Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Stat My Bitch Up - 2012 preview

As a self confessed sports stats nerd of epic proportions forgive me if I'm a little bit late in making topical references to Moneyball. The book's been out for seven years, I never bought it until about two months ago when the movie suddenly turned up and it's been sitting in the "TO READ" pile since then and despite best intentions to read the actual in-depth stats bonanza in its purest form aside I ended up seeing the movie first.

Good movie it was too, nigh on impossible carrying off the subject matter while not completely alienating 99% of the audience (in this country at least) who don't give half a toss about baseball and couldn't pick Oakland on a map with 50 guesses. Didn't half help that they roped Brad Pitt in, also probably didn't hurt that they went relatively light on the stats. Good news for the general cinemagoer, bad news for the 1% of freaks like me who actually want to hear more about On Base Percentage and Slugging Average in the cinema but you can't fault them for wanting to make money instead of providing entertainment to three people as a tumbleweed rolls through the cinema. That's a job for the Australian movie industry.

Throughout the film I was distracted by the thought that since the first day the book hit shelves managers, administrators and fans must have been trying to adapt the concept to fit other sports. It's often said that recruiters have been extolling its virtues for years, and our own CEO is apparently a fan (though when anybody from Melbourne is quoted talking about 'small forwards who kick goals' you just have to laugh), but does it really have any relevance to our game or is it just a desperate attempt at trying to avoid looking like you're not up with the next big thing?

They say the Sydney Swans have been at it for years, but realistically that's just a case of not putting all their trust into the draft (rightfully so too in some cases) and trading for older, often less fashionable, players to fit roles rather than relying on raw stats as a guide to how they'll fit in. The Swans aren't hurt by having an extended salary cap either, actually putting them into the class (in the context of a league with an allegedly rigorously enforced cap) of the big spenders like the New York Yankees whom Moneyball was designed to tip out. It's teams paying 92.5% of the cap who are our version of the unloved Oakland A's. Even that article is forced to admit in its final paragraph that Paul Roos didn't operate based on stats. They're not stats wizards, they're expert turd polishers, and bless them for it. If we could do the same I'd be thrilled.

It's not to say that there aren't statistical geniuses at work, probably in every club across the league, but good luck really trying to adopt the Moneyball idea from baseball. What other sport has the luxury of statistical information broken down to such a minute level? Who else has a 162 game regular season in which to unleash a theory but still have time to alter course if it doesn't work after an appropriate period of reflection? Champion Data might be pumping away loggine very stat under the sun and making a fortune selling premium packages to league clubs with categories that nerds like me can only dream of but they're still working on a sample size of 22 games, plus finals and a pre-season cup which is played under such fanciful, unlikely rules that it's barely worth using them for comparative purposes.

Bear in mind that before the last Major League Baseball season the Spring Training schedule saw the teams play between 29 and 35 practice matches alone. That's an insane amount for putting together pre-season stats, and enough time to float even the most nutbag of positional or tactical theories and still have time to recover before the real stuff begins - and even then you can afford to get more than ten games behind the leader at the halfway mark of the season and still run them down in the home stretch. On September 1 this year the Atlanta Braves led the St Louis Cardinals by 8.5 games in the National League wildcard race and by September 28 they'd been eliminated from playoff contention.

These guys are operating in another world entirely. A world where this is a player's publicly accessible career statistical record. No doubt behind the scenes AFL clubs have access to incredible packages but as fans this is as good as it gets and that's only by the grace of somebody putting the information together off their own bat and expecting nothing in return. We simply don't put the same premium on statistical information as baseball do.

Maybe there are some geniuses out there with overflowing whiteboards who can give you a formula which shows how to take a team with three Mortons and use them to create one Lance Franklin but I'm suggesting there are far too many variables in our sport to create anything truly meaningful. Baseball essentially comes down to one man piffing a ball very quickly at another who tries to hit it. You can analyse performance of left handers vs righties, you can take into account the sort of pitches that are thrown and if you're really keen you can see one man's batting record against all pitchers who he's hit more than five home runs off during his career.

This is a sport that lends itself more purely to statistics than any other in the world and if you're not yet convinced that they're operating on a different planet let me introduce you to Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). Try and work this out without a university degree.

A statistic that demonstrates how much a hitter contributes offensively or how much a pitcher contributes to his team in comparison to a fictitious “replacement player,” who is an average fielder at his position and a below average hitter. A replacement player performs at “replacement level,” which is the level of performance an average team can expect when trying to replace a player at minimal cost, also known as “freely available talent.”

Multiply the league average runs per out by the player’s total outs; this provides the number of runs an average player would have produced given that certain number of outs to work with. Now multiply that number (of runs) by .8, or whatever level your replacement equations give you; this is the number of runs you could expect a “replacement player” to put up for that number of outs. Simply
[Simply? They're taking the piss - Mercado] subtract the replacement’s runs created from the player’s actual runs created, then, and you have VORP. A word to the wise, though: while the replacement’s run total will be park-neutral (by definition), the player’s raw numbers won’t be. Before calculating the VORP, run the player stats through park factors, normalizing the numbers. The resultant VORP should give a pretty good estimate of how “valuable” the player in question is

Baseball is a game decided by one piece of scoring only, and at any given time there are no more than three or four people involved in any transaction. Australian Rules could very well end up with 30 players within five metres of the ball, which can then go in any direction and more often than not despite the best efforts of Demetriou and the *spit* rules committee ends up in a stoppage. It doesn't allow for the random fat porkies of baseball who make up for their uncouth physiques in other ways. It ruthlessly exposes gaps in fitness and skill under pressure.

So, could you build a competitive squad on a fiver based purely on their statistics, discounting negatives such as a injury history or on-field ill-discipline? Not in my book you couldn't, but that doesn't mean that some stats both obvious and obscure aren't still relevant. Here's some areas that I feel we have to address if we're going to improve enough to at least be able to take on non-crap Victorian teams.

(General disclaimers apply about being shit at analysing footy. Publish and be damned. You may violently disagree with much of what follows but please be aware that sending explosive devices through the post is a breach of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989)

Centre clearances
Clearances from stoppages in general really, but out of the middle it's so crucial that our inability to get it right consistently was one of the most frustrating things about 2011.

Other than in certain exceptional circumstances (186) our backline is pretty good in repelling attacks but it's tempting fate to continually allow opposition sides to win the ball from the centre bounce and go forward expecting that one of our defenders will mop up the mess before one of their players has the chance to do any damage.

Jamar and Moloney might have been a lethal combination at times early in 2011 but by the time the Russian returned from injury every team in the competition had twigged what they were up to and spent the rest of the year persecuting Beamer at centre bounces. Moloney might still have had the 13th most clearances in a season since 1998 but with precious little backup we were tonked out of the middle again and again. There's a good reason that despite his big numbers we still finished 16th in the competition for total clearances.

Either we have to broaden our options or have somebody with a big body in there who can at least run interfence for Moloney. It's the most basic thing I can think of that we need to improve other than simply scoring more goals - and we're not going to be in any position to be kicking goals if the ball is going constantly going from the centre to the backline.

Disposal efficiency from clearances
When I see clearance stats at the end of a match I want them to remove every one that is just a panicked kick or wild handball out of a pack. They should be, and quite possibly already are, split into "quality clearances" (i.e ones that reach a teammate who has time to use it properly and does) and rubbish clearances where the ball is hacked desperately forward and ends up with an opponent. Then there's the neutral clearances where it either goes to space or leads immediately to another stoppage.

More realistic ball winning options at the drop and players who have the poise to use it properly when they do get it are the key. For instance you wouldn't expect Jordie McKenzie to be delivering huge numbers of quality clearances but as long as he can at least avoid the negatives and still get the ball we should get better. It's your Trengoves et al who are going to be crucial in getting decent use of the ball from stoppages.

Forward pressure
It's become a cliche but at least it's one that makes sense. I'm sure Page 1 of the Neeld playbook is all about forward pressure but he's still got to have somebody to execute it. Preferably more than one, preferably a whole raft of forwards who put the opposition backline under siege every time they touch the ball.

Every once in a while we perfected this last year, for instance Petterd's forward 50 tackling masterclass against Richmond, but more often than not opposition sides rebound the ball out of defence with barely a sweat raised. The ball then goes down the other end where we're subject to utter terror watching our players try and clear it under intense pressure.

It's not just tackling, it's perceived pressure from being near somebody, it's not letting them take easy marks beyond 20 or 30m out from goal. If there's a stat for the amount of time that you keep the opposition inside their own defensive 50 I want us to rocket to the top of the rankings. Wear them down, make returning the ball from a kick-in or a defensive mark close to goal as difficult as possible. Give other fans a taste of what we've had for the last few years when any point conceded is automatically assumed to come back as a 7, 8, 9 point play over the next five minutes.

Rush the ball properly
Where did we rank for rushed behinds last year? Can it be split between rushed as part of a realistic contest and the ones that the umps were too scared to pay deliberate on? My hunch is that no team conceded as many scores as we did from failing to just knock the bloody thing through and take the kick-in. Stop trying to save one point, get the kick-ins right for the first time in living memory and don't wind up copping goals by trying to keep the ball alive.

Speaking of kick-ins...

Kick-ins to a mark
Absolutely crucial that we increase our rate of finding a target outside 50 from a kick-in. Whether it takes one kick or two to get there, and if you're taking more than two something's drastically wrong, it doesn't matter as long as eventually somebody ends up with the ball in their hands and the chance to go forward.

Too often we either kick to the same place time and time again or botch the second kick from the 15/20m line get belted going back the other way. Even when we get away with it it's usually at the cost of a behind, and it's fine to be conceding them at a million miles an hour when you're a rubbish side but if there's any aspiration to start winning close games we've got to save every point we can.

Handball efficiency inside defensive 50 and realistic targets
Nobody wants to see handball in the backline but like death and taxes it will always be with us. It goes without saying that every handball should hit the mark but we've got to eliminate the panic element which seems to go with every defensive handball. They've got to up the numbers in firstly getting it to the right man but secondly in making sure that you're not just selling him into trouble.

Ok, if he's tackled straight away and it winds up in a bounce then it's not the worst result ever but so often they're given the ball with that extra few seconds which oblige them to dispose of it and end up either giving away the free or indulging in another panic handball which starts the chain all over again.

Long kicking efficiency on rebound 50's
Not every defensive rebound is going to be from a score, and many of them are going to involve dinky little handballs and chip kicks that always seem seconds from disaster even when they come off but sometimes somebody's going to work free onto a wing - or god forbid down the middle - and a precise 30/40m pass will have them off towards our goal. Conversely if the kick misses or doesn't hit the target we're on the back foot again.

Tapscott's my number one choice for this but he can't be the only option. Frawley, Rivers and Garland are ok at it but you wouldn't put your life on them, Davey will hopefully be forward, Grimes would have to stay fit for more than 20 minutes and you can pretty much shut the gate on the rest of them so we need to find somebody else down there with the precise kicking skills to hit those targets. Ideally three or four of them. Easier said than done but if we can hit targets moving quickly out of defence it'll help the forwards get to it first. Which brings us to..

Quality inside 50's and marks inside 50
Again, raw stats may tell you that a team is going inside 50 plenty of times but how many of those entries provide opportunity for a scoring shot? If a player picks up the ball in the middle of the ground and hoofs it to 40m out straight into a nest of opposition defenders with not a teammate in sight why do we count it amongst important stats? Fans and journalists love to use inside 50's as the measure of all that is good and wrong with a team but surely coaches are looking for quality only and ignoring the rest.

I guarantee you that if you split our inside 50's into the type that a) either went to one of our players, went to a legitimate contest or into the open insde 30m with one of our players nearby and into the type that was just the ball rolling pathetically to the 49m mark and being run out again that it would be absolutely grim reading.

For once you can't blame the midfield. For most of the last two seasons they either won the ball in space and looked up to find the forward line standing next to them or backing back to the square en masse with no big body to take a grab and nobody half a chance of crumbing. If you've got access to the full stats package can you find out how many leads per game we made in comparison to other clubs? I dare say it would be on the lower end of the scale. We had our moments of glory with this sort of attack, and the odd piece of real leadage from Jurrah or Green, but it's telling that only once from 2008-2011 did we ever play a truly slashing attacking game against a decent side.

The mere presence of Mitch Clark at full forward should at least draw the heat off the medium sized forwards and allow them to move around more - and they'd better because without changing the plan from last year I fail to see how we are any chance of consistenly kicking winning scores against non-crisis sides. If Clark doesn't work consider swapping him with Jamar.

Contested possession
Last in 2011. Cannot be allowed to happen again. That we were 7th in uncontested shows where our heads were at that year, and while I'm absolutely certain that Neeld and Co are targeting this it's up to the players on the park to deliver on it.

I'd love to see stats on CP in the forward 50 to work out if we're any better or worse at it in attack. My gut feeling says worse. It also says that without any decent crumbers who are willing to put their body on the line (or the return of Forward Pressure Davey) that it's not going to get a great deal better other than that the ball should be down there a lot more.

Define the most efficient attacking player
Way back in 2007 when I was still convinced we were just going through a 'bit of a slump' I came up with a stat to measure the overall attacking value of a player.

Goals (6) + Goal Assists (4) + Behinds (1) + Marks inside 50 (2) + Effective disposals forward of centre (1) + effective inside 50's (1) + tackles inside forward 50 (1) minus ineffective disposals (1), Clangers/OOF (-2) and frees/50m penalties (-2)

It's highly weighted towards goalkickers but if somebody boots ten you don't need a stat to tell you they've had a big day it, this is designed to let you hold up a medium forward, a tall forward having an average day and a crumber (should your team have such a thing) and decide which one impacted more on your attacking performance.

So, roll on 2012. We can only guess what Neeld and his cavalcade of coaching have got in store for us but at the moment confidence is high. In an ideal world the natural progression of the squad fits in perfectly with his game plan and we're talking next year as a team who has played finals, in the worse case it doesn't work or the players as they are simply aren't capable of carrying it off. Either way patience is wearing thin so if we don't at least see some real, consistent improvement next year people are going to start cracking the sads. I'll be keeping an eye on the categories listed above to see if anything changes.

Either way it's going to be tense. I can't believe we have to wait another three months to see actual football. Prepare for much more idle speculation before now and then.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Off-Season Updates Spectacular

The following was written in bits and pieces over the last couple of weeks. Like a letter smuggled from a Prisoner of War camp I could only sketch small pieces at work while nobody was looking. It's hard to convince anybody you're doing what you're paid for when the word WONAEAMIRRI keeps appearing on screen.

Eventually it's all been cobbled together so if none of it makes sense, the spelling is atrocious or paragraphs just end halfway through for no apparent reason then you have been warned. It may or may not end up being proof-read sometime before December 31. You may even get to the end of it by then.

Chapter 1
When the final siren went in that Port Adelaide game and we were treated to shots of joyous tooth challenged locals in celebration while Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan were prematurely chaired off into retirement I don't think I'm alone in having wanted to throw myself out the window. Except being on the ground floor at the time

Things couldn't have gotten much lower from there. Dual spoons were fine due to the fact that nobody except me actually wanted to win, but promised more all we got was $cumbag $cully leading us a merry dance and Bailey clawing his way back from the brink twice before finally being put away by the 186 fiasco. Give up football and take up field hockey? Would love to.

But now just 80 short days later, the same it took that idiot to fictionally circumnavigate the world in a balloon, there's a fervour around the place approaching the intensity of an Amway Convention which was doubled booked in the same room as Hillsong. In case you've been in a coma for the last 80 days (and you'd might as well go back into it until cricket season is over) here's what's happened since then.

Take the money and run
Surely by the end nobody expected $cully to stay. His mystery withdrawal from the last game was the final straw and sadly ruined the chances of him suffering a hilarious tragic knee injury in the middle of the Adelaide Oval having (allegedly) already signed with another club.

Throughout the season I tried to be as diplomatic as possible about his future intentions. Everyone knew he was getting offered rude money from the only regime more morally suspect than the Mugabe Government but it didn't seem to stop the likes of.. well, pretty much everybody bar Ablett.. from rejecting it. There was still that minor possibility that he could stay, and after I quite seriously had a dream that a Demonblog post was being waved about at a press conference and cited as his final reason for leaving I was erring on the side of caution.

Then he went for a quick trip to "check the facilities" upon which he found the array of cross trainers and tackling bags at Breakfast Point so attractive that he wrenched the contract from the hands of Dale Holmes (RIP) and signed on immediately, watched proudly by his mother, Big Kev style father (who was next in the queue) and quite possibly his terracotta coloured sister. Hours later he's making videos about how thrilled he is to be there and, just in case you thought he had no personality to be a footballer, how much he loved playing FIFA. I'm here to suggest that he's playing a lot of Vs CPU matches because one of the crucial elements of any two player game is having friends to play it with.

I'm sure Billy No Mates and his fear of being spewed on will now have friends coming out the wazoo. After all everyone loves a millionare and he'll probably end up with his own reality TV show produced and funded, much like GWS, entirely by the AFL.

I'm sure if Tom took the time out from buying an armour plated Rolls Royce to read this he'd shout "yeah, but I've got $6 mil and you haven't idiot" and he'd be quite right. Quite right too, but what you'll never have is the respect of anybody who doesn't work for the AFL or a club bankrolled by the AFL. You might turn out to be the finest player of a generation (though everyone at Demonblog sincerely hopes you turn out more like Richard Lounder) and you'll have more money in your bank account right now than many of us combined but don't expect anyone to ever say "Gee, that Tom $cully. What a top fellow, he's a real rolemodel for my kids".

In summary, here's hoping he doesn't even make Round 13 next year and we don't have to bother creating gigantic offensive banners and hurling foul abuse at him which would be much better suited aimed at Kevin Sheedy or Dean Brogan.

Coaching Corner (Now no longer trading under its former name Koaching Korner since the Kardashians wrecked my joy of replacing C’s with K’s)
So once the Two Million Dollar Turd was off our books and the compensation banked the next step was finding a new coach. Simple enough, but with the dominos falling elsewhere at a rapid rate and "news" outlets like SportsNewsFirst inventing rumours about the coaching moves on a daily basis you could be excused for getting utterly confused about what was happening.

Which is why it was such a shock when not only the club just came out and announced we'd appointed somebody but that 'breaking news' media reports the day before were actually right for once. Let the record forever show that journalistic heavyweight Damien Barrett (just the sort of guy to do a Tim Gossage and Google his own name) stated on The Footy Show that we were all but over the line with signing Scott Burns as coach.

We've already covered the Neeld appointment and initial reaction here so there's no need to go too far into it but even at the time it seemed a bit premature for certain excitable sections of the MFC community (and not just the Facebook nutters) to throw themselves on the ground and wail miserably about the appointment.

Ok, so the old "hiring a coach nobody had ever heard of" move didn't work at the end of 2007 but we're in a totally changed landscape now. Bailey was handed a shit sandwich and expected to extract something from it. His crime in the end was that he could never beat any decent Victorian teams, he'd been dragged into boardroom intrigues, his mystery gameplan confused the buggery out of all of us and the development of some players (we're looking at you Morton) had ground to a halt. On the other hand he is the man who presided over Mark Jamar going from one of the worst players of recent years into a ruck titan who managed to stay injury free long enough to win All-Australian honours.

Mark Neeld, on the other hand, isn't being handed the full Cleveland Steamer sandwich. He's been given something moderately unhygenic that the health inspector might have trouble with but isn't completely inedible. Unfortunately when we sent the 2010 side back to the chef and said "this isn't well done enough" it was used as a toilet but surely now we're on the upswing. Either that or there's going to be a lot of people having to undergo serious psychological treatement in a couple of years time (including yours truly).

There's no doubt that so far he's said and done the right things, and I was more than happy to go along for the ride even before he gave off that serial killer vibe that I've been dying for us to harness for years, but it means precisely zero until we start seeing results on-field. He might still be an utterly naff coach. It's happened before and coming from the side who have just completed their hat-trick of mid-season sackings we're hardly taking the moral highground as one of the league's most stable clubs, but I've a strange feeling in the sub-cockle area that everything's going to be alright.

Witness for instance this picture of the new coaching staff.

You'll note all the other assistants, including the guys you've never heard of before and Brent Grgic second from right, are cracking broad smiles (except Neil Craig who was occupied in a hyperbaric chamber which produces South Australian oxygen) while their boss stands side on, showing off his not inconsiderable arms and looking sideways at the camera as if he’s about to stuff the lens cap down the photographer’s throat. I love it. I hope I still love it in 12 months time.

Speaking of assistants what do you think Bailey thinks when he sees that we've hired all these assistant assistants, fitness gurus etc? If there's even the merest hint of truth to that story being pedalled by Gerard Healy after the 186 debacle that he’d had to whip out his personal credit card in an attempt to pay for the team to stay in Geelong overnight (and I seriously doubt there was) he'd be horrified to see that the moment he goes out the door somebody loosens the purse strings and decides to try and get a decent off-field team together instead of just collaring a few blokes who used to play and hoping for the best.

Now from a point where the coach allegedly had to try and fund our footy department with an AMEX (maybe he just wanted the points? 186 will get you a free trip to Adelaide) just a few months later we've got more coaching staff than you can shake a stick at. In one way or the other they're all impressively credentialled but will it make even the slightest bit of difference? Well it can’t hurt can it?

My favourite non-Neeld moment was signing Leigh Brown about 20 minutes after the Pies lost the Grand Final. When Brenton Sanderson was charging to the fence to hug the Geelong players and coaches there's every possible chance Cam Schwab was leaning over the shoulder of the Collingwood cheersquad trying to get Leroy to sign a contract in the forward pocket.

So with the new uber-structure in place the time came to throw down challenges to the players. We've all got our list of disappointments from last season, and odds are that Davey and Morton feature on 99% of them but to his credit the coach opened fire on the wider crowd and took to Jack Watts as well. He was pretty good last season, certainly ranked highly in the awards on this site, but why not tell him he needs to do much better? It's one thing battering the perceived weak links but didn't you just go a little bit wobbly at the knees when started torching Jack as well? Not that the kid deserves a roast but bloody hell if that's what it takes to boost him from "promising" to an out and out superstar then let's go with it. He should do a Norm Smith/Ron Barassi and take Jack in just to yell at him.

It'll be interesting to see how his philosophy about putting a team together holds up between Round 1 and Round 22. "I have pre-defined roles for my team" he said, "and anybody who doesn't fit those roles will play VFL". Be still my beating heart. The hint is very much that Aaron Davey will end up back in the forward line (and god knows we need CRUMB from somewhere) but in the great man's words if he doesn't fit the required role then he'll be out. Good. And that goes for all of them, I love The Jurrahcane in as rigorous and manly fashion as is socially acceptable but if maniacal forward pressure is the name of the game and he's not into it then we need to talk.

Remembering back to '04/'05 Davey practically invented the concept of forward pressure, and it was glorious. He's had his run as a playmaker, let's bring him home. As long as he we can get him in a frame of mind where he isn't biffing people out of frustration then he's still got plenty to offer. Unless one of Bennell or Jetta is going to go ballistic we've got to have at least one dangerous small forward, and we’ve got scant time to wait for a kid to develop into a dangerous option. Actually we’ve probably got two or three years before it’s really crucial but I’ve had enough of waiting, I want it now.

Trading Places
Trade Week is one of footy's greatest let-downs every year. When they extended it by three days this season I think everyone thought "wow, that's another three days of nothing happening before a wild flurry of action on the last day". Even with a recent record of having ripped Brisbane and Carlton off blind on the Johnstone/McLean deals the week is still immensively overrated. Luckily I was on holidays for almost all of it this year and only managed to check-in to the non-action occassionally instead of being suckered into listening to endless hours of speculation and idle waffle on SEN or Trade Week Radio.

In the end it's a good thing they did extend it, because if they hadn't the closest we'd have got to action would have been the on again, off again, never actually on the cards speculation about Emo Maric going to North. Just in case you thought being involved with North wasn’t the best move for somebody who has cracked one smile in a decade the poor bastard has now wound up at Richmond jumper. If he turns up at Tigerland with a beaming grin, looking like the happiest man alive I’ll be asking serious questions.

There was also the minor matter of flogging Warnock to the Gold Coast for an almost irrelevant pick. Good luck to him, he did do his best work when we were utterly dire and the backline was under siege every 30 seconds every week (instead of every second week in 2011) so he'll fit in well at Gold Coast. Will probably win a flag before we do.

The main event though was the Mitch Clark heist. What began as a speculative mid-week escape into trying to ruin his tearful Perth homecoming wound up with us snatching him from under the noses of the Dockers despite them all but announcing he'd signed. Let's all be entirely honest here, you can say whatever you like about Mark Neeld and Josh Mahoney giving inspirational speeches in Chinese restaurants but the reason he ditched Freo was for big fat wads of cold hard cash.

The revelation that we'd used our vast cash reserves to cause somebody to have a sudden and dramatic change of heart about the city they'd like to live in caused momentary uneasiness for some. Not least idiots like me who broke their stated ban on tweeting footballers to write to our mate Mitch and declare that while I would have liked him to join us it was good to see somebody pick family over cash for once. Effectively it was just another in a long line of subtle digs at the $cully family which will continue for years to come, but in the end it looked rather foolish. Never again.

Whether he's any good or not is anybody's guess. I'm not entirely convinced of his merits as a goal frenzy full-forward given that his career high season tally is 27 set this year and the next best was nine the year before. I suppose it's all about structure and taking the heat off Jurrah/Watts etc.. Also given the situation we're in with our salary cap it's practically a free hit but at least he's young enough for us to get something out of him if the forward thing doesn't work out. Don't forget Jamar is 29 next season. If we need another ruckman in two years or somebody else comes along to kick the goals Mitch will still only be 25. He might turn out to be the most expensive decoy in history for all we know, but as long as it ends in him hoisting the premiership above his head then I'll consider it a success.

"That's just like $cully! You're all hypocrites!" screamed opposition fans when the deal went through. No it's not you peasants. Well, maybe it is a bit but only in the manner in which a decision was clearly made based on Scrooge McDuck style money. The difference is we've given the game 150+ years and GWS have given it about 25 minutes, a recycled nutbag as coach and uniforms that Red Rooster employees would refuse for being too ugly.

But the Northern Filth aren't finished yet. Stopped from ransacking any more of our players (until the rules are inevitably changed to help them more) they've turned their attention on the Southern Filth in an attempt to wrest Pendlebury from Collingwood's grasp. Cue McGuire trying to prop up the ratings on his Nickleback friendly radio show by coming out beating his chest about how it would be "war" if they attempted to poach any of his players. Gee, I'll bet the team which is funded and practically run by the league are absolutely quaking in their boots at that prospect. Face facts Eddie, given the choice between having any of us in their league or having a team in Blacktown the AFL aren't going to choose the Melbourne option. Start your own league or bend over and cop it like everyone else.

Everyone's favourite failed Nine Network CEO even threw in a cheapshot at us, declaring that you can't just steal players from Collingwood like you could from Melbourne. Part of me wants GWS to get Pendlebury just so we can laugh at Eddie, but that boosts (even further) their chances of a premiership, and by extension $cumbag Scully's prospects, so we can't have that. But we don't want Ed to be right do we? Maybe we do. My preferred scenario is for them to get driven into a bidding war to keep him, and for Eddie's ego to make him pay anything Pendles wants, meaning they get to keep him but at the expense of losing other quality players then winding up falling apart like an Iranian airliner the next year, leaving nothing but Pendlebury and his Captain Jack Sparrow haircut as a lonely but rich figure in the middle of the MCG amongst 16 Irishmen and Juice Newton at Full Forward.

Training Updates
Is John Meesen still "training the house down"? (about time that cliche is retired) There are a lot of fantastic training updates on various forums. I assume they’re fantastic anyway because personally the concept bores me so much I mentally tune out and start daydreaming the moment anybody starts talking about it.

Somebody won a time trial, somebody was in the rehab group, nobody's yet been seen sporting a ludicrous +50 number and Dunn sadly hasn’t seen fit to be ironic and get rid of his moustache in November when everybody else is growing one. The only snippet of half interest was an observation that Cale Morton appears to actually gotten smaller since last season. If he's not suffering some form of flesh eating virus then I'm not here. Just concede the rest of the pre-season and send him to the world's best doctors to sort it out before he suffers a Benjamin Button style recession into childhood followed shortly afterwards by death. It would still make him the luckiest of all the Morton brothers.

The nadir of pre-season training fever came the other day when the club invited everyone to go down and watch them have a swimming session at the Cranbourne pool. Riveting stuff indeed. Good on them for giving people the opportunity but I'd love to know what you're going to get out of it other than hanging around with your camera phone waiting for a stray jatz cracker to pop out the side of somebody's speedos. You sick freak.

If anybody wants to write a pre-season training update and can inject even the slightest modicum of life into the subject please write in, you're more than welcome to have a shot. Personally I reserve the right to show not the slightest interest until at least the rookie draft is done and we've finalised our list. Or in February.

Draft Watch
What time is kickoff on Thursday? Because I’ll see you about half an hour after that when they get through Team Golden Child having the first 200 picks. May each one either be the next Luke Molan and never do anything ever or the next Buckley/Rocca and run for their life to a proper club at the first available opportunity.

Surely they're not persisting with the joke of pre-selecting the top ten and doing them in reverse order. They couldn’t could they? It was enough of a farce last year when most of the top 10 was taken up by Gold Coast, but this year it would be one of the greatest piss extractions of all time to expect people to show any interest in a reversed top ten where the teams involved have a combined support of 2000 people.

Of course there's one very good reason to watch from the start if you can make it all the way to pick 36 without booting your TV screen in out of frustration at the rorts, and that’s the startlingly amateur production that Fox Sports usually put on.

I appreciate the fact that they even show it at all (though realistically aren't you just as well off listening to it on SEN?), but in two years they've managed to - in order - cut out after the first round and subject us to interviews conducted by heavyweights like Jason Dunstall then last year place one solitary cameraman in the middle of the recruiter tables, thus forcing the poor bastard to have to find who he was meant to be aiming the camera at in quick succession as every pick was announced. Usually despite waving the camera about like a whirling dervish and providing us with action footage of the carpet he missed showing the pick being made anyway, leaving us with just the audio – and there you are back to listening to it on the radio again.

How do you think they'll muck it up this time? I hope it's by leaving the microphone at our table on and catching the recruiting staff lamenting wasting a #1 pick on a disloyal crunt.

Granted that they'll find some way to stuff it up I'll do what I did last year and cue up SEN then mute it just in case Fox do something stupid or the coverage drops out, but realistically given that our picks will start at about midnight and phantom drafts have been rendered even more useless than ever before I'll have probably given up and gone out for a kebab by then anyway.

I couldn't tell you exactly what sort of player I want, because by the mid 30's recruiting effectively becomes somebody opening fire on a lake and hoping to hit a fish. There might be sliders, there might be bolters and if we’re really unlucky Pick 36 might be an utter hack that you’ll never ever hear from again. Alternatively he could be a superstar - how many times do we need to hear about how Dane Swan was drafted at Pick 1000 before he was a champion player/cleaner beater? – but it's nothing to get excited over immediately. So, working on the understanding that I'll never have heard of any of the players we pick I’ll give you a simple three point plan on the sort of guys I’d like to take with picks 36/52/54. Any combination of the following will do;

a) Players with silly names
b) Snarling, ugly individuals who are less attractive than Mick Martyn (but who aren't off-field dickheads)
c) Batshit crazy insane psychopaths who should by all rights spend more time in hospital with head injuries than they do on the field (but won’t wind up suing us in the end).

Actual being adept at playing football wouldn't hurt either but if there's one thing I've learnt in more than 20 years following this club it's that ability is an optional extra.

Then with no picks in the Pre-Season draft there's just the rookie draft to care about. We've got Paul Couch's son training with us (via Collingwood VFL) which is fine because all our father-son selections have been so shite over the last 20 years that we'd might as well try to get a son from another club and see if that works better than any of Chris Johnson, Michael Clark or Shane Burgmann. Shouldn't be too hard, even if by all rights Jack Viney (and maybe Steven Stretch Jr) should overtake the lot of them just by pulling on the jumper for the first time.

It's money and plenty of it apparently. I've got absolutely no understanding of how finance works but it seems that only a little of it is an actual trading profit and the rest is as the result of the Bentleigh Club merger. Which is fine, I'll take small profit over some of these doomsday figures any day of the week.

What's most impressive is somehow putting roughly $6m of assets on the books by acquiring what I understand to be - having never gone closer than driving past Yawla Street, Bentleigh - the equivalent of somebody's stately manor with a few pokies thrown in. I suspect they'll try and use it as the social club that we've never really had, but it's not much use to anybody who doesn't live on that side of town.

Encyclopedia Titanica
I've been beavering away at Demonwiki over the last few months, adding new features and polishing up pages that already exist. If you haven't seen it already check it out or send the link to anybody who might be interested.

It's up to 5863 pages so good luck finding exactly what you want. I suggest that classic Wiki move of opening up a random page and seeing where it takes you. If you want something more structured try the Players or Seasons sections. When time allows (i.e when not writing epic waffle like this) I'm currently going through the Football Records of the 80's and adding Under 19's scores and goalkickers.

It's not cheap maintaining this helter skelter life of excitement and obscure information though. You can either donate to Demonwiki directly from the site itself (and we promise to use all donations for their intended purpose and not to fund Sylvia style nights on the town) or by 'taking an active interest' in the ads on this page. Take an active interest early, take an active interest often because pretty soon we're going to have to go cap in hand to the club and ask them for a grant to pay for the hosting. Come on, I know you're reading - don't make me grovel just write in with an offer. I promise not to criticise the administration on here ever again while the cheques are rolling in.

Final thoughts
Buy a membership. Now.