Monday, 31 March 2014

Mo Slurry, Mo Problems

Who'd be associated with the Melbourne Football Club? The player who shagged a witch as part of the 1964 premiership celebrations has got a lot to answer for. Imagine a world where almost every player over 6'5" is missing for some reason, Maximum Gawn is seconds away from a comeback then does his hammy, and on the merciful verge of winter we end up having to play West Coast in what is effectively Perth weather.

Not that Maximum on his own or a surprise Sunday hurricane tearing the MCG apart could have saved us, but either of them might have made the afternoon at least slightly more tolerable. The sad thing is that at times while West Coast darted from end to end, capitalising on the most farcical of turnovers, I sat there thinking that despite all that we still looked so much better than last year - which says more about how violently offensive 2013 was rather than any great improvement so far in 2014.

Fleeting moments of reasonable, league standard football and two mighty efforts by Nathan Jones and Daniel Cross aside this was sadly the Melbourne FC that you have come to know and loathe - the one that is legitimately no fun to watch. Slow moving, low scoring and wandering the vast expanses of the MCG aimlessly hoping for the opposition to suffer 22 serious injuries so we could win by forfeit.

I backed myself into a corner by trying to be optimistic last week, and if anything's going to set me off it should be a 93 point loss where we struggle to get four goals, but by this point I'm so deadened to assault and battery that it seems like the opposition are quite literally flogging a dead horse. There's no surprises left, and had we not conceded the two late goals and managed to get out with 'only' an 80 point loss I might have even been 'happy' (relatively speaking) about the last three quarters.

The natural reaction to yesterday should be to take up thy flaming pitchfork and storm AAMI Park, but I'm struggling to maintain the rage. Luckily there are thousands of others who can take my place on the barricades, call for sackings and big note themselves by ringing SEN to announce that they're resigning their membership.

Which is not to say that I enjoyed my Sunday at the home of football in the slightest. For the vast majority of the game we played horrible football, what crowd were there nearly rioted at some of the backwards dink and the prospect of not winning a single match for the season suddenly looms large on the horizon but I'm psychologically broken to the point where just yelling obscenities at the roof of the Ponsford Stand during the game is enough to satisfy me.

Everyone, including many of our players it seems, knew we were going to lose and it was just a case of whether it would be an honourable six goals, a dishonourable 10 goals or yet another criminal ton in our depressing recent history. We might have narrowly avoided triple figures, but any hope of an honourable death went out the window in the first few minutes. They battered us from the first bounce but couldn't take advantage on the scoreboard, which in the real world would have been a great time to either nick one ourselves or do something to slow them down and at least restrict them to a handful of goals in the first quarter if we weren't going to kick one ourselves. Instead we gifted them their first with a horror turnover handball from Nathan Jones (spoiler: he bounced back), they got the second one very quickly after and by quarter time we were 40 points down. 

Why does this happen so often to us? Even in their first few seasons Gold Coast and GWS would often play league standard first quarters and scare the opposition before class won out over enthusiasm and they got flogged. Whereas across several versions of this 'young' but not completely inexperienced list we've been at least four goals down nine times in the last 46 games. Not that four goals is a fatal gap, but it is when you've been playing without a proper forward line for the best part of a year.

We have occasionally put the wind up a superior opponent (i.e any other team). Witness, for instance, last year's game against West Coast - the infamous standing ovation match - where after two massacres to open the season we kept the margin at half time to 10 points courtesy of sheer effort before they wised up and crushed us in the third quarter en route to a 95 point win.

It's easy to blame a lack of competent tall forwards (thought it would help), but you have to get the ball down there first and most of the time we couldn't link up long enough to give the 'forwards' a chance without them having several Eagles defenders in the way. Every once in a while somebody would actually run for a team-mate with the ball, said team-mate would spot them and it looked magnificent. Didn't happen very often though. They were more likely to all stand still then watch as the player with the ball tried to thread the eye of a needle with disappointing results.

At the other end West Coast were demonstrating exactly what you can do with a bunch of tall forwards and a team capable of getting it to them (not to mention an opposition almost going out of their way to turn the ball over every 25 seconds). You could almost hear 15,000 people yell the name Lucas Cook at once when Darling had the first shot at goal for the game. Do you think that in the rare moments when the ball wasn't down there that Darling, Naitanui and Callum Sinclair spent their time expressing relief to each other that we opted out of drafting all three of them in recent years? At quarter time they probably all exchanged high fives with Jamie Bennell, enjoying his greatest ever moment on the MCG courtesy of us giving him the sack.

Strangely enough the only one of their talls who didn't get amongst the goals early was Dean Cox, who started the game matched up by Lynden Dunn who he is about two foot taller than. It looked ridiculous, but was obviously cosmic penance for all the 18-year-olds Lynden's abused (so to speak) over the years. Dunn played another good game, which is often an unpopular opinion to express, but it's not hard to look good in a side like this.

Speaking of talls, it was a bleak day for those of us who have stood firm in the Watts camp during the great "should we have drafted NicNat" debate. I'm fully aware that if we'd picked him that he would have already fled back to Perth anyway, and maintain that he's had the armchair ride of the century by coming in under the wing of a monster like Cox but it's hard to deny that he at least makes things happen. Watts, on the other hand, discovered that it's far harder to take the piss against a proper midfield. He tried, but contrast NicNat tapping the ball down cleverly in the square to create a goalscoring opportunity against Watts dropping the easiest chest mark of all time and it's nervous adjustment of collars all round.
Not that there was a great deal of buzz around the crowd to start with, but by the end of the quarter with the Eagles defenders queuing up to join in the goalkicking party, the place was as flat as a tack. At least there was something to be learnt from their dominance - the tally of three goals from key forwards or ruckmen and three from 'others' shows that you don't have to rely entirely on talls to kick goals. If you feed other players and give them the chance to run at goal you can manufacture scores. Instead we were left trying to move the ball bit by bit like a chess piece to find forwards who didn't exist or were drastically outmatched.

As one shambolic exchange in the second quarter showed, chipping it around to find a target instead of just hoofing it to a contest is fine but it can end in tears. Pedo might not be Kurt Tippett, but he was miles free and on a lead which was ignored. Instead we do five dinky little kicks in a row to barely any ground, turn it over and cop a goal at the other end. The lightning speed at which the ball went down the other end implied that the majority of our players were forward of the ball when we turned it over, so there would have been plenty of players there to contest it.

The moment that said it all about our performance in the first half was when (leading goalkicker) Shannon Byrnes had a one-on-one in front of goal, lost the ball in the sun and ran about five metres away from it. Had the Eagles defender not taken the conservative approach and punched the ball out of bounds Byrnes would have booked his spot on bloopers programs for years to come. Fun fact - until the last quarter Byrnes was right in the running to become the first MFC player to kick all our goals in a goal in a game since 1914 - which would have been quite the feather in his cap, and a moment to go alongside a premiership in his career scrapbook.

Brief moments of lucidity aside we were so badly beaten up in the first half that I felt like I needed to watch 186 again to understand how a team could be beaten any worse. We probably shouldn't have had our goal either, I'm sure Pedo (if I use his name enough times Pete Townsend will miraculously appear) threw it as he was tackled. The sympathy vote obviously came out in our favour when they let Byrnes' goal stand.

At least at the start of the third quarter Roos tried something different, swapping Pedo and Dunn. Last year we'd have just gone merrily to our grave, doing the same thing for four quarters. By the end of the game both of them were in the backline where they're probably both best suited, but it was at least an attempt to change things around. With the hole we'd gotten ourselves into a SWAT team couldn't have bailed us out, but I appreciated the effort. The only thing that I've have done differently would be to make the sub earlier. It was hardly going to get any worse and we weren't actually doing all that badly in getting the ball forward for it to be swept down the other end within 10 seconds.

While we were 'better' in the third quarter - comparing one four goal to one quarter with another - there were still seat kicking moments of farce and shambles during the second half. What about Trengove having a shot from 50 where he was never going to make the distance in a million years and not one MFC player on the line for the ball drop? To nobody's surprise it was easily mopped up by the West Coast defenders, and we probably conceded a goal 30 seconds later if the rest of the game was anything to go by.

To be fair Howe and Pedersen were both off the ground at that point, and Fitzpatrick had been subbed off after being totally blanked by Glass but obviously if you have somebody down there you're a chance of at least bringing the ball to ground. Dunn tried to get there late, but even if he'd managed to halve the contest there wouldn't have been anybody at the fall of the ball. Stuff like this kills me.

They were down a man for the last three quarters, so no wonder that come the last quarter they let us kick a couple of goals to at least keep the margin under the ton for the first time in Round 2 since we 'only' lost to Hawthorn by 45 in 2011. Still, even though it was marginally better than when we played the Eagles here in Round 3 last year it was still shite and should finally convince people that even key forwards can't save us from the bottom three this year - if not the bottom one.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Dean Terlich
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Lynden Dunn

Apologies to Toumpas, who is playing the Tapscott 2013 role of being a half-forward flanker despite not being a half-forward flanker and is doing a half decent job of it given the circumstances.

10 - Nathan Jones 
4 - Daniel Cross, Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Dom Tyson, Jack Watts
3 - Dean Terlich
1 - Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Crowd Watch
Not sure if it's a permanent new MCG feature, but it didn't seem like the best day to run a 'guess the crowd via Twitter' competition. Somehow the end number didn't turn out too badly, but with the Ponsford Stand sparsely populated I only had to go as far as row AA instead of the usual LL to get well away from humans.

The 'send a selfie to the scoreboard' gimmick was so dramatically undersubscribed that at one point they put a couple of Eagles fans up. Either nobody was interested in outing themselves as a Melbourne fan, the person monitoring the hashtag walked out after being abused 250 times a minute or nobody could connect to the MCG's shithouse 3G connection long enough to upload a photo.

In other scoreboard news, and I really wish that my phone battery hadn't rapidly been dying so I could have done something more useful than take notice of this rubbish, some poor woman was chosen to play in a competition where she had to pick the correct logo. She did, won nothing and got told "we'll be giving out cash prizes in future weeks, so make sure you come back." I can't believe we've become a test market for horrible promotions.

In the end I'm surprised they managed to get 22,000 people - or at least managed to massage the figures vigorously - but is it any surprise that there have been disappointing crowds in several games this year? It's no surprise that people have eventually wised up to the fact that they can watch live for free on television instead of trudging to the ground to pay a fortune for rancid food and be surrounded by freaks. It's not just us, other games are suffering as well, but of course other than the rusted-on freaks like yours truly thousands of people aren't going to bother leaving the house to watch this sort of garbage when even people too cheap to buy Foxtel can see it live.

In other news, the kids were let back on at half time this week instead of middle aged fat men playing AFL 9's, but it soon became clear that in all the games other the main one which ran through the middle of the ground the behind posts had been removed and you could only kick a goal (or nothing). What a load of bollocks. Aren't we allowed to disappoint kids by awarding them minor scores anymore? Surely that's better than getting nothing at all? I also lifted my head from my hands long enough to see one of those shit bloke Auskick umpires who marks the ball when it flies at him just because he wants to get a touch. Should be banned for life.

Banner Watch
2-0 to the Demons here. The Eagles' banner had a nice font, well-spaced letters and nothing outrageous and bizarre but lost points for the curtains which were opened as the players ran out so they could walk through. What's the point? I'd argue that there's no point at all and that we should abolish the idea of the banner, but if you're going to install measures to let you re-use the things at least make the players exert some effort to get through - even a raised arm that pushes the gimmicked section out of the way. This was just lazy.

Goal of the Year
a) The reigning champion will be listed every week.

b) This award needs a player to be named after. Suggestions?
c) No point having a mark version because Howe will eventually win it
d) I totally forgot to introduce this feature last week. Also forgot to mention the woman who was being presented as St Kilda's biggest fan but admitted she only showed up to the match because she'd won the award.

Anyway, nobody should be surprised that the four goals we toiled for this week failed to qualify. The clubhouse leader is Bernard Vince's long bomb against the Saints. If he can hold on until the end of Round 23 he'll win his freedom from the Melbourne Football Club.

Next Week
I'm going to hate losing to these crunts. Not just because of $cully, but because it will leave us two games adrift at the bottom with the possibility that we won't even win two games for the year. Next thing we're playing Kruezer Kup II against Carlton in Round 4 and could be a mile adrift at the bottom. Not that I expected us to be much better, but even if West Coast are significantly better than I rated them (and until they beat somebody good I'm not admitting it) we are burning through yet another favourable draw. Even Sydney, projected as the first 'good' team that we'd play have started poorly. Never fear, we'll get them back in form.

In his post-match comments Roos said the usual "if players don't do the basics they won't play" so you'd think omissions are a certainty but Neeld said that too and it lasted about as long as it took to sit down and realise he wasn't going to be able to field a side if he followed through. Would anyone have noticed?

I can't see them throwing Garland straight in, and assuming that Gawn's never going to play again I can't for the life of me find any meaningful changes amongst the troublesome talls. If Jamar is alright to rush straight back in I'll have him instead of Pedo, but don't expect miracles. I'd be happy if we'd play JFK right from the start and tell Jamar that even if he doesn't mark if that his job is flatten a few GWS players in the hope that we might get some crumb for the first time all year.

IN: Viney, McKenzie
OUT: Michie, Bail
LUCKY: Fitzpatrick, Pedersen

Next Season
I confess that during the week I looked at the Big Footy Drafts and Trading board to get an idea of who we might be picking in seven months. Not that it meant much to me, other than the fact that ironically considering our current predicament it seemed like key position forwards are the flavour of the month. Despite his tremendously generic name I'd have the first guy in this list with the assumption that his bad back would snap in two as he stepped up to the stage on draft night.

Could get more too. If we don't get a priority pick at the end of this - or at least get the option to sell it back to the league for a million - then really, what is the point? I demand the right to slaughter two promising careers a year instead of one. Then there's the compensation for Frawley - which will no doubt turn out to be shite due to us botching his contract and leaving him outside the top 10 highest paid players at the club this year.

What a sad state of affairs to even be considering this stuff before Round 2.

Get Well Reverend

Was it worth it?
Probably not, but at least I only came from Hawthorn to see it. I can't see myself ever giving up, but following this club is doing very little to enhance my lifestyle. The sick part of my brain still enjoys watching us play no matter what, but it would be great to inject some fun back into the weekend.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that you should be front row central every week but at least if you're going to jump off then do it with some dignity. There's no need to call talkback radio, take an ad out in the paper or declare that you're finished to a Twitter account which isn't read by anybody other than a social media team who have stuff all influence over gameplan, team selection or drafting. 

Don't become a Chris from Camberwell style professional miserablist, looking for any opportunity to stick boots into the club publicly. We don't need that, there's enough outsiders trying to send us to an early grave without our own people doing it. We all want to throw our hands up in the air and scream, but at least retain your dignity as you go down the escape slide instead of trying to by the most outraged person.

Final thoughts
The competitive, mid-table, mediocre Melbourne that we all crave is like that bloody plane. It's out there somewhere, but despite several false sightings and conspiracy theories nobody's managed to locate it. At least we're still responsible for Paul Roos' largest coaching loss.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Postcards from Three Mile Island

If you've ever lamented that you weren't old enough to enjoy the 'glory days' of the VFA Second Division then fear not, because I'm sure what we witnessed last night would have compared favourably to any 1980's Camberwell vs Geelong West game played in front of 350 people.

The noble sport of Australian rules football was in no way the winner last night, but other than the unlikely event of a draw every home and away match has to end with somebody getting four points no matter how ugly the game gets. Sadly last night, in a contest that resembled the last two Dodos in existence being pitted against each other in a steel cage match, for the third season in a row we weren't able to take advantage of what appeared to be a favourable draw and get the season off

More power to St Kilda, they had a putrid off-season full of dramas (for once none of them sexual) and pushed it all aside to get the job done. Neutrals would have hated it, I hated watching it, but they did what they had to do to win a slopfest and good luck to them for it. Oh for a player like Nick Riewoldt in our side, one who visibly drags his teammates up a level when he's on. Ironically we've held him quite well for the last few years, only to let him run riot just when we had our best chance of beating the Saints but that's what champions do. One day we'll develop some and recapture that feeling.

I've had enough of getting my hopes of a Round 1 victory up for three months based on the opposition looking ripe for the picking on paper. Next year if we don't get drawn against at least a mid-table side I'm going to stop getting suckered in and just expect right of the bat that we're going to lose no matter how many misfortunes the opposition suffer in the lead up to the game. Not that we didn't have our own share of disasters, but even without a forward line I still thought they'd come off worse than us. Midfielders can be forwards but forwards can't be midfielders etc.. But it doesn't help if you don't take your chances or continually try to score through a completely over-matched set of 'forwards'. Even when midfielders were buying the proverbial lottery ticket and roosting shots at goal we didn't even have the talls to get back on the line and make a contest of it if the ball fell short. And the less said about our crumb the better.

This year I even took extra precautions in trying to lift any curse which I may have inadvertently brought upon the Melbourne Football Club by my own actions. Regular readers may remember that on the way to Round 1, 2007 - the night our spectacular fall from grace began - I accidentally insulted a hairdresser by innocently implying that hairdressing school wasn't on the same level as a 'real school'. It didn't go down well, leading to much silence in the car ride to the MCG and 90 minutes later the MFC were halfway down the garbage chute of history.

Now, I'm not the sort of person to believe in curses, but as St Kilda players started dropped like flies a couple of weeks ago and it became fairly clear that we were going to start red hot favourites (how cute) I thought I'd better do something to try and contribute. So I fired up (the site where you lend money to business people in poor countries) and looked for a hairdresser to sponsor. There were several options, but eventually I went for Fanny from Colombia for no other reason than the fact her name was Fanny. The repayment schedule on my loan has her paying me back the pittance I tipped in at some point during April 2016, and I assumed that as we were going to win (no thanks to my curse busting) that she'll be able to keep the money because we'll be busy unfurling the premiership flag in that month.

Well, it didn't work. So basically I spent $25 for the good of humanity, which is probably worthwhile in the grand scheme of things but does stuff all for my actual interest in life which is seeing the Melbourne Football Club win more games than they lose - at least at the end of Round 1. In the spirit of all things that I've chosen to support during my life her fundraising efforts to buy a new curling iron aren't going so well, so there's still time for you to chip in to Team Fanny and just like the Dees we can all lose our money together.

Anyway, for the sake of new readers or people who may have accidentally stumbled upon this post the TL:DR on the rest of it is that despite many people getting ridiculously overheated due to Roos and deciding that we were going to have an immediate resurgence, and despite the opposition suffering a team selection crisis which just about topped us we still managed to lose. The side-to-side possession happy dink didn't work out too badly, and the midfield were operating on a new planet compared to last year but an almost total lack of competent forward play and St Kilda's ability to take chances when presented to them (apart from the guy who hit the post from 5m out) were the difference in deciding the winner of the Toxic Waste Challenge Cup.

St Kilda's eventual success was especially impressive considering that for the first half of the opening quarter we actually looked like kicking the living bejesus out of them. As far as Etihad Stadium performances go we've seen it before. Remember Fremantle 2012 when we matched them for the whole first quarter before quality won out. Had we started like the Saints did we'd have caved in at the 10 minute mark and been down five goals at quarter time, but despite having a skeleton staff midfield they gradually reigned us in, stopped gifting us goals with horrible turnovers and decided to put some pressure on. Result - after 15 minutes they were scoreless but by the end of the first quarter should have been in front.

Given that I was expecting very little in the way of quality football this season - due to both our list and the side-to-side Paul Roos brand dink - I can't join in the chorus of violent disapproval just because we lost to one of the other teams in the flotsam/jetsam division. What annoys me more than losing to St Kilda is that after 15 minutes we had our knee on their throat but couldn't kill them off.

Not that it ever got much better quality wise, but St Kilda were all over the bloody shop in the first few minutes. Witness the wild, aimless, Demonesque clearance that gifted Toumpas the first goal of the game. Marvel at the way Terlich strolled through them to kick the second. Then nothing. I'm not blaming him by any stretch of the imagination, but you have to wonder what would have happened if Vince hadn't hit the post twice with what would have been the third goal to no score. At least Bernard made the distance when he took shots from 50m out, which is more than be said for some of his compatriots.

Part of my surprising calm about this result is because I understand the ridiculous scenario of having to play a forward line including Pedersen, Bail, Byrnes, Toumpas and Fitzpatrick (surely Jeremy Howe wasn't out there), not to mention the limitations caused by losing Fitzpatrick permanently and McDonald for most of the second half. Doesn't mean we still couldn't have won if we'd taken our chances to put them away early.

Suddenly St Kilda realise that they're playing a team with no attacking power and force us to aimlessly bomb the ball in towards hopelessly outgunned, makeshift forwards who can't for the life of them take an overhead mark and the momentum shifted. Their patched up midfield was at least breaking even, if not beating us, and we were stuffed. We'd hang around until the end of the game but realistically once they got three goals in front we were never going to catch them.

With the forwards struggling to get the ball without hapless Saints defenders kicking it to them, it took visionaries like Vince and Tyson to make the decision to stop trying to make Jimmy Toumpas take Gary Ablett Senior style pack marks and just do it themselves, but by the time we put the ball in the hands of midfielders who could make the distance from outside 50 and gave them the chance to just have a ping it was too late.

I wish we'd played JKH right from the start instead of as the sub. He look a bit out of place when he did come on, but during that first quarter when we were racking up inside 50's galore but allowing St Kilda to clear them easily it would have been nice to have had a bit of crumb and/or put some defensive pressure on them. It was clear that when the heat was on they would cock it up - and sometimes when there wasn't any heat one - but how many times did they miss a kick or a let off a loose handball that we could/should have taken advantage of? At the other end they had no such issues.

Despite handing back the advantage late in the first quarter then serving up an 0.8 slopfest in the second where we missed a number of decent chances (JUST HAVE A SHOT FOR GOD'S SAKE PEDO, EVERY KICK MAY BE YOUR LAST) there were a lot of signs of a reasonable football club lurking just under the surface. The midfield was better than last year, although that's not exactly difficult, and while it's hard to tell against a side who'd lost their best players to injury, suspension and North the early results on Vince, Tyson and Watts were good. Michie and Cross not so much, but neither a complete disaster either.

I was especially impressed with Watts, and if he can play like that every week he'll send plenty of detractors to their graves. He 'only' had 27 touches - which is nothing under our new possession happy system - but they were almost always executed beautifully. He still looks like he's not all that fussed what happens around him but who cares if he's going at 96% efficiency? Let's see if he can do similar next week with West Coast wise to him, but it was still arguably his best game for us.

Then there's Nathan Jones. What more can you say except that it was another sensational performance by the three time Jakovich Medal winner. I expected that he'd be shunted out of the limelight a bit this year with all these other midfield types coming in, but maybe it's freed him up a bit more? His attack on the footy and ability to get the ball in traffic were worth showing up for alone.

Speaking of people who do a lot of work in the middle of the ground I'm prepared to stand on my own and risk social exclusion by saying that I thought the much maligned Jake Spencer was great. I'm not even basing it on his shitload of ruck taps, because as anyone who watches Melbourne knows we've not managed to get two in a row to go to one of our players since the day Jamar and Moloney tore Adelaide to shreds while Neil Craig sat back with his feet up on the desk and watched in awe BUT he just works his arse off and I begrudgingly love him for it. Clearly he wouldn't have lasted this long if he didn't cover his shortcomings with effort, but nine tackles shows how desperate he was to make a difference last night. There was also one kick where he hit a pinpoint target and I almost fell off my seat. Warning - may feature in the votes. He probably still doesn't play in front of Jamar/Gawn at the moment, but as I always say he's a worthy backup.

Down back we weren't too bad, though McDonald being crocked did stretch us a bit and allow Riewoldt to run riot. Given the chance to enjoy his favourite past-time of roughing up rubbish players and teenagers, Lynden Dunn continued his renaissance as a defender. Again, let's see it happen next week as well against a better team but I'm happy with him down there at the moment. Frawley wasn't terrible, but for somebody who made a big deal of wanting to wait and see where the team's going before he commits to a new contract (if you're reading Chip, I still love you, please sign immediately for a large sum of money) he didn't exactly play one of this best.

So if all these areas were working well, how did we lose? Well it doesn't help when you come across a guy like Riewoldt. While it was all coming unstuck up front for us, he ripped us to shreds in the second half. If we'd had Dawes he might have helped us a bit, but we'd still have been badly lacking forwards for him to kick it to. You have to wonder what would have happened if either Hogan or one of Gawn/Jamar had been down there to provide a target and somebody capable of crumbing had been at their feet when the ball hit the ground.

Aimless hoofing inside 50 can work if you've got players capable of getting the ball (which will come as no surprise to Rohan Bail who just kept kicking it at the forward 50 and hoping for the best) but bless his heart for trying Pedo would be lucky to kick 10 goals for the season if he played every game in the role he was in tonight. Even the equally maligned Shannon Byrnes has climbed above him in the Scapegoat League courtesy of his two goals. It didn't help when Fitzpatrick (who had done nothing anyway) went off and it left Pedo doing ruckwork as well.

The disappointment of the 0.8 second quarter was tempered by the fact that we didn't even have eight scoring shots in a half some times last year, so if we could get it together on that front we were still a huge chance. When Byrnes cropped up out of oblivion to kick his first at the start of the third it looked like we were going to avoid the sort of Q3 collapse which ruined so us so many times over the last few years. Alas no. The difficulty we had in getting the ball through the sticks for that goal should have been an indication of the fiasco that was about to follow, and after another period of seven or eight minutes where we couldn't land a blow up forward they stacked on four goals in five minutes. That's the return of the MFC I remember.

While the game was anything but quality at least it featured two teams belting the suitcase out of each other in the last quarter. Again we got the first goal quickly to give us some hope of a grandstand comeback before we were drawn back into brutal trench warfare. When there was one point scored in about 10 minutes I can imagine commentators everywhere were doing a Drew Morphett and sooking about how much they hated having to call the game. In reality it was probably the most interesting part of the whole match, and we were still an outside chance of running over the top if we could find a reliable source of goals. Just when it started to look like he was going to put in a Round 1 goalkicking performance reminiscent of Troy Longmuir's 0.5 in 1999 Vince finally landed a long bomb to keep the margin within reach but that was about as good as it got.

We just couldn't find enough options inside 50, and the ones we did have couldn't get the job done if you gave them a week to do it. We never even remotely looked like a threatening side up front after the first 10 minutes. Nobody was expecting this lineup to menace St Kilda's defence, but we didn't have to make it so easy for them. Without going too far outside the boundaries of credibility I feel that even James Sellar and Juice Newton would have come in handy.

Howe played one his worst games ever for us, but when was he ever given the chance to do what he does best and stand on somebody's head? The last time we were at Docklands he was taking screamers and landing on his head over the boundary line. Last night he had two marks, neither of them contested - only the 10th time in 57 games that he hasn't had one. This time he looked miserable. Was he ok? God knows food poisoning is about the only ailment that we haven't had a player go down from this season, so somebody's due to eat a suspect taco before too long.

In the end the margin was probably about right. We might have won the disposal count (means nothing this year) and the inside 50's (only marginally more topical) but we had the chance to strangle them at birth in the first quarter and didn't take it, and when we played an old-school 10 minutes of capsize football during the third quarter they took full advantage.

The most important thing is to not completely go over the top about this result and started forming an orderly queue for the suicide booth. If the Saints had died in the last 10 minutes (not even figuratively, if they had actually keeled over) and we'd run over the top to snatch a one point win the only difference it would make other than the much missed feeling of actually seeing the side win is that it would have removed the fearful prospect of going 0-22 from the table. Without the forwards playing it's impossible to work out exactly where we're at, but it was always going to be either 16th, 17th or 18th so what have we lost? It's not like we've got any dignity to give after the last couple of years.

I'm not pretending that I didn't think - nay sadly expect - that we were going to win but it's not like we've been in sparkling pre-season form. The Richmond game was pleasant, but proved absolutely nothing due to being played in a pressure-free environment. This was a lot more like Geelong in Alice Springs if that's any comfort to you, but either way it's nothing to kill yourself over. People are acting like we've gone in as premiership fancies and been beaten by Eley Park.

Some of the reactions were ludicrous. If you needed a win against a fellow member of the Cannon Fodder Club to convince you that Melbourne were worth giving your money to or going out of your way to follow this year then may I suggest that you weren't all that interested in the first place? Continual round 1 losses are great for the sort of people who desperately need an excuse to scab out on their club. Somebody even described it as the worst of the last three Round 1 debacles. What a load of cobblers. This was a disappointing loss, but last year's capitulation against Port was a club killing apocalypse of epic proportions. If it makes you feel better to hammer out some abusive tweets @melbournefc or go off like a pork chop on Facebook then go for it, but I'm not quite sure what you're expecting from 2014. If you were fooled into thinking that Roos coming in meant instant success then you got what you deserved.

The panic and despair had a touch of the Kamp Krusty "Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together." about it. We all want wins, and even I can spot that we were deficient in several areas tonight, but bloody hell there's no need to try and outdo everyone else to be the most shocked or outraged. This was a setback but it's by no means the end of the world.

2014 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones (normal service resumed)
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Lynden Dunn (Leader: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
2 - Dom Tyson
1 - Jake Spencer (Leader: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)

Apologies to Vince, Grimes, Trengove and Georgiou.

Crowd Watch
More than 30,000 was a decent showing given the standing of the two sides. Obviously Round 1 helps (the place would have been half empty for the same fixture in Round 15), and does the fact that thousands of Melbourne fans put aside their hatred for Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Football Club itself to show up in their 2005 members scarves and storm out before three quarter time muttering about how they'd been hard done by and would never come back.

The relatively tight fit in the cheap seats meant having to fraternise with several Saints fans who were getting well chippy considering they were winning a points decision over one of the most notorious shipwrecks in the game. If you can find somebody below you on the pecking order never miss the opportunity to stick your foot in their throat. Now, to find somebody for us to do that to...

Stat my bitch up
Time to bring back one of my favourite stats - Melbourne has now lost 17 straight at Docklands, 16 at Football Park (now thankfully shuttered up and left to the rats), 14 at Subiaco and one at the Adelaide Oval for 48 in total at these grounds. If it wasn't for our two wins against Port in Darwin that would surely be some sort of world record for directionally based incompetence.

Also for what it's worth 17 points represents our fifth 'best' loss since the last few weeks of 2010, which says a lot about the garbage that we've been through since then.

Banner Watch
1-0 to Melbourne on the only ladder we're half a chance of winning at. We had the jaunty little book design and a slogan on one side, while St Kilda had some primary school looking letters and a sponsor's ad stuck awkwardly in the middle of the other. I feel like we can finish top four in this prestigious competition.

In memorium
Terrible business the Dean Bailey stuff. It's incomprehensible to think that you could find out something was wrong with you in December and be gone mid-March, but it's downright rude that it happened to the guy just when he was about to get his career back on track after serving penalties as the Tankquiry's scapegoat. No matter what you thought of his time at Melbourne who wasn't secretly going for Adelaide in that 2012 Preliminary Final just for his sake?

This isn't the time to rewrite history and pretend I thought he should never have been sacked. After all the disadvantage I have is that in the right column of this page is a link to every post written since 2005, and what was said then will remain on the public record forever. It's been popular to suggest that the predicament the club finds itself in now might not have happened if he'd stayed, but to be fair it might not have happened if we'd appointed a different coach to succeed him either. We'll never know. It almost seems rude to discuss football now that he's passed away. By all accounts he was a great guy, and he did give me the thumbs up when I yelled "Go Dees" as he walked past me outside the MCG one day so who am I to argue?

However, at the risk of doing what everyone likes to do in a tragedy and making it about myself I feel like his passing almost certainly means we'll never hear the true, inside story of 186. Last year I privately floated the idea of writing a book about that game, the lead-up and its aftermath. I even downloaded a dodgy torrent of the game to watch as part of my research but couldn't bring myself to watch it. Jim Stynes' side of the story is partially (very partially) told in his book, and yes there are about 100 different people on my list to speak to that are still alive, but you have to feel that as long as it didn't burn any bridges in his current job that Bails would have diplomatically tossed a few hand grenades into the mix and given a decent account of what happened that week.

I wish now, as you do, that I'd at least thrown it out there at the time. Sent an email or a letter to Adelaide saying "how about it?" if only to get a rejection and know he wasn't interested. Then he got sick and I thought it was hardly the time to be pestering somebody to tell their story, now it's too late. Which is not just sad because of some writing project that would no doubt have been abandoned halfway through anyway, but you expect that when your prospective interviewee is 47 years old that you've got a good 25 years to get around to it. May he rest in peace.

Accident and Emergency
On the far less severe but still depressing end of the football tragedies scale came the news (sadly broken by iPad clutching ballbag Bad News Barrett, who probably found it while sifting through a rubbish bin or hiding in hedge) that Mitch Clark was on indefinite leave from the club due to personal issues.

Truth be told I never expected him to play for us again anyway, so it would have been a pleasant surprise to hear anything positive about him. Not that I expected the reason for his departure to be the worrying vague 'personal issues'. My money was on another two month 'setback' followed by retirement at the end of the season due to a crocked foot, but they're claiming that he's physically getting better so make of that what you will.

I'll leave it to others to speculate as to what 'personal issues' means and will simply say get well Mitch (because no doubt he's recovering by reading some random idiot's blog), but if it all ends prematurely we'll always have Essendon 2013, the start of the GWS game where he looked like kicking 10 and a case study in player movements for the ignorant and socially awkward to throw at us when we whinge about $cully winning the flag with the Giants later this year.

Next week
Who would have seen our defender stocks being cut down so quickly? If the King of Sizzle can't play due to his numerous injuries we're basically left with Pedo going back, Tapscott playing drastically undersized against key forwards or just letting it go and we don't get completely pummelled by the Eagles. Here's to Nic Nat going forward and kicking 13 on Terlich just so we can hear about why we should have picked him for the 3000th time.

I haven't got much time for the Eagles this year (now watch them win the flag) but I've got no doubt they will brutalise us anyway. Watch for Jamie Bennell racking up 42 touches. That's our lot at the moment, get used to it. Or the lessons learnt from last night might contribute to a far better performance - stranger things have happened. Either way, try to restrain yourself from giving a standing ovation if we're only 10 points down at half time this year.

IN: Gawn, Viney
OUT: McDonald, Fitzpatrick (inj)
LUCKY: Bail, Pedersen, Byrnes, Kennedy-Harris

Sponsors corner
I know the airline industry is probably laying a bit low at the moment due to the Malaysian fiasco, but it's good to see the jaunty China Southern Airlines logo plastered behind Roosy in the press conference. Let nobody say they don't understand the market they're paying million of dollars to promote themselves in:
Oh no.

Administration corner
Obviously if you're reading this you've discovered that is still necked and redirecting people to a forum. I'm trying to get our glorious founders from BigFooty to fix it, but this is the downside of not owning the domain myself.

Elsewhere one domain that is working is - and if you haven't visited recently there has been a metric shitload of new and updated information added over the off-season, including plenty from before 1897. Open it up, choose a random page and lose yourself for a while. If you find a page that is really badly written let me know, because I'm trying to update all the stuff I wrote in a hurry five years ago to modern standards.

Praise be to the good people at NLA's Trove for providing scans of hundreds of newspapers. Thanks also to the MFC for allowing me a shot at trawling through their archives for photos and other information.
Was it worth it?
As much as I love being back on the footy rollercoaster at this time of the year it's very rare for Round 1 to be worth it for a Melbourne fan in any year since 2005. In 2006 we lost to the eventual wooden spooner (when, any kids who are reading, we were actually good), in 2007 the HMAS Premiership Fancy sprung a leak and sank to the bottom of the ocean, in 2008 we lost by 104 points, in 2009 we weren't actually all that bad by still lost by six goals, in 2010 we were pox again and the less said about the next two years the better.

Even though I did foolishly think/expect us to win, the prospect of a fiasco loomed so large that I'm feeling a remarkable lack of rage. It feels like I should force myself to be more upset than I actually am. Instead of angst towards football I took out my disbelief and self-hatred in the only way I knew how by necking a large pepperoni pizza at midnight.

Final thoughts
Even if we did continue our losing streaks in Round 1, against St Kilda and at Etihad Stadium at least we snapped the one that really matters - allowing Beau Wilkes/Maister to humiliate us.

Footy, it's good (?) to have you back.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

So. Your car is kaput. And your girlfriend is gone. And thine house they have sold.

It's back in your box for the dreamers, fantasists and criminally insane amongst the Melbourne community. The verdict is in and when compared to the best sides in the competition we're still terrible.

In the grand scheme of things that's no big deal. If you didn't already know that Hawthorn are operating in another universe to us then you should probably be on medication if you're not already, but if nothing else at least getting the living bejesus kicked out of us by the Hawks should hush up the deluded individuals who kept claiming that we were a monty to slip into the eight. Might still happen, and if it does I'll personally write a letter of apology to each and every one of them on Demonblog brand perfumed note paper.

For yes, when tested against the nearly fully intact defending premiers we failed miserably. What you take out of it is up to you, but to me it looked a lot like our last game against Hawthorn which caused Neeld to finally get the sack after teetering on the brink for a few weeks. The key differences were a) this time didn't mean anything and b) we couldn't even capitalise on them giving up in the last few minutes to bring the margin back under the ton with a few cheap ones.

Point A is the most important, it really didn't mean anything - and maybe in a game like this coaches don't make the same moves they'd make at 20, 30, 60 or 90 points down because they're preparing for the future rather than trying to save face on the day - and that's what's keeping me from getting a bit silly and starting to think that we're doomed again. Usually people who believe that everything that happens in the pre-season is accurate guide to exactly what's going to happen in the season proper are the same people who act like pro wrestling is real, but it doesn't mean that when you see an abortion like today unfold slowly in front of your eyes that you don't end up shifting nervously, adjusting your top collar and wiping sweat from the brow.

Even though Hawthorn have ripped through the pre-season with reckless, violent abandon it was still a king sized reality check. Probably better than we play the premiers and get smashed than lose to Gold Coast or the equivalent like we did last year, but it's still going to lead to me spending the next two weeks waking up in the middle of the night screaming "it didn't mean anything, it didn't mean anything" then having to explain to Mrs. Demonblog that I was talking about football and not some harlot.

Ask me again when if we tonk St Kilda from pillar to post, but I reserve the right to be one of 'those' people who take pre-season too seriously until then. I usually pay scant interest to the goings on at other clubs, but when I saw the Saints had scored 106 points in losing narrowly to Port the first thing I did was try and find out who was playing for them because if they score 106 against us with the state our forward line is in they will win handsomely. I'm glad to say that both Hayes and Montagna (both suspended for Round 1) were amongst their best, but still if our fringe players don't run their guts out at Docklands we are extremely vulnerable to a screwjob.

Being turned inside out was an apt way to end a week which since Thursday night has seen the return of THE FEAR with a terrible vengeance. When Lenny Hayes biffed some idiot from GWS was subsequently added to the arm-length list of Saints players unavailable for Round 1 it became clear to me that as long as we could get through to about 10pm on the 22nd without suffering a black death style injury crisis or an MFC 2011-13 variety confidence crisis that we should actually win and win comfortably. Even playing on the barely concealed carpark roof at Docklands couldn't harm us this time - if we could neatly sidestep disaster for longer than any Melbourne team since 2010.

The dread of going into a game expecting to win causes lower case 'fear'. The sort that only comes from following a team who have traditionally been so lousy that starting as favourite is more of an indicator that you're going to be disappointed than pleased. We might have started favourite in Round 1 last year (HAH!) but for the first time since the original GWS Carnival of Hate the St Kilda game was set up for us to go in expecting either a win or a psychologically crippling defeat. Last year I just thought we'd beat Port, but I could have handled losing if we hadn't folded like a house of cards instead. If we'd lost to GWS on that day I'd have laid down on Brunton Avenue immediately after it was opened at the discretion of the police operational commander.

Everything turned out ok that day, as we set a standard of petulance that jilted Collingwood fans who suddenly hate Dale Thomas can only dream of (run your tears into a premiership cup you greedy bastards) by hurling abuse at a young man several times richer than you and I combined. What fun we had after they gave us a taste of the big fear by kicking the first three goals before sanity prevailed. 'We' won, $cully made a mint for doing nothing, GWS locked away pick 1 in the draft, everyone went home happy.

Conversely THE FEAR is what came midway through last year when we were financially bleeding from every orifice like an Ebola patient and all hope appeared lost. It was the point where it seemed it would take another five years of ugly, criminal, draft pick chasing football just to rebuild us into a mediocre mid-table side. You may remember this was the point where I became extremely morose, decided the club was going to fold soon and had to be restrained from throwing myself down the stairs of the Ponsford Stand. Then, the late great Andrew Demetriou showed up with a fistful of cash, Paul Roos took a slice of it equivalent to the GDP of Botswana and we (or least I) decided to put the days of FEAR behind us.

For a while it worked well, alright we've had injuries to key players like Garland and ok the rumours are going around that Mitch Clark has lost his foot and replaced it with a prosthetic one a'la Kerry Von Erich, but on balance things were still looking up. I still predicted we'd finish 16th, but as good a third last as you can get. This was less than a month ago.

By 10pm Thursday my confidence about beating St Kilda and ushering in a new era of good times , world peace and free love was at its peak. Then, having avoided the Footy Show like the plague I decided to refresh my Twitter feed and bleakness returned in an instant when it was revealed that Jesse Hogan had crocked his back. Notwithstanding the fact that the news was announced by Damien "Scott Burns to coach" Barrett, the suggestion was that he was gone for up to two months. The club has tried hose that down to "two to three weeks" in carefully prepared statements since, but while I don't believe in curses things are starting to get ridiculous now. The feeling of going through your supporting life cringing while you wait for the next disaster is tiring. It might be entertaining for neutrals who like to watch us do our block, but was it too much to ask for to have a significantly less stressful year where footy became - whisper it quietly - fun again? The answer is apparently YES.

Until we hear the dreaded word 'setback' one injury, especially to a kid who hasn't played a game, shouldn't totally ruin our lives, but it just seems symbolic that it would be Hogan who would get within 20 days of the start of the season then snap in two. You wait for a year for him to play while he rips the VFL apart, the world holds its breath as he hurts his knee only for it to turn out to be minor, he shows up for one game in 2014, puts in a good performance then goes down with stress fucking fractures in his back six days later. That's MFC, that's a quicker than expected return of the #fistedforever hashtag. Fate, destiny and all that is a total crock but I'm craving a small period in my early 30's where I can put my feet on the desk and casually smoke Cuban cigars while basking in the glory of mediocrity instead of howling in agony as things continually go wrong.

Sometimes sporting life just seems so hopeless. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't mean squat, after all it's not like being Ukrainian and having some Russian shits seize large tracts of your country at gunpoint, but don't those of us who have kept going through the grimmest period in many a year deserve something to go our way for once? Obviously not. Get well soon Jesse, I wish to put far too much pressure on you to win the Coleman Medal as soon as possible in the very near future.

Any thoughts that the premature demise of Hulkamania would cause enough people to stay away from Casey Fields and allow me to park somewhere sensible were sadly premature. It was back to my old nemesis, the horse paddock near long jump pit 27b. At least this year the mound of earth which I stared at for 40 minutes while waiting to move my car from paddock to road last year (not to actually get out, that's another issue entirely) had been flattened. With the rate of houses going up in the fields around Casey, err, Fields it will probably be somebody's front yard next year. Today must be the local residents' equivalent of the Grand Prix for people who live in Albert Park. I felt sorry for the poor bastards trying to play tennis while it was all going on.

Almost 10,000 was quite the crowd considering the fact that it was a practice match in the middle of nowhere for most people, it was hot and the match was obviously neutral unfriendly due to the probability that Hawthorn were going to waffle us. I'm surprise (but pleased, obviously) that they threw the gates open for free and didn't charge for parking but both seemed strange decisions in the age of everyone trying to make a buck. Even if the footy clubs couldn't split a token $10 entry (and let's face it, Hawthorn don't need it so just give us the lot) the council missed a golden opportunity to gouge a few dollars out of visitors to the area.

Not sure if the big crowd counts as a good result if nobody's making money out of it, other than the hopelessly overmatched food and drink vendors at the ground who have just put their kids through university based on today's taking, but still an impressive turnout. Roll on somebody suggesting we could play premiership matches there and me stabbing them.

By the end there were about 2000 there, but at least the other 7k gave it a go. Surely nobody expected us to win against what was practically a full strength defending premier, and Roos has been well known for treating the pre-season with contempt, but it's a shame that we couldn't at least put up a morale boosting fight instead of getting mugged by 110 points. Not that we ever win at Casey - having now lost to North, West Coast, St Kilda and Hawthorn there in practice matches - with a high percentage of Demons in attendance it would have given everyone a much needed boost going into Round 1. Driving past the truck that claimed we were on our way to 40,000 members went from "good luck with that" on the way in to "fat chance" on the way out.

From the first bounce for the next 20 minutes we were wank, but it was the same last week and by halfway through the second quarter we were in front - so when Howe got his two goals within 30 seconds towards the end of the term I was momentarily calmed and stopped complaining and almost started enjoying myself. We then proceeded to cop the next 10 goals in a row in an extreme, hardcore, adults only version of the St Kilda game last year. To say we looked helpless against the best in the business would be an understatement, it was like the heavyweight boxing champion on the world backing a homeless man into the corner and pummelling him for two hours.

Other than the centre break, exchange of handballs and kick to Howe for his second the signs were bad right through the first quarter. When we could get the ball we couldn't move it more than a couple of steps before giving it back, and while there weren't as many blatantly obvious cock-ups leading directly to goals as last week that might have had a lot to do with the fact that we were being monstered so comprehensively. It really was like watching 2013 edition Melbourne again, complete with the aimless hoof and hope kicking down the boundary line and opposition transitions going the length of the field quicker than the speed of light.

There was a bit of side-to-side dink but not nearly as much as the last couple of weeks. When it came it was greeted by everyone over 50 in the crowd (and plenty of people younger too) moaning and yelling at them for it. Presumably these were same people who were ready to carry Roos off on their shoulders after the Richmond game. There's nothing wrong with the concept of switching back and forth ad nauseum, but the problem was that when we went from one side to the other we ended up left with nobody to kick to up the ground anyway and may as well have just hoofed it the first time. When we did get it forward and Howe wasn't there then it usually went to waste. I don't care about the future past the end of March, I just want to beat St Kilda so can we please temporarily abandon the Watts For Midfield campaign and get him in the forward line again? At the moment if he gets the ball - and let's be fair he's gone back to square one trying to learn to play as a midfielder - he'll have nobody to kick it to anyway so the net gain of playing him there in the short term is bugger all. Worry about the long term later, he's still a young a man.

Hawthorn might have been advantaged by a slight wind in the first quarter, but what breeze there was had died by the time the second quarter started. Not that anything short of a raging gale would have helped as the Hawks smacked seven shades of shit out of us. We all know that a lot of progress has been made in the playing list - those who aren't injured anyway - but it sure looked a lot like the Melbourne I recently knew and loathed for 90% of last year.

Much like last week, but with more brutality from the opposition, we were just horribly boring to watch. Hawthorn were good, especially in leaving our lot for dust as they ran into open space to get the ball and launch attacks, but I have scant interest in the performance of the opposition. If we're not getting the ball and not stopping the other side from doing it then what's the point? Especially in a practice match. I don't blame large swathes of the crowd for giving up and going home before the end. It will look nice when we're winning, but in the grand tradition of Baileyball when it goes wrong it goes rancid.

We might have caught Richmond on a bad night, but for the last two weeks all the good looking, heart-warming hard running into space we saw that evening has disappeared. Last week we got away with it because we still had Hogan as a get out kicking option, and because we were both efficient and accurate when we went inside 50. Today that was all gone, and with players barely ever running into space - or being allowed to by a ruthless world-class opposition - we just kept thumping the ball up the line and hoping that it would end in mark. It rarely did, but what do you expect when other than Howe your tall forwards are Fitzpatrick (decent inside 50 but hardly a contested mark specialist), Spencer (awkward) and Pedersen (in the warm-up Blease kicked a dinky pass to him from 10m and he dropped it). They'll all have a bash but it's a lineup desperately lacking class against reasonable sides. Whether it's got any against shit sides is going to be tested in the next few weeks.

The midfield never looked like chipping in with goals, and with Blease still desperately out touch we had stuff all avenues to goal or the capability of keeping it inside attacking 50 once it got there. Despite the fact that the game was well and truly stuffed by the time he came on Kennedy-Harris helped a bit on providing an option. Then they started trying to bomb it on top of his head despite the fact that he's about five foot tall. It was a return to the sort of panicked, every man for himself stuff that has given us all the shits for two years.

You expect that Roos knows what he's doing and is suffering the same sort of horrendous luck with injury that in part brought Neeld down (suspend disbelief for a second and pretend that if Clark and Grimes had survived more than five minutes last year that he'd have done enough to learn his lessons and semi-right the ship), and if we were playing Collingwood or Hawthorn again in the first round I'd be prepared to roll with the punches and see what happened - but we've got a relatively easy start to the year and I'd hate to waste it. It's all well and good to talk about patience, but if we conspire to fall apart against St Kilda like we did Port then who knows where the downward spiral takes us? I'm sweating. Hawthorn are practically unbeatable by a bad side, but the idea of winning in Round 1 and at Etihad Stadium is difficult to get my head around, so I'll be expecting a disaster if you don't mind.

By the end the Hawks were taking the piss by playing Josh Gibson as a key forward and it barely dented their momentum. The Spencil got a fourth just for novelty value, but two seconds later the ball was back down the other end with Hawthorn scoring again. Then just when you thought the party atmosphere couldn't get any more exciting we were dealt even more injury trouble.

Having dodged one bullet after N. Jones briefly appeared to have busted his arm/wrist before returning with only a gash on his forehead (as opposed to return to the gash being served up on field) we were instead treated to the sight of Grimes and Frawley cleaning each other up deep in the last quarter when we were already 20 goals behind. At least for once it didn't involve the captain snapped in two and looking at 12 weeks on the sidelines, (remember - you're never more than five minutes away from a Grimes family injury) but considering Chip walked off down the race we can now only assume that we'll never play for us again.

Why not just have Jack Viney wander off and join an apocalyptic sex cult while waiting to be subbed on while we're at it?

The addition of Cameron Bruce as stand-in Hawks coach on the day added another layer of farce on top of the score. Not that I've got anything against him or accuse him of doing anything wrong by us, but after seeing so many of our exes play one good game for their new club against us this is just cosmic mockery.

The Lid
I've found the receipt for the pot and taken it back to the store for a refund.

2014 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Jeremy Howe
4 - Daniel Cross
3 - Lynden Dunn
----- was struggling from the start, but ability to hand out votes comprehensively sapped by this point -----
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Fitzpatrick

Final (?) Leaderboard (unless they spring some surprise intra-club game next week)
10 - Jeremy Howe (congratulations - we think - on lifting your second Demonblog award after the 2011 Hilton)
8 - Daniel Cross 
7 - Dom Tyson
6 - Jay Kennedy-Harris
5 - Jack Trengove
4 - Jimmy Toumpas, Bernie Vince
3 - Rohan Bail, Sam Blease, Lynden Dunn
2 - Jesse Hogan, Nathan Jones
1 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Alex Georgiou, Dean Kent

Crowd Watch

It was a worthy experience if you wanted to relive the experience of piling into some urine soaked suburban ground, but having never been anywhere less attractive than Optus Oval it was a bit of a downer. Despite being the most anti-social MFC fan around I'd probably enter the Black Hole of Calcutta to watch the Dees, but being cheek to cheek with the public didn't help my mood as we were getting shafted. Had we been winning I'd probably have been making lifelong friends, but the last time I want to be pitched into Dee Chat with people I don't already know is when we're being ruthlessly tonked.

Not only were total strangers keen to share their views on football with me, but when I wasn't fake smiling and nodding while some bloke wasn't telling me his latest and greatest theory, most of the day was spent trying not to step on diseased urchins crawling around on the ground because their parents couldn't be bothered taking care of them or teaching them to say "excuse me" and/or "please" as they barged past you.

The only upside to our diabolical performance was that by halfway through the third quarter the road outside the ground looked like the parade lap of the Indianapolis 500 so the time spent exiting Casey Fields at the end was reduced by about 75% compared to last year. That also had a lot of people leave early due to the heat and the obvious winner, so god help us all the day that one of these games turns out to be a thriller. We'll be there at midnight.

The problem with the place is that the car park is so decentralised that there's vehicles coming from every direction, putting a couple of poor bastards carrying STOP/SLOW signs under more pressure than an air traffic controller at Heathrow as they attempted to get everyone out without it breaking into violence. The set-up probably works a treat the other 364 days of the year when 100 people are using the parking lot, but thank god they're never going to develop Casey Fields as a league venue (P.S - don't bother on our behalf) because it would be a nightmare to put up with more than once a season.

As for the famous lineup of Casey Fields sponsors since my last visit it was OUT - Lurline Liquor (possibly permanently. Adequately replaced by Hawthorn's Angus Liquorland), IN - In2Ply (something appropriately to do with toilet paper?) and the Anker Concreting sign still unchanged despite the fact that the name has almost completely faded.

Next Week
Nine separate misfortunes will befall nine of our best players.

The week after

A win would certainly help banish fears both big and small, but I've started to brace myself for a let down. St Kilda might be playing with a skeleton staff but if they get the jump on us it could end badly. Either way it's hardly going to be a world class exhibition of the sport so if you're bringing foreign visitors along try and pretend that the fumbling and kicking out on the full is tactical rather than just ineptitude on a national scale.

The 21+1 horseman of the apocalypse
When I first put together my possible Round 1 lineup less than a month ago I thought it was optimistic to include both Clark and Garland, but I didn't expect three others to join them on the injury list. Blease has been useful for about five minutes combined, Kent is nowhere to be seen and as for Gawn I'm not sure if he's even still alive.

I don't make some of these team selection choices lightly, but we are starting to run out of able bodied players who have appeared in more than seven games. Not convinced that Toumpas has done enough to be an automatic selection, and Shannon Byrnes can probably interchange with Bail if you want - either way it's hardly going to inspire the kids.

B: Terlich, McDonald, Georgiou
HB: Dunn, Frawley, Grimes
C: Vince, Tyson, Cross
HF: Watts, Howe, Bail
F: Kennedy-Harris, Fitzpatrick, Pedersen
Foll: Spencer, N. Jones, McKenzie
INT: Viney, M. Jones, Trengove
S: Michie

IN: Bail, Fitzpatrick, Georgiou, Kennedy-Harris, Michie, Pedersen, Spencer, Tyson
OUT: Clark, Dawes, Garland, Hogan, Jamar (inj), Blease, Kent (omit), Gawn (WTF has happened to him?)

Was it worth it?
Not even remotely.

Final Thoughts
Get a kick.

UPDATE - Tuesday 11 March

Final betting markets
The original markets were contained in the season preview written almost a month ago. So much has changed since.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

5-4-3-2-1 votes in every home and away and finals match. Final pre-season price in brackets.

2005 - Travis Johnstone
2006 - Brock McLean
2007 - Nathan Jones
2008 - Cameron Bruce
2009 - Aaron Davey ($8)
2010 - Brad Green ($4)
2011 - Brent Moloney ($9)
2012 - Nathan Jones [2] ($3.50)
2013 - Nathan Jones [3] ($2.50)

2014 market

You can't help but keep Jones as favourite, but I've eased off on him a bit now that it's clear there are plenty of contenders for votes in the midfield for the first time in years. Most of the top fancies have also eased - especially Jack Viney who has barely been seen this pre-season - with the likes of Vince, Cross and Tyson being tightened up significantly. If you failed to back them before the Richmond game then it's TS for you. Also, you should have taken the $700 on offer for Alex Georgiou shouldn't you?

$5 - Nathan Jones
$7 - Jeremy Howe, Bernie Vince
$9 - Jack Viney
$10 - Dom Tyson
$12 - James Frawley, Jack Grimes
$15 - Daniel Cross, Jack Trengove
$18 - Jack Watts
$25 - Lynden Dunn, Jordie McKenzie
$28 - Tom McDonald
$30 - Chris Dawes, Jimmy Toumpas
$35 - Matt Jones, Viv Michie
$40 - Colin Garland, Dean Terlich
$50 - Mitch Clark
$65 - Sam Blease, Jesse Hogan
$70 - Jack Fitzpatrick, Mark Jamar, Christian Salem
$80 - Max Gawn
$100 - Rohan Bail
$110 - Mitch Clisby, Michael Evans
$120 - Shannon Byrnes, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Luke Tapscott
$150 - Alex Georgiou, Dean Kent
$200 - Daniel Nicholson, Cameron Pedersen, Jake Spencer
$300 - James Strauss
$500 - Dominic Barry, Aiden Riley
$750 - Jayden Hunt, Neville Jetta
$1000 - James Harmes, Max King

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year

Highest vote getter for a defender. Running defenders who spend too much time in the midfield will be disqualified from receiving the award at the discretion of the committee.

2005 - Nathan Carroll and Ryan Ferguson (shared)
2006 - Jared Rivers
2007 - Paul Wheatley
2008 - Matthew Whelan
2009 - James Frawley ($22)
2010 - James Frawley [2] ($3.50)
2011 - James Frawley [3] ($4)
2012 - Jack Grimes ($7)  
2013 - James Frawley [4] ($2.80)

2014 market

Chip comes back to the pack slightly due to the prospect of me being sucked in royally by our running defenders racking up 30 touches a game by dinky kicking from side-to-side. Lynden Dunn is the #1 beneficiary of this process. Georgiou has also firmed up (so to speak) noticeably.

$2.50 - Frawley

$6 - McDonald
$8 - Dunn
$9 - Garland, Terlich
$10 - Grimes
$15 - Georgiou
$16 - Clisby $35 - Cross
$40 - Pedersen, Tapscott
$70 - Strauss
$100 - Watts 

Jeff Hilton Medal for Rising Star of the Year

The highest scoring player in the Jakovich Medal count who has either played zero AFL games before the start of the season OR debuted in the final four games (not including byes) of the preceding season. Known as the Jeff Hilton Rookie of the Year 2005-2011

No 2013 senior players are eligible, with none having debuted in the final four matches of the premiership season and survived. Dominic Barry is the only player senior listed in 2013 to be eligible.

2005 - No players eligible. 

2006 - Matthew Bate 
2007 - Michael Newton 
2008 - Cale Morton 
2009 - Jack Grimes ($4 fav) 
2010 - [REVOKED] ($5) 
2011 - Jeremy Howe ($30) 
2012 - Tom McDonald ($8)  
2013 - Jack Viney ($5) 

2014 market

The Jesse Hogan injury robs him of red hot favourite status, and with Kennedy-Harris a near certain starter for the early rounds and a potential crumber (I will fall hard for that) Hulkamania can still prevail but he might have to come from behind. Georgiou has come in, as with the two awards above, and no eligible player tightens up slightly at the prospect of none of them getting a vote.

$5 - Jay Kennedy-Harris

$5.50 - Jesse Hogan

$10 - Alex Georgiou
$18 - Christian Salem
$20 - Dominic Barry
$100 - Jayden Hunt
$150 - James Harmes
$300 - Max King

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Highest scoring player in the overall count who has played primarily as a ruckman during the year. Ruckmen who spend time in the forward or backline will still be eligible at the discretion of the committee. Formerly the Strawbs O'Dwyer Medal between 2008 and 2010. 2005 to 2007 medals were awarded retrospectively for top scoring ruckman in the overall count. 

2005 - Jeff White
2006 - Jeff White [2]
2007 - Jeff White [3]
2008 - Paul Johnson
2009 - Mark Jamar ($3)
2010 - Mark Jamar [2] ($1.50 fav)
2011 - Stefan Martin ($30) 
2012 - Stefan Martin [2] ($9)
2013 - Jack Fitzpatrick ($50) and Max Gawn ($45)

2014 market

With every possible chance of none of these guys picking up a vote no eligible player is suddenly a massive chance, though Fitzpatrick could score another controversial win despite spending the majority of his time up forward. Realistically I should have DQ'ed him last year, but the decision of the panel is final.

$8 - Mark Jamar
$10 - Max Gawn, Jake Spencer
$15 - Jack Fitzpatrick
$20 - Mitch Clark
$100 - Cameron Pedersen
$200 -
$350 - Max King,