirm whether the ball had been touched after it had cannoned into the post anyway. The Carlton player took off from the kick-in, not realising Garlett was right behind him and was mown down in a perfect tackle - the sort that usually ends in the tackler being penalised for incidental contact with the opponent's back. If that happened we'd have smashed the joint down, but times have changed and Garlett not only got the free but converted the set shot.

Farewell Carlton, and even cheery Brendan Bolton punched something in the coaches' box out of frustration. Nathan Jones whacked on another for emphasis, they didn't score again and we'd gotten away with it. The most important thing is the result, take the four points and cherish them.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Christian Salem
4 - Jeff Garlett
3 - James Harmes
2 - Neville Jetta
1 - Clayton Oliver

Apologies to Gawn, Hunt, Jones, T. McDonald, Stretch and Watts.

It's a weird leaderboard already, with defenders all over the place and pre-season favourite Viney nowhere to be seen. It would be the first time Jetta has ever been in the lead of this competition, already well on the way towards his previous record season scores of 21 in 2014 and 19 last year.

6 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Clayton Oliver
5 - Christian Salem
4 - Jeff Garlett
3 - James Harmes, Nathan Jones
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
1 - Jesse Hogan

This feature has had a shot in the arm from teams across the league trying to be clever by introducing shit banter. Yesterday our perfectly conservative, polite and well-designed effort was opposed by one with more visible sticky-tape than a kid's Mother's Day present mocking us for being rich. That's standard behaviour, and we should be happy that we got the best stereotype in the game, but how far have Carlton fallen when the club that got the best player in the game gift-wrapped by a man so loaded his mistress went home with $100 million after his death has been reduced to pretending they're just a common, working class club.

Bonus point to whoever at Carlton signed off the marketing company's idea that suggested the club's one hovercraft was better than all the yachts allegedly owned by our fans. I'd get an accountant to look at that equation. Looking into these things too deeply is the path to madness, but I'd be happy to sell my services as a consultant to sanity check banner slogans across the league. You come up with the 'humour' (or pay somebody else to) and I'll tell you why it scans badly or makes no sense. Dees 2-0 for the regular season.

Matchday Experience Watch
Fortunately still no sign of Match The Emoji, the only promotion ever to be cancelled after one week. Returning from last year were Hogan's Heroes (now firmly entrenched as a replacement for Howie's Hangers) and Run Like A Demon, but thrillingly we've introduced a power ballad as well. Every quarter before the bounce a tune that presumably came from the same people who gave us the Sails On The Bay jingle went "It's time to raise hell!!!" Which was more entertaining - to me at least - than it reads here. Presumably there are no other words and we just bought a jingle. I thought they might have it on the club YouTube channel, but if you think you haven't heard much from them recently that's because our last three uploaded videos were two weeks, three weeks and nine months ago.

Obviously they couldn't work out how to buy the rights to this...

There was also a free Lego giveaway at three-quarter time, which was dangerous considering how angry the crowd were about to be if we kept playing like shit. The first rule of sports marketing - never give away anything that can be thrown - was never tested thanks to the comeback.

Uniform Corner
Still no sponsor on the rear of the jumper. What more do we have to do? Other than finally beat Carlton convincingly. We were back to the all-blue rear again, does this mean the red back variety can be used to avoid having to wear that vile official clash jumper? If so then change as necessary, and let's keep that horrible white thing under wraps.

Crowd Watch
I could tell there was going to be a big crowd from the number of Carlton fans on the train, all clearly hanging on us fucking it up as favourites once again. 46,727 must be the biggest non-special event crowd we've had for a while, and it must have caught the MCC by surprise because as I walked past the members the queues were stretching back into the park. Imagine waiting 20 years to get a start then having to join a line that long? I wandered around to the pleb entrance, walked to a vacant turnstile with nobody in front and scanned in. At least if you're a member you get free access to quality publications.

Veterans of the top of the Ponsford Stand know that it's all about swearing under your breath and kicking seats, not having fun with your friends. Which is why it was so disturbing that a group of people turned up and started chanting like they were at a soccer match. I'm all for alternative varieties of football (as long as it's this one), but that sort of shit doesn't work at an AFL game. It's been tried before, and I'd be surprised if it lasts another week. While I was already having a nervous day watching us struggle against the flotsam of the league I didn't need the wafting noise of people going through the playlist of World's Most Cliched Soccer Chants. One of them was waving an Israeli flag, so maybe it's a front organisation for Joe Gutnick to finally wrest control of the club back 15 years later?

So while in my left ear I could hear people doing a Bi-Lo version of the Viking Clap, I also had the Dolby Digital Stereo experience of two Carlton fans having a particularly anxious afternoon complaining about umpiring. Fair enough too considering the Wheel of Decisions unexpectedly spun in our favour for once, but one of them was so angry that I was expecting him to keel over and collapse onto me. Our last quarter comeback killed off Carlton, the crunts chanting and this guy but not before 3.5 quarters of the most cliched footy fan mutterings possible. I have a plan to go to a game at some point this year and record everything that I and the people around me say, and it was a missed opportunity not doing it yesterday. Not only would you have got a remarkable level of filth from me, but you'd have enjoyed the ambient noise of "HE'S BEEN DOING IT ALL DAY UMP", "WHAT WAS THAT FOR?!", "HOW DID HE GET RID OF IT!" and "WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR ONES BEFORE THAT!!!!". He also had a major issue with Dennis Armfield, and not even because Dennis has one of those haircuts like the ladies who have such tight ponytails that it causes nerve damage in their head.

Apparently there was a special bonus attraction for everyone that hung around for kick-to-kick. Kick a fellow supporter apparently.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Usually I prefer a violently hit goal that explodes off the boot like a mortar shell, but in this case I'm going to pick Garlett's roller from 40 metres out on the boundary line to start the second quarter. Dinky rollers give me the shits when kicked from close range, but this was as perfect an example of when to do it as you'll get. He wasn't going to get it through on the full from that angle, and perfectly shot it through with enough velocity to make sure no defender could rush it. For the weekly prize he wins dinner with Mick Malthouse to say thank you for allowing him to improve his social standing by joining us.

Next Week
For the first time in history a game at Etihad Stadium is welcome, because otherwise we'd be playing Geelong at Kardinia Park and there'd be no more appropriate place for our perfect streak to come to an end. No matter what happened in Round 1, Docklands is the second most appropriate place and I'm certainly expecting defeat. This is probably a good place to be at 2-0, god help us all we might have suddenly become Docklands specialists and forgot how to play at the MCG and win but otherwise a battling defeat to a presumed top 4 team will set us up nicely for another banana skin against Freo the week after.

Surely Lewis doesn't get suspended for Cripps reacting to a bitchslap like he'd been hit with a shovel but I'm more concerned about Hogan lightly biffing a guy in the head. It didn't cause any damage, but it legitimately put him on his arse and the MRP isn't going to like that. Assuming he gets a week off, which he needs to spend understanding that doing that was no help to anyone.

Other than Vince automatically returning it's hard to even pretend you know what you're talking about with changes when the VFL hasn't started in earnest yet. That competition needs to know its role and get on with things at the same time as the real stuff instead of plodding along a few weeks behind. If Hogan goes I'm going to pick Spencer, because nobody's going to come in and do what Hulk does up field anyway so we may as well get a proper ruckman who's in decent form and can crash a few packs to break space open for Weideman/Garlett/etc...

Controversially I'm going to dump Brayshaw, which is nothing personal because I still rate him highly but like Magner, Tapscott and vandenBerg before him I despise the way they try to use a non-forward on a HFF in some sort of defensive plan that at least to the naked eye never works. I'd rather he goes back to the reserves, plays in the guts and has 40 touches than slowly die trying to get a kick forward. Lucky are Melksham - who finally started to show some of the side-effects of the carpet cleaner Essendon injected him with - and Tyson who will presumably get Brownlow votes because they'll just look at the disposals but was rustier than an old gate.

IN: Spencer, Vince
OUT: Hogan (susp), Brayshaw (omit)
LUCKY: Melksham, Tyson
UNLUCKY: Anyone who played well in a VFL match that I'm not sure actually took place.

Was It Worth It?
There were a few ropey moments where it looked like it would only be worth it to form another chapter in the terrifying list of moments where we've made arseholes of ourselves just as it looked like the #fistedforever era had been banished, but for the last quarter alone I'll give it a pass mark.

Final Thoughts
We started to enjoy ugly wins again in mid-2015, but this elevated it to an artform. It's an important phase in our development, and might have been painful to watch at times but at least we still scored 86. That's better than some of the ugly wins over the last few years where the only way we've found to be competitive is to defend like our lives depended on it and ruin the game as a spectacle. This time we destroyed spectacle and still kicked 13 goals, while it was the other side desperately trying to hold on despite being the worst team on paper.

In the end the right result left us in the top four, so how can you genuinely be upset? Sure it's a false top four also featuring Port Adelaide and Richmond, and if any of us are still there in five months I'll be flabbergasted but it's a perfect start nonetheless. Enjoy it while you can, it's not always going to end this well.