Sunday, 30 June 2013

Neil Craig: Our Mastermind

The stat is dead. Long live the stat. Goodbye to a fun fact that I have championed like no other in the last few years, one that has been adopted by television, newspapers and even last night's SEN commentary team. I'm not claiming credit for its popularity because you'd have to be Brock McLean's mate Blind Freddy to miss it, but the fact remains that for the first time since Sunday 2 September, 2007 (that's five years, nine months, 28 days and 2128 days) we have beaten a Victorian side other than Essendon or Richmond. Since then we've had four Prime Ministers, four state premiers and I've moved Demonblog Towers three times.

No need to get over excited though, we're still no good. That's one more Victorian club down but there's six others to go. Let's take all the positives out of last night and get to work winning another game at some point against Carlton (2128 days and counting), Collingwood (2211), Geelong (2613), Hawthorn (2599), North (2506) and St Kilda (2487). It's also 6223 days since we've beaten Fitzroy but I won't hold that against anybody.

We might have gone into last night with a losing record against the Bulldogs dating back to the night Ben Holland ran riot in late 2007 (where I clearly showed scant interest in reporting on it), but at least for once you could walk in the door of the MCG thinking that we were half a chance of beating one of the seven Victorian clubs on THE list.

The last time you could honestly think that (with apologies to last week) was the Jim Stynes tribute game against the Dogs, where at least we weren't disgraced but still didn't go near actually taking the points. Tragedy and what were in retrospect very obvious signs of impending disaster aside at least we still had hope in our hearts that night, now there are people who would sell their soul to Satan just to finish outside the bottom four.

A year and a half on and we're both still crap, but somehow Footscray has manage to avoid the same sort of scrutiny that we've had. Possibly because they've never lost by 150 points, backed up losing to Gold Coast by winning two games in a row and haven't sacked every second person in their administration. Still despite them clearly being a better, and more stable, side so far this season and punters everywhere refusing to go near us with somebody else's 10 foot pole it was just the night to go along and either see a win, a narrow loss or some bizarre hybrid of the two where we win despite falling off a cliff for the last 20 minutes.

Not that anybody did bother to turn up, with 21,217 being our worst attendance for an MCG game since Round 7, 2002 against St Kilda (when we were good). The Lions test and the (seemingly) far more interesting match between Geelong and Fremantle wouldn't have helped, but as good as the Fox Footy era is it's removed one of the reasons people go to watch their team when they're shit.

A rubbish crowd for a game between two of the three worst sides in the competition, one plummeting from the dizzy heights of being good and one which is still in 10,000 shattered pieces, is no surprise. These days aren't made for sides like us. Games between the big four will always get huge crowds thanks to bandwagoners and theatre goers on top of their already large constituencies, but actual gate attendance is practically out the window as a measurement of anything now that people can stay home and watch even the grittiest game in the comfort of their own house. Why wouldn't you risk a Dwayne led commentary team when the alternative is carting your family to the ground to pay $4.90 for water to go along with a floppy hot dog purchased from a surly 15-year-old IF you can find any open outlets within three levels of where you're sitting.

The game is still king no matter how many times various people (not the AFL though, who are good people to the last drop these days) try and stuff it up, but for the casual fan who follows a side that are no good the idea that you have to go to the majority of games in person is dead. Especially if you've got kids, with all the crap that they'll pester you into buying one trip to the game is probably equal to your entire Foxtel bill for the month. Why not just stay home and watch it until your team gets good and you can justify jumping back on? As long as you at least buy a membership and spend your time at home ensuring your kids keep following us no matter what then who am I to complain? Hopefully one day we'll put on a product worth leaving the house for.

On the other hand just when you think everyone must have stayed home and watched it on TV the ratings are out and it seems only 94,000 people bothered (though I'm assuming a huge spike in the final term), so maybe it was just a rubbish game between two rancid sides that nobody other than the faithful cared about? Even the Casey VFL match got half that, which at least proves we (or more accurately Jesse Hogan) are good for ratings somewhere.

Queen's Birthday might have marginally improved our position, but one thing we've got going for us is that this year we've got better home game attendances this year than North and the Bulldogs, so at least when the Grim Reaper comes to haul a side off to Tasmania we should be able to throw them in front of the bus first. It's a surprise that we're in front of anybody considering that at least most teams - even the free falling Dogs and mentally nervous Roos - provide the odd reward to their fans for turning up, whereas other than one enchanted evening where Essendon's 2012 implosion began and some token efforts against Franchise sides we've offered precisely fuck all for two years. Given the circumstances I'm reasonably happy with the crowds we get - although now that we've got only home games against Sydney, North (at Docklands) and Fremantle to come as well as the Darwin game I suspect that it's not going to be pretty to look at that table again in 10 weeks. But if we finish last (of Victorian clubs) would it be such a surprise? I'd say it would be a miracle if we didn't.

The best thing to do to get people to show up (note our average attendance in 2010, admittedly before every game was on live) would be to win, and at least if not winning providing an environment less depressing than your granny's funeral. Last night was a great start. People actually appeared to be having fun at the footy again, which is a rarity. At least they were until we did our impression of that scene in Fatal Attraction where Michael Douglas thinks he's finished off the bird with the poodle hair via drowning in the bathtub only for her to rise from the dead and go within three points of killing him. At least it was exciting, even if the tension probably put away another five or six of our older supporters.

That we just held on in the face of the blitzkrieg and won makes all the difference. Had we conceded one more goal everyone would be dressed in black today and trying decide whether to drink Jif or Domestos, but instead everyone's beaming and watching the replay, safe in the knowledge that at least for a week we felt like a normal team again. But oh my christ how it could have been different.

There's a game that has been talked about on here many, many times. The ghosts of Saturday 25 April 1992 against Essendon still haunt me to this day. You know the one, the game that gave us the Chris Sullivan Line (a reminder for new readers - you may only relax and expect victory when the lead hits 49 points in the last quarter) and would have totally ruined my childhood had I not been just 10 years old and had we not still been a finals contender for at least a few more weeks.

If you were born any later than 1988 there's no way you remember that game - and none of Dean Kent, Tom McDonald or Jimmy Toumpas were alive when it happened - and I don't remember much except for the trauma of the comeback but I can assure you that this was almost the modern day equivalent with an extra truckload of unnecessary toxic misery poured over the top of an already depressed group of people.

That 1992 afternoon spent in the middle deck of the Southern Stand was traumatic and has taught me to never be comfortable in a match unless certain criteria have been met, but given the situation we're in at the moment to have lost from that dominant position would have been cruel and unusual in ways that couldn't be explained without breaking down in tears and smashing my head onto the keyboard to leave behind nothing but a trail of "tgyrf5t56yrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr"style gibberish.

At least my adherence to the CSL philosophy meant that I never relaxed and assumed we were going to win, which might have kept me off the ledge of a building if the game had gone another 45 seconds and we'd lost.

There are many reasons why losing last night would have been worse than that day in 1992, and not only because we've been used as a urinal cake by every credible side in the competition for 18 months but because the force of the comeback was so much more severe. This wasn't a long term project spread across an entire quarter or two, we even strung three goals together at one point in the last quarter, it was a rampage of unbelievable proportions against a side who had ran itself into the ground and couldn't put up more than the flimsiest resistance. We probably should have lost in the end. But we didn't, so for a week at least let's turn off Demonblog's patented Shit Team Filter and pretend that everything's ok with the world.

Even Dogs fans would admit their side isn't much chop these days (albeit still better than us), but that was no excuse for letting us build confidence and play like a real league side for most of the first quarter. This is a team that as last week proved can be easily strangled at birth and St Kilda took advantage of it to put us away in the first 30 minutes. The Bulldogs couldn't do it and let us get up a dangerous amount of self-belief.

Sure we conceded the first goal in double quick time, and ok the Footscray midfield were already on the way to flogging the bejesus out of ours but other than that how good did we look early on? Finally there was an air of professionalism about the team, and the only thing that stopped us racking up an even bigger lead was that whenever we kicked a goal the ball had to go back to the middle of the ground. Such was Footscray's inability to get the ball out of their 50 and over the centre if we'd just kicked points instead we'd probably have clocked up the same score and stopped them getting anything after their first one.

Even the man who has come to embody the phrase 'much maligned' David Rodan looked like he was worth a spot in the team. Only the dumbest of players is falling for his shuffling and sidesteps these days, but you can only dance around the person put in front of you. Good luck pulling that off against Sydney, but at least he's had one misery free day with the Dees.

There's definitely a different atmosphere about the place. In the second quarter I even saw a number of perfectly executed kick-ins right in front of me. Why is it that for the second time we have suddenly discovered the ability to bring the ball back into play when a caretaker coach has taken over? It was just tonight either, they did it last week as well. Ludicrous.

The subtle form of tanking that is "letting the boys play" and not really caring about the result (though when you're two wins and percentage away from the next side on the ladder it's actually fun to win), the three decent quarters last week and just having the pressure of not knowing if you should bother listening to a coach who's about to get the arse lifted must be playing some part in it - but my god do our players look more at peace with the world now or what? Maybe Craig just had the good fortune of coming in at the right time, with Neeld axed before two reasonably winnable games just in case he made himself unsackable with victories, but at the moment I'm not complaining.

Look at Watts - he's like a kid living the dream that his most hated teacher has been sacked and replaced with a kindly substitute. There was no saving this season from the start of the second quarter against Essendon, so sacking Neeld earlier probably wouldn't have helped us much but at the risk of going off too early before two matches we're not going to win under any circumstances it seems that the decision to give him the boot has been a good one so far. We'll never know how he'd have gone the last couple of weeks but I'd love to sit down with him for a couple of games towards the end of the year and get a director's cut style commentary about Craig's coaching and how the players are going.

It's understandable that players might not want to sign on just yet not knowing what freak we're going to hire as coach (hint) but surely, SURELY, Jack stays now. Relatively speaking his value has probably gone through the roof after that performance - and if I were the Dogs I'd be telling him that Clark/Dawes/Hogan means he'd be better off joining them for large amounts of cash via the PSD - but if he's half serious with his comments last week that he wants to stay then bless his heart let's give him a small South American nation if he wants it.

As with everyone else who has impressed in the last fortnight there's a bit of 'now do it against a good team', and you sure don't want to be kicking to him in a physical contest with a big defender but he's got to see that by staying with us it will give him an opportunity to spit in the face of his many critics. I will more than gladly line up to cop my goober in the eyeball from him if he'll just sign. Prediction - nine months after the day they put him and Dawes on the half-forward line kicking to Clark, Hogan and Howe there will be a massive spike in births cross Australia.

Gawn (who doesn't quite deserve a whole country yet, but can have a country town if he likes) is another one that I'm convinced will sign sooner rather than later. Ruckmen who actually want the ball and are reasonable kicks are hard to find, and while Minson played the greatest one-man show since Bill Hicks to take the points this week there would still be a queue of clubs willing to open their wallets to lure Maximum across next year. Maybe he succumbs to the temptation later if we're still no good, but for now he's clearly a heart and soul player, cult figure of actual immense proportions and our future first ruckman.

Suddenly between he, Jamar, the resurgent Spencil, Clark if fit and to a lesser degree Puttin' On The Fitz we've actually got a reasonable ruck division desperately seeking a midfield to hit it to. The way it's going you could almost try and flog The Russian to a side who need a one or two year ruckman then draft a kid or rookie list a more experienced state league ruck as cover. Not sure what you'd get for him, but it would get us out of the last year of his contract and allow Gawn to play as our first ruck next year and get a full season's experience while we're still shit. Where do I apply to replace Tim Harrington? Will work cheap.

It was also good to see Frawley back to his best. Given that before he was injured he played a cracker on Franklin I can't entirely credit the Neeld dismissal with his killer game last night but that was a return to 2010 All-Australian form. If we can't do enough to convince him to stay by this time next year then we don't deserve his immense talents. Some of those marks he was taking across centre half-back. My god, talk about falling in love all over again.

Shit Team Filter™ aside we have seen enough in the last few weeks to prove that with Clark, Grimes and Viney included in this team we aren't far away. Matt Jones has levelled off a bit in the last few weeks, but both he and Terlich have shown plenty this year considering what we paid for them so their recruitment has been one thing you can't fault during the Neeld years.

I'll also credit the previous administration with getting Toumpas, who is hardly dominating at the moment but takes big steps every week and for Dawes who I would like to confess to developing a deep love for. A few weeks back it would have been unfashionable to say that (Demonblog Towers would have been egged), but even though I was happy to get him and always felt we paid a fair price he's put in some quality performances in otherwise shit teams this year. He's exactly what we need across the half-forward line, and giving up Pick 20 for an experienced player is exactly what we should have done that year when we had 17 and 19. We also got pick 58 at the same time, but try as I might I can't actually work out what we did with it, unless somehow Terlich at 70 (good result) is the same pick with a bunch of free agent compensation choices and all that rubbish thrown in.

Surely he looks Ben Holland model robotic, wears unmanly long sleeved jumpers and barely fired a shot when we were being eviscerated by Gold Coast, but other than that I'll back his contribution 100% when fit this season - with more than a few years left in him. Sure we could have spent the money on a midfielder instead but it's not soccer, you can't decide that if you don't like what's on offer in your league you can go and buy somebody from Lithuania instead. It's a limited market and we did well to get what we could.

Amusingly as Collingwood bomb out (though they are still in the eight, if only we had the luxury of bombing out that softly) and Pies fans start to treat Nathan Buckley like their own version of Mark Neeld the same people who chased Dawes out of town with flaming pitchforks are ringing up SEN to whinge that they traded him and got Quentin Lynch instead. Ignoring the fact that a) SEN callers are generally insane and b) they did get a first round pick for him and Lynch for nada I'm glad to see at least some of them missing him.

There's a heartbeat in our side at least. Obviously our depth is criminally poor, confidence doesn't have to drop far for us to completely fall in a hole and fitness will come into question big time after last night but surely even God Almighty Paul Roos himself would have watched the first three quarters last night and thought that he could do something with this list even if he is saddled with some unreasonable contracts which don't finish until the end of next year.

Oddly enough if you took our side and swapped the midfield with Footscray's you'd be left with one good team and one putrid one. Their major (only?) strength is our biggest weakness, which means at least when stupid sums of money are being thrown around at free agents and uncontracted players at the end of the year at least we won't be bidding against each other. Also there's still time for them to 'accidentally' manoeuvre themselves into second last (and doesn't Round 23 become massive on that front? The AFL had better be watching every coaching move and recording every word spoken by their club officials just in case there are tanking shenanigans afoot) and snatch the prized tall forward that they so desperately need. Maybe we could trade them Hogan? For pick 2, 20, Liberatore, Wallis, Griffin, Mission Foods' sponsorship money, their pokies licences and the Western Oval.

It feels stupid to be even slightly optimistic considering what seems to happen every time you get your hopes up a little bit, and to treat a win over another rotten side like it means we're going to storm home to blessed mid-table mediocrity by the end of the year but at least the black cloud has lifted ever so slightly - and for the first time in almost six years you can hang shit on anybody in your office who follows the Dogs.

It wasn't worth getting excited at the end of the first quarter, after all we've played decent opening terms against average teams before being massacred more than once this season - but I'll admit that even in my dark heart there was happiness when Fitzpatrick kicked that improbable banana goal at the start of the second. He looked reasonable as a forward all night but I'm not sure if there's a place for him when we get our proper forward line together - still, no harm in doing his own version of Chris Lamb's 2002 campaign of glory before falling off the face of the planet and winning a few VFL flags.

There were times when we did look very, very good in the second. Watts might have gotten his second goal via the worst kick of all time but at least it went through, but his third was a thing of beauty with N. Jones streaming through the middle and hitting him with a perfect pass on the lead. More of that, for god's sake please more of that. It was so beautiful that it nearly moved me to tears. Two goals to Gia, sadly not left on the bench for three quarters this week, and our continued inability to win the ball out of the middle aside life for oppressed people was starting to look good again.

There was plenty of time to stuff it up in the second half though, and the start of the third quarter was the mirror opposite to the first, with Footscray dominating us everywhere but conceding goals - including the first one to Rodan which marked the biggest good guy turn since Macho Man Randy Savage at Wrestlemania VII. No doubt he took the ball out of bounds and the umpire was going for his whistle at one point, and he really only kicked it in the end because the Bulldogs players didn't tackle him properly but who cares? Take highlights wherever you can get them - and it's not like we weren't going to cop a return screwing from a boundary umpire in almost exactly the same spot approximately 50 minutes later.

It didn't hurt that half their team still hadn't shown up and that the likes of Cooney were missing absolute sitters, but unlike the first quarter we eventually broke the shackles (CLICHE) and took over. They got a few goals here and there, and Jack Watts - as high on life at the moment as any Melbourne player has the right to be - got horny for his fourth and botched a golden chance to make the margin even better but by the end of the quarter we might very well have sealed the whole thing and crossed the magical Chris Sullivan Line if everyone didn't start thinking they were Hawthorn. Howe and Clisby could have stuck the knife in as well, but if a guy who had taken two screamers and a second gamer can't have a ping in the middle of party time then what's this world coming to? Let's work on instinct first and deal with discipline later.

It was left to cult leader Fitzpatrick to bring the house down with his second goal and give us a 39 point "surely we couldn't..." margin at the last change. It would have been our second worst loss from three quarter time after that game and only the third five goal three-quarter time lead we had ever blown. At the time I didn't know how significantly history was on our side, but now that I do I'm feeling ill all over again. I've been at a lot of matches that were memorable for the wrong reasons, but this would have been too much.

But surely they couldn't, and more importantly surely WE couldn't. After success briefly dangled above our eyes you had to consider the prospect of a debacle but realistically on the balance of things conclude that we were probably going to win. Then we nearly didn't. Copping the first goal of the last quarter after about 15 seconds didn't help. We'd been flogged out of the middle all night and with Gawn looking like he was about to topple over dead from exhaustion while Minson was as fresh as a daisy after three million hitouts you could sense a wave of panic go across the ground as every single red and blue buttock in the place clenched as one. They should have had another one straight after if Liberatore hadn't hit the post, then did get one for real and MCG attendants were seen ripping open their emergency spew bag supply ready to start distributing to the crowd.

Then, and for future generations reading, this is where it got really REALLY stupid. Next thing you know we've kicked three goals in a row and are actually better off at the 13 minute mark of the final term than we were at the start of it. This is despite barely having had a possession for the entire term - there was some ludicrous stat on the radio along the lines of us only having had 25 touches for the quarter at the 20 minute mark. If you count six or so of those as being either setting up or kicking a goal that's one of the rudest things you'll ever read in your sporting life

But that didn't matter, because when Howe kicked his second we were home and there was nothing that could be done to take the glory away from us. Somebody even yelled 'percentage', which isn't as stupid as it sounds considering that we're still below GWS on that front. Unfortunately that would have required getting a kick, and all of a sudden our already suspect midfield slowed to a crawl as all the players who had been totally anonymous all night decided to show up at once - hello Dalhaus, hello Cooney, hello Tory f'ing Dickson whoever you are and the carpark turned to chaos as all the Bulldogs fans who had done a runner after Howe's goal tried to turn around and get back in to the ground.

At the 21 minute mark on the clock we'd conceded a goal to bring the margin back to 26 points (no worries) and at the 25 minute mark it was back to 14 (sweet jesus) and a full scale MFC capsize was in the making - the difference being that we usually concede goals at that rate in the first quarter or when we're already losing, not from 40 points in front with 15 minutes to go.

When it all started to go tits up it all became about me. "They can't do this to me" etc.. etc.. I know I've dodged three disasters (Essendon, Hawthorn, Collingwood) in person this season, but I did watch them live or as live so the mental scars from those beatings were still there and to throw away a lead like that might have tipped me over the edge. There's no telling what this page would have looked like and how many references there would have been to Colin Sylvia Plath if we'd stuffed it up. It's one thing to be a Geelong fan and see your team be swallowed up by a rampaging Elliot Yeo led Brisbane but at least you can dry your eyes on a choice of three premiership flags. To us it would have been the equivalent of dropping Anthrax on a city which had already been wiped out by the nuclear bomb.

It didn't help that we got rorted by the boundary umpire who just guessed that the ball had come off Margaret Terlich's leg when it hadn't, but that's still no excuse for the free kick landing in the square and the waters parting for Minson to take a huge grab and kick their eighth goal of the quarter with four minutes left. By now it had become very clear to serial pessimists like me that we were going to lose and that I was probably going to die in the bottom deck of the Olympic Stand, hundreds of metres from my beloved Ponsford. Enter another one of the players who had disgraced the name of football all night as Ayce Cordy turns up to kick a goal to bring it under a goal with 90 seconds left. Spew bags at the ready, this was going to be a big one.

Quite frankly I've never been so terrified at a footy match in my life. We've had close wins and losses out the yin yang over the years, even a handful of draws, but I can honestly say that when Cordy kicked that goal I was nearly on the floor in panic and threatening to bring up my dinner in David Parkin fashion. Thank god I wasn't sitting next to a Footscray fan or I'd probably have unfairly throttled them out of nerves. We'd tried dinking the ball around to run down the clock but that had backfired in spectacular fashion, there was now only one way to win and it was for Footscray to stuff up their opportunities.

With Gawn and Nicholson, who had done a surprisingly reasonable job on Griffin all night, nearly dead and Liberatore playing a blinder of a quarter amongst the corpses you knew at this point we were going to lose. Some old lady behind me was convinced that we were fine because the siren was 'going to go any minute', but she was clearly just saying that to make herself feel better considering there was plenty of time for the Dogs to kick another three.

When they got the ball out of the middle and went forward I probably went as close as ever before to having a massive heart attack and dropping dead, but there - ironically saving the day in defence - was Jack Watts. Where everyone else had clutched at marks during the last quarter, and on a night where despite being one of our best and kicking four he could easily be accused of dropping some sitters, up he rose above the pack in majestic fashion and grabbed it. What a man, I never had any doubts *furiously edits old posts*.

From there we could have sealed it, but ironically Sylvia's running long shot at goal which rolled through for a point probably did more harm than good. I'm not suggesting in the circumstances he should have been thinking about trying to land the ball perfectly a foot out from the boundary line as if he were playing lawn bowls but if he had shanked it to that degree - or at least had it sit on the goal-line for a few seconds before being rushed it would have been much better for us that letting them get a kick-in as 3/4 of our team were on the sidelines taking oxygen from a tank.

Somehow, SOMEHOW we held on, more because time ran out for the Bulldogs than anything else mind you. I'm not going to start calling into question our allegedly elite fitness, trips to Darwin etc.. just yet, because it was as much the fact that half of the Footscray side only decided to turn up in the last quarter as half of ours being out on their feet. Max Gawn was blown to shreds in the first quarter and still had to ruck 80% of the rest of the game, I don't blame him for not being able to move at the end.

In all the excitement, and with about 1% left on my battery I attempted to tweet the phrase "get rooted". When I got home and checked my feed (which had gone off like a New Year's Eve on which we won some kind of war) it wasn't there. Instant horror and panic ensued thinking I'd sent it to "a work account". Doesn't look like I did because there aren't 500 retweets and journalists ringing up. God knows where it went though, probably the same place most of our team did at three quarter time.

There were plenty of people saying the Dogs 'didn't deserve to win it', which is horseshit of the highest order. If we were going to blow that sort of lead we certainly deserved to lose it, and if you only turn up for one quarter and it's a winning one then you're doing better than most of what we've served up over the years. But they didn't and now they've got to work out what went wrong up until that point. Not our issue until they show up and wreak terrible revenge on us in the last round.

It seems they're in almost the same situation as us but without as many farcical losses and without having summarily executed all the veterans on their list. Also they've got a midfield that we'd kill for, and is there any doubt now that's the key to having any chance of being successful? At the moment I'd back the Dogs to rebuild much quicker than we did, they'll have big money to spend on free agents at the end of the year, and if they can avoid ruining draftees at a record rate they've got plenty to build on.

Sadly for both sets of fans right now we're all in the same leaky boat. Let's reconvene at (presumably) 4.40pm on the Sunday of Round 23 and do it all again.

2013 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Dean Terlich
3 - James Frawley
2 - Jeremy Howe
1 - Nathan Jones

Major apologies to Dawes, Fitzpatrick, Gawn, McDonald, Nicholson, Rodan, Sylvia (second half only) and Trengove. Minor apologies to most others. No apologies to barely anyone.

The clock's ticking on the Jakovich, and both M. Jones and Garland are starting to look over the shoulder nervously in their awards. All three of the leaders should still win though - it's not like anything MFC affiliated to blow a massive lead in the last few minutes.

30 - Nathan Jones
19 - Matt Jones (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
17 - Colin Garland (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
16 - Jeremy Howe
14 - Colin Sylvia
12 - Dean Terlich
11 - Jack Viney
9 - Shannon Byrnes
8 - Jack Watts
7 - James Frawley
6 - Michael Evans
5 - Aaron Davey, Chris Dawes, Lynden Dunn, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Grimes, James Magner, Jack Trengove
4 - Tom McDonald
2 - Rohan Bail, Mark Jamar
1 - Mitch Clark, Jordie McKenzie, Jake Spencer, Luke Tapscott

Curtain Raiser Corner
I did intend to drop in and check out the women's game but was sidetracked and didn't make it. If you saw any of it and want to write a report please let me know via email or Twitter. Fun fact - unless I'm missing something (and not counting lukewarm three-way NAB Cup games) it's the first time two MFC teams have won on the same day since Round 13 1999.

All I know is that we won, for once a #1 draft pick delivered the goods without years of waiting and that walking towards the ground at 6.50pm there were plenty of people who had paid to get in but weren't bothering to stay around for the alleged main event.

Who knows where the concept goes from here. Odds are the next time there's a Melbourne FC team playing a women's match it won't be the same team will all be different, but I'm glad that it's something we involved ourselves in. The good news is that not only did they score a win, but they've earned their own Demonwiki page as well.

The idea of an AFL women's competition is a noble one, but not sure it will ever get up due to financial concerns and interstate travel. Maybe a Victorian only one with some representative games? Even then it won't get a bar of coverage if it's played alongside the regular AFL season. The VFL couldn't get its ladder into the Herald Sun and The Age last Monday, so good luck getting the sort of proper coverage that even top level women's sports like netball can't manage if you go head to head with the Home and Away season. It would have been a good start if Fox Sports had broadcast today's game - even as a red button option on Fox Sports Plus.

How about this as an idea. I've long been an advocate of some sort of summer footy league - with games played for television at night only, possibly only in one or two locations. Apart from the obvious issue of not many grounds having suitable lighting and many that do having commitments to cricket during summer the one thing I've never been able to get my head around is how you'd fill the teams with reasonable players given that they would have just played a full season of local/state football and are about to start another. So why not run the women's league in summer?

It's hardly going to give people footy overload considering the ones who'll watch it are probably the same people who pay interest to Morningside vs Yackandandah in the Foxtel Cup on Tuesday nights, but with actual proper club teams playing at least it will give us something to pay an interest in during summer. Given how badly the AFL wants to screw soccer over it would also at least muddy the waters during the middle of the A-League season even if it can't compete directly for crowds and TV audience. It would also give Fox Footy something else to show during summer other than endless repeats of the season over, and over, and over again.

If our new proprietor Mr. Demetriou is reading I would be happy to discuss further and if required act as commissioner to this league.

Crowd Watch
For the first time since the original Carnival of Hate I found myself sitting on the ground level in the 'red seats', and as a result probably didn't see half of what I would have a million miles back in the Ponsford. However I did become acutely aware just how obvious it is when some lone nutter is sat up there in the rafters, so feel free to wave in that general direction the next time you see a shadowy figure perched up there.

In the end a rare game being surrounded by Melbourne fans probably helped in the last few minutes. You may recall my inability to walk down the stairs after the Essendon triumph last season for a good 20 minutes due to my legs ceasing to operate, and had I been up there tonight I'd probably have to have been carried out by St John's Ambulance.

Whisper it quietly but I even.. enjoyed.. being amongst the faithful. Maybe I should go back to my actual reserved area in the Southern Stand, or maybe it was only an occasion to be social because I was in a group, we weren't playing shithouse football and there was the thrilling aspect of being illegally in the seat despite not having the required membership. Maybe not the last one considering you could show a video store membership card and the MCG guards would wave you through at matches like this.

Actual antics were light on. The Footscray cheersquad threw their floggers over the fence in disgust at full time and the guys behind us kept calling Fitzpatrick 'Fisty', which I thought might have breached my exclusive agreement to own all MFC related fisting gags but I wasn't able to get through to my lawyer due a flat phone battery so whatever.

Light hearted shenanigans amongst the audience aside it was a game worth being at. Shame then that as predicted in this space last week nobody was. No doubt plenty of our fans chose the Lions test or any other opportunity to avoid it but I'm not taking the blame single handedly for this one - the amount of Bulldogs fans was the equivalent of what we have turn up for a game at Docklands. Even when the comeback was in full swing in the last quarter there was one lot behind the goals and not much else. No need to take the moral high ground here, we've got a home game at Docklands (booooooo) where we'll be lucky to take 5000 people who have the right to show up for free but won't want to because the place is a shithouse. Maybe Dogs fans feel the same about the MCG? Maybe they just couldn't face the prospect of losing to the world's greatest laughing stock?

The upside was that as everyone knows when a side has the vast majority of supporters in the stadium they've got carte blanche to act like complete arseholes (see Football Park and Subiaco), and that we did. There was even arrogance, ARROGANCE, outside the ground after the game. Melbourne fans who obviously also dabble in soccer during the off-season were delivering all sorts of offensive chanting at Footscray fans. Which considering the way we fell over the line and how they're only moderately less rubbish than us is like a blind man hanging shit on a deaf one but right now I'll take it. It's not like there were any Footscray fans around to hear it, so if a tree falls in the woods etc..

Also there was a dead mouse under the seat in front of me (no really there was, don't click the link if you're antsy about that sort of stuff) which was quite the metaphor for following Melbourne.

Media Watch
Congratulations to David Schwarz for the most shamelessly one eyed radio call of all time. It was like our version of the Eddie McGuire Collingwood channel, except that all supporters who turned into SEN were subjected to it. If I was a Bulldogs fan I'd have flung my radio onto the ground but for purely biased reasons I enjoyed it. He also managed to avoid screaming abuse at Mark Neeld over the airwaves.

MFC Facebook Comment of the Week

We've just had a win, surely they can't be upset about that? Excluding all the 'amusing' 'original' posts about the women's match and how we should swap teams etc.. etc.. which would take up about 12 hours of my time putting together the vibe is not surprisingly overwhelmingly positive. So for once we'll try something different and hold an opposition fan troll special.

Sadly for these people only Melbourne fans, no matter how insane they are, get the courtesy of having their names blanked out.

Actually not sure if the one above is an opposition fan or not, but whatever.

But here's the winner, with just a sample of his work below considering he spent half the night trashing us on various threads. Serves people right for engaging with him, but it kicked up a gear when he failed the first rule of Troll School and left his profile wide open so people started bagging him for all the things that have gone wrong in his life. He's also a fan of a page dedicated to women's asses, porn stars by the dozen and lists BDSM as one of his 'likes'.

Terry also appear to be a North fan, which explains why he's into self-abuse.

Koaching Korner

Congratulations to Neil Craig on becoming the oldest man ever to coach the Dees to a win. Certainly something to tell the grandkids about - on the phone tomorrow. He even looked sprightly in jogging off the ground at three-quarter time (maybe he knew what was coming and was getting the hell out of there), and while I'm certainly not suggesting he's high on my list of wanted senior coaches for 2014 (mind you assuming Clarkson can't be extracted my list falls off a cliff after Choco, Roos and Eade so he's probably still in the top five) I hope he stays around next year in some capacity.

Maybe I'm just partial to him because he was a top bloke when I met him last year. Sure we were trapped in AAMI Park corridor together and he had to make conversation, but he asked about why we followed Melbourne, what we expected from the team etc.. and seemed genuinely interested in the answer/tales of woe. It's not hard to win me over, just show half an interest in my over the top emotional investment in the club.

Beating up on a side only marginally better than us for three quarters then almost throwing it all away is hardly one for the CV but I'm a Melbourne fan, you're (probably) a Melbourne fan. Let's take it and run for the hills. I'm assuming the 'freedom' that they're playing with is as much the result of a release of pressure, a devil may care attitude to the rest of the season and two soft games in a row as much as anything but forget the next fortnight of horror he's got a few games to try and rewrite history in a way which at least partially excludes him from the nightmares of the Neeld era.

Also I notice that after variable results with PETER ROHDE: OUR MASTERMIND and RODNEY EADE: OUR MASTERMIND the Bulldogs cheersquad has now settled for something along the lines of MACCA: OUR TASKMASTER. Good for them, we've never praised a coach on a banner and look where it's got us.

Next Week
Let's not pretend that this was the vanguard of a new era, Sydney are going to belt us next week and Geelong will do even worse the week after. But who cares about that for now? At least there's some remote danger that we'll put in two competitive performances. I'm not even thinking 187 in Geelong anymore.

As much as I'd like to break with the habit of a lifetime and simply write NO CHANGE it appears that Blease has continued to be cursed by my patronage and has injured himself. Also apparently N. Jones is in trouble for decking Griffin which is just what we need for our midfield. So on that note:

IN: Tapscott (with no confidence - almost tempted to throw in Dom Barry well before he's ready just to see what happens)
OUT: Blease (inj).

I didn't watch the Casey game but even though I'm reliably informed he couldn't hit the side of a barn in it I'll have Magner if Jones gets rubbed out. McKenzie unlucky on reputation but not on form, he was ordinary before injury so happy for him to come back via the VFL.

Speaking of Casey given how many of the players that we've got no interest in are amongst their best every week we would be the worst humans since Pol Pot to rip them off in the finals and withdraw all our players again. Fair enough if Fitzpatrick spends the rest of the year in the 1's he shouldn't be expected to play an elimination final against Frankston but just let Barry, Couch, Davis, Magner, Taggert etc.. play this time instead of stuffing the Scorpions up in the finals yet again.

Was it worth it?
At three quarter time I said we're either in for a win or a screwjob that we'd never forgot. I'm still not sure I'll be able to scrub the memory of that last 10 minutes (excluding the final 10 seconds when it was clear we'd win) from my mind without adopting a drinking habit or becoming addicted to ice BUT in the end I was left one of the great feelings - winner's nausea- so yes, yes it was.

Final Thoughts
I'm not the kind of person to try and convince others that they're completely wrong and that AFL is the greatest game of all - but for all the other sports that I like and admire show me a competition that would have a game like that just a week after the Brisbane/Geelong comeback bonanza. Watch whatever sport you damn well please but nothing, NOTHING, has more variables and more ways for your team to either prosper or be molested in a very uncomfortable place than Australian Rules Football. And for that reason (but mainly just because we won) I love it.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Return of the Human Centipede

You've only got yourself to blame if you're upset and irate about losing that game. It's your own fault for getting excited in the first place. St Kilda might have only won a single game more than us (though they haven't lost many by 90 either) and there may have been a minor realignment of the stars during the week as our +5% new coach bounce met their -5% week of scandal modifier but it should have been obvious that there was still a huge gap between us at the first bounce.

For an oppressed people the idea that we might win a game (any game) must have appealed, but the torture porn saga that is the Melbourne Football Club doesn't let up for a minute. As soon as one hapless victim was wheeled out on a stretcher after a period of savage torture and unnecessary mutilation a new victim was wheeled in to start going through a condensed 11 week version of the same thing.

Before I start on this week's half-hearted investigation of our ongoing scene-by-scene recreation of Salo, if you've got a full three hours to devote to your Demonblog reading and haven't yet seen it you might want to start with the mid-season review to get all the reaction to Neeld's axing as well as a variety of different bemoanings about how terrible we've got it. Warning - includes a surprising level of support for the AFL doing the footy equivalent of the US invading Grenada.

Secretly I was a little bit excited about what could happen in this game. COULD being the operative word, because the chances are we were still going to get beaten - but at least you could be fairly sure that it wasn't going to be by our rolling three week average of 89.33 points by virtue of St Kilda being not all that good anymore. Still better than us though, so no need to go over the top and start doing strange things like getting my hopes up or having a positive view of footy again.

So I suppose if my aim was just to see us avoid getting thrashed then the night should be described as a roaring success, but there's still an emotional black hole about it all. I love going to games and will probably do so until carted out in a pine box but the dark cloud that hovers over us makes getting through the rest of this season a bit of a chore. Even kicking goals doesn't bring me that much joy at the moment, because by the time we do start kicking them we're usually 30 points down or are going to cop one straight away down the other end. I've reached the same confidence rock bottom as our players, but at least I can hide in the stands quaffing hot dogs and am not expected to do anything to help the club get back on its feet.

Rusted on mentalists like me aren't the ones the club needs to worry about, but it's no wonder casuals have steadily cleared out over the last couple of years. They've still got a long way to go to beat the bandwagoners who piled off at an astounding rate in early 2007, but I'd hate to the person who has to come up with the membership slogan next year. May I suggest "WE'RE NOT DEAD YET MOTHERFUCKERS"? Not sure how it would go as a hashtag though. Whatever it is I'll miss #firstandforever just because it'll also mean the retirement of my beloved #fistedforever.

The night started off well enough, with what I assume to be a hastily re-recorded crowd behaviour plea by Ahmed Saad after St Kilda's original spokesman became 'unavailable' during the week and went downhill from there.

Shame it wasn't played at Docklands so we could at least have an excuse for turning up and getting stuffed in the first quarter. For while under the late Mark Neeld, surely watching via some dodgy pirated live stream in an internet cafe on Koh Samui and hurling abuse at the screen to the astonishment of confused Swedish backpackers, we would tease being a proper side at the start of matches only to quickly roll over like a diseased animal. In the first showing under Neil Craig we did the almost exact opposite, getting stuffed early before recovering to be respectable across the next three quarters. End result still the same as it has been 10 times this year.

Incidentally congratulations to Craig on avoiding the dreaded 0/1 goal quarter with only our second multiple goal opening term in the last six weeks, but now that Neeld's gone we can make a comparison between he and Bailey and see exactly who this brand of futile quarter really deserves to be named after. In 83 games Mean Dean saw it happen to his side 24 times (28.91%), while in an ill-fated 33 matches at the helm Neeld's sides did it 14 times (42.42%). I can't decide who has more right to the name, the man with the raw numbers or the guy with the average. My heart says stick with Bailey, we'll have enough other bad memories of 2012/13 and while John Coleman's got a better goalkicking average than Tony Lockett it doesn't stop him being ranked below Fraser Gehrig and Stephen Milne on the all-time table.

Either way it probably won't end up being labelled as a Craig Quarter unless he can somehow manage to do it at least five times out of the remaining 10 games, and even then I wouldn't expect anything else from a caretaker handed one of the most unpalatable shit sandwiches in recent memories - one that makes the oozing bread allegedly handed to Neeld look fragrant and edible in comparison. Looking back now it probably was - if we'd had the right man to balance getting tough with keeping the prima donnas happy and not having a Gillard-esque habit of making publicity blunders.

What Craig's inherited (and let's be fair he's had a fair hand in it so let's not cut him too much slack) is a side who can't string together five minutes of convincing play at a time, features a number of players who are either physically or mentally shot and has suffered a brutal run of injuries to the exact players that it didn't need to be getting injured. Lucky him. Did he end up as coach because he was the only assistant not young and spritely enough to out run Peter Jackson down the halls of AAMI Park?

That he's been coerced into taking control of a shipwreck doesn't make the first quarter any less frustrating. I haven't been bothered to watch the press conference but did anybody ask what he did to try and stem St Kilda's total dominance of the middle in the first quarter? I know that with McKenzie injured and Magner unavailable through nobody at the club having any interest in him our defensive midfielder stocks were paper thin, but his first big mistake was playing the defensively disinterested Rodan on Jack Steven to start with and then not making the change until quarter time, but which point Steven had single handedly molested us for 30 minutes.

Another one for the press conference (can somebody please get me a press accreditation - even if it's for Horse & Hound magazine - so I can go in and ask these questions?), and I'll go on about this until the Fijian embassy sends a cease and desist letter, but could somebody please explain the wisdom of playing Rodan instead of Magner? Again, and I can't say it enough, I respect whatever benefits Rodan's having behind the scenes but he's not going to be there next year unless the rest of our list are lost at sea so the on-field benefits have to outweight the alternative.

On the balance of it he'll have a far superior career overall, and if he's interested in coaching do what the Dogs are doing with Gia and use him as a bench coach who plays a quarter a game, but Magner's possibly got five years in him and can get plenty of possessions but crucially can also defend and tag if required. It's a bit cynical to use stats to make a point given that Rodan's been sub a couple of times and Magner's only played two games but guess which one of them has averaged 20.5 touches this year and which has averaged 13.6. Before tonight Magner had more clearances in his two games than Rodan had in five. How is he not at least a more realistic long term option if not a flat out better one at the moment?

Is it because Grimes' time on the LTI list is ticking away and he won't be able to play at the end of the season? Let's be fair we're about three days away from Mitch Clark officially being put out to pasture for the year so he'll have his chances later in the year, there's no need to worry about Round 23 now. I'd rather look forward to 2014 if it's all the same, and I can't for the life of me understand how this isn't clear to the coaches. Maybe they dislike him for posting pictures of food on Instagram and owning shares in a hipster bicycle company but it's no reason to maroon him at Casey while we're crying out for midfielders who are play with desperation.

As the game went on Rodan got better, and in the end had more contested possessions than anyone else on our side for what that's worth, but the damage was already done in the first quarter when he couldn't get near Steven. Not his fault the coaches left him there but to say Matt Jones did a better job from the second quarter onwards would be an understatement like saying Geelong are a better footy side than us.

We might have been flogged in the midfield but I steadfastly refuse to blame Jake Spencer for it. The only thing I've got against his performance tonight is that he ruined what would have been one of the great zero kick games late by getting one. The Spencil is hardly a good luck charm, 'improving' his career record to 2-17 tonight, and isn't threatening to become Dean Cox anytime soon but if you could put his enthusiasm into the rest of our side we'd be better off. He chases with surprising speed, he shepherds, he marks, he cares. Unfortunately in the midst of all this boundless enthusiasm he accidentally took Ben McEvoy's head off and will be lucky to get off with a reprimand. If he challenges it at the tribunal I'll organise a FREE SPENCIL protest outside on his behalf.

But other than his accidental decapitation it was the definition of a whole-hearted performance and while I'm not sure how long Jamar is out for right now (he wasn't even on the Tuesday injury list) I would very much like for Spencer and Gawn to play as our ruck duo for a few weeks at least. At this moment the only thing Jamar's got over Spence is that he can play relatively convincingly up forward (not really required in this team) and that when he gets the ball there's at least some mystery about whether he'll kick it or handball but otherwise it's Spencil all the way at the moment.

As for Gawn I stand by cracking the sads that Spence was picked over him on Thursday night only for the fact that he should be playing when fit, if for nothing else to convince him to hang around next year and not go somewhere that he might be better appreciated. With respect to Fitzpatrick who tries hard and is more likely to kick goals than Spencer that's the duo I want to see for the rest of the year - and if Jamar has to play he can go forward and stay there. Stay tuned right to the end Spencil family and friends, I've got a surprise for you.

The issue we have with ruckmen is that if you consider kicks to be a valuable commodity then we're always effectively a player down. Gawn averages 3.5 a game, Spencer 2.9, Jamar 2.6. These are the current hitout leaders from all the other clubs in the competition and their career averages: Dean Cox 8.9, Jonathan Giles 8.6, Sam Jacobs 6.0, Matthew Leuenberger 5.8, Will Minson 5.8, Matthew Kreuzer 5.7, Todd Goldstein 5.5, Zac Smith 5.4, Tom Bellchambers 5.3, Darren Jolly 5.2, Jonathon Griffin 5.1, Ben McEvoy 4.8, Matthew Lobbe 4.7, Trent West 4.6, Ivan Maric 4.5, Max Bailey 4.3 and Myke Pyke 3.2.

So across their entire careers the only guy our three are beating is the international import from another sport, and I know that one or two kicks more a game by a ruckman isn't going to solve any of our issues but at least it's one or two more times that we might hit a running target - and another one or two times that, presumably, the ruckman has made himself a target for one of his teammates. Based on limited appearances so far I'm convinced Gawn can do this effectively, and god help me I'm starting to think Spencer wants to do it enough that if eventually he can kick with confidence and work on being useful when resting forward he's got a place in this side. If not let's aim to get a ruckman who can at least get kicks as well as doing the traditional ruckmanly things- we're not scared of a mature aged recruit these days, there's got to be another Jonathan Giles out there somewhere.

Our inability to get a kick didn't help the Neil Craig Feelgood Factor from coming to an abrupt halt, by the time St Kilda had two goals we hadn't had one yet, but nor was his cause helped by ever so much calamitous defending. From Toumpas totally misjudging a high ball for the first goal (though he did bounce back for easily his best game yet, with enough good signs to make you think it's a near certainty that he'll do his knee at training during the week) to somebody else gifting them a second goal a minute later there was plenty more to come.

Down the other end they were doing their best to reinforce the stereotypes about 2-9 sides by gifting Angry Dean Kent a goal, but anything they could do we could do better. In an ideal world Kent's theft and goal might have steadied us, calming the nerves and resetting for the chance to chip away at their two goal lead. Good luck with that. Even Trent Dennis-Lane was kicking goals, surely only to acknowledge the fact that he has the most Melbourne FC name since long time Demonblog favourite Rochford Devenish-Meares.

For the second time we were given a life when Blease proved exactly why you play him inside 50 by kicking a cracker of a goal on the run (he would spend the rest of the game further proving this by delivering a cavalcade of clangers in other parts of the ground) but then one of footy's all-time marquee matchups sprung into life. Pedersen had already let Kosi kick one goal, and looked absolutely terrified every time he got the ball before giving away (an admittedly shithouse) free on the St Kilda 'star' as he tried everything he possibly could to stuff up running into an open goal.

If I may recycle something from during the week I found myself at a loose end on Wednesday and foolishly decided to go to training for the first time in my life. There I not only saw Neil Craig in lovely long socks yell "Don't just fuckin' waddle into it" to Jack Fitzpatrick after a contest drill, but also Pedersen dropping one of the easiest marks you'll ever see in your life right in front of goal during match simulation only for the ever helpful Jade Rawlings to offer him the sage advice to "use your eyes". Three days later this is the guy we're entrusting to do a job in an important match? Dicks. I know it was 'only Kosi', which is the same attitude that most coaches have to 95% of our list, but he looks woefully out of touch at the moment.

Obviously I'd prefer Frawley over either of them, but if that's not possible right now I'd rather Sellar. This is flying in the face of everything I said about two seconds ago in regards to playing the guy who might be there next year over the one who'll almost certainly be delisted, but Sellar's performances down back this year have all shat on Pedo's - and right now I know if he have to have one of them for another 2.5 seasons I know which one I'd rather.

Despite these fiascos when Watts got our only cheap free kick inside 50 all night and goaled we had been given yet another life. So what do we do but give up on a ball rolling out bounds only for it to stay in and be turned into a goal with seconds left in the quarter. So typically Melbourne it could almost make you spew.

Admittedly the second quarter was quite good for us in every aspect other than the scoreboard. It was no good for football itself, but who cares about that right now. We might have conceded the first goal thanks to another assist by the umpires with a cheap 50 on Dawes, but we dominated the next 10 minutes. Sadly that all came to nowt because nobody had watched that NAB ad with Joel Selwood, the annoying children and a taxi driver to learn that you get six points for putting it between the big sticks and if you miss it you're only gonna score one and they kept kicking points.

It also came to nowt because the moment the ball went down the other end Riewoldt threw his arms up in the air, asked for a free kick and was paid one. Three goals from cheap frees/50s, and before St Kilda fans helpfully point out that we actually won the free kick count that's because by the time they started giving us pissweak ones to square it up they were generally on the half-back flank not the edge of the goalsquare. It was a shame considering McDonald had absolutely smashed Riewoldt to that point - sure he was getting kicks a million miles out but wasn't doing anything inside 50. Nick could become to him what Jack is to Frawley - a guaranteed victim every single time.

We did get a goal from a free kick not long afterwards, but considering Watts had already marked it when the free was paid you'd be insane to claim that it was a gift from the umpires. Unlike the other three that went against us. It seems rude to complain about umpiring when we set out to neck ourselves in about 5000 different ways every week, but while bullshit decisions around the ground usually balance themselves out over the game or don't have a massive affect there's not much you can do when they're costing you goals. Not that it would have helped us in the end, but still.. At least the sense of injustice should give us a leg-up next week, where once again both sets of fans will swear black and blue that their team was rorted and that umpires/commentators/the media are out to get them.

We only lost the quarter by three points, which for us is like a win, but considering how badly we'd stuffed ourselves up in the first quarter and how we'd outplayed them for great periods of the term it wasn't exactly a heartening result. Still, we weren't doing too badly considering that players who would be considered on our top line like Davey, Dawes, Howe and Trengove were doing nothing. I couldn't blame Dawes considering he was getting shit service, but apparently he was 'ill' last night and certainly looked out of sorts. Still did a few nice things though, and I suspect he's the sort of guy who would refuse to be a late change (probably because there's nobody to replace him) for something as frivolous as having the squirts but we sure didn't make it easy for him. It also didn't help when some cockhead punched him in the head on half time. Were any umpires watching? No, of course they weren't - because it happened right in front of our goal.

No such excuses for Howe (as far as I know) who has hit the wall big time in the last couple of games. After being such a valuable player around the ground in the first part of this season - as recently as being BOG against Freo - he was only really useful against Hawthorn up front and could barely get near it against Collingwood or this week until he went forward. Time to leave him down there with Watts (and Blease too if they're taking requests) to get some touch back before using him around the ground again. What a luxury to have a player who is perfectly good at a second role when his first one isn't working out - good times have a bunch of players like that, we have one.

Despite all that it was near enough at half time if we were good enough. Which we weren't, but it didn't help that they got gifted a fourth goal at the start of the third quarter for something or other. It involved Lynden Dunn so I'll assume he was guilty of whatever the umpire was accusing him of, but that was 4.0.24 to 1.0.6 in the rorts scoring count.

One of the things everyone's getting excited about is that we weren't flogged in the possession count for once. Which is all well and good, but surely that's because we spent so much time kicking it back and forth 20m to each other because there were no good options up the field. Can Champion Data remove backwards and sideways kicks from that and see how we fared? As much as (spoiler alert) Colin Garland was our best he must have had seven or eight touches from plays which went forward/back/forward/back/forward/back before somebody (not Garland) finally kicked it straight to a St Kilda player. This is not progress, this is plugging a gigantic gushing hole with a bathroom sink plug.

We did win the inside 50's, which was more surprising, but other than Watts playing his best four quarters for the season (he did some silly things, but who didn't? Call it a confidence builder. Now sign this piece of paper and let's get on with planning for the future) we didn't have anything down there to trouble the Saints. They could tell we were going to hoof it long, all their defenders got back, no dramas. It looked different once Howe got down there, so let's hope they stick with that next week, and if Dawes hasn't been damaging the Doulton all night next week he should be back to providing a target across half-forward but we've got to find more options. You can't just blindly whack the ball from the midfield to the forward line in the hope that somebody's going to be there without giving it away most of the time.

I don't even know if half-forward flank exists as a position any more but it seems to be the place where a lot of our attacks break down - because the ball goes straight over the top of it. Other sides seem to go ok with launching their attacks from there. Hoofing the ball inside 50 is far more dangerous when you're doing it from 52 instead of the wing, and when there's players in or around the square for marks, crumb or rorting the umpires into paying them a free you're (obviously) more chance of scoring. Not sure what we've got in the 2's to help us with this, but strangely enough like our defenders I feel like we could almost put forth a reasonable case with the players we've got if used correctly - Kent could be the Krumber if his steal in the first quarter is anything to go by. Just need to get it to them with some more system instead of wild thumping of ball onto boot and hoping for the best.

We made the scoreline relatively reasonable in the last few minutes (second only to the Richmond game that was supposed to herald a new era of Neeldness) but despite that the last 15 minutes was a chore. How I wished to be the sort of person who could leave a game early. I've got a high tolerance for landfill football (you'd have to be to still turn up after all these years) but that was something else. With apologies to the Bleaseathon last year we're forever cursed by that 2006 Elimination Final to never play another interesting game against the Saints ever again.

Mitch Clisby was another positive on debut - in the first quarter he was easily our best player, and when St Kilda realised it he slowed down but definitely worthy of a game over the next few weeks. In reverse Sylvia was good after quarter time but all over the shop when the game was slipping away early on.

Also against all odds Nicholson was good when he came on, looked like he did in 2012 again - which is a good thing - and Dunn wasn't awful. Surely neither of them would get a game in a half decent side though.

On the other hand Trengove went back to not getting anywhere near it (possibly in protest at the ground announcer, like every other living being, calling him Trengrove), Shannon Byrnes is in almost exactly the same situation as Rodan except he was no good for the entire game instead of just parts of it, Davey couldn't get near it and apart from his goal and a nice short pass Blease's kicking was almost criminal.

According to's stats section Blease has the 592nd 'best' disposal efficiency in the competition - which is admittedly in front of Matthew Pavlich and Majak Daw - but another way of looking at that is that he's got the 17th worst. The good news is Tom Gillies is even lower, but if you take out all the 1 and 2 game players only five players have worse than his 52.1%. He's an incredible player waiting to happen, and we all loved when he took on an opponent and ran down the wing before surely you knew as well as I did that he was going to kick it out on the full.

Terlich goes into the middle of the two, most of what he does is great but like McDonald (and indeed Macdonald) he's got a propensity to undo it all with an error which costs us a goal.

The fact that we kept it under 40 points is a minor win, but realistically we've played better matches against significantly better Saints sides over the last few years so I don't know what to take from it. Not being poleaxed makes for a change, but to still be struggling grimly just to get to 10 goals is disheartening. At least it provides some sort of platform to build on, and just in time to play against the only Victorian side we're any chance of beating. I'm not even expecting a win next week, but watch out for my proposed changes if we don't get within three goals going into matches against Sydney and Geelong - every available seconds player will be getting a game.

Don't forget, every week of this gets you one closer to the a new coach, more draft picks, major delistings and the 2014 season.

2013 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes
5 - Colin Garland
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Colin Sylvia
1 - Jake Spencer (AT LAST!)

Apologies to Clisby, M. Jones, N. Jones, Terlich (high profile blunders not withstanding) and Toumpas.

Despite not polling tonight Matt Jones has made a mockery of his 50-1 starting price in the Rookie of the Year battle to hold an eight vote lead over favourite Jack Viney, and 11 over Margaret Terlich. I'm not ruling Viney out just yet, but if the former electrician can get votes in the next couple of weeks before Jack returns from injury he could find his name etched on the Demonblog honour board.

In defence Terlich My Plums is also close but so far away in second, but with Garland now seven in front and the second half of the season underway his chances are ebbing away. I'm not willing to call it yet considering that with the ball down there every ten seconds either Frawley or the King of Sizzle could put in a late run - not to mention Grimes - but if his lead hits 10 in the next couple of weeks serious thought will have to be given to pulling down the shutters and asking the man who once got suspended for biffing his best mate then went on a fishing trip with him to name him the interim winner. And if I'm wrong? Well, it wouldn't be the first time.

N. Jones is also almost home, with only Howe and Sylvia even moderately realistic chances of catching him from outside of the top three now. As you'll see to the right (well, if you scroll up anyway - I expect to the right of this there's either white space or an ad for DATE THAI WOMEN) you can now click an easy link under the reference section to see all the previous award winners - and that will show you that after his unprecedented second Jakovich last year he's about to go one better and open up a huge lead with a third. He also needs just four more votes to pass Brad Green as the all-time #1 vote getter. This is after scoring all of one (1!) vote in the glory era 2010 season. Prepare to all hail, but the trophy remains under lock and key in the garage of Demonblog Towers until at least after the Sydney game.

29 - Nathan Jones
19 - Matt Jones (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
17 - Colin Garland (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
14 - Jeremy Howe, Colin Sylvia
11 - Jack Viney
9 - Shannon Byrnes
8 - Dean Terlich
6 - Michael Evans
5 - Aaron Davey, Chris Dawes, Lynden Dunn, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Grimes, James Magner, Jack Trengove
4 - James Frawley, Tom McDonald
3 - Jack Watts
2 - Rohan Bail, Mark Jamar
1 - Mitch Clark, Jordie McKenzie, Jake Spencer, Luke Tapscott

Stat My Bitch Up
The only older man to ever coach the Demons before today was Checker Hughes when he was wheeled out of a lengthy retirement on short notice to coach at 71-years-old after Norm Smith was sacked in 1965 (additional 'fun' fact - it was the only VFL game we ever played at Coburg Oval).

Hopefully in 15 years he breaks the record once and for all, called upon to take the reigns as eight time Premiership coach Choco Williams is sidelined with burst blood vessels in the forehead.

Fashion Week

It feels like I write this every time we're forced to play in the homebrand white away jumper, but can we get serious about campaigning to bring back the 70's/80's disco jumper as a clash kit? What's electric blue going to clash with? Not that it really matters considering tonight we wore all white against a team who also wear white.

I know it's hard to find any sort of away strip that people will be happy with when you play in one dark colour and apparently red's not 'neutral' enough to the clowns misunderstood geniuses who run the league (adjusted to represent their position as our new owners) so why not at least pay tribute to a small part of our past? Even if we were no bloody good while wearing it.

If other clubs can get away with just reversing their colours and not fooling anybody I don't see why this would be against the rules. Also even though a surprising amount of people wear the white jumpers I'm sure it would sell more. I'd buy one.

The shiny nature of modern jumpers makes it even bluer, for anybody who's worried about that, so let's not get hung up on the fact that we blew a six game winning streak and that it was the first of 19 straight defeats outside of Victoria or that Brad Green got suspended for headbutting - here's a shot of us wearing it against Fremantle in Heritage Round 2006 and quite frankly it looks as magnificent as the sight of Matthew Whelan jostling with some oaf.

Let us drink to the many MFC identities who read this page leading the Disco Blue in 2014 campaign so that I don't have to.

Crowd Watch
After a month away from footy fans the last thing I wanted was to have to hear some lunatic babbling in my ear, so in a desperate attempt to relive the good times of that day Blease kicked five (all effective) I relocated to my new favourite spot at the very back of the Ponsford Stand. Going all that way back was a bit pointless considering there was nobody for 25 rows in front of me, but I was insistent that in no way should anybody be able to choose the seat behind me from the 5000 empty ones around them.

It does nothing for this feature, but the calm, zen like atmosphere that having nobody within a mile can't be beaten. Also you can see everything that's going on all around the ground, which is more than can be said for sitting on level 1 and having to rely on the scoreboard when the ball's more than 50m away.

The only issue is that all sorts of weird people who aren't really that interested in the game treat it like climbing Mt Everest and walk up there while the match is on. The solution for the committed anti-social weirdo is to sit right in the middle of the row instead of on the ends, but it still didn't help me from having to put up with five minutes of some pissheads coming up and sitting right in front of me (possibly deliberately) during the second quarter.

Also late in the game I noticed that a middle aged couple had appeared in the next section over, conveniently located behind one of the poles that hold the roof on. This piqued my interest as I was hoping for a repeat of that famous footage of the couple having one of these ones in the top tiers of the Sydney Football Stadium. Sadly the only thing perverse about them was their choice of seating and nothing was going on. But I kept looking over just in case.

Finally, to the guy who greeted me pre-match like an old friend and suggested we sing the song after the game "just like last time" I apologise but I had absolutely no idea who you were, and by the time I realised that I'd over-committed to the conversation and couldn't pull out.

MFC Facebook Comment of the Week

Which faction will win out, the "better performance" crowd, the "it's a new coach, give him time" group or the "KILL EVERYONE WITH FIRE, I EXPECTED A 99 POINT VICTORY" alliance? Well, it's Facebook so obviously the third one.

Amongst a surprising amount of people slaughtering Jack Watts - because when times are tough kick the shit out of him, then start a personal Carnival of Hate when he leaves - here are some highlights. Sadly it's another week without a contribution by John Fidge.

- a welcome return from this segment's version of Tony Lockett
- two people confusing the number four with three
- a creepy comment about Chris Dawes from somebody I hope knows him
- a woman threatening to scab on us if #chokeyourselfwithatie gets up - which I naturally hope she does.

Remember, when you're posting on the MFC page after a game, if your comments haven't appeared in this feature yet you're not trying to hard enough. Also, don't waste your best work on any mid-week posts because I wouldn't read the comments on those if you paid me to.

Next Week
If Brisbane can lose to Geelong by enough to go below the Bulldogs (every possible chance) we'll get 16th vs 17th for the second week in a row, and for the Gas Chamber Challenge to get even half the interest this did amongst neutrals the AFL would have to find a way to get Michael Jordan to play for us and tag Footscray's Don Bradman.

It won't help that the Wallabies test is happening down the road at the same time (if you're into that sort of thing), but if tonight struggled to a deeply suspicious 28,700 then we'll be lucky to get 25k against that as fans of both teams suddenly discover a deep love of rucking and mauling to give them an excuse to not be there.

That's bad enough, but at least a few fans of both sides might make an effort to turn up in the belief that their side is going to win. Whatever the worst TV audience for a match between two Victorian sides is I'd say it was in trouble considering not only will the Wallabies game be on but for people who don't give a toss about Israel Folau any more than they did for the last two seasons the other AFL match will be the extremely palatable Geelong vs Fremantle clash. I know which one I'd be watching if I were a neutral.

We might as use whatever means necessary to win this one. Biff, outright cheating, getting sick kids in to address the players etc.. because if we don't you'll be starved for entertainment over the next fortnight as we're ripped apart wild horses style by both Sydney and Geelong. Then we don't play a winnable game in Victoria until we meet the Dogs again in the last round, that should really bring the punters through the gate. Apparently when we play North in a 'home' game at Etihad they're shutting the top deck, so to make having to play games there even worse now you have to 'enjoy' an enforced crap view from level 1 with opposition fans right up your clacker no matter which way you turn. Can't for the life of me see why our fans hate that putrid venue.

Footscray put in a respectable performance - as far as 10 goal losses go - against Richmond, but then again we did that too and look where it's gotten us? I refuse to believe that we're a chance, but will be happy to be proven wrong. More likely we're back here next week with pick 1 or 2 firmly locked away and more shame heaped upon the club.

IN: Frawley, Gawn, Magner
OUT: Fitzpatrick, Pedersen, Rodan
LUCKY: Byrnes

If the Match Review Panel wheel of fortune puts The Spencil out and Jamar's not fit then Fitz can survive to have another go.

Surely if Frawley's not right then either Troy Davis or Tom Gillies are worth a go to replace Pedersen and see if either of them are worthy of persisting with next year. Pedo's got another 2.5 years to cement his spot (for the love of all that is holy...) a few weeks at Casey will be better for his confidence than being thumped all over the park by the only sides even remotely in our universe. Besides, Gillies' dashing new moustache is worthy of a public airing.

Others who are a chance are McKenzie (I only want him if he's tagging) and Macdonald (Can't really find a spot for him but yes please, stuff public opinion). Nobody else seems to be doing great things in the 2nd's (none who are eligible anyway). Also you never know what novelty untried player they might wheel in next, who saw Mitch Clisby coming?

Coaches Corner
I'm not just saying this because a Mark Williams led MFC is second only to the return of Allen Jakovich to the club in any capacity amongst my off-field footy fantasies, but is it really all that wise to cajole Paul Roos into doing the job if he's not 100% into it? I'm not saying he'd do a Malcolm Blight and rack off halfway through the year with a trail of destruction behind him (like a cyclone blowing West Sydney how would we be able to tell the difference?) but this is not a job for somebody who isn't going to be around for a few years. Choco will die with a set of headphones on, Roos looks very comfortable sitting on couches next to Gerard Healy. I just hope if he does it he does it because he has a plan not because Demetriou won't stop calling him.

On the other hand look at the great man going wild on the sidelines for Richmond. Look at the mischievious look in eyes and evil chewing gum grin when some Channel 7 goose bailed him up in the Punt Road carpark and asked if he was keen. From now on I'm not even going to pretend that I only want him if Roos pulls out. This isn't a very sane and rational way to look at things, but I'm not a sane and rational individual if you haven't noticed.

Apparently one of the worst things he did at Port was appoint his sister as the club psychologist. Not the most sensible move ever, but at least he appointed a psychologist to ensure his players weren't all turning into mental cases.

I'm in 100% behind whoever we get, but having had my #chokeyourselfwithatie campaign shamefully marginalised the last time we were looking for a new coach I'm too emotionally invested in getting him up this time.

In other news apparently two clubs have already expressed an interest in Neeld as an assistant. Best of luck to him wherever he goes, but my god I hope it's Brisbane just to annoy Moloney.

Next Season
In trying to give the new coach a leg up I was trying to find a clause in the AFL Player Rules to answer my question of whether you could rort the minimum salary cap figure by delisting players who are in contract and including their salary in the next year's Total Player Payments. At some point I'll read the full 200 pages (because I'm a TREMENDOUS LOSER and this sort of thing interests me), but in the meantime if you can be bothered feel free to see if you can find that information.

UPDATE - One copy of Hotter Than Hell '98 signed by Craig Smoker to @lcrowth15 who spotted clause 10.21

Which means if you don't like the players we've got contracted for next year then it's not a total loss, because if there's any room we could knife them before close of play in 2013 and use our available cap room.

Now that I've gone through and read the whole thing (so closely that I initially missed the exact clause that I was looking for) I feel like ringing up SEN every ten minutes and pretending I know how everything works.

Was it worth it?
As long as you didn't expect us to be good and didn't pay for your ticket it was. Also worthwhile if you're OCD about being at every possible match like I am.

Final Thoughts
There's certainly something to work with here (especially if you add Clark, Frawley, Grimes and Viney) but whoever's in charge next year is going to have to work out how to inject confidence again. Like a kid growing up there's a lot of things we're going to have to try and fail at in the next couple of years before we start to get it right - we'll blow leads and we'll lose close games but at the moment I'd take it just to have leads and be involved in close games.

Monday, 17 June 2013

2013 mid-season review and State of the Union

So, that's half the season done. How was it for you? Unless you're a supermasochist or a supporter of another club the answer undoubtedly involves the words "horrible", "horrendous" or the phrase "I'd rather jam a nail into my eye than go through that ever again" - all of which are perfectly reasonable reactions to the situation we've got ourselves in.

When I started writing this on Sunday afternoon it was safe in the knowledge that we were skint and that there was no way the board was going to tip the coach at least until we got thumped by the Bulldogs in two weeks' time. Little did I know that for the first time in history the Melbourne Football Club board had gone more than two days without leaking for the first time in recent history and that the decision had already been made that the coach was to go. Cue a rewrite to remove all references to "if", "when" and "how" the Neeld era would come to end - and to instead welcome our new temporary overlord Neil Craig, a man who it seems is being forced into the job at gunpoint.

As would be expected of a coach who only lasted 33 games there won't be a lot of flowing praise to read out as his eulogy. "Here lies Mark Neeld, he had a go" isn't going to be much to look back upon in the future but that's about it. Other than Jeremy Howe and Nathan Jones who has improved dramatically in the last two years? Even Jones started to get back into top form late in 2011 after Bailey got the arse, so I'm not sure if he can even claim that.

Whose fault it is/was will be debated for years to come, but the simple fact is that under him we have become a terrible team who are horribly boring to watch. Our scores since Round 1 2012 are 144, 135, 108, 96, 87, 84, 83, 83, 82, 81, 78, 78, 76, 74, 73, 72, 67, 66, 61,  60, 58, 58, 56, 54, 54, 49, 48, 49, 40, 40, 37, 36, 39. So far that's an average of 66 this year and 72 in 2012, and you can have one guess as to which two teams the three scores of over 100 were against.

At the moment our percentage is the third worst in any MFC season, in front of only 1906 (1 win, 48.75%) and 1919 (0 wins, 42.96%). The next worst in the history of our club is 59.54% in 1910, and at the moment we're a long way from getting to that. Nobody's talking about these stats but everyone can see why they're happening, I accept the fact that injuries are an issue but any team would be lucky to have their best 22 playing and it doesn't seem to matter what team lineup we have, we're still terrible and the players run around like headless chickens while opposition sides boost their percentage to untold levels.

Mark Neeld, like Neil Balme, Neale Daniher, Dean Bailey and god knows who else you are now free. Thanks for at least having a crack (albeit on a higher salary than the Prime Minister by the sound of it), but it's all over. Like them you may now go on to a less high-profile and lower paying but significantly less stressful job that won't make you look silly on a weekly basis. In honour of your escape from the MFC orbit after just 33 matches in charge we've organised a special celebrity guest to perform a musical tribute. 

To be fair it could also apply to the people who have been frantically trying to get him in the arse for the last year and a half. Watch in whatever spirit suits you, and look carefully for 3.22 when he almost gets decapitated by a firework piffed from the crowd - which is pretty much the only thing that our fans didn't try and do to Neeld over the last 33 games.

What a tremendous shambles we are. Never fear though, like a small Central American republic we've got ourselves into a terrible state and the AFL is about to play the role of the USA and plow in with tanks, helicopters and all guns blazing to save us. Which, as history has shown us, always ends well. A few weeks ago I wrote on here that we had to avoid becoming the property of the league, but as it's almost inevitable now (if it hasn't already happened) we may as well accept that if we ever want to see prosperity again then a few blind eyes may need to be turned to a human rights abuses and sudden unexplained disappearances.

In the hours before troops land and a new puppet government is sworn in I'm not sure that anybody really needs another list of our litany of recent disasters, but for reasons of future historical study here's the abridged story of Round 1 to 11 2013. One day Demonblog will be passed on to future generations of my family as a record of how everything went wrong from shortly after I inadvertently insulted a lady hairdresser an hour before Round 1 2007 until they finally put the shutters up in December 2017 after President Kennett's failed attempt to relocate the club to the Cocos and Keeling Islands, and they may as well know how we got there.

The fiasco that is 2013 (at least the first bit of it) will certainly go down in history as something special, but I'm not sure whether the fact that we've been no good for so long makes it feel better or worse. After having respectability briefly dangled above our eyes during 2010 and 2011 I'd say worse. Compare with 2007, that year was bad but at least when we went in with high expectations and came out covered in murky brown water you could pretend it was a one off and things were going to get better. I really thought things would get better in 2008. Still waiting.

After we permanently turned to shite in Round 19, 2011 and saw no noticeable improvement last year only the most blindly optimistic or insane would have thought we could play finals a season later but 2013 was supposed to be Mark Neeld's version of Dean Bailey's 2010. It was meant to be a year where his side suggested that the disgraces of the past were behind them and that there was some sort of future, only for it to eventually go tits up anyway. Unfortunately for him it hasn't quite worked out as well as expected, and the only thing he's got in common with Bailey now is that they've both been set free from being involved with us.

In retrospect the alarm bells should have been ringing loudly in the pre-season. All three 'full' matches we played (and one of the novelty NAB Cup games) featured the opposition getting a run of several goals in a row that either wrecked our chances of winning or nearly did. The only reason we won the Port Adelaide game in Renmark (yes, future generations. Renmark. No, I've got no idea either. Look it up) was because their B-team let our B-team get off to a fast start, and they couldn't make chances count late in the last quarter.

People with shorter fuses than I started to panic when it happened against Gold Coast, and admittedly even I cocked an eyebrow with concern when St Kilda turned us over at Casey Fields with seven goals in a row, but both of those results could be written off as the result of pre-season tinkering. The only thing that matters is the regular season right? In fact many of us could almost have copped losing to Port in the first game as long as it was a decent performance. Then the plane hit the ground, and nothing would ever be the same again. 

The assumption that Port were just as bad as us (or worse) didn't help. Had we lost by that margin to them at Football Park there would have been inquiries and inquests, and the MFC Facebook page would have instantly exploded in a shower of sparks, but it wouldn't have had the psychological effect on the whole club of being smashed by 80 points on the MCG after a whole off-season of 'hope' being force fed down our throats foie gras style.

There are some miserablists who wouldn't be happy unless we were winning the flag every year, but most normal people at least held out some hope - no matter how minor - that our situation would improve at least a little bit in 2013. We dreamed about what a fit Mitch Clark would do, watched the recruitment of Chris Dawes with interest, celebrated stealing Jack Viney for a criminally low pick, swooned over Toumpas, (some of us) held open minds about potentially nutty recruiting decisions and watched film of the players pushing themselves to the limit in the Darwin training camp.  I wasn't the only one who got sucked in to thinking that there was no way they could be as terrible as last year again, and that natural progression should at least carry us to a few decent wins if not a big jump on the ladder. Sadly not for the first or last time I fell for it. I want to believe.

The most painful thing about the Port performance was how our defence was in total disarray. The likes of Frawley and Garland, who had done so much heroic work to stop every week being a 186, all of a sudden looking totally at sea. They eventually recovered, and Garland is an absolute certainty to be this year's defender who finishes top three in the B&F - but the damage was already done.

Looking back at that afternoon it was one of the few times this year we weren't all that bad out of the middle and looked relatively potent in the forward line - it was just that we couldn't stop a side who at the time we thought were our natural rivals for 16th place from scoring. Sure they went three goals up at the start of the game, but it's been shown numerous times this year that three goals behind is not a fatal spot to be in. When Mitch Clark kicked two in a row it looked like early nerves had been settled, that we were about to have a proper go and that beautiful Mitch was about to kick 70 goals for the season. We weren't, he sadly won't, and a cavalcade of players who were either unheralded or nobody had ever heard of proceeded to beat the shit out of us. Cue chaos.

Not for the last time in 2013 (or for the first time if you count 2012) it was an unstoppable rush of goals which sank us. A 29 point deficit at half time was hardly ideal, but better teams than Port have blown a five goal lead in two quarters. From the 10 minute mark onwards they kicked 5.4 to nothing - as well as the last goal of the second and first goal of the last. Seven in a row with barely a shot fired in response - for the whole third term we only managed a single rushed behind, and were outscored 8.12 to 1.4 for the full second half. Considering what was to come later it wasn't that bad, but the shock value of the defeat was enough to set everyone off on a path of self-destruction that made Richmond fans of the last three decades go "crikey, I recognise this" before they get back to enjoying finally following a non-shit side.

One week and a time and all that rubbish, but in a way the widespread panic following that game was fair enough. We had been promised better, and while some would have gone troppo even if we'd lost by a point nobody expected to lose by 80 - even if we didn't know at the time that Port were about to win five in a row. I was up the top of the Ponsford Stand yelling out all sorts of things as well, but the footage of players going off under a hail of abuse (including from a cantankerous old man) gave the media perfect opportunity to make us 2013's first 'club in crisis'. This was the role we were born for, and we were more than happy to go along with it.

A respectable performance against Essendon the next week might have put us back on something approaching the right path, but the whole thing was a massive botch from start to finish. It started with letting TV cameras show players sitting around looking confused by Neeld's pre-match speech (not sure whose fault it was that they didn't seem to know what was going on, but either way it shouldn't have been shown on TV considering the position we were in and the possibility that we'd be thrashed), travelling through Jack Watts being used as the scapegoat by fans and coaches alike to become our worst loss at the MCG ever. Another happy memory for the MFC "wish you were here" postcard series.

We went in holding a bizarre good recent record against the Bombers and came out with official confirmation that a shipwreck waiting to happen was now officially upside down on the rocks with burning oil spewing out the sides. Sure, we were getting thrashed at half time, that was to be expected. What wasn't so easy to understand was how from the three minute mark of the third quarter onwards we could concede 14.10 to 0.2. Thank god they couldn't kick straight, but it's not like we didn't give them enough chances to turn 148 into 186 or worse. It's a good thing we don't run into sides with something to prove more often.

That we would later find out half our team had been involved with the same 'sports supplements' shenanigans the Bombers were on the front pages for at the same time is neither here nor there, the Port fiasco had destroyed confidence in one dark afternoon, and from then the only question was how many bodybags would be required and when they should be delivered.

Cue an even more intense media frenzy, and a good old fashioned team bonding trip to try and do a runner from the media and get everyone's head back together. Surprisingly it worked for a while, we put in a decent first half against West Coast (who, in contrast with Port we didn't know yet were actually no good) before crashing to earth again. It was a more than adequate response, and they were quite rightly applauded from the ground for their vastly improved efforts but even at the time I wasn't sure a standing ovation for a 10 point deficit sent the right message. Polite applause would probably have sufficed. The Eagles must have walked from the field seeing that and thought "my god, we're going to pulverise this lot in the second half". Which they did, kicking 6.1 to nothing in the first 15 minutes of the third quarter to ruin any chance we had of winning then adding another 5.2 to 1.1 in the next 15 to turn it into a thrashing.

That was 'ok' as long as we beat GWS the next week. As it turns out, having already sacked Cameron Schwab after the Essendon game, we were in no position to pay Neeld's contract out anyway but as nobody knew at the time that we were up for $600k to give him the boot (really? $600k? Was this some sort of tax dodge?) it was widely assumed that he was out the door first thing Monday if the Giants beat us. Looking back now it's interesting to think what would have happened if we hadn't finally turned the tables and booted a shitload of goals in a row on somebody else (admittedly the AFL equivalent of the Diamond Valley Under 9's) during the last quarter. Would they have thrown caution to the wind and blown the bank giving him the arse right there and then? It would probably have been cleaner than waiting another two months for the AFL's money to hit our account.

At no matter how nervy it had been for three and a half quarters at least we had one win in the bank. Made us better than the 1919 side anyway, and by winning by more than a point we were technically better than 1981 as well. Things were looking us, and with the almost equally disappointing Lions the next week we had the chance to continue the good times for at least a fortnight. For a half it looked like that might be the case - then normal service resumed, conceding the first three goals of the third quarter in double quick time. The (brief) good times were over, yet to properly return for more than five or ten minutes at a time - and for some people gone for good.

Carlton tonked us the next week (five goals in a row to start to the game), then just when you thought it could get worse but were hoping it wouldn't Gold Coast did the same and helped us discover new and exciting levels of rock bottom. Neeld survived that debacle, using up another one of his lives due to us being totally skint, but surely when he walked out the door that day he understood that he was finished sooner rather than later. Sure he'd lost Mitch Clark, Jack Viney and Jack Grimes by this point, but even with the injury horrors still to come (Dawes, Frawley etc..) the rest of the team were playing like such total muppets that the buck could only stop at the top.

A decent showing against Richmond the next week took the heat off a bit, but 268 points worth of losses in the month since then (including the bye) stamped his papers - even if he did survive the Board Meeting of Death after the Hawthorn game. Thank god he did survive that day, not only to annoy the media vultures who camped out all day hoping to get the old entrails on the pavement shot, but it would have been an additional humiliation to find out that we're the sort of club who can't make a decision to sack somebody without having a scheduled board meeting first. Which would have come as a huge surprise to Dean Bailey, who probably remembers being given the arse at 7pm on a Sunday night after 186.

Given that the board didn't even bother backing the coach for the rest of the season it turned out that the most important part of the day's proceedings wasn't his famous 'presentation', it was the bit where we worked out that we had stuff all cash. Somehow that's been addressed and he's free to sit at home and catch up on all the TV he's missed in the last couple of years. His Foxtel IQ must be absolutely heaving by now, time to enjoy the full 12 hour Real Housewives Of Atlanta marathon without being interrupted by phone calls from Rory Taggert.

So here we are, the very familiar 1-10. Same as 2008, same as 2009, same as 2012. Not the same as 2010 and 2011 because they were basically premiership seasons in comparison. If only we'd had 500 top 20 draft picks in the last few years we might not be in this situation eh? As much as Peter Jackson danced around the issue at the Neeld press conference there's no doubt we have or are going to ask for a priority pick - which is absolutely brazen but you might as well try. 

Neeld got one last thing right as he went out the door when he said that you would obviously take one if it were offered. If they're stupid enough to throw morality out the window and give us one then that's their problem and they can explain it to all the clubs who have done the right thing over the years and not turned into a rolling fiasco. They couldn't do it though could they? Surely the game is that we ask for a really good extra pick and eventually end up with one at the end of the first round - which even if it would still be morally unsavoury is at least not complete daylight robbery.

Drafting shenanigans will have to wait though, we've got to get through the second half of the season first. God knows what horrors await us, but the bad news is that we've finished our golden run of playing all but two games at the MCG in the first 13. Now we've got to go to Docklands (losses) and Kardinia Park (big losses) as well as the unknown quantities of Carrara (in the modern era at least) and the Sydney Showgrounds. Good luck with that Neil Craig.

Realistically we could win the next two games (though even with the new couch bounce we probably won't) but after that without a remarkable turnaround or stroke of luck the only games that we've got half a chance in are Brisbane in Darwin, GWS in Sydney and the Bulldogs in the last round even though it's at Docklands where we're no chance of ever putting in a good performance. Hopefully they're back down in putrid territory by then and out slop us OR are tanking furiously to try and finish below St Kilda. At this point I really don't care whether we get pick 1, 2, 3 or 4 - if you can't find a winning player with one of those then you're either spaz, the MFC or both.

There's not much scope for getting a run on anywhere in the second half of the season as we run into good teams too often, but if we can get Dawes, Frawley, Grimes, Viney and god forbid Clark back into the side by Round 17, and limit the psychological damage from our trip to Kardinia Park, we could conceivably win a couple and put in some decent performances from there. 

Only Brisbane, GWS and Footscray are obviously winnable matches but North, Gold Coast and Adelaide aren't entirely out of the question if we can lift ourselves out of Josef Fritzl's basement and start playing like a proper AFL team again.

Round 13 - St Kilda (Docklands) (Maybe)
Round 14 - Footscray (MCG) (Maybe)
Round 15 - Sydney (MCG) (No chance)
Round 16 - Geelong (Kardinia Park) (Oh god we'll be murdered)
Round 17 - Brisbane (Darwin) (Maybe)
Round 18 - North Melbourne (Docklands) (Maybe if they're still being super flaky and mental)
Round 19 - GWS (Showgrounds) (Could very well win)
Round 20 - Gold Coast (Carrara) (Hopefully they're over it by this point)
Round 21 - Fremantle (MCG) (Will probably lose 10.10.70 to 0.5.5)
Round 22 - Adelaide (Football Park) (Assume we'll get thrashed just because of the venue)
Round 23 - Footscray (Docklands) (Time to go out on a high)

Unfortunately for Neil Craig you can get Weekend at Bernie's styles reincarnations of Norm Smith and Checker Hughes in the coaches box if you like and it won't make a lick of difference if you don't have the players. So on that note we turn to one of my favourite mid-season features for a look at who you should be investing in, and who you should furiously sell shares in as their value plummets to earth. Thanks to our generous sponsors the Pyramid Building Society it's...

Buy, Hold, Sell

Aaron Davey - I like his old stuff better than his new stuff, but recent form show he could go on next year at a lower price. Alternatively he's probably playing himself into being a chance of other more immediately successful clubs being interested in dropping him into their side for one or two seasons while he chases a flag.

Chris Dawes - Just started to show why he was recruited when in true MFC fashion he injured himself. It's supposed to be minor, so I expect we'll never see him play again.

James Frawley - Decided that he's not going anywhere at the end of this year at least. Was just coming back into form when injured so we should get at least one more good season out of him before he's off to Hawthorn.

Colin Garland - Career best form in a career worst defence after a rocky start, but I have serious concerns over his mental health. He cares, which is more than can be said for many. Hopefully he doesn't care too much and can sleep at night.

Jack Grimes - Surely his next major injury has to be a repeat of one of the other ones, nobody could have this much bad luck to different parts of their body. Was just starting to look like a top quality player when hurt, after getting through all of last year unhurt and only being put out by a freak contact accident this year I'm confident he'll be back better than ever.

Jesse Hogan - There's nothing we do better than put far too much expectation on the shoulders of a kid, so let's do it again. Sell your house and use it to buy stock in him, then watch him become the next John Butcher and play five games in three years.

Jeremy Howe - Has levelled off in the last couple of weeks as other teams have realised that he's our get-out option, but there's a lot to be said for having one player who commentators jizz openly over in keeping us out of 4.40pm Sunday every single week.

Matt Jones - Has come from nowhere to be one of our better midfielders. Which is, admittedly, like being one of the highest rating programs on ABC3 but has still been a pleasant surprise.

Nathan Jones - Will get tired of carrying the rest of the midfield on his back eventually. Get him some help before he cracks up. Now firmly back in the frame for captaincy next year, possibly on a joint ticket with Grimes.

Dean Terlich - Cocks up occasionally and probably wouldn't get a game at 16 other clubs but like Jones has pleasantly surprised. Might be holding a spot until somebody better comes along, but that could be five years or more at this rate.

Jack Trengove - Starting to get back towards his 2011 form. Start buying now at a low price, could be flying by the end of the year - and hopefully unburdened by captaincy and/or injury will be set for a big 2014.

Jack Viney - Blue chip prospect. Forget the injuries for now, as long as this mysterious toe isn't going to keep troubling him he'll play every week.

Rohan Bail - Contracted for next year so there's time for him to do something, and Neeld did seem to like him until last week, but has he ever had a really good game? It didn't hurt Clint Bartram's career to fly under the radar for five years, but at least he was quietly achieving in the background.

Dom Barry - An unknown quantity so far. Keep watching.

Sam Blease - Provides some excitement and kicks goals when you play him inside 50 (i.e 2012) but still about as likely to hit a target kicking on the run as I am. Has been downhill ever since you voted him my new favourite player, but will hopefully now be restored to his rightful place kicking goals out of his arse.

Mitch Clark - So many injuries. Makes me sad to think that he was on the way to kicking about 15 against GWS last year and since then we've only seen him a couple of times. Can do damage, has to play first.

Neil Craig - Holding for the fort until the end of the year. Assuming he's not going to put his hand up for the top job, but even Todd Viney got excited about the prospect of staying on after one win. Then we lost to Port and he was stuffed. The question is whether we'll remember his stint kindly or whether he join the likes of Alan McConnell as caretaker coaches for more than 10 games who didn't manage  a win.

Michael Evans - Has hit the wall after a few good weeks at the start of the year, but signed a new contract and will be there for the next couple of years at least. Worth keeping in the side for the rest of the year.

Jack Fitzpatrick - Looks like he'll get more opportunities, and big men get more time than anyone else, but playing for your career in our forward line must be the hardest job in football. Hasn't done anything yet to show that he's a better long term forward option than Juice Newton but god forbid he plays in a game where we're not putrid and have 12 inside 50's then he might be able to show something.

Max Gawn - Absolutely 100% a required player, but it would be nice if we would actually play him where he's supposed to be played for more than five minutes every week. We're shit anyway and will be no matter what we're doing, so why not look toward the future and play him as our first ruck? No wonder he hasn't signed a new contract, the fact that we stood by him through two knee reconstructions aside why wouldn't he be open to offers elsewhere?

Dean Kent - Not sure if he can play footy yet but appears to have the sort of anti-social streak which I can get behind.

Joel Macdonald - I still like him, even if nobody else does. If for no other reason than his Twitter picture, which appears to be the man himself waving at a security camera

James Magner - Should be playing in front of Rodan. One of them is a chance of being there in a couple of years, and while Mags is never going to be a superstar he can get the ball and appears to care. Showed enough last year to deserve a couple of years on the senior list, but was obviously not in favour under Neeld so who knows what will happen now.

Tom McDonald - Like Blease he's gone backwards ever since getting the public's stamp of approval, but there's plenty of time for the King of Sizzle to get back to the 2012 vintage. Playing in our backline is a task that will cause anybody to have moments of self-doubt and farce/shambles so patience is a virtue.

Melbourne Football Club - We're not dead yet, but intensive rehabilitation is required.

Daniel Nicholson - Woefully out of form this year. Showed a bit last season though, so it's not all over yet. Can run fast. Would be nice if he was used in a way that complemented that attribute.

Cameron Pedersen - Across the next three (3!) seasons he'd want to show something more than a brief cameo like the GWS game to avoid becoming the poster-child for wacky recruiting and list management decisions under Neeld. Not completely off him yet but worried about him being relegated to defence permanently.

Jake Spencer - Can tap, can run surprisingly quick, can kick from a 'stoppage' but has absolutely NFI in traffic. Contracted for next year so likely to play a few more games, but unlikely to become a regular without injury or Gawn dicking us and going elsewhere. Probably not costing us much, but unless we're going to get a ready-made replacement via trade/free agency then he's worth having around.

James Strauss - Looked good when he came back from injury late last year, and wasn't playing all that badly when he got dropped for the Freo game. Came back a week later and was ordinary but given that he's been around so long and we're going to be terrible no matter what so would it be such a crime to play him anyway? If you dropped every player who put in one horrid week we'd only ever be able to field 22 players for Round 1.

Jimmy Toumpas - Apparently picked with the long term in mind because he'd had two hip operations, which makes it odd that he played the whole pre-season and the first couple of games. Young enough to be a blank canvas he's shown that when he gets the ball he can be dangerous but just doesn't know how to get it yet. That's fine, plenty of time to go. Started to show a bit on Queen's Birthday before the whole side went tits up. Must play the rest of the year if fit.

Jack Watts - Like Fitzpatrick is struggling to show his best in a forward line which gets no service, but there's still questions about how much he wants it and apart from a couple of cameos here and there hasn't done a great deal this year. Is still every possible chance to wave two fingers at us and rack off elsewhere. Performances in 2011 showed that in a forward line where he gets a respectable amount of silver-platter service then he can be dangerous, but I fear that by the time we're able to provide that he'll be enjoying playing pressure-off second fiddle to Jack Riewoldt.

Maia Westrupp - Our record shows that we can't teach Australian kids how to play properly so I'm not sure how we're going to get on with a New Zealander - but you never know, it might work.

Shannon Byrnes - Two good games against teams in our division (GWS and Brisbane) and a bunch of ordinary to bad ones against better sides. I'm all for the off-field benefits but not entirely sure why we signed him on a two year contract. A new coach might invite him to have a 'quiet word' with a view to being shuffled off to the backroom staff.

Troy Davis - Going nowhere, deserves an opportunity at some point but would have to do something dramatic to survive.

Lynden Dunn - The party's over. Being an angry individual will only get you so far. At least his mum will be happy that CEO, Coach and President are all gone.

Tom Gillies - Might get another go before the end of the year, and I'd like him to just to avoid leaving us with an average losing margin of +100 points and zero good memories but on a one year contract he'd be lucky to go on next year.

Mark Jamar - Improved performance on Queen's Birthday, but his brief glory era is over. Will still be there next year, and has surprised in the past, but isn't 

Neville Jetta - Has played enough games now that we can be sure he's not going to be a match winner. May have a place at a better club.

Jordie McKenzie - Signs contract extension, goes backwards. Melbourne FC magic. Must pine for the Dean Bailey era.

David Rodan - Like Byrnes the off-field stuff is great but on-field it's not a big win. Unlike Byrnes he's only on a one year deal so I've got no doubt he'll be invited to a special player review in Carpark D at Casey Fields after which he'll never be seen again.

James Sellar - Competing for exactly the same spot as Pedersen. I like the guy but he's not going to win that battle. The sudden emergence of Craig may give him a leg up before Mr. New Coach gives him the boot.

Colin Sylvia - Get what you can before he's playing for another club.

Rory Taggert - Doesn't seem to be doing much at Casey. Might get Tom McNamara games at the end of the season.

Luke Tapscott - I don't know who to blame but doesn't seem to be anything more than a bit part player at the moment. Needs to go back into defence quickly.

The Trumpteer - Tellingly relegated to 'only playing when we win' after Schwab got the arse I'm sure they're not even inviting the guy to show up anymore. By the time we win another game at the G nobody will remember this rubbish gimmick anyway, so it's a perfect time to put it to bed and remove at least one of the ways that our club humiliates itself on a regular basis.

Josh Tynan - After two games in two and a half seasons he'd want to get back into contention for a senior game pretty quickly. 

Faulty Crystal Ball Corner
Looking back on the season preview post it's distressing to see how apologetic I was being about tipping us to come fifth last, as if by this point we'd be in the top eight and I'd have to admit how wrong I was. Fat chance. After setting our over/under at 5.5 wins we'll be lucky to get within a mile of it at this rate.

Things I got right included Nathan Jones being red-hot favourite for the Jakovich Medal and predicting that none of the ruckmen would get close to the main award. On the ladder I was right in predicting Hawthorn would be good (wow, what an achievement), GWS would be terrible (again, amazing prediction skills there) and that St Kilda wouldn't be much good either - but anybody could have managed that.

On the other hand I had Watts third in Jakovich betting with neither Matt Jones or Terlich given a hope. Not that either of them will win, but they will go close to the top five. Also Gawn at $45 for the Stynes seems absurd now, but I foolishly assumed that Jamar would win it by a million miles.

As for my predicted ladder the major clangers at the moment are Collingwood (1st), West Coast (3rd), Adelaide (4th), Brisbane (11th), Essendon (12th), Port Adelaide (16th) and Gold Coast (17th).

Here's an updated final ladder, so don't expect to see any of this actually happen. Teams grouped alongside the ones they're in the same class as. Once again the battle for 8th shows that anybody who suggests expanding the finals beyond eight should be thrown out of a window. 

1. Hawthorn
2. Sydney
3. Fremantle
4. Geelong
5. Essendon
6. Collingwood
7. Richmond
8. Carlton
9. North Melbourne
10. West Coast
11. Port Adelaide
12. Adelaide
13. Gold Coast
14. Brisbane
15. St Kilda
16. Footscray
17. Melbourne
18. Greater Western Sydney

I think Hawthorn will win everything, but I'll be going for Freo. At the other end I'm concerned about finishing below GWS - they've been just as awful as we have, but have arguably looked better in being terrible. If we can't beat them we probably won't win another game, so either both teams go into a neck-and-neck one win apiece backwards percentage race to the bottom or they catch fire late in the year and leave us stone motherless with our head in the oven.

Assuming we get pick two and the AFL aren't fooled into giving us a priority pick at the top of the draft it will be interesting to see what happens considering a big forward is supposed to be one of the top selections. GWS surely won't want him considering they'll have Cameron and Patton (maybe Franklin too, watch the AFL ensure that move happens in a desperate attempt to boost crowds into five figures) and neither will we assuming Mitch Clark can go on next year. Or would we? 

The 'best available' crowd would suggest that you take the forward, and Clark becomes more of a ruckman in front of a Dawes > Hogan > Boyd forward set-up (with possible half-forward flank contributions from Watts if he stays) but knowing that both St Kilda and Footscray would give their right nut for a key forward is there some sort of trade we can do that involves us swapping P2 for P4 as well as their second round pick and sweeteners? The only problem is that whether it's St Kilda or Footscray who finish just above us neither of them have anything worthwhile to add as a sweetener - which is why it almost certainly wouldn't happen.

With our midfield in the state it is I'm sure they will opt for one of them instead and allow the forward to fall through to pick three (keep an eye out for dodgy behaviour by St Kilda and Footscray late in the year, I want a Tankquiry if there's any question about their tactics) unless they can somehow scab a good, experienced midfielder via free agency or have somebody worthwhile committed to us via the pre-season draft. Fair enough, there's no point having a million forwards if there's nobody to kick it to them.

Meet The Pres
How strange have things become when the prospect of Jeff Kennett becoming our President is actually seriously being discussed. Sadly for the media, as much as they're cheerleading the bizarre switch just to get a hall of fame quote machine a job (Channel 9 - "McLardy's resignation clears the way for Jeff Kennett to become MFC President) I can't see it happening.

In the end that's probably a good thing. I'm not married to the idea that your President absolutely must be a passionate supporter of the club (though I'll put out an open invitation for Jeff to come sit with me next Saturday night so we can talk footy and yell abuse at all and sundry), as long as they've got a strong board of MFC people keeping them in line and all the necessary constitutional protections are there to stop them from doing anything insane without a vote of the members.

We could do with a strong leader now, and god knows Jeff's intervention hasn't exactly flushed out a number of interested contenders yet, but we also need unity and that's one of the biggest issues about the idea. The fact that he's called for us to be merged, relocated, shot at dawn etc.. in the past will be too much for some. Personally I look it as him wanting to make sure we don't end up in that situation again, rather than coming in with the grand plan of railroading us into a merger with Footscray or North - but he's not going to win without a vote and if he wins a vote it won't be decisive. Which will presumably lead to those who don't like the result sniping from the sidelines and doing more harm than good until he throws his hands up in the air and walks off. I'm not sure I'd vote for him (as long as a decent alternative put their hand up) but if he got in then he's got a blank slate.

Now that we're basically run by the AFL if they want him he'll probably get the job, but would they? Not by the sound of Peter Jackson's press conference where he basically laughed the idea out of the room. I think the league would prefer somebody who is a good leader but also not as likely to make trouble, an MFC version of "jolly entertainment industry man" like David Koch. Not that we'll ever be able to make trouble in any way again after they've handed over a shedload of cash, we're their property then. May as well cut out the middleman and name Andrew Demetriou himself as the president.

I'm sticking with my conspiracy theory that this whole thing is Jeff acting as the stalking horse for his as yet unnamed mates who are 'calling on him to run'. Not sure how close he is to Alan Stockdale (and Jeff's got a record of not being all that fond of his fellow Libs) but that's one option. Either way whether you like him or not if he's absolutely serious about this and not just trying to keep his name in the press Aker style it would be good if he could get around to eventually introducing some of these other people that he wants the members to go out of their way to vote in.

Jeff is quite right in that there is no constitutional measure that can be used for fans to call an EGM (I think I said on here before that the signatures of 95% of the members are required - this is not correct, that's only to put a resolution to the members with less than 21 days' notice), so unless the board are keen on committing hari kiri mid-season and putting themselves up for a vote now then very little is going to happen before the next scheduled AGM. The problem is that it's usually held in February and a lot of big decisions need to be made before then - at the moment I'm happy with Peter Jackson effectively running the show but eventually everyone is going to have to be on the same page so we don't go into 2014 as an off-field shambles as well as on-field.

Note that the last time we had contested board elections, in 2011, they were held in mid-December. This has to be done again, the decision on the coach and a lot of the off-field stuff will already have been taken by then but we can't wait until the eve of the season to have our bloody backroom brawls - at least doing it in November or December allows whoever wins to have a few months to establish themselves before the actual business of playing footy comes around. Also note that the aforementioned Mr. Stockdale was a big part of that election too, including the allegation that he wanted Ron Walker to be President. The same Ron Walker is fairly chummy with one J. Kennett. The plot thickens, though Ron is now 73 so I think we can rule him out (as opposed to Jeff who is a spritely 65, even if he does look about 97 at times).

The establishment candidate seems to be Geoff Freeman, but apparently he's not got health concerns but he's also nipping off to France on holidays for a few weeks. As this article so rightly points out it's hardly the fist pumping, political rally style candidacy that we're all dreaming of. No wonder people are seriously considering Jeff - at least he used to do feelgood good ads with big band versions of Up There Cazaly playing in the background. We can't hold it against him that he shut down a few schools and all that 20 years ago, for one it's got nothing to with running a footy club in 2013 and if we're supposed to be the club run by Tory bastards for Tory bastards we might as well embrace it for the first time since the Billy Snedden era. If his slate of candidates is better than the other side's anyway.

Pipe dreams about Jeff rescuing us from the Cain/Kirner style Schwab/Bailey/Neeld era aside that post is right that the CEO is far more important than the president, who is effectively a figurehead who gets to speak at a lot of a lunches. If we've got the right guy there until the end of next year we probably don't need to take a death or glory last stab at relevance by putting somebody bizarre and previously unthinkable in charge. The whole thing would be a tremendous ego trip for Jeff, but there's still part of me that says it would be a fun ride.

In summary show me the options and I'll make a decision. I don't rule out anything at the moment, and the credentials of the people who are going to be on the board are as important as the President himself, so I'll cross this bridge when two (or more) lists of candidates are in front of me.

Next Week
Without a Casey game to base my changes off, and despite the last few weeks being so abysmal, I'd like some continuity in the side for at least one more week. Haven't we had enough sackings recently?

The following assumes a) Dawes is fit, b) Jack Viney isn't and c) Tom Couch isn't upgraded from the rookie list before Thursday. If a) is not correct then send Pedersen forward (for want of anybody else) and give Tapscott a go down back. If Viney's fit then Rodan can go - he wasn't all that bad but it's time for the future. Couch deserves a go, but there's probably only room for one of he and Magner in the side so he's not getting upgraded unless he's going to play.

IN: Magner, Macdonald
OUT: McKenzie, Tapscott (omit)
LUCKY: Dunn, Fitzpatrick, Rodan

Next Year
The process of trying to find a new senior coach apparently starts "now", which is hardly compatible with the assumption that we 'must' have somebody experienced in charge but it wouldn't be the first time we've lined up another side's assistant while their side is still going. It's what saved Dean Bailey from being involved in Port's shambolic 2007 Grand Final, and Mark Neeld from Collingwood's losing 2011 effort. The moral of the story is that if Paul Roos is still refusing to take our calls don't seek out anybody who works for a club that might eventually lose the Grand Final.

That's why it's Choco time. Also because he fits the bill as somebody who is a bit of a hard bastard (which we still want even after the 2012/13 disaster), but has been around the block plenty of times, can handle the media and is also enough of a left-field thinker that he understands the absurdity of the situation he's walking into. Let's hope he doesn't have too good a time with the Tigers for the rest of the year and get comfortable with the life of a sweating, boundary line lunatic. Also here's hoping he's looking forward to getting back into suits, I want a coach in a suit. Even Caro's keen, and as she practically runs the club at the moment that's a good sign.

If not the great man then there's a lot of other 'experienced' coaches out there. Please add any I've missed, but the following are all current AFL assistants who have had senior coaching experience Mark Harvey (Brisbane), Rodney Eade (Collingwood), Mark Thompson (Essendon), Brett Ratten (Hawthorn) and Dean Laidley (St Kilda) - plus assistants who have stepped in for caretaker stints of varying lengths like Darren Crocker, Gary Hocking, Alan Richardson and Paul Williams. 

There's also some guy called Bailey who (sort of) works at Adelaide but I'm not sure he's an option. John Worsfold looks likely to be on the way out of West Coast in the near future, but he looks like he needs a break so I'd rather not tempt him with a truckload of cash if his heart's not in it. His knowledge of chemistry procedure might be helpful at the Dankquiry, but to be moderately controversial the Eagles haven't done all that much in the last few years with a pretty talented list, so what's he bringing to a team bereft of hope or good fortune?

Then there's Gary Ayres, who a caller on SEN thought would be great for us because he once yelled at a fellow Hawthorn player for gobbing on the ground of the changeroom. Also something about winning a premiership with Shane Valenti and whoever Billy Burstin is. Damien Drum is available if you're keen, can convince him to leave a tremendously cushy job in the Upper House and were dropped on your head as a child.

If not Roos or Choco I'm not all that concerned. Personally my third choice would be Laidley, but that's because I've always admired his lunatic side rather than any hope that he could turn us around. Mark Harvey's owl eyes would at least provide some amusement value up until the point where he took a restraining order out on me.

Whoever it is they need to be backed in for a full three years come what may. There has rarely been a bigger hole for any coach to pull a club out of, and this guy won't be afforded the relative luxuries that Neeld had when he took over full of high ideals and bold dreams. He hasn't had all that much time, but that doesn't matter because we've gone so far backwards - this new guy and whatever team he ends up with is going to start from scratch.

Then there's the players. I suspect that we can't afford the same sort of widespread massacre as last year, but there will certainly be a lot of changes. However the way our contracts have been set up, with a lot of very middle of the road players being on the books for 2014 whether we like it or not, there's not a huge scope for butchery by the new coach.

As always, until somebody comes up with a better source, all contract details are from this thread hosted by our founder and generous major sponsor BigFooty.
Blease, Clark, Dawes, Evans, Frawley, Garland, Howe, M. Jones, N. Jones, Kent, McDonald, Terlich, Toumpas, Trengove, Viney

Gawn, Sylvia, Watts

Bail, Byrnes, Dunn, Jamar, McKenzie, Pedersen, Spencer, Strauss, Tapscott

Clisby, Davey, Magner, Stark

Couch, Fitzpatrick, Jetta, Macdonald, Nicholson, Rodan, Tynan

Davis, Gillies, Sellar, Taggert

At the moment I'd say the ones set to go from the senior list are the last four, plus Jetta, Rodan and a dashing Colin Sylvia legging to any team likely to challenge for the flag in the next two seasons. Pending any other retirements or Watts doing a shit bloke move and going elsewhere that's seven spots to fill, which seems about right. While it might mean some borderline cases like Fitzpatrick, Macdonald and Tynan survive there's no point knifing them if we haven't got trades/free agents to effectively replace them with. 

As it stands if we're lucky to finish second last (instead of bottom) before the draft order is molested by free agent compensation we'd get picks 2, 20, 38, 56, 74 and 92 plus the Pre-Season and Rookie Drafts. Let's assume 74 and 92 aren't used, but the PSD pick is - that's five 'senior' players coming in plus rookie elevations (Magner?) and any free agents we can lure into our house of horrors. If that means somebody like Neville Jetta survives another year for depth so be it.

It's all well and good putting the white screen up around Joel Mac because you don't enjoy his backline work and pointing at the security camera antics, but if you're just going to replace him with pick 92 or a rookie then what's the point? May as well get a few kids in this year, wait a season and get a few more kids in before totally shutting the door. I'm all for playing draft picks over the next couple of years but we can't totally throw it over to the kids GWS style without seeing half our fanbase walk away with the promise that they'll be back in a couple of years when we're being serious again - which we may never get the chance to do again if we keep going in this direction.

Has it been worth it?
Ask me in 18 months.

Will the next 11 games be worth it?
Yes, every day that the club is above ground is a good day.

Final thoughts
Time to remove your head from the oven and get there on Saturday night. Even if you have to, god forbid, pay for a ticket to get into an away game. We might not get to enjoy unity for long, let's at least get through the next fortnight before murdering each other.