Friday, 23 March 2012

Pre-Season preview

.. incorporating the not-at-all famous Demonblog State of the Union address
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"Don't worry, boys, we'll weather this storm of approval and come out as hated as ever." - Saul Alinsky

So the pre-season started with an uncharacteristic air of optimism around the place (Neeld, the Clark heist etc..) and ended in large swathes of our fanbase having to be restrained from self harm before everything was well and truly put into perspective in the week before the real stuff started.

That's Melbourne for you. Never a dull moment. Except when we're involving ourselves in two goal first halves and playing like Sydney under heavy sedation. That's when you could be forgiven for turning up coked to the eyeballs to try and get through it all.

Of course that era's over now isn't it? Rumours in dark corners and laneways still have it that we're on a one way ride to the stratosphere of Australian Rules Football. Well perhaps we are, but we're not getting there this year and even before the rollercoaster pre-season we were never going to be. Not yet. Patience is a virtue. Steel yourself for a heady mix of joy, desperation, frustration and legal trouble over the next few years.

There's a neat split between people who think the pre-season means absolutely nothing, citing numerous examples of ludicrous NAB Cup and practice match results to back it up, and people who scream that a game is a game no matter what, we've practically played our best available 22 for the last two matches and been stuffed so we'd may as well just accept that we're going to be absolute pants this year.

Personally I've got a foot in either camp, but if there's one thing that unite all of us it's that we're in it together. For better or worse, richer or poorer etc.. etc.. Some may have jumped off out of sheer frustration/a pathological need to support a winnin team but if they hadn't gone after '07-'09 then I expect they're pretty much rusted on now. Either way I don't expect you'd be reading this as one of the rats abandoning the sinking ship then you'll probably object to being called a FILTHY POLTROON every second paragraph.

No, they're all cowering behind their sofas or cheering on the Melbourne Storm exclusively. Now it's just you, me and 30,000 fellow sufferers. And this is us. Every year for the last 40 we've been going off a first floor balcony. Well, the last 23 seasons in my case - god help those of you who had to live through the 70's and are now being rewarded with this era.

Surely the end is nigh in one way or another.

I'm not by any stretch of the imagination expecting us to make the finals this year but for the collective sanity of all of us it would good to see some proper signs, not the dinky little ones that I've been holding close to my heart for the last five years. And this does not included flogging interstate teams by 15 goals only to get tonked by pretty much every Victorian side in the following weeks. Look at North, nobody wants to finish ninth two years in a row but at least they can go into a season thinking they're on the up. That's what I want next year. Or now if possible but no pressure.

If you're still desperate for some sort of miracle season that puts the plot of The Club to shame please consider the fact that 186 was just six premiership matches ago. Using pure Footy Maths we're as far away from 186 as we are from playing our Round 6 match on Saturday 5 May against Geelong at Kardinia Park and.. oh shit.

But it couldn't happen again could it? Of course not. Chances are we'll still get tonked by something approaching ten goals but there's something different about now compared to when that shattered rump of a side went out and got fed into the second biggest shredder in league history. What it is I'm not entirely sure considering that on Saturday Clark, Magner and Neeld (+ 5000 assistants) will be the only new faces on offer.

Let's not forget that even after 186 we only fell over the line against Gold Coast and lost to both Richmond and Port - not to mention being belted handily by Carlton and the Eagles. We've all got varying degrees of questions about the recruiting over the last few years but that's a matter to debate with past administrations, the current one has inherited something in only marginally better shape than the one Bailey did and they've got to have some time to work out how to get to the best out of it.

In a way it's almost a shame that our first game is an eminently winnable clash with the Lions at the MCG. Firstly there's going to be the Mitch Clark circus, which is ok as long as he plays a decent game, then there's the possibility of utter fan meltdown if we don't win - and because it would take a brave person to publicly go The Neeld Corporation after Round 1 you can expect that it'll be the usual scapegoats who take a kicking for all our failings.

Step forth Watts, Morton, Bennell and wear a helmet because fairly or not you are going to get hammered by our fans if things go wrong this year. The default setting of the internet is that everything is shit and that we know better (god knows I'm willing to put my hand up and admit to being part of the problem not the solution).

Fortunately the only place that reality and internet nutbaggery collide is when footy players open Twitter accounts and allow the community a hotline to abusing them. There's a good reason why Morton ditched Twitter, Bennell is amongst a handful of players who never went near it and Watts is probably banned from reading his @ messages by the club psychologist. We can mash keyboards to our hearts content (and memo to all involved: we will) but there are highly paid professionals putting this production together so give it some time.

Yes, I know I said the same thing during the darker days of Baileyball but it's true. This time I reserve the right to lose my mind at the end of the year but not a second before then. I go into this season expecting 'development' (CLICHE) and anything better is a bonus.

Of course if we do win against the Lions it'll be all smiles happy days and ridiculously overblown expectations like just after the Collingwood game. Until the next downer when it'll be back to the picket line with SACK EVERYONE banners. Even if all goes well this year there are going to be some downers so prepare yourself for it now so it's not such a shock when they do come. Maybe there'll be one in the first round? Either way try not to totally embarass yourself.

Which would usually bring us neatly to the MFC Facebook Comment of the Week but for obvious reasons people have managed to put aside their whinging to pay tribute to Jimmy. And rightly so too. Won't last. I predict that the moment the teams come out there will be banshee style wailing via text and I'll be there to capture it. Not that you'll ever see it if we lose Saturday afternoon because whatever's said before then will be nothing in comparison to that firestorm of doubt.

So, how's this damned season going to play out?

Best case scenario
Win four of the first five, dropping only the inevitable Subiaco debacle. 2-4 from there as the games get harder leaves us 6-5 at the halfway mark. An 8-3 second half of the year sees a 14-8 finish for fifth place and a home final. We win the first one, lose the second and everyone goes home wide-eyed and with a childlike glee at the wonder of football.

We are so calm that we don't even notice them change it to a 0 interchange, 4 sub system at the end of the year with 9 point goals for torpedos and Dwayne Russell as the first AFL Commissioner of Commentary.

More realistic scenario
A bunch of shit that you didn't expect to happen does and we finish somewhere between 8th and 12th <-- INSIGHT.

Moderately shite case scenario
Brisbane beat us in a close one then we're slaughted by the Eagles in Perth. A resurgent Richmond cut us up courtesy of hot performances by Emo Maric and Miller. With the morale of the nervier portions of fan base sinking at a record rate the Neeld Corporation gameplan starts to gel in time for one win of two against the free-falling Saints or Footscray.

From there it's one more win against either Sydney or Essendon and we go into the bye 2-9. At this point more than a handful of people will be either trying to get Mark Neeld and friends sacked or will start doing the calculations that lead to us getting a hundred first round picks and an extra life if we tank like buggery.

We come home with an easier draw, the pieces start to gel and the club avoids the compulsion to implode again. Seven wins leaves us 9-13 and half a game better off than 2011, good for approximately 13th and with a platform to build on for next year.

Worst case scenario
Lose to Brisbane, suffer yet more of an injury crisis, get thrashed by the Eagles and go into an early season freefall which sees us lose to all the good sides and suffer close losses to the other slop teams. We hit the bye 0-12 and everyone's on the verge of topping themselves.

Five wins in the second half of the year, starting with the bottom of the harbour clash against GWS, claw back some respectability and we finish 16th - above just GWS and one of Gold Coast or Port while I miss the last game of the season due to being interned in a mental health ward after being found half naked atop the Brunton Avenue bridge screaming foul obscenities about Adrian Anderson.

To be entirely honest any of the above could happen so you might want to see your doctor by Saturday morning to stock up on every legal pharmaceutical that you can get your hands on.

2012 Demonblog betting markets
First the updated betting markets based on the pre-season. They should be read in conjunction with the pre-season version posted 24 January. Gamble responsibly. Demonblog and BigFooty will not be held responsible for any financial losses incurred by using the following prices to engage in illicit side bets with your friends or workmates.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
Jones' successful Paul Prymke Plate for Pre Season Performance campaign sees him installed as favourite in his attempt to become the first ever two time winner.

Last year's champion Moloney remains a firm second favourite due to his proven ability to smash five vote games every once in a while. The people's champion Frawley starts the year as our most important and probably best player but has history against him as no defender has ever won the award before.

The big mover is Magner into 16's while Sylvia and Jurrah have suffered due to their 'troubles' and Neville Jetta dropped out of contention when he entered injury hell.

$3.50 - Nathan Jones
$4 - Brent Moloney
$6 - Jack Trengove, James Frawley
$7 - Mark Jamar
$10 - Jack Watts, Jordie McKenzie
$12 - Brad Green, Mitch Clark
$15 - Jack Grimes, Stefan Martin
$16 - James Magner, Jeremy Howe
$18 - Colin Garland
$20 - Colin Sylvia, Jared Rivers
$25 - Jordan Gysberts, Ricky Petterd
$30 - Aaron Davey, Sam Blease
$35 - Matthew Bate, Luke Tapscott, Lynden Dunn
$40 - Rohan Bail
$50 - Clint Bartram, Cale Morton, Daniel Nicholson
$75 - James Strauss, Jamie Bennell
$80 - Tom Couch
$90 - James Sellar, Joel Macdonald
$100 - Tom McDonald
$135 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$250 - Lucas Cook, Liam Jurrah
$300 - Troy Davis, Josh Tynan
$500 - Rory Taggert, Jake Spencer
$600 - Michael Evans, Kelvin Lawrence
$750 - Jai Sheahan
$1000 - Neville Jetta, Leigh Williams
$10000 - Max Gawn

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Frawley eases slightly due to Garland's performance in the pre-season. Joel Macdonald the slider while Sellar is the big mover now that it looks as if he might actually play more than two games.

$2.50 - James Frawley
$4 - Colin Garland
$7 - Jack Grimes
$10 - Jared Rivers
$22 - Joel Macdonald
$25 - Tom McDonald
$30 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$35 - James Strauss, James Sellar
$50 - Jamie Bennell
$100 - Stefan Martin
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER (Not one player scores a vote for playing in defence all year).

Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year
After starting at $12 in a field with no standouts Magner has shot to comfortable favouritism. Lucas Cook the slider due to not having been seen once in a senior capacity and [INSERT YOUR OWN JACK DARLING COMMENT HERE].

$2 - James Magner
$8 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Tom Couch
$18 - Lucas Cook, Josh Tynan
$20 - Troy Davis, Jack Fitzpatrick
$30 - Kelvin Lawrence, Rory Taggert
$50 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER (Nobody listed scores a vote)
$75 - Jai Sheahan
$100 - Leigh Williams

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Jamar now almost unbackable after pre-season showed plans for the Stefan Martin Experience involved more forward time. Be cautious of the SME being disqualified for not spending enough time in the ruck.

$1.50 - Mark Jamar
$9 - Stefan Martin
$30 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$75 - Jake Spencer
$100 - ANY OTHER PLAYER
$1000 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER
$10000 - Max Gawn

Demonblog's chosen 21+1
Sylvia was already out for R1 care of his Out Run tribute but injury, legal considerations and no game time have removed three more of his colleagues. The statuses of Tapscott/Morton/Grimes/Magner are still up in the air but I expected the last two to play at least. Would love Tapscott in as well but coming off zero matches this pre-season it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to play a couple of warm ups and come back in time to be verbally abused in Perth again.

B: Bartram, Frawley, Rivers
HB: Grimes, Garland, Bail
C: Moloney, Trengove, Jones
HF: Green, Watts, Howe
F: Petterd, Clark, Davey
Foll: Jamar, Magner, McKenzie
I/C: Martin, Bate, Blease
Sub: Dunn
EM: Gysberts, Bennell, Tapscott

IN: Magner, Bate, Dunn
OUT: Jurrah (inj/susp), Tapscott (inj), Gysberts (omit)

On the rise
Improvers from last season should be Blease, Grimes, Gysberts, Howe, Jones, McDonald, Petterd, Tapscott and Trengove. Which is not to say the likes of the Stefan Martin Experience aren't going to get better as well but I'm projecting that the three players who have the most improvement will come out of this lot.

Then there's the rookies who have nothing to improve on so they don't count.

On the chopping block
Various names that are about to be listed might still be contracted after this year but it doesn't mean that we won't try and offload them anyway. In one way or the other a swathe of the following names aren't going to be around next year, so enjoy them while you can. We've got to ditch at least three people off the senior list alone at the end of the season and as I can't see anybody voluntarily retiring this season there's going to be an execution or two to be had.

And the contenders are: Bate, Bennell, Davey, Dunn, Fitzpatrick, Jetta, Jurrah, Macdonald, Morton, Spencer and Sylvia plus Evans and Lawrence on the rookie list.

At an absolute minimum I'm going to say Joel Mac is given a firm handshake with our best wishes for the future and that Neville Jetta's pre-season injury woes might have cost him his spot unless he storms home with a withering run. Next most vulnerable to trade or the axe are Bate, Dunn and Spencer while god only knows what's going to happen to the likes of Jurrah, Morton and Sylvia.

Col could be the most crucial player in this side but not only was he not showing it in the pre-season but now he's missing a sizeable chunk of the real stuff thanks to being cleaned up by that Port goofball. The prospects of a Neeld cut and run after a year to evaluate the list looms large and if we're already going into the first round with two picks (after Jack Viney is claimed) then what's to say he's not going to leap at the chance for another one if somebody's stupid enough to fall for it.

Projected league ladder
How I hope I'm wrong, but last year I said 11th and we finished 13th so at the very least let's hope that reverses. I will take a strong 11th but ideally would like to win 10 games in at least be in the mix with a few weeks to go. Even more ideally I'd like to win the flag but that's not going to happen is it?

Only problem I can see is that we might be getting 'better' but who's getting worse? Everyone knows who the strugglers should be and even then we're not far above. Maybe in game wins but even if you finish 17th six wins about 18th you were still second last.

Somebody will always die out of nowhere a'la Adelaide/Footscray last year so there's always that. I'm backing Essendon for that and still picking them to finish above us. Thumbs up for optimism. I know you're reading Melbourne (no I don't, because you're not) so feel free to prove me wrong.

1 - Hawthorn
2 - Collingwood
3 - Geelong
-- daylight --
4 - West Coast
5 - Carlton
-- making up the numbers --
6 - Fremantle
7 - Adelaide
8 - North Melbourne
9 - Richmond
10 - Sydney
11 - St Kilda
12 - Essendon
13 - Melbourne
-- no chance --
14 - Brisbane
15 - Footscray
16 - Port Adelaide
17 - Gold Coast
18 - GWS

Should you be excited?
Of course you should. Even in our shittest seasons there have been some lifelong memories which have come from watching this club. Some of them have even been good memories. Buy your membership, turn up for Round 1 and try to keep an open mind for at least the first two quarters.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Remembering Jim

This morning I resolved to sit down and spend my evening writing what passes for a season preview around these parts. There are half written notes somewhere and I'll get to it eventually but a tweet that landed on my phone at 8.38am changed the plan entirely.

For the umpteenth time since I started using Twitter just over three years ago the news of a celebrity death came to me first via that medium, but this time it was different. Upon reading the first reports of the passings of Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston I thought "well, that's no surprise" and when the first word came through about the amazing run and gun killing Osama Bin Laden there was shock, surprise and, let's be entirely fair, admiration but the simple message I saw in my mentions this morning chilled me to the core.

djkmordi @Demonblog RIP Jim. Died at 8.20am

Those few words said it all. The day we'd all feared since he was first diagnosed in July 2009, when he was supposedly given nine months to live. He lasted almost 34, battling with everything he had until the very end when he just couldn't give any more. And never once did he publicly give in to the battle, in fact he agreed to a none more warts and all documentary in the hope that it would help others. The man allowed himself to be filmed drinking his own urine and for it to be shown on prime time television while he was still very much alive as part of a larger attempt to raise awareness and show other sufferers that they weren't alone. That's a special man.

And of course somewhere in the middle of all this was his stewardship of a football club. It's hard to believe now that we were ever in the situation we were when he took over. We're not a great deal better off on-field than we were then but that's about the only thing he couldn't influence. The supporter base was still desperately divided, we were financially crocked and even a professional troublemaker like Jeff Kennett was taken seriously when he suggested that it was us, not North Melbourne, who should be shipped off to the Gold Coast for a fresh start.

Arguably all the warring factions of the club had to come back together in order to save us from a slow, drawn out extinction by a thousand cuts but can there have been a single man better for the job of uniting the tribes? In 2008 we were still feeling the distant ripples of the Gutnick vs Szondy factional battle royale and the place was going to rack and ruin while we dithered hoping things would eventually get better. It took a man as universally respected as our Jim to step up to the enormous job of righting the ship.

He didn't do it alone, and there are thousands of heroes of our financial salvation from the huge donors to the people who bought memberships for the first time and everybody - including Brock McLean and his famous $5000 donation - in between but could anybody else have coordinated such an effort? Another administration might have saved the club but they wouldn't have done it as quickly. It was Jim's leadership which pulled it all together, and for nearly three years he continued to give that small part of himself that wasn't busy fighting for life to further our interests. And in all that time only the filthiest and lowest of trolls could find even the slightest bad thing to say about him. He was as close to universally respected as any man can get, and in your lifetime you'll be lucky to come across more than a handful of people who achieve that status.

But that's enough of the tributes. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, and the reaction of everybody involved with the club and who knew him intimately will tell you everything you need to know about what an amazing human he was. I can't add anything to that and probably shouldn't have tried. Instead I'm going to tell you my Jim Stynes story. One where, much like the neighbour from Home Improvement, he never actually appears.

The year was 1989. I'd not properly discovered football yet, having only jumped on the Melbourne bandwagon courtesy of a fateful "whoever plays Hawthorn in the Grand Final" clause midway through '88. I was in Grade 2 and didn't go to my first live game until that year's Elimination Final victory over Collingwood, but from then on I was completely hooked.

Sadly the addiction ignited by that stirring win at Waverley was put on hold when we were knocked out of the finals the very next week but as we entered that traditionally tricky part of the year when the footy season ends but cricket hasn't started yet and so nobody knows what sport they're supposed to be playing at lunchtime I was still thinking about nothing but footy.

Heady times indeed at St Joseph's Primary School on Glenferrie Road, especially for the only Melbourne fan in the vicinity. Even as a newly minted Demon I was starting to feel what it was like to be lonely.

My immediate family (all one of them) had very little interest in religion, but as it turns out I was still required to go to catholic schools for most of my life. I think it was part of a clever scam to get the rest of the family – the rich ones - to chip in on the educational expenses.

It was also for the benefit of my late grandmother who maintained the faith until her last breath and was probably looking down disapprovingly at the rest of us when we didn't know which parts to stand up in during her very catholic funeral. She was an enthusiastic volunteer at the same church which we'd later disgrace her memory in and during a visit late that year casually mentioned that the school attached to the church had just taken on a league footballer as a teacher.

I'm not sure she could identify a solitary footballer of a more recent vintage than Ted Whitten and never professed the slightest interest in the game so it's likely that of about 500 names which she could have mentioned I'd never have heard of 95% of them. Never mind the fact that in that pre-Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers era Victoria was full of chancers claiming they'd played "a couple of games" in the 70's.

The closest I'd ever come to a footy player before was the reflected pride of my grade one teacher when she'd tell us about her husband playing for Camberwell in the VFA. It meant nothing to us at the time, and I was flat out showing an interest in the VFL at that point let alone a rapidly dying VFA club, but a couple of years later it dawned on me that they were actually the worst team in senior Australian Rules Football. Still, I always took a sick fascination with the Cobras after that. Strange kid.

I pressed grandma for more information. Who was this mystery player. An Irishman apparently. This was an interesting development, we're about five years into the 'experiment' at this point so there was a very small pool of potential candidates and almost all of them were somehow connected to the team I'd just fallen head over heels in love with.

Eventually by process of elimination I discovered that the man in question was none other than Jim Stynes who was allegedly employed there as a sports teacher. A real life footy player who I'd seen in person (just once, and from about 500m away high in the Waverley stands mind you) and therefore now idolised. Upon returning home I immediately demanded that my mother trade me to this school for the 1990 season.

In later years it turned out I'd switch schools at the drop of a hat anyway so this was just the start of a good decade of madness. Like a player entering the pre-season draft already committed to a club I'd been promised to yet another catholic joint for Grade Four anyway so it was strictly a one year deal on the table.

Maybe that's why my mother took it seriously, you wouldn't do much more than indulge it for a while and try to change the subject would you? Maybe if the kid was miserable but the fact of the matter was that I was doing quite nicely before coming up with the masterplan of shifting my life two suburbs over just to have an Irish ruckman as a sports teacher. Most parents would have yelled "you're kidding" and sent me to my room for six years. For some reason my mum, bless her, went along with it.

So, Grade 2 comes to an end and little Adam is quite the academic superstar. Didn't last. All went downhill roughly the time they started expecting you to do homework which interfered with my Sega Master System (and later Megadrive) playing. Still, it's not like other schools are bashing down the door to sign me so as we enter early 1990 and the first bounce approached the playing list still hadn't been finalised and I was in educational limbo.

It wasn't so much the ditching of the original school which was proving a problem, it was getting into what we'll refer to from here as St. Jimmy's for legal reasons. It should be noted at this point that I'm not sure anyone ever confirmed the existence of our Jim at this school. Surely it was double checked somewhere or the question was asked during a preliminary investigation but as far as I can remember the whole thing was being done without confirmation (that's not a catholic gag may I add) and might have been one great urban myth. He was definitely a teacher somewhere but whether it was there is anybody's guess.

In early January word came through that we had been summoned for an entrance interview with the head Monsignor of St Jimmy's. This was new. What's an 'interview' and more importantly what in the name of dutch buggery is a Monsignor? (Turns out that he was some kind of super-priest who came midway between the normal type and a bishop. Kind of like being in a catholic leadership group I suppose). It's not like it was some kind of selective school for high achievers either, I think he just like putting the acid on people. Because he was clearly an utter prick.

Even more distressingly for my mum the word had leaked out that this bloke was a stickler for only letting the holiest of the holy into his school. Unless you practically hovered off the floor with piety then you weren't getting near the joint. Had I been subjected to some sort of knowledge based quiz then I would have stormed it in, but proving a personal relationship with Jesus was going to be a bit harder.

For two Sundays before the big interview I dragged mum along to church in an attempt to come to grips with what was going on. In reality it wasn't my education that was going to be important, it was hers. I'm sure she tried to draw on nearly 40 years of catholic apathy to come up with the answers but given that we had no idea what the questions were going to be it was always going to be difficult. I'd paid scant interest in three years of religion classes so I wasn't going to be much help if he started firing out pop quiz questions about John 3:16. It was up to her to keep the Irish dream alive.

The big day came and we were ushered in for audience with his porkiness. He'd clearly been hooking into the body of Christ excessively for many a year and barely managed to raise himself out of the seat to greet us. In truth it all ended about twenty seconds in when he asked "Is your husband coming?" at which point my mum had to admit to there not then, nor ever, having had one. Well, there went my chance to play tee-ball with the future Brownlow Medal winner - or to be crushingly disappointed when it turned out he was not and never had been an employee there.

I think we'd made a tactical agreement beforehand not to mention the Stynes factor, but looking back it might have been worth a go as the interrogation rapidly started going south. Not only was he miffed at the concept of the spawn of an unmarried mother trying to get into his precious school, but when it turned out we didn't even go to his church then it was really on. It obviously didn't suit us to point out that we were highly unlikely to be seen at any church let alone this one.

All I remember from then on was him thundering "I want to see you in the front row on Sunday" and putting various religious based conditions on my entry into the school. I remember my mum just agreeing to anything at that point in order to get it over with and get out of there. By this point I'd forgotten about doing the long jump with Jimbo, I just wanted to get out before he started beating me.

It goes without saying we never went near the front row of his church that Sunday or any other. In fact the only time I've ever set foot in the place was for my grandmother's funeral. I'm not sure if mum issued a quiet withdrawal of application or whether we just let it lapse as I returned, by now quite willingly and scarred for life, to St. Joseph's. That was pretty much it for me and religion, making the next six years of schooling rather awkward.

It was a classic trade week drama. Disgruntled and looking for greener pastures I roped my agent into finding me a trade to the club of my choice. We negotiated with them and discovered they were complete bastards. I didn't like the offer on the table so I stuck with my old club and my path was not destined to cross until a brief meeting in the grounds of Xavier College during the 1998 MFC Family Day. Our third and last meeting, as brief as any, was a couple of words exchanged on the MCG during a photo shoot to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the club he was knee deep in saving from extinction.

Who knows what would have happened. Maybe I'd have been inspired by the great man to not chuck schooling - and indeed religion - in the bin soon after. Maybe he'd have given me a detention and caused me to become a Brisbane Bears fan. Maybe he didn't even work at the school at all and my grandmother was just losing it. We'll probably never know one way or the other. Either way Jim played his little part in one of the few genuine anecdotes belonging to our tiny branch of the family tree and I've lost count of the amount of times the story has been recounted during his battle.

When my unholy obsession with football comes up at family events it's not that I ditched an all hands on deck reunion to watch us play Sydney in a practice match, it's that I insisted with all my heart that I wanted to change schools just because I thought Jim Stynes taught there. Now 23 years later what would have been unthinkable for a fit young man in the prime of his life has happened and we'll never hear those words or see that Irish smile again. And for this we're poorer.

I'm not grim enough to suggest a group of young men should use this as motivation to try and win football matches. I'd suggest that if they simply attempted to live their lives the same way that Jim did then society would be a better place even if they lost every match and drove the rest of us mad.

It's tempting to come to a standstill, and many of us did today, but such is the way of the world the rest of us go on until it's our turn. There's still football to be played, and I don't think it's stretching too far to say that what Jim would have wanted most is for us to go on as normal. We will but there will forever be a place in our heart for him. On that day when we finally win that elusive premiership I will put aside my own lack of religious belief, look to the sky just in case he's gazing down on me and say "this one's for you Jim".

So boss, this is farewell from the desperately ugly 17-year-old who accosted you at the 1998 Family Day. You were a true influence on me and on everybody who entered your orbit.
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Jimbo, you magnificent bastard, we'll never forget you.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Nervous sweating and adjustment of the upper collar

What's the best way to end a week where you've been ill and had a generally shit time of everything? Certainly not spending your Friday evening listening to radio coverage of a match against Port Adelaide. Damn it all to hell that this match wasn't played in Norfolk Island to save me from being obliged to 'enjoy' the rural radio coverage provided by shrieking idiots.

Didn't expect much better to be honest but there's no doubt that coverage is the worst crime against Australian radio since $10m was spent launching MTR. Arguably it was even worse than listening to K-Rock, and that's something that nobody should ever have to do more than once. "NOW YOU KNOW HOW WE FEEL!" scream the locals whenever you slander their precious local coverage, because apparently when they listen to Victorian radio it's exactly the same. Bollocks it is, at least our commentators - for all their other crimes - are polite enough to at least know who the players are even if they spend the whole day confusing them and calling the wrong person.

The first classic 5AA moment of many was how Jack Watts being out is not 'rested', it's 'dropped' because "why would they rest him when they have the bye next week?" then when Alipate Carlisle is 'rested' they're thrilled because why risk him in a meaningless match? Circus music.

They later suggested a player had received his "fifth consecutive 50" and would be kicking from 45. I suggest if you got five consecutive fifties you'd either be kicking from the goal line or from the food court of the Westlakes shopping centre. Never mind that it was only his second consecutive 50, nobody bothered with that fact. At least when you're listening in Victoria you can generally change the channel when you realise you hate the callers.

Of course what made the call seem even worse than it was, and that's a difficult task when you're dealing with something this bad, was the fact that we were absolutely stinking the joint up and getting flogged. If we'd been tonking them by ten goals then it would have been harmless buffoonery but as it was they were the worst non-community radio team since the Gladiators Of Sport on SEN.

So it's not exactly been the ideal pre-season has it? Starting with the Patron Saint of Off-Season Farce Col Sylvia's midnight shenanigans and ending with the Patron Saint of Off-Season Farce Col Sylvia having seven shades of shit knocked out of him by a buffoon for the second time in three years we've managed to swing collectively from optimism to complete despair of the future about 15 times.

Not being able to get your hands on the ball is one thing against everyone's presumed premiers Hawthorn but when you end the first term against Port ends about 90 disposals in arrears then it's only fair to nudge the hand towards the panic button. After all did I not spend all of last week blaming the farcical rules for all our troubles? Still, don't hit it yet - if you're a firm believer in pre-season form then at least we'll end up in a three-way dance with St Kilda and Carlton for the spoon and Port's 80 point win over Geelong in the corresponding fixture means that via Footy Maths they're actually the defending premier.

With all disclaimers about the importance of the match still valid it's got to be a bit concerning at least that we seemingly dominated the hitouts all over the ground yet still never appeared to get the thing away from the clearances. It's 2011 all over again - except this time we get to be poleaxed by Geelong earlier in the year and get it out of the way.

It never got any better, from what I could tell through the excited random Andrew Jarman-esque hollerin g of the commentators and their insistence of waffling on about teams nobody cares about like Woodville-West Torrens was that yet again we couldn't put together passages of play long enough to get the ball forward cleanly and even when we did the forward line was basically non-existent.

I'm all for Mitch Clark so far and he was trying hard as usual, perhaps too much when he collected cult hero Jeremy Howe in the first quarter and forced him off the field with a cut to the head, but who else is down there? None of the other options they've tried down there so far has had anything more than a token impact and it's a bit premature to expect Clark (career high goals in a season - 27) to carry the line single handedly a'la Fev at Carlton. There are a few goals coming out of the midfield but they're going to have to find something more out of Green, Martin, Petterd, Dunn etc.. if we're going to get anywhere near winning scores regularly. Of course you've got to get it to them first, and in that we're right back at 2011 all over again.

Maths gurus and fans of numerology would have been thrilled to see/hear/read that after Howe was floored by Clark he returned to the field wearing #62. The question must be asked, why of all numbers do we have a spare #62 floating around? Why not carry a spare #99 and make it interesting?

On the upside it was Football Park, and you don't need me to tell you what our record is like there, and there's a week for Neeld to get around to each player (not to be confused with 'get around' which is the most offensive addition to the football dictionary since 'up and about') and paintbrush them until his hand swells up.

Also Aaron Davey apparently CRUMBED a goal. Can we please see more of the same for the rest of the year? God knows if he's not doing the crumbing then nobody else will be.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
Not even trying to hand out votes based on listening on the radio so these are shamelessly nicked from the article on the AFL website - so if you don't like them there's something else you can add to your log of claims against the league.

5 - Mark Jamar
4 - Nathan Jones
3 - Aaron Davey
2 - James Frawley
1 - Brent Moloney

Leaderboard
Congratulations to Jones for continuing his good form from the end of last year and becoming the fifth man in five years to lift the plate. The 2007 Allen Jakovich Medallist was sixth favourite for this year's award in the opening betting markets but will sure to start shorter in the final market thanks to his pre-season form and the fact that Sylvia is crocked. With seven winners in the last seven years can he be the first man to repeat? And will Brent Moloney see his career go tits up immediately after winning it like Johnstone, McLean, Davey, Bruce and Green all did.

11 - Nathan Jones
10 - James Magner
9 - Jeremy Howe
8 - Mitch Clark
7 - Matthew Bate
6 - Mark Jamar
4 - Brent Moloney, Ricky Petterd
3 - Lynden Dunn, Aaron Davey
2 - Jack Grimes, Colin Garland, James Frawley
1 - Rohan Bail, Josh Tynan, Colin Sylvia

Crowd Watch
Just 2500 in attendance but I did enjoy their rendition of Pordalaide! *clap*! *clap*! *clap*! after a goal. It's cruel to name a footy side which doesn't fit that time honoured piece of crowd involvement but I'm not sure why they don't just chant for Power instead.

Not entirely sure why they even played it at Football Park considering that was the sort of crowd on offer. Especially when the NAB Cup Grand Final being played there a day later - what a waste of a (admittedly shit) stadium. Surely there's another ground somewhere in Adelaide with lights they could have played at? What happened to Port's beloved Alberton, did they have to sell it to keep the club afloat?

Either way we'd probably have drawn about 500 to the same match but at least it would have been played at a venue befitting such a dinky crowd like Princes Park or Casey Fields.

Captain's Corner
As happy as I am for GRIMGOVE to be in the job I'm still not convinced that it's the right choice. I'll stand by what I said at the time that I'd have stuck with Green for another year to give GRIM the chance to play some uninterrupted football (whoops) and GOVE the chance to emerge as a footy player before making such a drastic promotion.

Not that having a symbolic title and being the man who tosses the coin should mean anything once the ball is bounced but it would have at least taken one element of pressure off their shoulders. Sadly keeping Green didn't fit into the Pol Pot style Year Zero philosophies of the new coaching staff and he got to be the scapegoat for everyone's failings last year.

MFC Facebook comment of the week

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Where a disappointing pre-season performance completely wipes out five years of financial gains and an increasingly strong asset position. We all want them to shut the doors at some point but it's going to take a lot longer than three years to get us back into the same shit as we were pre-Stynes.

Still, he/she makes a fair point before that and the cheapshot at the public service is a popular comedy move. To be fair they did try and start a fight at the end of the game when Butcher killed Sylvia but where was that for the preceding 3.75 quarters? I just want somebody to go off their nut and start decking people. For god's sake can we draft a legitimate psycho at some point?

Sadly we have to completely ignore the guy who suggests things are so bad Emo Maric might win the Brownlow because in a late breaking contender even the ex-players have taken to Facebook to highlight what a disaster we've become.

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I'm not one to panic this early in the season, but I am going to get behind any man who was sacked from the Brisbane Bears for punching Warwick Capper. This is the sort of anger we're so desperately lacking at the moment.

Next Week
Angst and panic from the MFC fanbase and media scrutiny which somehow ends in Jack Watts being blamed for this result. Hopefully it ends in $cully's cheek injury somehow transferring to his knee and ruining his career.

Also I'll be back with the final Demonblog betting markets and an updated half arsed pre-season 'preview' sometime before Friday. Keep an eye out on here, Twitter or subscribe to all new posts via email in the top right hand corner of the screen - we promise not to sell your email address to Nigerians, but I can't promise you Google won't.

Final thoughts
Enthusiasm about the season waning, let's just get on with the real stuff already so I can decide whether or not to spaz out properly or not.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

THUD

Welcome back to reality. You can cram with walnuts all the articles proclaiming how we were back based solely on beating Collingwood's second XXVIII last week because in reality brave new era is about as close to reaching the top of the pops as my sadly long lost and presumably defunct musical collaboration Fat Cancer Timebomb.

It's not Neeld's fault mind, he's like a mechanic who has just had a Lada Samara wheeled through the garage rollerdoor with 40,000 people screaming at him to make it run like clockwork. The poor bastard and his cast of a thousand assistants are still frantically hitting said Russian automobile with a spanner to see which parts fall off. Bear in mind that he still hasn't coached his side in a match with proper rules.

Last week, admittedly under far less pressure, nearly everything worked well. This week the doors fell off, the tires went flat, the gearbox dropped out and it drove off a cliff. It happens. In pre-season games it happens to us a lot. Even when we were good (an era that children entering primary school this year are not old enough to have lived through) we'd usually get tonked at least once every pre-season.

At least from a neutral perspective the match had some froth about it. Hawthorn are one of the few sides worth watching, if only for the Lance (NB: THIS IS HIS CORRECT FIRST NAME) Franklin demolition show and their utterly ridiculously effective kicking. But sadly what is usually an entertaining afternoon out in front of the TV watching them tonk somebody or lose to Geelong turns into a horror show when you're on the end of it.

Still, it's no less a glorified practice match than when we won last week and the only thing more criminal than the AFL charging us to watch it was that 10,500 of us readily put our hands in pocket and gave them $17 to get in. And to Docklands no less - for the second week in a row. They should have fumigation stations set up on the way out so we don't start to smell like the place.

One of the few good news stories to come out of the night is that if you don't want to you don't have to set foot there again until we play Freo on Saturday July 14. Then it's one more trip there a fortnight later for our annual loss to North and that's it for the season. If you, like me, have dragged yourself against your will to this satanic hellhole on two consecutive Saturday nights console
yourself in the knowledge that you've ticked off half of our commitments at the place this year.

Oh the NAB Cup, so much to answer for. The rules make no sense, the umpires can't point in the right direction and the 10,000 fools who do show up only do it out of obligation. You couldn't honestly say you watched that match simply because you enjoy footy (other than the aforementioned Franklin pisstaking which is admittedly almost worth the price of admission).

I'm not totally against this NAB Cup format but it's a horrid swindle to be charging for games that in years gone by would have been played at 11am in front of 2000 people at Princes Park. To be fair we still had to pay for those but at least you knew your were paying for rubbish.

Oh and we got poleaxed, so that's hardly going to help make a dent on the value for money ledger. Still, even if we were going to win by a hundred (no laughing) it's only the prospect of having to listen to Dwayne Russell, Tony Shaw or god forbid both at once on TV that makes leaving the house worthwhile.

Firstly some perspective. Hawthorn are a fucking good team, and if they don't win the flag they'll go close. And unlike Collingwood they're taking the pre-season seriously. So what should have been two poleaxings in a row becomes one and I trust the people who went well over the top with glee based on last week will now do the right thing and run themselves through with a sword. Personally I'm thrilled to have gotten one win out of the two without any effect on where I thought we were at starting the year.

Lessened expectations don't detract from the fact that we stunk up the joint and narrowly avoided our lowest ever night series/pre-season cup score and while it's better to be taught a harsh lesson by a good team than a shit one but you can give up on any dreams of being in the same class as this lot for a while. Let's work on keeping the margin at Geelong under 20 goals first before we start fantasising about knocking off teams of this quality.

As usual disclaimers apply. The mystifying boundary rules still in place, missing players, random substitutions, injuries, leading goalkicker banned from the Northern Territory etc etc but don't fool yourself that we're anything but a midcard side who could fall into the finals if everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) went right this year. And we've not started too well on that front have we?

Blame last night's flat performance on the Jurrahcane debacle if it makes you feel better but that line of excuse isn't getting over with me. You couldn't blame anybody for feeling a bit low when their teammate is facing charges of carving somebody up with a machete and/or axe but don't tell me anyone gave that even half a thought when the ball was bounced and Hawthorn started dominating us.

Even Magner, the good news antithesis to the Jurrah fiasco, had his luck run out when he snapped buggery out of his finger in the first quarter. Apparently he might recover in time for his dead certain Round 1 start but it just goes to show that the black cloud hovering over the club can get anybody. No wonder the $2m Turd took the money and ran - after the sore knee and the vom shower from Maximum Gawn he correctly deduced that the third strike would probably involve a piano falling on him.

This is the spot (between the introductory and closing waffle) where I'd usually make some token concession to writing about what happened on the field but based on last night what's the point? All you need to know if you didn't see it was that the Hawks toyed with us all night and that when we did it get it was duly sprayed everywhere for four quarters. For three of the quarters we didn't look like kicking a goal until Hawthorn gave up in the last few minutes and allowed us in for some token scores.

Tonight was everything that last week wasn't. We were hammered out of the centre, couldn't hit targets and opposition players were running free everywhere. Classic MFC: The Depression Years key performance indicators one and all. Yes, apparently we won the mythical contested possession count but no bloody wonder considering 99% of the time Hawthorn were dinking the ball around amongst themselves without even the merest hint of a contest.

It's obscenely early to start making any judgements but I've got my questions about this bonanza of long kicking. Not saying I doubt it because a) I know it's all part of the plan and b) fat porkies behind keyboards generally know nothing about football but after four years of saying "just wait and see it all come together" during the Baileyball era I'm not going to get sucked in again. If that means shameful posts where I get everything absurdly wrong then so be it.

Statisticians were practically touching themselves after last week when we got away with hoofing the thing at every opportunity but it was a huge bomb against the Hawks. And against a team who put up absolutely ridiculous kicking efficiency numbers (+80%) can you risk giving away the ball with speculative booting? If tonight was anything to go by, and it's not like you play teams of that quality every week, no because it will end in you spending five minutes chasing them around then conceding a goal. Then if you're getting killed out of the centre they'll probably be down there having another ping 30 seconds later.

Not that I'm suggesting I'd rather see dinky chipping hither and yon, I'm willing to believe that the bonanza is leading to something more concrete as the year goes on. It's probably less high risk than trying to be pinpoint precise considering that our midfield are hardly known for their kicking accuracy. With all respect to the fact that he's going at it 100% Matthew Bate couldn't hit the side of a barn by foot last night so maybe it's better than he is just whacking it forward for somebody else to deal with instead of trying to land lace out passes to leading teammates.

The long hoof into the forward line has got a bit more about it but I'm still troubled by the lack of CRUMB. Four or five times last night the ball went long to Clark and A. Random, bounced out of the pack and was whisked away by the Hawks to start another five minute long keepings-off session. Forward pressure is all well and good around stoppages and when the ball is in dispute but it's not much good if you never get the chance to apply it due to nobody being within the same time zone as the fall of the ball. I'd also like to see somebody lead at the ball for once rather than going back to the square and waiting for it to land on their head but that's a lost art around these parts.

I wasn't as down on Davey as some tonight but I'd still love to see him stuck down there permanently. He did a couple of good defensive things so why not have him there at a contest? At least force the opposition player who swipes the ball off the ground to have to think about a tackle/smother/elbow to the head rather than having 20 seconds to hit his target. Obviously they've got no interest in Bennell doing it, Lawrence is still miles off, THE CELEBRATOR is MIA, Emo Maric is effectively dead and that's pretty much it for MFC or ex-MFC related small forwards. I'm trusting in Petterd/Dunn to do some of the work but for now that mature aged recruits are the next big thing can we go out and get ourselves a proper small forward at the end of the year?

Positives were few and far between but if Jeremy Howe isn't the next big thing in the world of cult stardom then I'm not here. If for whatever reasons cultural, legal or otherwise we never see The Jurrahcane again I'll give you $1.01 that Howe is the next owner of the #24 jumper. Shame too because somebody needs to make #38 famous but there's no way that given half a chance and the vacancy of the number that they won't make the high flying Tasmanian Robertson connection with glee. Either way Jurrah should come back next year, tell Jack Fitz to get out of his number and re-emerge in #48 to remind us of happier, simpler times.

Was also deliriously happy with Mitch Clark considering the nature of the delivery into the forward line and the fact that our forwards were spoiling each other half the time. He was far from perfect (see for instance his first goal complete with a dropped mark and fumble) but did exactly what you want him to do, used his big body, provided a target and kicked a few goals. Should go very nicely once he's comfortable being exclusively a full forward. Would be nice to have somebody CRUMB the thing when he doesn't mark it but don't hold your breath on that front.

And as far as positives go that's pretty much it . With the exception of Jones and to a lesser extent Sylvia the midfield were smashed, the backline had absolutely no idea what was going on and the rest of the forwards other than Dunn (who has grown a beard to at least try and disguise the ludicrous bumfluff) either couldn't get near the ball or did nothing with it when they did.

Watts was just ok but far better than last week. Considering how many people we had giving us nothing his two goals would probably get him into the top ten by default. Small steps. Still, class war is the new racism so I expect we'll still spend the next few weeks hearing about how he's a private schoolboy etc.. etc.. For a club that's supposedly followed by a bunch of poncy posh people there's a nice undercurrent of anti-rich propaganda going around the joint. Imagine when Jack Darling goes off his nut this year and somebody discovers that Lucas Cook's parents drive a BMW, he'll be chased down the street with lit torches and pitchforks.

Speaking of Cook, given that we were about a 1% chance to make the final anyway it was a lost opportunity not playing some of the guys who missed out or had limited time last week. Again we named players and didn't use them (Petterd/McDonald) so why not pick your Cook/Lawrence/Sheahan types and give them five minutes in the last quarter to at least be in the presence of high-standard AFL players. Nothing against James Sellar but once we had been well and truly flogged I'd like to have seen Tom McDonald down there having a go.

In the end the margin was completely appropriate, and I presume some very important learning will come out of it, but we might have come away with 'just' a ten goal loss if the Hawks hadn't been so reckless with throwing Franklin back out there when he wasn't required. He'd already survived one injury scare so when he went off with six or seven minutes to go you couldn't have blamed Hawthorn for packing him away for good. Sadly for us they'd already used their subs and decided to send him out there for a training drill where he tormented us with some more goals. Freak.

Really, when you're 60 points up with five minutes to go in a practice match and have had your bench nobbled by the AFL and their shitbox sub rule why even bother playing with 18 men on the field? The way we were going they could have sent him to the showers and would have still found a loose man inside 50 every time they went forward. Imagine the outcry at league headquarters if this 'showcase competition' was made a mockery of by Hawthorn playing the last five minutes with 15 players, all of whom rack up 20 extra kicks each by dinking it around the backline while our three extra players either run side-to-side in a vain attempt to stop them or get bored and lean against a goalpost waiting for the final siren. Hopefully somebody does that next week just to annoy the politicians in charge of the AFL.

All in all hardly a memorable night but as far as practice matches under wacky rules go one's just as bad as the other.

MFC Facebook comment of the week

Finally, a chance to use last week's intro in the spirit it was intended. I'm creatively bankrupt so if you'd got suggestions of appropriate scenes of mass panic you'd like to see incorporated in the future let me know.

This week it's a classic case of the distance that you covered to get to a match multiplying your disappointment by the total kilometres covered.
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Always buy a membership just so you can be the person who asks a frantic, disgruntled question at the AGM. Not that you can do that if you're in another state but I suppose you could always ring in and abuse the board on loud speaker.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance Votes
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Mitch Clark
3 - Lynden Dunn
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Mark Jamar

Apologies to nil, even the last two are only in to make up the numbers. By stats alone you might try and sneak Sylvia in for a sorry but I'm not falling for it. The reversed free the sealer which keeps him out.

Leaderboard
Four Fingers McRookie retains his lead despite the digital unpleasantness but any of four could snatch the title off him in the last week. Luckily the match is probably on TV so we won't have to rely on newspaper/website bests where most of the time they're flat out trying to identify the players correctly much less rank them in a coherant order.

10 - James Magner
9 - Jeremy Howe
8 - Mitch Clark
7 - Matthew Bate, Nathan Jones
4 - Ricky Petterd
3 - Brent Moloney, Lynden Dunn
2 - Jack Grimes, Colin Garland
1 - Rohan Bail, Josh Tynan, Colin Sylvia, Mark Jamar

Crowd Watch
Boosting the SCG in 1991 size crowd was a family of about 20 sitting in the rows in front of me, 19 of who seemingly had zero interest in the actual match and one guy who gave a half hearted clap for Jack Watts' goal in the second quarter. I couldn't work out if they were tourists or had just come to the wrong place. The theory that they were there to watch a kid in the Little League came to nothing so your guess is as good as mine.

Showing a flagrent disregard for crowd etiquette they spent the entire match letting their kids run riot and walking down to the fence to take group photos while the match was being played. Didn't bother me sitting right at the back but more than one person was seen fuming as they missed a goal while the shambles family were stood three abreast in the aisle giving the thumbs up for the cameras. Mind you it's not like there weren't about 20,000 spare seats if you didn't like it. The patriach of the family got a bit excited at the end and started high-fiving bemused members of the audience. It was baffling.

Then there was the section of mentally disturbed Hawks fans to my left, one of whom spent the whole match trying to start a "Haw-thorn" *clap clap* chant to zero interest from the rest of the crowd and one who spent the last few minutes of the second quarter with headphones in doing some sort of cross between shuffling and a mad Irish jig. You do have to wonder what these people get up to in their spare time.

Stadium watch
Still a horrid place. They show our old logo on the outside screen, they randomly shut level three after randomly opening it last week (chances are somebody got sacked for that) and the ticket booth staff are the most disinterested non-fast food industry employees ever. I wish nothing but bad things on the place. Not that I'm pining for the cavernous spaces of Waverley again mind you...

Radio watch
After defending them against my better judgement for years I've absolutely had enough of the up and about, get around him, bloky catchphrases wankfest that is Triple M and am actively seeking a new station of choice.

Won't be SEN when we're at Docklands that's for sure, not until their coverage sounds a little clearer than the ear ravaging feedback fest of last night where I didn't know if the radio was properly tuned in or was actually on 1107am picking up half of SEN and half Radio Free Yugoslavia.

Nor will it be 3AW if tonight was anything to go by. The presence of Tony Leonard indicated that it wasn't their first team but the coverage on offer was hardly a sparkling endorsement for their brand. There was an almost Triple M like level of banter with the 'boundary rider', Matthew Richardson kept saying Trengrove and they committed my most hated commentary sin of claiming a shot was 'directly in front' when it's on a fierce angle because they know the vast majority of people listening can't see what's going on. AW haven't come far from the classic mid 90's era of Rex Hunt claiming the ball had rolled out "in front of the [3AW sponsor]" sign when no such sign existed at the ground. The signal was crystal clear I'll grant them that but the call was shite. Will try again when their A-team is in the box (fat chance considering the times we play at) but am not confident.

There's also the ABC but if I wanted to be bored to death I'd stay home and re-watch the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Sponsor's corner
Whatever happened to China Southern? You don't think my constant references to them as Plummet Airways soured the deal do you? (NB: the Demonblog legal department would like to point out that the airline has not been involved in a fatal accident since 8 May 1997)

Still every chance it will be signed before Round 1 (or already has been) but they'd want to get on with announcing it soon. I've even offered to do a Gary Hocking and change my name to Doyenblog to match their current BE DOYEN OF AUSTRALIA campaign.

So from Demonblog Towers to Guangzhou I implore you to sign the deal just so I don't have to spend a whole season reading tearful forum posts about how awful our administration are for only signing one massive sponsorship deal.

Next week
Port Adelaide at Football Park on Friday night. Presumably it's being shown on Fox Footy unless they've given up by now. Even more presumably they're surely playing under the proper rules by now given that it's the last match before the real stuff starts. Don't hold your breath, they'll do anything they can to shove the 2-2 interchange, ruck rules, supergoals and farce out of bounds rules down your throat until you collapse and let them do it in the regular season without a whimper.

At least it's somebody in our division (we lost to them, we were a month off 186, we are still in their division whether you like it or not) so notwithstanding our shithouse record in South Australia you have my full permission to start going through your bathroom cabinet looking for that elusive cyanide pill you've been saving since 2007 if your beloved Demons turn in a similar performance to Saturday night.

I'd like to have played Richmond somewhere at least reasonably suburban just to see the Emo Maric and Miller show in action. Football's number one depressive has put in another killer pre-season campaign and the entire world has fallen for it without even bothering to question where it went wrong from Round One onwards last year. And Bradforth, I'd love to see him win a flag more than any other ex-Demon going around (though I'll cop Kyle Cheney for novelty value) but there's fat chance of that happening with the Tiges.

Final thoughts
Didn't get trapped in the City Loop afterwards this time. That was a positive.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Demonbracket 2012

In the grand tradition of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament and the even grander tradition of usingg the same knockout formula to do gimmicks Demonblog is offering you the chance to make completely arbitrary judgements in one-on-one matchups based solely on the player you like most.

You don't have to justify your decision, you don't even have to be a Melbourne fan. Just decide who you prefer, vote for them and you're off to the races.

How it works
Unfortunately the fact that we don't have 16/32/64 players on our list complicates the process so there's the small matter of a preliminary round to get through before the real action begins. Rookies and senior listed players with zero career games were automatically sent to the prelims where they were joined by a random selection of unseeded players.

From Round 1 (of the tournament) onwards it's a straight knockout until the winner is announced on the Wednesday before Round 1 (of the actual season). He will be showered with glory and go into the season riding a wave of public support and goodwill from all. Or he'll never know and it will be our dirty secret.

How to vote
Tweet back the names of the winners on the correct day, email me, call me, Facebook me, post it in a forum thread, yell it from a construction site as I walk down the street. Whatever. As long as it gets to Demonblog Towers before the end of that day. Winners will be announced at the start of every new day and the bracket updated below.

Seeds
Based on the leadership group on a completely subjective analysis of the order they're in with games played as the tie-breaker between the two captains.

1. Jack Trengove
2. Jack Grimes
3. James Frawley
4. Nathan Jones
5. Mark Jamar
6. Mitch Clark
7. Colin Garland
8. Clint Bartram

Preliminary Round
Wednesday 7 March
Rohan Bail d. Jake Spencer 37-3
Jordan Gysberts d. Leigh Williams 39-1
Daniel Nicholson d. James Strauss 22-17
Luke Tapscott d. Josh Tynan 38-2

Thursday 8 March (AM)
Jordie McKenzie d. Jai Sheahan 30-1
Brent Moloney d. Lucas Cook 25-6
Liam Jurrah d. Michael Evans 29-2
Jared Rivers d. Rory Taggert 26-5
Jack Watts d. Kelvin Lawrence 29-2

Thursday 8 March (PM)
Tom McDonald d. Tom Couch 17-15
Troy Davis d. Jack Fitzpatrick 23-9
Brad Green d. Cale Morton 22-10
Max Gawn d. James Magner 17-15
James Sellar d. Neville Jetta 22-9

Round 1
Friday 9 March
1. Jack Trengove d. Rohan Bail 27-3
Aaron Davey d. Jordan Gysberts 16-14
Colin Sylvia d. Daniel Nicholson 25-5
Luke Tapscott d. 8. Clint Bartram 16-14

Tuesday 12 March
5. Mark Jamar d. Jordie McKenzie 26-7
Jeremy Howe d. Brent Moloney 17-16
Liam Jurrah d. Lynden Dunn 26-7
3. James Frawley d. Joel Macdonald 32-1

Wednesday 13 March
4. Nathan Jones d. Jared Rivers 26-5
Jack Watts d. Stefan Martin 22-9
Tom McDonald d. Jamie Bennell 22-8
6. Mitch Clark d. Troy Davis 26-5

Thursday 14 March
Brad Green d. 7. Colin Garland 13-12
Ricky Petterd d. Max Gawn 24-1
Sam Blease d. James Sellar 23-2
2. Jack Grimes d. Matthew Bate 24-1

Round 2
Friday 15 March
1. Jack Trengove d. Aaron Davey 32-1
Colin Sylvia d. Luke Tapscott 19-14
5. Mark Jamar d. Jeremy Howe 26-7
3. James Frawley d. Liam Jurrah 31-2

Monday 19 March
4. Nathan Jones d. Jack Watts 24-8
6. Mitch Clark d. Tom McDonald 30-2
Ricky Petterd d. Brad Green 18-14
2. Jack Grimes d. Sam Blease 31-1

Quarter Finals
Thursday 22 March
1. Jack Trengove d. Colin Sylvia 25-5
3. James Frawley d. 5. Mark Jamar 27-3

Friday 23 March
4. Nathan Jones d. 6. Mitch Clark 23-7
2. Jack Grimes d. Ricky Petterd 17-13

Semi Finals
Monday 26 March
3. James Frawley d. 1. Jack Trengove 25-12

Tuesday 27 March
4. Nathan Jones d. 2. Jack Grimes 21-16

Final
Wednesday 28 March
3. James Frawley d. 4. Nathan Jones 35-12

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Let's go fundamental

At the risk of sounding like somebody who has actually become excited by a NAB Cup game I actually became slightly excited during last night's NAB Cup game.

Just slightly mind you, there's no need to order the commemorative t-shirt yet. In fact given the mockery of the sport that the NAB Cup is I'd be hard pressed to stay around for the trophy presentation if we won it. Not only did they bizarrely retain the comical out of bounds rule but the league's Infinite Wisdom Committee also decided to introduce team selection rules so arcane that nobody was actually sure who was eligible to be in the game at any given time.

SURELY we get something resembling a real game starting next week? Even if the NAB Cup rulebook says they've got to play under these rules until the end it wouldn't be the first time the league has changed something on a whim. Remember the concussion rule? That came in at about ten minutes notice.

In a competition where games in Mandurah, Alice Springs and Wangaratta are being promoted as serious then in one case not even been played because Air Essendon is the shittest flight option since Air Australia there's really no need to keep going under novelty rules. Ok they've got to keep the 9 pointer because NAB have paid to have their name spruiked every time somebody kicks one but unless we're instituting the Home Hardware Confusing Video Replay or the Pizza Hut Mystifying Out Of Bounds Decision then get back to the original variety and let teams prepare properly for the real season.

No, what we'll get instead is team lineups where you've got a starting 18, a bench, some subs and then some mystery players who are named to play in the second half but may or may not actually end up appearing. Not that you'd know from one moment to another who's on the bench considering they never announced any of the substitutions on the big screen at the game and the radio callers were flat out trying to get the names of the players who they could see right let alone attempting to explain the status of Jai Sheahan to a bemused audience.

Now that we've got the obligatory pot shots at the league out of the way how about that football? The most pleasing thing about firing a shot in football's most overrated rivalry (note: they could not care less about us except when we steal their football department) isn't that we won, it's that we went so well against them before they all but introduced cue to rack in the second half.

Having shown up expecting to be belted by at least ten goals based on the named sides it was an unexpected surprise to see us dominate the first few minutes. Mind you we did that against Gold Coast and that ended up with people trying to throw themselves from windows over the result.

Notwithstanding the fact that "bruise free football" is the most laboured catchphrases in footy there was clearly an intent last night to go out and hit hard. The Magpie midfield Fancy Boys got away a couple of times but for more of the first half they were being scragged, harassed, sat on or thrown into the thinly veiled concrete surface with malice. This is obviously what we want but it happened occassionally last year as well so forgive me if I don't get entirely excited yet until it's repeated on a regular basis.

What I do reserve the right to get excited about far too early is the Magner/Couch combo. Now, the usual disclaimers apply about them doing it in the real season and/or potentially being 'found out' (CLICHE) the more they play but on early form they're going to be absolute steals. Magner is a near certainty to play in Round 1 based on the last couple of weeks and Couch won't be far behind him. You can see why Neeld and co gave up the opportunity to pick two 18-year-olds who they'd have to wait at least a year to see any benefit from and instead opted for a pair of mid-20's bruisers. Still wouldn't have been nice if they could've found a place for Freddie Clutterbuck in there as well but you can't get everything you want.

Before we get into fulsome praise for everyone and indulge in far too early speculation about the point which Pies fans will try to sack Buckley (either of them) there are a few issues to be considered.

Joel Mac regained ground in the second half after a comically bad start but his chances of a Round 1 berth are about the same as Darren Kowal without an injury crisis cutting swathes through our backline before the end of the month. Even Demonblog's own Troy Davis showed more, not to mention Tom McDonald's brief cameo. As I've said previously I was probably one of a handful of people who thought he was any good last year but he's done his chances of being on the list next year no favours in the first fortnight of the season.

Davey might still be recovering from his injury but was largely unseen in the first half before being subbed out. He's barely fired a shot in the first two rounds of this tournament and doesn't appear to be the CRUMB option that I'd hoped he would be. He's been down there a couple of times but usually when the ball hits the deck there's nobody around. Five touches and I'm not entirely convinced he'll be there come Round 1 either.

Then there's Watts, who had another decidedly average game capped off with being on the end of a classic Mick Malthouse spray on the radio. Careful Jack, the last guy who copped one of those from Mick has had his career ended by having to play for Richmond, that could be you. He didn't even have the bad weather to blame for it this time. I've still got a childlike faith in him becoming a superstar (how good was the tap over the back for Petterd? Good enough to guarantee him a game against Brisbane? Maybe not) but it's going to get ugly if he doesn't start killing it soon.

In his own grouchy way Mick's got a point, he's shown enough potential now it's time to actually do something. What I would like him to go is belt somebody or get fined for wrestling, show a bit of oomph instead of just going through the motions. He should have done it last week like Conca and served two for doing a piledriver on Jaeger O'Meara before returning triumphantly for Round 1.

He'll probably be saved by golden child status and the fact that Jurrah won't be match fit yet. Still, great news for the enormous retards who have been willing him to fail since day one. Call me when NicNat or Hurley are actual superstars instead of slightly more promising prospects. Hopefully Neeld does what Bailey should have done to Morton before the rot set in and corners him for an all-out, spit flying, verbal assault where he's invited to fit in or fornicate off to Casey.

But other than those three, and Bennell who I have completely lost interest in, everyone who played a decent amount in the first half gets a tick. Not sure if Howe was injured or they were just overly keen to take him off but he was absolutely mighty in the first quarter and a half. What's not to like about him? Strong overhead, fearless, kicks goals and can deliver the ball. Yes please. Was practically our best on ground when he went off and will hopefully get four quarters next week.

Petterd was also in everything early on. For somebody at risk of being squeezed out of the side by our newly (allegedly) riches laden forward line he's done enough the last couple of games to show why he's worth a spot. Dunn wasn't bad when he came on later (except for that shithouse snap when he had two hours to walk into goal) but he'll start below Ricky on the mid-sized forwards depth chart unless he does something remarkable (like shave) in the next fortnight.

Even though they had a novelty Irishmen and a bunch of players you'd never heard of going around there was still more than enough quality out there for us to get a decent grasp of where we're at. I'm still not confident that we're going to storm into the 8 and be the next big thing just yet but at least we should still tonk a few of the rubbish sides on the way to our 9th/10th placed finish.

Admittedly that's just what we did last year but if there's any justice in the world we'll finally beat some Victorian sides who aren't Essendon or Richmond. Footscray and St Kilda have to be ripe for the picking, and we're still in the same bracket as North, but I think what all Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome sufferers could all do with is a big old upset win against one of the big guns. In Neeld we trust.

The getting of the ball does not appear to be a problem at the moment, and eventually the kicking it long into the forward line came off but there was still something concerningly wonky about our forward structure in the first half. I take it nobody in the competition kicks to leading forwards anymore but it's going to get somewhat predictable if every forward 50 entry is just a big old heave towards the goals.

You can tell that they're keen on that tactic just by the fact that the Stefan Martin Experience has been sent down there nearly permanently despite the fact that we've got 200 other forwards. They want big bastards and they want to boot it at them. Now if only we can find somebody to sweep it off the deck and kick goals from there we'll be quids in. At least the midfield is good for a few goals, and if your Jones/Moloney/Trengove types can boot a few each week it will make up somewhat for the no-crumb policy.

At the other end I don't remember the kick-ins being a disaster which, like when you don't notice the umpires, is a good sign. Though to be honest half the time when Collingwood were in attack I lost interest and started looking at Twitter so anything could have happened. Pre-season eh?

We nearly made it to half time with the lead until a botched Sellar kick stuffed up everyone who had us in a HT/FT double (but if you bet on the NAB Cup you deserve whatever you get and should consult professional help) and put the Pies back in front. No harm done, he did a couple of wacky things but was generally good - and if he's even half decent we got him at a cheap as chips price so it will be worth it.

The wheel of baffling team changes span at half time (not that you'd know if you were at the ground) and came out in our favour with Reid/Swan/Maxwell/Fasolo/Jolly/Cloke going off for them and Jamar/Davey/Tynan/Howe for us. Not to detract from the performances of Jamar and Howe but the switches came out in our favour. Good luck getting that sort of advantage in a real game.

And what a curious game we were left with after the break. We progressively made more swaps through the half yet still failed to use three players while the Pies demonstrated how little interest they had when they ended up with two Irishmen and an American going around.

And all of a sudden, like Juice against North, for 15 minutes we were the greatest thing ever to set foot on the Docklands 'turf'. It took ten minutes for us to kick the first goal of the quarter (well better than the average) and from there the Pies couldn't get near us. Even their real players. Flowing moves, good defence and goals coming out the yin yang. It couldn't last, and it didn't last. Next thing you know the Pies have kicked one real goal and one novelty goal and we were pretty much back to where we started.

The reversal of fortune was so very like Melbourne that when the Pies got the first of the last quarter you could have been forgiven for thinking they were going to run over the top. Then we kicked four in a row to break away, which is very unlike us. It's usually either kicking away when we're already six goals in front or banging through a few consolations when we've been well and truly thrashed. Never this. Not surprisingly they did start coming back at the end but it was too late and to what I'm sure was a collective shrug from the Collingwood coaches box we won.

There was a bit of over the top celebration around me at the final siren (with no interest in the fact that the Pies were still kicking for goal) but at least we didn't break as one into a rapturous standing ovation like the Essendonians did in this round last year.

I've no idea what happened to Cook, Lawrence and Sheahan who were named as subs/on the bench/however this rubbish works and were never seen again. Shame because Cook and Lawrence were two of the players I was most keen on seeing in action, one to make sure he's still alive (status unknown) and one to try and introduce some much needed crumb. Maybe they made their travel plans with the same agents as Essendon? Maybe they were all stuck on a train between Melbourne Central and Parliament station like I was for 20 minutes after the game?

Still, plenty of time for novelty players next week. The door to making the final of this thing is marginally ajar but it shouldn't detract from the fact that we need to get real games into our fringe players/kids and soon. Besides, if the reward is a trip to Perth to lose to the Eagles then I'll be more than happy to stay here and get turned over by anybody else at Princes Park. The ladder shows we'd need all sorts of miracles to get in anyway so let's just stick to the plan and damn the result.

Also beware of the AFL being desperate to put a game on in Wangaratta in the last week to make up for the Essendon debacle. Having played two in a row in the city we're every danger of being shipped off to some remote country outpost to put on a show for the locals.

Votes
5 - James Magner
4 - Ricky Petterd
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Colin Garland
1 - Colin Sylvia

Apologies to Couch, Frawley, Green, Howe (taken too early), Nicholson and Sellar

Paul Prymke Plate For Pre-Season Performance Leaderboard
10 - James Magner
7 - Matthew Bate
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Mitch Clark, Jeremy Howe, Ricky Petterd
3 - Brent Moloney
2 - Jack Grimes, Colin Garland
1 - Rohan Bail, Josh Tynan, Colin Sylvia

MFC Facebook Comment of the Week

This segment has unfortunately been cancelled due to the very un-Melbourne like levels of optimism being shown. Given that we're now apparently the next big thing and will never lose a match again I'll never get to use this new opening otherwise so here it is anyway.

Crowd Watch
Surprised that for the first time in living memory they opened Level 3 of Docklands for a meaningless match. Presumably this thinning out the already tiny crowd was why I didn't have to sit next to any proper, stereotyped Pie ferals.

Instead my favourite was the MFC bloke who reached across the poor girl sitting beside him to throw a big high five to another woman every time we kicked a goal. Her in the middle didn't seem impressed, and it was hard to tell whether that's because she followed the Pies or had old mate's armpit jammed into her face every few minutes.

Also correct me if I'm wrong but have the cheersquad ditched *team name* *clap!* *clap!* *clap!* for a Collingwood style Mellllllllllllllllbourne chant? If true I'd suffer from some of the most serious MFC cultural cringe since they tried to unveil the flag while the trumpeteer went about his free form jazz numbers in a velvet jacket.

Stat My Bitch Up
We're now last start winners at both Football Park and Docklands. In practice matches. Also we're still unbeaten against Collingwood ever in Night Series/Pre-Season competition, somehow only ever having played them twice. This useless stat comes to you courtesy of Demon Wiki, your connection for all sorts of stats that you never thought you needed to know.

Next week
Hawthorn on Saturday night. They were at relatively decent strength against GWS on Saturday but will probably add total football Franklin to wander up and down the ground persecuting us. God knows what that means for us but considering the demolition job Frawley/Garland/Sellar etc did on Cloke and Dawes (compare and contrast to Queen's Birthday last year) and you can be confident that if we're going to get killed anywhere it won't be by their tall forwards. Doesn't mean that we won't get plugged up elsewhere though.

Also if you're keen on omen bets and assuming that we're going to be supernova in the next couple of years consider the fact that it was against Hawthorn in the 2007 NAB Cup that it all start going horrendously wrong, pitching us into the five year slopfest, so what better time to come out of the doldrums? Maybe not. Roll on Brisbane.

Final thoughts
Here's to new dawn #543 finally being the one that doesn't end up with us being knifed us in the back.