Sunday, 26 April 2015

Strange Rumblings on Brunton Avenue

There is a long-term reader of this blog who I promised to make famous if we won on Friday night. Not famous enough to name him mind you - it was only Round 4 not a Grand Final. You know who you are, and you know that you took a sadistic glee in poking my Emo Maric style glass totally empty outlook on life throughout Friday by insisting that we would win - by text message, twice by phone, in person before the game and for most of the match itself until the 20 minute mark of the fourth quarter when I finally came to terms with the fact that we weren't going to stuff it up.

It was probably what I needed after last week's moaning, but assuring a life-long pessimist that everything's going to be alright is a high risk strategy. Drinks all around and temporary lifting of darks clouds if you're right, get Lifeline on the phone if you're wrong. It's not that I always think we're going to lose, it's that I always feel like we're going to find new and humiliating ways in which to do it.

He assured me that a key factor was their three good players out, replaced by a group with a similar public profile to Maia Westrupp. It was pointed out that we've beaten them over the years even when we were 100% toxic, and now we're only 95% rubbish. Apparently our loss to Adelaide was a far better trial than their thumping win over the Lions and players like Viv Michie are being forced to earn their spots. And we all know Richmond are just flat out flaky, I didn't need a motivational speaker to tell me that.

On the strength of the evidence presented he made a good case that Richmond might in fact lose the game, but the enormous counterweight to that argument was that they were playing Melbourne. How many times have we been torn apart by players who then faded back into obscurity until the next game against us? Kent Kingsley and Beau Wilkes made careers out of it. Marcus Baldwin didn't even make it to the return fixture after taking us for three goals off his first three kicks. And I think the North Melbourne player who had 36 touches against us once now works as a parking inspector in the City of Stonnington.

Like a person roped into joining a cult when they're at an emotional low I was prepared to subscribe to his newsletter because I needed a win after a horrid week both on and off-field highlighted by a slapstick plummet off my stairs on Thursday night. In a week where we commemorate the courage of men and women who have faced situations that soft-as-butter raised-by-television types like me would run a mile from it was hardly the worst thing that's ever happened, and it was self-inflicted by
me descending a staircase while also reading Twitter on my phone but by Christ it hurt at the time. It's a shame there's no footage of the bump, because the Jeremy Howe style hang-time I 'enjoyed' would have become a YouTube sensation overnight after Jim Ross commentary was played over the top. At least Howe gets to land on on grass, I ended up crumpled on the floorboards.

Somehow it ended as nothing worse than a few bruises and some bland blog content. It was the cherry on top of a frankly shithouse week, and by Friday night I really needed something to lift the spirits. Usually when you're a Melbourne fan there's more chance of finding happiness in heroin than in the stands of the MCG, but against all odds the optimists had the last laugh.

Due to delivering worse ratings than Fishcam we'd been kept off Friday night football since Round 7 2012. That's only one full term of a federal government but it seems like a lifetime. If a political party had been through what we have since then they'd be de-registered by the AEC, but there's a credible argument to be mounted that if you're in my age bracket (25-34) even taking into account the #fistedforever years of 2007-? we've had a better football supporting lifetime than Richmond fans. Nobody on either side is old enough to remember a flag, and as horrible as we've been at least it's been honest sludge instead of a constant cycle of seduction/STD/harsh antibiotics. It feels like death warmed up to be a Melbourne fan (or it did until the temporary glee of Friday) but there is the small matter of making the finals six times since '98 to fall back on if you've got a long enough memory.

It seems there are more Richmond than Melbourne fans reading this page so I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but when we're all in the retirement home having never seen a flag between us while GWS and Gold Coast are enjoying 21 each (one for each fan) at least you'll look back at the run to the finals last year as one of - if not the - most amazing few weeks of your sporting life. I still haven't emotionally put myself back together from the last three weeks of 2005 so I can't imagine how nine weeks of living on the edge would have felt. It's alright, we ended up being thrashed in the Elimination Final as well.

The problem is that even though the second half of last year was the sort of magical run which even caused hard-hearted cynics like me to take notice it wasn't the first time the Tigers had teased magic then reverted to pumpkin status. Remember Terry Wallace saving himself with a killer second half of 2008 then not even making it halfway through 2009? Even in Hardwick's first season where they were MFC style pox in the first few weeks their six total wins included four in a row. We, on the other hand haven't won any two in a row since pre-186.

The question, on a larger scale than our riches-to-rags performance against GWS, is whether it's better to have had legitimate hope dashed or to enjoy a childlike sense of wonder by every rare victory? In all honesty I think we'd have them covered if you didn't then factor in all the off-field disasters as well. We probably think they've had it better, they probably think we do - but in the end we're all cactus. Maybe we should mob up with some St Kilda and Footscray fans and beat the shit out of a Hawthorn supporter to make ourselves feel better?

At the moment mob violence is not required, a simple win does wonders for my life as a supporter. After Round 1 I was ordering an open top bus for street parades, and after Round 2 was trying to drive it off a cliff. Now everything feels good again, and while we're still a bottom four side in most ways it's still true that there is no such thing as a bad win - they are all beautiful in their own way.

I sat with the same football friends when we beat Richmond last year. On the basis of it being the only game we'd gone to together and seen a win it was decided that we must take up exactly the same position this time. That sort of sorcery's not for me, but same result anyway as the chosen seats were in the top of the Ponsford. Now I'm 2-0 in that spot against the Tigers, 2-0 while living on the Hurstbridge line and though it's hardly relevant to this discussion 2-0 at the SCG. I tender that 6-0 combined record as evidence to the people who claim that I'm somehow bringing the club down by always pointing out how shite we've been.

Secretly I thought we were a chance, but I wasn't admitting that to anybody other than my footy tips provider. Even at ridiculously long odds it still felt that with Richmond's outs and the credit we'd won back in Adelaide last week that we should at the very least go close to beating them. This is still a foreign feeling to me, so the longer the game went on and the more it became obvious that we were strangling the life out of them I started to tense up with fear of a humiliating GWS style reverse. Especially after it became personal when a slanging match broke out with a Richmond fan behind us, and we needed to win not only for football purposes but also to further ruin his night.

The night was a success on all fronts. It was our largest non-Queen's Birthday crowd for a home and away game since Round 15, 2006 and while it's now irrelevant as this is going to become an annual game I've always thought Richmond would be a great replacement opposition for Queen's Birthday when Eddie McGuire is finally pushed over the edge and stops generously subsidising us with a home game every year.

Whether the same crowds turn up and the concept works as well next year when the game will be played on a Sunday night I'm not sure but it it all seemed to go pretty the other night. The commemorations were respectful and well-observed, nobody other than kids who don't know any better yelled out during the traditional 38 second AFL brand 'minute of silence' and when the game started nobody immediately blew a hammy from standing around on the ground for 20 minutes before the first bounce. Whether it contributed to Dean Kent's issues a quarter and a half later you would have to consult an actual doctor and/or Google.

The immediate danger in any Richmond game is that Jack Riewoldt is a fairly handy target up forward, but for some reason whenever he plays Melbourne he turns into Michael Newton and has kicked 16.33 against us in 13 games. Compare this his record against everyone else and remember that not long ago Frawley (remember him? I hope so, because Hawthorn fans have already forgotten who he is) tearing him to shreds was something you'd mark on your calendar when the fixture came out. Now that he's gone the torch has been passed to Tom McDonald, who successfully pushed Riewoldt so far up the ground most of the night that they were left without any other forwards who could kick straight - and had paid tribute to MFC 2012/13 by not picking any crumbers in the first place - so were left on the sort of score that we've become famous for over the last few years.

We held Carlton to 7.16.58 last year but it's still an amazing novelty to throttle an opposition like that. Usually the defence battles hard but is overwhelmed by the ball going inside 50 with the greatest of ease. This time Richmond got it down there but were usually under enough pressure that it was easily cleaned. While we're speaking of great defensive performances a word please for Bernie Vince backing up last week with a less exciting but arguably more important job on Cotchin and to both Angus Brayshaw and Aaron vandenBerg who kick with peg legs but are like the Legion Of Doom for chasing, harassing and tackling.

The first highlight of my night was Brayshaw being named to start instead of having to sit on the bench for three quarters wearing a luminous vest. As it turns out he'd have been required much earlier than that due to Kent's injury, but tragic as that was it allowed Michie to come on and play a solid game by the time Brayshaw already had five or six tackles on the board. What a farce the sub rule is, but that's an argument for another day - every other day as it turns out.

Both times we've held sides to scores around 60 we've been helped by horribly inaccuracy from the other side, but imagine a world where the only goal we concede in an entire second half comes from a speculative bomb out of the middle. Not one properly constructed six pointer in approximately one hour, how grand. If you've studied the fixture you'll know it can't last so enjoy it while you can.

It was obvious from the start that Vince and the LOD were going to make life difficult for Richmond, but we'd still need to score to win. Even with looming storms threatening to turn the game into the same kind of sludgefest as last week we weren't going to win with five goals dotted through the evening - and that if we did that they wouldn't let us back on Friday night for another three years.

Enter Jesse Hogan, who was expected to meet his match against Alex Rance but more than held his own. In fact let's just say he won - it was his strong body work which set up Dawes to kick the first, he took two killer contested marks and at one point Rance was so wary of him that he stood back and let Jay Kennedy-Harris of all people take a mark in the square. Glorious. We have been sucked in before, but this is what true excitement looks like. It's one thing to have young midfielders racking up possessions, but to see a key position forward treating the stars of the game with contempt is enough to make you slide off your seat even while sitting undercover.

The pre-match Kaiser I'd had as a gesture of reconciliation towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire almost expelled itself when he took that mark on the stroke of half time (NB: I have botched history here and got my world leaders of the 1900's wrong. Lucky I don't work for SBS or I'd be out on my arse) and The Optimist leapt across the seats to dry-hump me with a vigour I'm not sure I've ever felt at an AFL match before. The fact that he missed the kick didn't really matter, Hulkamania was running wild at the MCG. It also proved a great trial run for his goal in the last quarter that sealed victory. In my dreams I see Hogan goals floating past in an endless loop in the style of the old Flying Toasters screensaver.

It has come to my attention that the original Hulk Hogan is coming to town on a publicity tour this week, and I swear if we don't arrange a photo shoot where Jesse and the Hulkster flex their 24-inch-pythons together in MFC jumpers then the marketing department should put a sleeperhold on themselves. I've hated the original Hogan since I first picked up Wrestlemania V at the video shop in about 1988, but this is the greatest promotional opportunity yet. If I see footage of him posing alongside some Collingwood peanut I'll legdrop somebody at the AGM.

Much like last week I'm sure opposition fans would have differing opinions but surely any neutral observer will admit that the Wheel Of Umpiring Fortune again spun violently against us - continuously on either MISTAKE, ERROR or RORT for most of the night. Differences in free kick counts are the most overrated conversation topic in football, but while there are days when your team is just undisciplined there are others where you've got no bloody idea what rulebook is being used to adjudicate the game.

The cliche would suggest that it's not the ones they do pay, it's the ones they don't but there was at least one absolute corker in either category that went against us - Garland being done holding the ball after receiving it about 0.9 seconds before, and Kennedy-Harris having his legs taken out in the square for no result. The sliding rule is an even bigger overreaction than the sub rule but it's also possibly the easiest thing for an umpire to make a decision on other than a player throwing an NFL style forward pass 30m down the ground - and even then you'd be a 50% chance of getting away with that in some games.

See also Harry O getting done for Riewoldt falling into him, Brayshaw's 50 being about 30 and Dunn not getting the most obvious 50 in history when he was pushed over after marking - but that's probably karmic payback for all the evil LD has been involved with over the years. Just to prove I'm not completely biased (only 99%) I can handle the reversal against vandenBerg costing us a goal, that was just stupidity on his behalf. When your side is having a shot let the defender do whatever he likes until the ball is through the goal then jumper punch him in the kidneys. Also the free against Howe for holding on, that was there. Some people will boo anything (and could you not just yell abuse instead of booing if you're older than 13?) but that was spot on and probably unnecessary anyway with McDonald looming.

We were in front at quarter time and the Tigers did seem rattled, but I wasn't getting roped in again after the debacle in Canberra. It had been pointed out that I take so little interest in other teams that I probably wouldn't be able to pick Shane Edwards out of a line-up, and probably still wouldn't, but I knew who he was when he kicked the first goal of the second quarter - he was the prick who was going to start the avalanche that would ruin my night. Fortunately we then put the breaks on them, turn back a number of attacks and then rope-a-dope them when Watts and vandenBerg combined to goal.

It was another interesting night for Watts. He still does a lot of good stuff but when his first kick of the night was gathered after good play then kicked straight out on the full you could tell things weren't going to go his way. Even as the leader of the Just Let Him Play and Fuck It See What Happens coterie group I can see he's been all over the shop mentally for the last fortnight. It's probably time to take the (dis)honourable route to a few weeks off by piledriving somebody just to get away from it all. Still not sure why so many of our fans get the horn from seeing him going slowly mental though. Next thing he'll be copping it for looking happy after the win instead of sitting down in the centre square and cutting himself. If he'd missed the goal after the 50 courtesy of Dustin Martin, and it was close, then I may very well have joined the picket line.

The good times began in earnest when it started pissing down at the start of the third quarter and we could have well and truly put them away several times during the quarter. They helped us by continuing to kick like muppets inside 50 and around the ground, but once we got a roll on at the end that was when I started to believe. Until we gave a goal up straight from the centre after Garlett's second goal and fear began to creep in again.

Dawes played a much better game than he has in the first two weeks and kicked two goals (perhaps my "second of 10" claim was a bit premature), but his performance as a centre-bounce ruckman was akin to past performances of A. Nicholson and C. Sylvia against Port Adelaide in Darwin so let's put Jamar solo down as an experiment due to the conditions that we got away with and give the man some proper backing next week. He can still do 90% of the work but the ease which Richmond got that goal late in the third quarter horrified me. There is no legal way we can get away with that against Fremantle or Sydney so we at least need somebody who can compete in the taps even if they're all but useless around the ground - arise Sir Spencil? He'll be pocketing life membership in 2017 so we may as well try and get him to 50 games first.

The rain stopped in the last quarter but it didn't help Richmond. Still, until Hogan kicked the sealer I still expected something, anything to go wrong but eventually you just have to sit there and admit to yourself that yes, we are going to win a game of footy. Which is not such a surprise these days having done it twice in a month these victories still hold some historical significance.  When I don't receive one text message of congratulations from somebody after a win then I'll say we're back. Until then "it's only Richmond" my arse, winning is still an event - and considering our next couple of weeks I'll clutch it to my bosom until 1.10pm next Sunday.

I went home and watched the replay until 1.30am. It was deelightful.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Aaron vandenBerg
3 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Tom McDonald

Top level apologies to Garland who lost the 1 vote in a photo finish, and regular apologies to Brayshaw (for the defence), Cross, Dunn, Howe and Salem.

Leaderboard
The four time champion looms large in the King of Sizzle's rear-view mirror, while we welcome the man with the faulty shift key vandenBerg as the 92nd player to pocket votes in the history of this award.

15 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
10 - Nathan Jones
7 - Bernie Vince
6 - Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
4 - Aaron vandenBerg, Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett
2 - Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
1 - Angus Brayshaw, Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton


If footy clubs were countries I'd be the most nationalistic and racist dickhead around but even I'm not going to try and find a way to get the Dees up in this one. A joint banner which both clubs ran through as part of a solemn, well-observed ANZAC ceremony will do nicely for a draw. 3-1-0 Dees for the season and 25-1-1 all-time.

Crowd Watch
After carting an umbrella around all day I finally got the chance to use it after the game, which was a problem considering I'd left it in my seat and only realised once I'd reached ground level. As I returned for the search some kid was making off down the stairs with it, but to his credit he stopped and gave it back to me instead of doing a runner - which was surprising because I'd been led to believe that every teenager these days is an ill-bred hooligan called Jayshawn.

Who am I to take the moral highground on theft at AFL matches - after the drawn West Coast/Collingwood final in 1990 a school chum and I flogged several rolls of tape and a wooden flagpole from the Eagles cheersquad. The pole didn't make it out of the Waverley car park but we were sticking things down at my joint until about 1994 courtesy of our very good friends from Perth. Karma struck once again the next year when somebody lifted my jumper during a post match kick-to-kick at the 'G and every year since when my football club has had bugger all chance of winning a flag.

Shortly after pressing publish on the original version of this report I went to the shops and stepped in a dog turd. This reminded me that at half time on Friday night a bird had shat on my shoulder. If we'd lost I might be in an asylum by now.

Fan Experience Watch
The pre-match ceremonies quite rightly took care of the tripe Richmond served up last year with the ritualistic playing of drums, but unfortunately once the first siren went commemoration was out the door and in came the gimmicks befitting a minor league baseball team from Omaha, Nebraska.

It wasn't so much the gimmicks, but the wide variety of them. The now traditional "wave some shit in the air and win" competition isn't much worse than our Chemist Warehouse supported game of Three Card Monte, everyone except us (thank god) seems to provide a Dance Cam for middle aged women can lose their dignity publicly and something called Cuddle Cam appeared to be connected to charity so I will go against every instinct and refrain from taking the piss out of it. The best bit about Cuddle Cam was the complete disinterest in it by any Richmond fan over the age of 16 because the rest of them realised they were about to lose to Melbourne.

Hands down the worst thing seen since the day Richmond had recovering drug users take part in a pre-match goal kicking competition was a segment called "Are you paying attention?" where they played the Jeopardy theme song and put the camera on people who... weren't paying attention. Riveting stuff. To quote one of my companions "Of course nobody's paying attention, it's half time". Most of the people sitting around these hapless fools never bothered to tell them so they sat there tooling around with their phone completely unaware of what was going on. Sadly nobody jammed an index finger up their nose while being filmed. Does research exist to show anybody is interested in this chintzy rubbish? At the risk of acting like Craig Hutchison if you're not slapping the name of a second rate business on the screen and making a buck out of it then it is completely pointless for everyone but Barbara, 46, from Croydon.

Now that I've seen the digital advertising boards at a night game I can confirm they had no less effect on me than a day match, and in fact I probably wouldn't have known they were there if I wasn't thinking about it. Maybe it's worse sitting closer to the ground, but if that's the case move yourself anywhere but the top of the Ponsford.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to the lightning fast Garlett crumb at the end of the third quarter but I'm going to have to go for Jesse Hogan from the boundary in the last quarter for sheer emotion value. Tyson in Round 1 still in front overall though - but even though we're kicking more goals I'm still waiting for somebody to boot a truly outrageous one and steal the clubhouse lead.

Next Week
You've probably had enough time now to come to grips with the fact that as joyous Friday night was we're going to lose to Fremantle next week - but that's alright as long as we put in a decent shift while doing it. In a Lyon vs Roos game with our backline firing we'd usually expect to lose 3.4.22 to 1.10.16 but they're on fire at the moment so it could be another in a long line of recent debacles against them. Good chance to show we're made of sterner stuff though, will Watts take my advice on board and go down in infamy for a spinning roundhouse kick to Nat Fyfe? Find out 1.10pm next Sunday.

The one ruckman set-up got us through Friday, probably thanks to the rain, but I daren't try the same thing against Freo. Pedersen still never a top level ruckman but a better option than Dawes. Still gagging for Gawn to come good at Casey soon though - because Jamar is alive and well in 2015 but he can't go on forever.

IN: Pedersen (will get him in eventually)
OUT: Kent (inj)
LUCKY: Watts

Was it worth it?
It has otherwise been an arsehole of a week so good god yes it was.

Final thoughts
Still not used to winning but I want to be. Feed me more.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Malaise forever

Supporting Melbourne is like a prequel to Groundhog Day starring the crew of the Hindenburg. Every time the organisation seems to be comfortably afloat we find ourselves plummeting to the ground in flames. Then it all happens again.

After levitating through the days after the Gold Coast win in a fashion not dissimilar to North Melbourne’s dirigible banner, last week was our latest 'oh the humanity' moment, and the pandemic outbreak of The Fear was something not seen since.. well, the last time we rolled over and died against the Giants.

For most fans The Fear is a weary resignation to never seeing a premiership in their lifetime, but for hopeless addicts such as oneself it's an all-encompassing terror that the club will shut down before any of my vital organs and I'll be forced to find a more sensible and rewarding distraction from real life.

The evidence is growing that it would not be such a bad turn of events if we were to be set free from what consumes us but delivers so little joy in return, but you know full well that shortly after we've gone our separate ways each of us will find something else to obsess over. If you're far enough down the supporter rabbit hole to read pages like this then it's in your DNA to be obsessive about something. Your substitute might be rugby league, soccer, tournament scrabble or heroin but the chances are you'll finish torn up and spat out in the end. Alternatively you'll find a club that gives you premierships galore and I'll wind up secretary of some dubious VAFA entity claiming to be the continuation of the Melbourne Football Club - and we'll never win anything there either. Either way for better or worse it won't be the same.

My life as a supporter since 2007 (especially post-186) is dotted with shameful moments of addiction but I'm so far gone now that nothing short of medical incarceration can stop me. I'm not a completely horrible person, I'll miss a game for births, deaths, marriages or serious illness and no doubt child-rearing will trip me up at some point too but otherwise please accept my apologies for your event as I'll be in the Ponsford Stand swearing liberally under my breath.

Whatever friends, family and colleagues think about this they generally keep it to themselves, which is probably a good thing because I can only imagine the whispers once I'm out of the room. I admire those of you who have the willpower to choose somebody's pointless non-milestone birthday party over a pointless Round 14 loss without holding it against them. Likewise good luck to those of you who can bear to leave at 3/4 time to catch the early train or stay at home in the first place and take your kids to the park when the eighth straight goal goes through but it is my self-imposed destiny to go down with the ship every week.

We've all done well to get this far (no doubt that Geelong weirdo who dresses as a cat would have given up years ago if they'd been through the same) so we might as well press on against the tide for as long as possible. Once the elderly are gone and an entire generation of kids have decided to follow Hawthorn instead it might just be us left, so let's use the time we have together well. Fans of miserable clubs never die, they just fade away.

As much as I tried to play down my disappointment in last week's game the strong sense of footballing misery also known as Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome ended up slowly ruining my entire week. I was comfortable with defeat on Monday but the longer the week went on the angrier I got about it, which makes absolutely no sense. Even after resolving not to get roped in by the Crows on the back of wins against North at their worst and a mid-table at best Collingwood it still seemed likely that they would pulverise us first before getting on with losing to the good sides.

So on the balance of things you'd think I'd be pleased to push them into the last quarter, and I suppose deep down there is some 'pride' that they dug in during difficult conditions and didn't totally roll over again but it seems stupid to be applauding honourable losses when we're 11-57 in the last three and a bit seasons. They're certainly better than dishonourable losses - and god knows we've had a few hundred of those - but there is still so much about our performances that resembles
early GWS/Gold Coast when they had the excuse of teams made up of 21 teenagers and Josh Fraser.

The never-ending rebuild goes on, but at least yesterday reassured me that we can beat the lesser sides and give most of the others a good game on our best day. Now the Bulldogs are suddenly the next big thing I'm not even sure who the lesser sides actually are - probably St Kilda, Carlton and whoever else loses to us.

In the season preview the Crows were bracketed for 12th or 13th, and while maybe that underestimated them based on the sacking of a coach when they still have a list dotted with stars I refuse to concede they're anywhere near a top four side. Nevertheless at strength they've still got us covered, and we pushed them to the point where only countless fluffed scoring opportunities and the umpiring Wheel of Fortune spinning violently against us stopped us from being right in the mix at the end so I will begrudgingly accept that this is a 'good thing'.

Of course Adelaide fans, and their coach who sounds like a bit of a weiner, have different views of the umpiring based almost entirely on the magnificent City of Adelaide vs Bernie Vince dual. In the absence of this week's mystery injury victim Jack Viney to the job our Bernard was sacrificed to a tagging role and threw himself into it with the enthusiasm of an assassin programmed Manchurian Candidate style to pose as friend then terminate with extreme prejudice.

His scrag on Old Porcelain Head Dangerfield was the stuff of legend. As far as direct match-ups which pushed the envelope of the law and of good taste it was the best thing I've seen since Ben Holland vs Anthony Rocca on Queen's Birthday 2007 because by three-quarter time it included an added level of spite.

There really is nothing better than a player doing unsociable things against his old club. Even when Shane Woewodin kicked a goal against us and gave it to the crowd it was fantastic - and not undeserved considering how many dickheads were booing him when it was our fault that he was at Collingwood. It's another reason to hate $cully, who won't even give us the theatre we deserve by playing dirty. Vince is therefore the exact opposite and a top bloke who knows the Adelaide fans will have forgiven him next week. However if Jared Rivers ever lays a hand on Jesse Hogan I'll scream the house down.

Bernard couldn't have picked a better target to practice his unsociable football on, because once Dangerfield goes to Geelong the Crows fans will have far more to be bitter about that one afternoon of borderline assault in the rain. The highlight was when he carved him in two with a perfectly legal shirt-front that caused Mark Ricciuito to throw out any pretence he was acting as a broadcaster rather than a Adelaide board member and nearly break down in tears.

Fortunately Danger seems to have had a series of silicon implants since that fateful day in 2011 when Jack Trengove allegedly knocked him out, because he not only played through a severe blown to the knackers but also felt the full force of a Mark Jamar kick to the mid-section which should see the Russian offered a contract by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Later on when somebody ran him into the fence I expected his head to burst and a Mortal Kombat style FATALITY graphic to appear on screen. Wherever Trengove is these days he'll certainly get a shock on Monday afternoon when he finds out he's been suspended for two weeks for the fence incident.

Having spent the afternoon mocking him for crying to the umpire like Ablett vs Jordie McKenzie it is obvious that he's a fine footballer, and had we'd been able to strategically hold a thumb over Trengove's foot x-ray long enough to seal that trade last year I'd be fawning all over him now. No matter what his mind, body and plums went through he won out in the end, his side got the four points and go 3-0 while we remain forever the AFL's Washington Generals. It should also be noted that unlike the coach the man himself clearly had no hard feelings towards his tormentor.

It was amusing hearing the crowd leaping to his defence so strongly when he'll probably ditch them at the end of the year, but we'd have done the same with Frawley until about Round 15, 2014 when it became blatantly obvious that he was just pissing around with us. After that you could have taken to him with a chainsaw and I'd have thought it was a good thing because we should have been concentrating on players who were going to be around the next year.

The big fight special didn't really take off until the second quarter after we'd shot our bolt. We had the first three goals of the game and probably should have had another, but what's three goals these days? Teams seem to be giving up the lead at the start of a game for fun at the moment. I'd like somebody with more time on their hands than me (and there must be one or two of you) to confirm that despite the moral panic about low scoring 'boring' football that there has never been a time since 1897 where going three goals up at the start of a match has been less likely to result in victory.

It took a while for anybody to get around to scoring, which is probably a good sign when we're involved because the chances are that it's going to end a low-scoring slog. We're such a boring side that after scoring 117 in Round 1 our average score after three is 75.33 and sinking rapidly. As we used to say in these parts, Hello Melbourne.

Frost should have had the first goal but instead started a trend for missing sitters that swept through the side by the end of the day. There's no way he's a forward, and he's not more than a serviceable ruckman in short bursts either, so while it's unfortunate that an injury is going to have to force the issue he had to go. I presume Pedersen is the replacement, and while he's hardly Tony Lockett either he's more likely to kick goals. Alternatively how about this plot I came up with at about 4am this morning - it might be completely impossible to implement in modern footy, but my tactical understanding of the game stalled in about 1992 so hear me out - you pick Pedersen and start him in defence with Howe forward. When Jamar goes forward to rest Pedo goes into the ruck and Howe drops back to cover him. It's novel, it's unique, it's probably shithouse.

I think we can get away with Pedersen in defence as long as McDonald and Garland are in form, and we've got to do something to get Howe forward. Can you have him, Dawes, Watts and Hogan in the same forward line? Of course you can as long as they're not all going for the same ball. Dawes and Watts can keep pushing up the ground (god help us we need to take a contested mark) while Hogan takes strong grabs inside 50 (and up the ground to compensate for the others) and Howe puts the fear of god into backmen across the league by planting his boot into their Trachea. I though Howe did well yesterday without being damaging, and when he's forward he can do damage. If you made me choose two of him, Dawes or Watts in the forward line I'd be giving one of the latter two the Route 798 bus timetable. He'll be happy wherever he ends up next.

Everyone knew that a reverse was coming, but for the second week in a row we had the other side on the ropes but failed to even throw a knockout blow let alone land one. Garlett and Kennedy-Harris could have both had a fourth, but after the sharp burst of attacking we reverted to being horrible at moving the ball inside 50. Again we were getting chances because the defenders were so dominant but nobody was capable of taking them.

This week's victim of the Tom McDonald All-Australian World Tour was Taylor Walker, who ended up getting three but could have had 10 with a less attentive defender considering how many times they kicked it at him. T. Mac had one of his characteristic howlers after throwing ball at boot in panic, and he did get pinched once for running too far down the middle of the ground but he has been a revelation this season. Let's see if he can replace Frawley in every aspect on Friday night by continuing Chip's legacy of flogging Jack Riewoldt every time they meet.

It started to look a lot like last week - down to the manic pressure early on - which was worrying when you know how that turned out. It even featured a trademark Garlett set shot howler, the sort of which has seen the price we paid for him at the trade table downgraded from BIG STEAL to QUITE A DISCOUNT and now PROBABLY FAIR PRICE. At least he puts pressure on in play as opposed to Dean Kent who can't kick a goal from a standing start either and is handy in a fight but only had one tackle all day.

We still have too many players who are good at some things and no good at others. Garlett and Kent can't kick set shots, McDonald can't kick at all, Watts can't take contested marks, Dawes can't take overhead marks and Howe can't find a coach (at this club) who will play him forward. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it's one reason we've been shite for so long. Most rebuilds can at least rely on a core of players who are either ready-made stars or have multiple strengths to play off. Our inability to create our own star players is why we've tried so hard to find one from another club, but one thing I can't stand is bad kicking for goal - we get so few shots each week that it's criminal to butcher so many of them. Except when Hogan missed from 20m out directly in front after the world's shimmiest run up, because he can do no wrong in my eyes.

It was party time for anti-Watts fanatics at the end of the first quarter, when after we'd kept them to one goal until then he dropped an absolute sitter which gifted them a second then we conceded a third immediately after. He had an absolute 'mare and no doubt extremists have already burnt a set of goalposts on his front lawn, but is it any coincidence that he's been toilet since Dawes came back, or was Round 1 just another in a long line of teases? Horrid attempt at a mark that it was if I were the defence lawyer I'd point out that it happened in defence and for god's sake keep him out of defence - though I suppose everyone ends up in defensive 50 at some point these days so that's hardly going to work. Either way I'm still happy to go with him until we can find somebody better who is not Jack Fitzpatrick to play the same role.

While all the good work had been undone much quicker than last week, we thankfully avoided keeling over and dying on the spot. The Crows got in front quickly enough in the second quarter before we managed to mire them in trench warfare. They still looked more likely to score but our defence was holding up heroically, in stark contrast to the forwards who couldn't get close to it.

We grabbed the lead back when a (delete to match your political views) Watts attempted mark/Watts squibbing a marking contest ended in Hogan waltzing into an open goal but that was it for us. Fortunately we kept them to just one more for the rest of the term, and suddenly it was 2014 all over again where we'd adjust the video game style sliders to 99% defence, 1% attack and grimly hold out under siege while looking less likely to score a goal ourselves than the Yackandandah Auskick All-Stars against Hawthorn.

After all that manic defence, pressure and attack on Patrick Dangerfield's testicles the quarter almost ended with the same sort of farcical scenes as the first when Lumumba - playing his best game of the regular season - chose to try and kick the ball along the boundary under pressure instead of just casually running it over. God knows why but of course it went straight out on the full. Luckily for him Betts missed and he was otherwise very good so it'll be quickly forgotten instead of used as evidence as to why he must be shot at dawn. It should be noted that Kent did something similar late in the game, which might have been understandable if the umpires were red hot (cliche) on deliberate but given they wouldn't pay holding the ball most of the day so what chance did you have of getting pinched for walking over the line? With the way they were going probably around 50/50.

I spent much of the second half lying on the couch nursing a headache caused by general sporting tension, and therefore most of the remaining play was seen sideways. I could see a lot of rain falling, and the Crows gradually pulling away while we sent out a search party to find the six or seven players on our side who had totally disappeared.

When the rain started and we were on 4.6.30 it seemed like we were going to end on a none-more-2014 score like 5.9.39 so at least we did a bit better than that but any hope that our problem for the last couple of years was there not being enough games played in the rain were dashed as the Crows eased away. We weren't too bad considering lack of experience playing in the rain, but nor were 22 Mark McGough style mudlarks suddenly discovered.

Vince vs Dangerfield I reached its logical conclusion earlier than expected when what passes for a footy brawl these days broke out at three quarter time. Nothing was sorted out other than a few thousand dollars into AFL's coffers, but at least it proved that even if Kent can't kick a set shot to save his life that he's the sort of person who'd make a difference in a street fight with a king hit or a cheap shot. I like that about him, it's about all I did like of his performance yesterday but he's young enough to learn to put together four quarter performances as well as being moderately thuggish.

To any normal side the margin at three quarter time wouldn't have been insurmountable considering the rain had stopped, but with heavy legs from slogging through swimming pool conditions for 30 minutes it was going to take a miracle switch of gear for us to get close. After all we'd kicked three goals in five minutes in the first quarter and three over the next two and a half quarters so it was hardly likely but you never know. Until about two minutes in when they kicked a goal and crushed any hope of a memorable finish.

Part of the difference was that they had a classy forward line and we didn't - which could have been said at almost any time over the last few years. Hogan continued to battle but didn't have the support and we only managed one more goal when Garlett padded his otherwise ordinary performance by waltzing through an unguarded square. Best of luck to him, when you;'re in our position you've got to take what you can get - and we're much better served giving him the chance to run and kick than to have deliberate shots from anywhere further than 10m out directly in front.

While we weren't horrible the good signs were limited - Hogan plays like a veteran, Jones bounced back after been squashed last week and played a tough game in the conditions, the defence were all good and a few other players were reasonable without being great. Credit to Jamar for going almost completely solo in the ruck once Frost went off and doing a reasonable job against Jacobs, but for the second week in a row the midfield couldn't take full advantage at centre bounces.

The introduction of Angus Brayshaw proved a highlight because he spent the entire time he was on the ground trying to tear opponents limb-from-limb (seven tackles? Yes please) and also showed some form with the ball in hand - I do believe that if he starts as sub on Friday night I might be hanging over the race screaming foul invective at Roos, Goodwin and anybody else who will listen.

The downsides included Dawes failing to doing anything memorable, Dunn playing a good defensive game but not getting enough of the ball, Tyson not showing anything near his 2014 form yet this year and a clear demonstration that we can't play Kent, JFK and Garlett in the same side at the moment.

We're back. In the race to avoid the spoon. What number do I fax the priority pick application to?

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes

Congratulations to Angus Brayshaw who joins Motivational Matthew Bate during 186 as the only player to receive votes after starting as the substitute - and on the occasion of the first of many votes in his MFC career.

5 - Bernie Vince
4 - Tom McDonald
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Heritier Lumumba
1 - Angus Brayshaw

Apologies to Jamar, Hogan, Jetta and Garland

Leaderboard

Something odd is happening at the top as the King of Sizzle extends his lead to almost two full best-on-ground performances. Betting was temporarily suspended when he copped a blow to the ribs but he returned to continue his assault on Frawley's 37 votes in 2010, the current best performance by a defender in the 10 year history of the Jakovich. Will it last, or will it be a Nathan Carroll style penthouse to outhouse scenario in the second half of the year (without the eventual spitting of blood at police officers)? Stay tuned to find out.

14 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince
4 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
2 - Heritier Lumumba, Christian Salem
1 - Angus Brayshaw, Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
With a small field to pick from I'll have to opt for Ben Newton off two steps, under pressure after receiving a surprise handball for the first goal of the game.

Clubhouse leader still Tyson in Round 1.



If every team that plays Richmond doing horribly written gags about the microwaving of memberships wasn't bad enough, the noble art of banner making was dealt a further hammer blow by North Melbourne last Sunday afternoon when they replaced the traditional crap slogan and crepe paper with a levitating Mazda curtain - presumably in the name of 'fan engagement' but more likely in the name of 'this is the sort of tripe our cheersquad has served up in the past'.

I respect our cheersquad still going ape week after week around the country when the team has been shithouse for years, I respect that they might not always deliver poetic gold but don't try funky gag slogans either and most of all I respect their kerning - but the day we choose/are forced to add a curtain for players to run through or to replace the banner entirely with a gimmick somebody bought off Drones4U.com will be the day when it's time for our crowd to take the moral high ground and formally disband.

Realistically if it wasn't for this segment I could do without the banner entirely, but as long as people want to 'engage' themselves rather than waiting for the clubs to put on hoverbikes and firecrackers then best of luck to them. We've had our fair share of cheersquad controversies over the years (and I'm still waiting for Hocko's autobiography to hit shelves) but at least the club has never toyed with the fragile emotions of people who watch gash football every week by sacking them, removing key duties or switching to an invite only model.

Anyway, before official cheersquads are outlawed and everyone's forced to go rogue like those pisshead Richmond fans there was a banner judging to be had. Adelaide's looked like the label of a $10 wine bottle. 3-0 Dees.

Next Week
Back into the sweet, merciful bosom of the MCG. More importantly thanks to the Anzac Day commemorations we'll be spared 'fan engagement' for another home game. Also unlike say.. the whole of 2014 we've won a home game already so that's one monkey off the back and several hundred to go.

At least Richmond provide a reasonable chance of us not being humiliated on the national stage, and if they thrash us let a thousand think pieces about the Roos legacy bloom. They killed Brisbane, but even we might do that at the moment so I hold out hopes that we can win this. Not holding my breath though.

Michie was best on ground at Casey, so considering our midfield is only just ticking along I'm keen to give them another option. We don't need all three of the small forwards, and in a toss-up between Kent and JFK the angry one loses out.

IN: Pedersen, Michie
OUT: Frost (inj), Kent (omit)
LUCKY: Kennedy-Harris

Final Thoughts
The heartbeat has too many murmurs to be true. We've been worse, but how long are people going to hang around wait for competitiveness to turn into respectability to turn into success? Let's start by battering the suitcase out of Richmond on Friday night.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Division required



In affectionate remembrance of The Feelgood Factor
Which died at Manuka Oval on 11 April 2015
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances
RIP
N.B - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Brunton Avenue

Melbourne fans, welcome back to your comfort zone. Cling once more to our warm and familiar status as a doormat of the competition. Find your productivity at work improved by not having every second person stop you to talk footy, and confirm your travel plans for September. Our week long respectability bender has come to a screaming half and all that's left are the memories and a crushing hangover.

Given that we've not won two games in a row since the afternoon when we became the next big thing both the rational and irrational parts of my brain were in agreement that there would be some kind of embarrassing reverse in Canberra. Nothing conclusive had been proven from a single victory, other than the fact that nobody parties like us over a regulation win, and as much as I desperately wanted to win again there was also the crippling anxiety of knowing we'd be exposed as frauds before long.

We've been through the boom and bust cycle enough over the last few years, so the only thing putting me in a worse mood is that as part of the AFL's conspiracy to get the franchises a win early in the season came at the hands of my most hated club. It's far more fashionable to despise Collingwood or to grapple with an Essendon fan in line outside Richmond Station but I hate everything about the Giants except a) when they gave Junior McDonald a game, b) any player we get from them later and c) their Moscow, Moscow style song. The rest makes me violently ill even before you-know-who gets involved.

So given the opposition and our toxic performance in the second half you'd think I'd have gone completely off my rocker and ended up in a psychiatric hospital yesterday afternoon... but no, against the odds I crashed through the anger phase by kicking a chair over after the 7th or 8th effortless goal during the third quarter and on the highly relevant five stages of grief scale it was de(e)pression early in the last term and acceptance by the next ad break. This is our role, to have nothing better than one night stands with glory before everything goes tits up again shortly after.

You can wheel in as many players from other clubs and draftees as possible but the club is still mental. They have donation options to give money to taking kids to games, to boost our recruiting or to buy the latest and greatest in equipment but where's the option to put money towards bringing the world's greatest sports psychologists in to sort this joint out. In the meantime I implore you to continue treating any sort of victory like a grand final or you'll lose the plot and do something stupid like take up rugby union.

Having seen the disaster rapidly unfold from the comfort of my own loungeroom (now with one less chair) it's clear that I was right to spend the week expecting the rug to be yanked from under us, but there was still enough winning glee hanging around for me to waste a vital tip in the hotly contested Footy Maths Tipping Institute League suggesting we'd win by 10.

During the first quarter when the Giants were playing like they'd swapped Leon Cameron for Leon Klinghoffer it seemed like a reasonable tip. The Melbourne Football Club was in its sixth consecutive quarter of looking like a proper team, and I started to wonder "is this how Hawthorn fans feel?" Up until the bit where our dreams were dropped into a vat of acid the answer was "yes".

For the second week in a row we'd opened up the sort of lead that is simultaneously comfortable and terrifying. The Giants couldn't have been playing any worse at the start so it was unlikely that we were going to run away with it but from five goals in front my negativity only stretched as far as losing a thriller. Then darkness. The same sort of lifeless, pride-free performance that you've seen time and time again over the last decade - an inability to put up even token resistance as the opposition piles on goal after goal. Last week we got away with it, this time we.. err.. didn't - and in spectacular fashion.

Finally the Giants had their revenge for that magical day when we kicked 12 in the last quarter and Max Gawn (remember him?) killed a novelty wig wanker, and an entire commentary box climaxed as one while pretending that a side running riot around a group of witches hats had some sort of implications on the finals race.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all or would you rather we'd started badly and slowly ebbed away to a 55 point loss over the afternoon? I suppose that as a Melbourne fan you'd have to be objective and say that at least we got to see a taste of slashing football but that hardly detracts from the nightmare which followed.

We'd ended last week running away with victory after turning back a furious charge by the Suns (who as it now turns out are complete wank) and the first quarter yesterday was more of the same. The Giants were so badly bamboozled that they reverted to the rudderless side we knew, loved and were once capable of beating. I'm not sure it's ever been said before on these pages but our four goal lead at quarter time didn't nearly tell the full story of how we'd dominated them.

In the good times the star of the show was undoubtedly the previously much maligned King of Sizzle, Tom McDonald who not only managed to find himself on the end of a chain of accurate, penetrating (cliche) kicks to boot the first goal and bring his tally up to three in three games after none in the first 60 but then went down the other end and executed the best spoil of modern times - including Grimes in Adelaide last year - to deny Jeremy Cameron. He'd continue to comfortably beat Cameron throughout the afternoon, unfortunately when they got a run on the Giants had goalkickers coming out the yin yang and we didn't have enough in us to stop them all.

Mr. Spoil bounced back after giving away a questionable free kick (the first of many, but let's not get into umpiring conspiracies here they didn't stop us getting five goals in front and were barely in a factor in our demise) which gifted them the first shot for the day only for Rhys Palmer to give everyone a boost by shanking it out on the full in spectacular fashion. How we laughed as it sliced into crowd, setting up one of several Giants who would have the last laugh on us a couple of hours later.

We laughed even harder when $cully fell flat on his arse later in the quarter. Even if we'd won (hah) he'd still have the last laugh as an average player making millions for being in the right place at the right time, but are TV commentators really blind enough not to understand why fans still hate his guts? "Will Sam Frost get the same reaction?" said the usually sensible Anthony Hudson. Well obviously he won't considering a) Giants fans probably don't know who he is anyway and b) fair trades between clubs are far removed from cowardly midnight escapes to chase filthy money.

Sadly when it all went wrong he got an actual rather than financial free kick and stuck it right up us by adding a goal in the carnage followed by his most beaming smile since the day he went to 'check the facilities' at GWS and came out with a few million in the bank. Neutral and journalists who think we'll forgive and forget any time soon are on one. Until trade week 2017 when in the last five minutes we swap pick 56 for him and everyone will be expected to pretend he's a good bloke again. Not me, I'll put together league tables which exclude any score he's involved with.

Of the numerous players who went missing when it turned ugly in the second half Dean Kent may have had the most spectacular fall. He was everywhere during the good times, kicking a fantastic goal on an astute tap down from Dawes (not as good as Watts to Garlett last week though), contributing around the ground and doing what he does best by missing set shots. Then near on bugger all after that. At first I was regretting that I'd opted for JFK over him in my proposed changes, by the end.. well by the end it wouldn't have mattered one way or the other because 18 players went overboard in the third quarter so how much difference could one small forward have made?

Much of the early dominance came via rebounding out of defence, and looking back there were plenty of worrying signs in the middle of the ground even as we were joyously kicking away to what has is no longer anywhere near a match-winning lead. I'll excuse Vince for looking rusty in his first proper game of the season, and Jones for getting squashed once after carrying the club on his shoulders for three years but there was very little else going on and seemingly no interest in changing the mix while we were winning. As it turns out there was equally no interest in altering things when we started losing but that's another story.

When the ball was pinging through the middle at a million miles an hour as Giants players stood around looking confused everyone seemed to be a winner, but at stoppages the only winners in the early going were Viney and Jamar. Jack continued his excellent tagging work and was threatening to snap somebody into two with a tackle but seemed much more careful with the ball this time - as the day went on he reverted back to throw ball at foot and hope for the best but so did everyone else. Jamar was also important early, and was on top of Mumford in the battle of men built like blocks of flats but didn't have anywhere near enough support. Eventually he had to take matters into his own hands and nab a goal straight out of the ruck in one of the largest pieces of crumb we've seen in recent years.

That didn't last either, but at least he was vital in getting us to the point where we could stuff it up in spectacular fashion. It should come as no surprise to anybody who begrudgingly sat through our last nightmare against the Giants that things started to turn in their favour when they had a player go off injured. In this case it was their back-up ruckman, and as much as the commentators tried to tell us how it would be horrible for Mumford to have to go on his own for the rest of the day all Melbourne fans must have said "oh shit, here we go again". Next time we play them they'll sub somebody off after a minute and flog us anyway.

Down back you'd have been hard pressed to know Jeremy Howe was even playing - and he went on to do absolutely nothing for the day except drop a few marks because the degree of difficulty was too low. Fortunately he didn't take advantage of everybody's rock hard state to sign a massive contract extension during the week as we - or more accurately another club - can probably get him for half the price now. Mind you it's not like we did anything to get him into the game, but going merrily to the grave without question seemed to be a key feature of the performance.

It wasn't necessarily that everything was going right for us, it's that everything was going wrong for them so there was always a danger of a comeback once they regrouped. It would have been good to put a side away for the first time in god knows how long considering we'd faded out to a certain degree in the second half of all four competitive games played so far this year but when you've spent a years lucky to kick 10 goals in a game one week of scoring 117 doesn't mean you've suddenly learnt to kill sides off.

Usually I'd put these fade-outs down to psychological illnesses caused by playing in a losing cause for so long but considering so many players are now is it a fitness issue? I know most of them played all three practice matches but if they're exhausted after that we might as well shut the place down. They bounced back in the last quarter against the Suns when challenged but I'm many of them looked fried in the third and were probably running on winning adrenaline alone by that point. Take the easy way out and blame the Paleo diet even if like me you've no bloody idea what it is.

Though it seemed we should have led by even more at quarter time and that the reverse was going tt come at any moment even I lifted an eyebrow in excitement when Hogan got the first goal of the second term. Ignore the umpire guessing he'd marked it when it may very well have hit the ground because in true Melbourne fashion we allowed them to kick a goal straight out of the middle to make it for it. After grafting away to keep them to a goalless quarter it was proven that the most reliable attacking option for a team playing us is to get to a centre bounce and watch magic unfold.

Once we conceded that goal the tide began turning rapidly against us and it was only rancid kicking for goal which stopped them from catching us even earlier. Between Garlett's arsey snap and Newton's goal right at the end we put on a great trial of what was to come after half time by barely getting our hands on the ball.

Unfortunately by the time I'd adjusted to Fox Footy's long distance camera work we only had two goals left in us. The game in Ballarat that Hutchy filmed on his mobile phone looked better than this. Do we get blamed for the (presumably) horrible TV ratings due to the handful of neutrals who gave it a chance before turning off when they found it was being shot on a long lens from Queanbeyan. To contribute to the carnival atmosphere there was one point where they momentarily went to a break while Neville Jetta was having a kick. During the third quarter I was wishing they'd stuck with the Sam Querrey vs Feliciano Lopez clay court tennis match that had been turfed off Fox Sports at 3-2 in the first set so our game would come on. No idea how Sam and Feliciano got on, but in tennis parlance I think we lost 6-1, 7-5, 0-6, 0-6, 0-6.

When their 15 minute spell of pressure came to nowt due to Kent/Garlett-esque set shot kicking and Newton kicked his goal against the run of play it seemed like the tide was running so strongly in our favour that it was ok to believe again. When the behind-the-goal replay showed a quarter of the GWS cheersquad (one person) having a tantrum as the ball went through that confirmed it. She probably found out that she was the only person in the ground who had actually paid for their ticket. How I mocked her at the time (while simultaneously trying to weld the MFC lid down) but ultimately there's another figure related to the Giants who had the last laugh - I expect even Sheedy was sitting at home laughing manically while we went the way of Leon.

A hard fought goal that should have set us up perfectly going into half time was rendered useless thirty seconds later when we gifted them another goal straight out of the middle in the time honoured tradition. It's easily said after the disaster but in retrospect I wish we'd gone into full Classic Roos defensive mode after the goal considering how they'd been well on top before it.

Of course being ultra-defensive doesn't usually work when the opposition clear from the centre in four seconds unless you relocate the forwards into the defensive 50, and no coach is going to do that unless there's 20 seconds left in the game, but even just holding it in the middle for a repeat stoppage would have been preferable to watching them sweep forward and kick the goal which ultimately tilted the game in their direction. Unfortunately none of this could have been considered as about 20 minutes later we discovered that the Plan B envelope was still going around in circles on the baggage carousel at Canberra Airport.

The only thing worse than needlessly conceding that goal going into half time was that it fell to one of the most unpleasant looking characters of recent years. Cameron McCarthy certainly appears to be a reasonable player who worked hard to give the Giants a forward target while Tom Mc was flogging Cameron, and he ultimately took full advantage of the avalanche to kick three goals so good luck to him but he has a face likely to scare children. He's taken the despised Lynden Dunn moustache look to frightening new levels of depravity by also introducing a Michael Hurley style taxi driver basher haircut and having the mo droop at either end.

If he moved into your neighbourhood you'd definitely consult a particular register of previously convicted offenders to make sure he wasn't on it. Our legal department would like to point out you most certainly won't find him on there, but you will probably see a few familiar names from the various football codes. He will probably go on to kick more goals than Jesse Hogan in the end, because we are destined never to have nice things.

Still, even after conceding a goal to a guy who looks like the teenagers awkwardly loitering around the Magistrates Court we had a handy lead. It would take a lead of about 15 goals to make me comfortable at half time but it was better than being 27 behind. It was a reasonable insurance policy to keep us in the game until the end as long as we didn't do anything stupid like concede nine goals to one in the third quarter.

They had been much better in the second quarter, but then again we had Tyson, Jones and Howe barely getting a touch and Vince still running himself back into form so it's not like there wasn't potential for improvement at our end. It just didn't happen, and while we stood back and enjoyed the fireworks the Giants trotted around unchallenged doing whatever they wanted.

At the time I didn't know that we hadn't torched such a half-time margin since being 34 up against the Bulldogs at half time in Round 12, 2000 then losing by 25 (I was there but have obviously wiped it from my memory) but it still seemed like a rarity. Turns out to be only the 12th time we've ever done it. By way of comparison this was more like Round 17, 1997 when we were inexplicably 30 points in front of the Pies at half time then lost by 52. I remember that one better, for I was listening to it on the radio at home and threw things - 18 years later nothing has changed.

Given that I am only concerned when we're getting the football or stopping the other team getting it there's not a great deal to say about the third quarter. What angered me was that for 30 minutes we seemingly continued to do exactly the same thing while they tore us to shreds. I don't know if there were tactical shifts made which didn't pay off because we'd lost the plot or the Giants were too rampant but it didn't look that way. Considering that they were breaking out of the centre with the greatest of ease I never saw anything more adventurous than a low-key Harry O appearance. Any chance of throwing Dawes, Watts or even Hogan through there to knock a few people around and reassert our dominance? Might not have worked but it was an much chance at Jamar battling manfully with Mumford only for the ball to fall into the hands of an on-rushing opponent every time.

Realistically they were on such a high that it would't have helped if we had all 18 players take up religion and sing the chorus of Dropkick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts Of Life in the centre square but from the perspective of somebody who barely cares for footy tactics until the point where we'd conceding goals hand-over-fist was anybody put behind the ball to try and stem the tide? I know last week I was demanding that we stop messing around with Jack Watts and play him one position but in the event of an emergency why not send him down back for a few minutes to play as a loose man and calm things down? It's never a role he should play for four quarters but after the fifth goal in rapid succession trying anything would have been preferable.

No idea what Howe was supposed to be doing yesterday (and not sure if he did either) but even though he was having a mare what better man to have roaming free in the event of a non-stop aerial bombardment? Instead he gets left wandering around on a half-back flank unable to get a kick and by the time he did have a simple marking opportunity he was so surprised that he dropped it. Perhaps the coaches thought that we did such a good job answering challenges last week without doing anything drastic that we might as well adopt the same tactics. Which was fine after 1, 2, 3 and 4 goals and questionable after 5, 6 and 7 but a total bust from there.

We're well used to debacles by now so seeing a side run riot against us is hardly surprising but seeing us roll over and die no matter how many new players are introduced is disheartening. Speaking of new players the fizz on the ones who were so good last week was spectacular. The fizz on the new players who were so good last week was spectacular. Brayshaw is excused as the sub, Hogan is excused for being good, vandenBerg was ok at getting it but not so bad at disposing of it, Newton average at best considering goals and time off ground, Lumumba ordinary, Frost rubbish and Garlett a total bomb except for his crumb deluxe goal - admittedly that's what we pay him for but The Big Steal doesn't seem so immense this week.

If Hogan had kicked his goal at the start of the last quarter it might have made things interesting but realistically we'd necked ourselves in the last few minutes of the third quarter when they kicked the last three goals to not a sliver of resistance. We managed to get another goal and only lose the second half by 72 but all the confidence gained a week ago was now undone and most of the team looked like they were going through the motions only because we weren't allowed to officially concede and catch an earlier flight home.

The real winners are the AFL and their plan to get GWS off to a great start by fixturing them against the bottom two teams. What an amazing coincidence that Gold Coast ended up with exactly the same start - at least we momentarily interfered with the plot last week. What another remarkable stroke of luck it is that they'd managed to get the Giants 2-0 going into a Sydney derby next weekend. Remarkable. People who are into conspiracy theories are often dickheads, but when it's my theory everything about it is sound. I usually avoid Victorian teams like the plague but good on St Kilda for fighting the power last night and at least ruining half the plot.

If nothing else has come from the Giants whacking us at every opportunity at least games against them have joined the rivalry against Collingwood as being built on one-sided hatred (from us) and one-sided football (from them). The Footscray and Essendon games might give us more exciting outcomes but footy is much spicier when there are personal issues - even if only one side cares.

Burn the tapes and move on.

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Tom McDonald
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Jesse Hogan
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Mark Jamar

Apologies to Cross who was narrowly tipped out for the last vote. At half time I would have had 10 in here, by the end it was down to one and even then neither of them probably deserved it.

Leaderboard
Remarkable scenes at the top of the leaderboard as possibly the first key defender ever to lead extends the gap to over one full BOG performance. At the same time remember James Magner was on 10 after his first two games and what happened to him. Look out for Tom to be recommissioned as a defensive forward by Round 10 and a VFL player by 2017.

10 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jack Viney, Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Award)
2 - Nathan Jones, Christian Salem
1 - Mark Jamar (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Ben Newton

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Somebody must have read my comments about there being too many goals to choose from last week and thought I was suggesting this was a bad thing.

Considering we returned to scoring bugger again there were a few reasonable contenders this week. Special consideration to Dawes-to-Kent-Alley Oop, Garlett from the pocket and Newton causing pandemonium amongst the orange clad club shifters but I can't go past the wonderful simplicity of Jamar's super size crumb. He judged the flight of a wonky throw-in better, grabbed it out of mid air hoofed it through and momentarily life couldn't have been any better.

Last week's nominee (Dom Tyson with many assists) still the overall leader though.



Amazingly the GWS cheersquad (Chairman: Gil) have reverted to using O's instead of 0's in line with the rest of the English speaking world. It was still a disappointing effort considering the sort of money they've got available to them - it should be dripping with gold. Better that they don't spend it all I suppose, that's AFL money which could be be better spent bailing us out again in a couple of years. We still won on font and a reasonable slogan which quite correctly pointed out that you should watch out for a team with a point to prove. Unfortunately that was the other lot. 2-0 Dees.

Crowd Watch
It seemed unlikely that on any fair count the crowd would top the 7311 we got there against Sydney before the then Chief Minister of the ACT threw our contract in the bin, but in accordance with the GWS Crowd Manipulation Act of 2012 it was inflated in line with official Treasury Department projections and they managed to get it up to 7700. Maybe they won't be relocating to the ACT permanently any time soon.

It sounded like there were significantly more Melbourne fans there, because obviously most of the neutrals in the crowd realise that cheering GWS is like declaring your loyalty to Vichy France but by the end even they'd turned on us too. I don't blame them, if I saw a side put in that sort of limp performance against a hated franchise I'd treat them with contempt as well.

Capital Corner (formerly Matchday Experience Watch)
Would you even bother putting on spectacle for the transient audience of local neutrals, visitors who were still (briefly) high on victory and a handful of franchise customers? Whatever it was it didn't qualify for the television broadcast because we were busy being treated to the Home Matchday Experience of Tony Shaw guffawing away to himself and talking less sense than Dwayne Russell.

A few weeks ago I was in Canberra and being a politics nerd went to watch Question Time. When people say they follow football but not any team in particular I think they're generally weirdos but that's how I feel about politics, most of them are bent at right angles but I love watching people yell at each other in an environment where you can be sure nobody's going to get glassed.

As I sat in the Senate gallery watching Penny Wong do her best Nathan Jones impersonation with a heroic captains performance while leading a team full of duds and has-beens I was thinking that if you could find 499 voters willing to put their name to a party with a nice generic name like the Football Fans Party you might very well get elected. With an apathetic electorate willing to throw our vote away on anything these days it would attract support from fans of all codes, and if the Motoring Enthusiastis Party can get in with 17,122 votes I'm sure you could do even better than that even if you just called yourself the Collingwood Party. Sign a few sweet preference deals and start looking for an electorate office.

The prize package for anyone who can pull this scam off is at least six years as your own boss on a base rate of $195,130 plus expenses. You'll probably become a national hate figure for gaming the system like nobody ever has before (the "Sports Party" nearly got elected in WA last time but that's far too generic, I only want to vote for ball sports) but you'll also be enjoying a minimum $1.17m before-tax salary over your stint plus any outrageous pay rises you vote for yourself in the future. Give me a mention in your maiden speech.

Next Week
We're on a tour of the entertainment hotspots of the world. Canberra one week, Adelaide the next, can Atlantic City be far behind? Now that the good times have been well and truly proven a flash in the pan we can admit that the Crows will probably mangle us. They weren't nearly as impressive against Collingwood as they were against North but I'd fall off my couch if we got anywhere near them next Saturday.

As for the team I'm usually one to call in an airstrike on everyone in the wake of performances like this but given that it's only Round 3 I feel like we should exercise some caution and stick with a settled side. There's plenty of time left for slashing changes which leave Casey having to field 13-year-olds. So barring injuries, suspensions or surprise defections to ISIS I'm opting for the very simple...

IN: Pedersen
OUT: Frost

You may feel we need to massacre most of the list and bring in some of those fill-ins that Essendon had behind "break in case of emergency" glass, and I've got some sympathy for your position but you're never going to drop Tyson, Vince, Howe or Jones so it will help immensely if any or all of them get back to their best form next week. This was not a capitulation caused by the bottom four or five players.

The reviews on Dawes' performance seem to vary between uncomplimentary and murderous, and while he went under with everyone else in the end I thought he was very good early on. The argument is that we looked so much better without him that he go and join Jack Grimes in trying to win back his position through the VFL but personally I feel he's still important enough to persist with at least for a few weeks before we bring Puttin' On The Fitz back for another go. We're not going to win so let's just put what we think is the best 22 in and try to get the tactical side of things right instead of panicking.

I have a horrible feeling that Brayshaw is going to get dropped when what should happen is that he's reinstated to the starting lineup. I've got no problems using him as the sub this time because we had a reasonably strong (on paper) lineup but he was a wrecking ball against Gold Coast and we're going to need anti-social brutality by the truck-load to have any chance next week so I want him in there doing suplexes on Dangerfield and Sloane from the first bounce.


The merchandise table
On the left, a present received during the week from my cousin-in-law. Clearly a garage production rather than official AFL licenced merchandised but they could have at least deadened the eyes a bit to make it look like him instead of working off a Steven Stretch sketch from 1989. I'd like to think there are 9999 of these still slowly rotting away in boxes on a dock in Hong Kong. Here's to both manufacturer and subject going bankrupt.

By the fourth quarter I was tempted to start drinking cleaning fluids out of it, but that's what he ($cully, not the giver of the gift) would want me to do. Any word yet of where he's invested his ill-gotten millions and what we can do to make sure the stock price of those companies plunge to record lows?

* Please note, the above picture has been presented in thumbnail format deliberately as I know many of you have small children and I don't want them to become distressed. Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

Final Thoughts
I'm not surprised people are upset after watching that gash, but we play Adelaide, Footscray (resurgent), Richmond (still dangerous), Fremantle, Port (contenders), Hawthorn (imperious) before Queen's Birthday so don't use up all your despair yet. Save some cyanide for me.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Reclaim Round 1



What a remarkable situation we find ourselves in where a win over a plastic franchise nearly brings a tear to the eye, but here we are. In the end the opposition was irrelevant, after nine seasons of having our summer dreams violently snuffed out by half time of the first meaningful game the victims might as well have been Peel Thunder for all it mattered - another weight has been lifted and we are free to go into Round 2 on a high for the first time in a decade.

How long has it been since we've won in Round 1? Well, it was the first home and away match I ever 'reviewed', and Ryan Ferguson was adjudged second best on ground. It has been a while. That night I was so keyed up on the emotion of the Troy Broadbridge tribute and the electricity of our performance that after the game I went home, got in my car and drove to Geelong for no apparent reason, arrived at about 2am, turned around immediately, got home and chucked a sickie from work the next day - which didn't make the report for obvious reasons.

Since then Round 1 has usually been a downer. Other than the draw that opened that ice addict of a season in 2011 we've seen defeat (2007, 2009, 2010) and disgrace (2006, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014), all while never getting closer than 21 points other than the draw. After going through what often seemed like the best time of the year to be a Melbourne fan - trade, draft and time trials, Round 1 has more often than not been the sporting equivalent of fatal free-fall caused by malfunctioning helicopter blades.

The problem in the last three years has been that every time we've gone in thinking we were going to win or (at least be a red hot chance) only for it to blow up in our faces. Last year there were excuses about injuries to key players, but losing to St Kilda was still a uppercut squarely to the jaw. This time, with conventional wisdom suggesting that if Ablett never did his shoulder the Suns would have played in the finals and poor old Guy McKenna would still have a job, nobody was tipping us and almost every Melbourne fan I know was thinking of nothing more than bedding in the recruits and fighting out a battling loss to give us a much needed rev up for the rest of the year.

Instead something wonderful happened, the sort of thing that will cause you sit through the buffoonery of any footy panel show (unless you're me and missed the Sunday ones while writing this) just to hear them heap faint praise on us after six months of paying not even the slightest attention. The game won't go down as a classic based on quality alone, but all of a sudden I've got renewed hope in my dark, distressed heart that it could be a turning point for us to look back on in a few years. If not at least it'll go down alongside games like Carlton 2014 as enjoyable wins, but not as enjoyable as knocking over Essendon with 19 seconds left.

It just went to show how much better a surprise is when you've drastically lowered your expectations. See also Watts, Jack - the people who lay in wait for him behind a hedge with a artillery battalion will never be happy but for the rest of us who have stopped expecting him to be a Jonathan Brown (or indeed Jesse Hogan) style military strongman or a Lynden Dunn-esque angry defender yesterday was a revelation. Or more accurately a welcome throw-back to 2011 when he was just starting to find his feet as a forward and had enough confidence to blind turn nobody like he was pressing buttons on a Playstation controller. Amazing what happens when you play somebody to their strength (runs quickly, leads well, generally an accurate shot on goal) instead of trying to ram the square peg into the round hole. Hopefully the temptation is resisted to move him from one spot to another just when he's finding some form, but no doubt with Dawes back next week he'll be shifted to a half-back flank again and it'll be back to square one.

During 2012 putting him down back and letting him mop up cheap touches briefly seemed like a stroke of genius thanks to the fact that he's a great field kick, but even though it looked good while the side was having a rare positive day out it fell apart badly all the other times when we were being flogged - and having both and a coach and supporters calling him every name under the sun can't have helped his confidence. I gave up on judging him against his draft position long ago, and while confidence fluctuated wildly throughout last year resolve is strong to just enjoy the ride of a 200 game player who generally appears to be a nice guy despite all the shit that's been hurled at him and who doesn't beat up taxi drivers or abuse women. Near best on ground performances in wins are a bonus.

Of course there are still people dying for excuses to hate him, and they'll have their time to shine. Witness the reaction from some sections when he dropped an easy chest mark, but then contrast that the reception he got running off after kicking a goal straight after. It didn't have the same force of the good guy turn that Heritier Lumumba has undergone when our fans realised he was a valuable addition but it was nice to see that either the majority of people are fair about this sort of thing or have been battered so much over the years that they can be bought off by a goal.

There were so many magnificent storylines in this game that I don't know where to start. It's easy enough to come on here and moan about how poor we've been in defeat but what am I supposed to do now? Usually the timing of our goals is my marker to remember what happened in the game but - and I can't believe I'm saying this - this week there were too many. This is a situation I'd like to be in every week if at all possible. It was a modest score by anybody else's standards, but our highest since the fourth quarter avalanche against GWS in 2013. If you'd rather a game where we didn't just feast in carcass then go back to the $cully game in 2012. And if you refuse to accept that GWS exist - and I don't blame you - then set your clock way back to Round 14, 2011, where we kicked 17.16.118 to beat Richmond in front of 61,000 people (!!!) and leave ourselves half a game inside the eight with bright lights on the horizon - which as it turned out were from an oncoming train.

Indeed it was a four quarter performance against a finals contender - the ladder is generally the only thing I ever get close to predicting correctly and I had them finishing seventh - and while we got some help from the Suns kicking for goal like muppets and subbing off their only decent key forward for reasons unknown (was there an injury or was Rocket on the gas?) let that not detract from the way we played like the gameplan and psychological shackles had been thrown off. There was a bit of corridor work last year, but the few times we slashed through the middle stood out like dogs' balls after two years of hugging the boundary - this was different. It was like new moves had been added to the arsenal in the two weeks since the Essendon game. There'd been hints of this happening - especially against the Bulldogs - but yesterday the plan operated at high efficiency with pleasing results. No idea whether it'll last or whether 16 coaches are now preparing man-traps for us in the centre of the ground but at least we enjoyed one afternoon of free-flowing and at times wonderfully reckless football (at least to the untrained eye, it probably all made perfect sense to the people involved) that made me understand what the fans of other clubs are on about when they talk about footy being exciting.

It also helped that we did a great job of keeping Ablett out of the game for three quarters. No doubt he'll eventually get three Brownlow votes on name value alone, but even allowing for the fact that he's about 25% fit we squashed him. Much of the credit goes to Jack Viney, who like a luxury Jordie McKenzie could tag for Australia but fills me with terror every time he kicks. Everyone likes to point out that his dad wasn't a great kick and that turned ok, and I'm sure it will but at the very least we've got ourself a player who can pay for his wonky disposals by doing bang-up jobs on the best players in the competition with a hint of scrag. At least unlike 2013 Gaz took his beating like a man instead of running off to the umpires demanding free kicks.

Whether or not a fit Ablett would have delivered victory is questionable, I'd say the way he was being sat on and his cameo performance up front in the last quarter they'd have been better off conceding defeat at half time and sending him forward to help sort of the slurry that their alleged goalkickers were serving up. But they didn't and we won, so sucked in to all 13 Suns fans.

The added bonus was that in the end we did it comfortably enough as not to cause heart attacks. Our membership has an average age of about 72 so thrillers aren't good for anybody's business except the person who runs the bequest program. In fact it got to the point where I even started to enjoy that unfamiliar feeling when you're sick in the stomach at being so far in front that it would be embarrassing to lose but you're not confident your side can hold on. I thought I felt it in Ballarat a few weeks ago but this was about 500% more brutal because the eyes of the footballing world were on us.

There were certainly times when it was looking dicey, but where we'd have keeled over and died in the last couple of years (if we had managed to get that far in front to begin with) there was new-found resilience. When they kicked the first three goals of the last quarter my heart sank because it seemed that that half our side were spent. Jamar had already been cramping up like a mofo late in the third quarter after playing 80% of the game in the ruck, and now more of his teammates were walking around with hands on hips so it was all set for disaster. But no, enter Lumumba with the intercept, the goal and the Broadway style high stepping celebration and the ship was steadied long enough to crush Gold Coast's fragile spirit and send everyone who mattered home levitating about two foot off the ground. What a day out it ended up being - a carnival atmosphere for the whole family, and especially the kids who really needed this one so they could go back to school with some strut for once.

After months of nerves it was much as expected early in the game - we were clearly brimming with enthusiasm but untidy and unfocused. It took the Suns scoring two behinds before Dean Kent lifted spirits when his brave marking attempt was foiled by some idiot with disco hair cleaning him up. Kent's courage was one thing, but consider that he was leading (*swoon*) to a fantastic kick (*double swoon*) from Hogan (*religious experience*) and dream of a Red and Blue Planet at some point in your lifetime. After he got cleaned up it was heart-warming to see Frost and Harry O first in for the light-hearted shoving/fake biff but everyone kept their head, Tyson was gifted the first goal of the year from the square and was an easy start to the season for everyone unless you were the one wearing the crimson mask and having to be temporarily subbed out for concussion testing.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the first half was the performance of the backline as they continued their good work from the practice games in making the Suns look like us (circa 2012-14). Admittedly Sam Day may as well have had Dame Edna up there for all the help he were getting from teammates, but we still looked difficult to breach. The best of the lot was McDonald, who made us forget (hopefully permanently) about Frawley with a magnificent key defensive performance that ended with him having 10 marks and leading the disposals (!). You still wouldn't have him kick for your life, but what MFC defender of recent times would you choose if you were on the gallows? He flubbed at least one in spectacular style, and his habit of running around his opponent is always on the verge of disaster but it's a good start. Let's see how he goes against a forward line with more than one option, but the early signs are great.

Other than a steel-trap backline the most noticeable thing right from the start was the tackling pressure. All the usual suspects like Jones, Jetta, Viney and Cross were in there but so too were the recruits - especially Brayshaw who made it clear why we hid him in VFL games for the last few weeks when he spent the first three quarters poleaxing people before being subbed off. I also highly enjoyed vandenBerg's performance in this field, he was sold to us as possession machine and showed aspects of that but nobody told me he was such a physical beast as well. No bloody wonder he was getting 56 touches in the NEAFL if he was just walking through semi-professionals like he did to some highly paid AFL players yesterday. He's instantly shot past Matt Jones and Rohan Bail in my pecking order, and the longer we can go without relying on the second tier midfielders like them the better.

I know a lot of people only turned up because it was Round 1, but there was serious buzz amongst our fans when the game started tilting in our direction. As Jamar got the second (caressing the ball through in a way that suggests he is a gentle and patient lover) suddenly 25,000 people realised that we were not only staying in touch with the favourites but actually had a chance of winning, which caused the energy levels to go through the roof. By midway through the second quarter the crowd was so excited that they even went right off when the big screen showed a close up of somebody eating a meat pie. Mitch Clark and James Frawley will probably line up next to each other tomorrow with 90,000 people looking on and each agree that it's the greatest thing ever, but our fans must make more noise per capita than anyone - which is probably because every goal could be the last.

And now a word for my new favourite minority ground - the recruits. It was the most club debutantes we've have in a Round 1 win since Round 1, 1907 when we reacted to a 1-16 season in 1906 by blooding six first gamers and four recruits from other clubs before rumbling South Melbourne at the Lake Oval. Bet they didn't have same the impact our lot did yesterday - even if they were more than half the team. Compared to the seven new players we put out in the first game 2013 and six last year this was a golden generation.

Brayshaw looked like he'd already played about 50 games, tackled everyone that went near him and used the ball nearly flawlessly when he got it. Frost was probably the least effective of the lot but is a significant upgrade on The Spencil as far as field play goes without losing much on the ruck front. vandenBerg is, as previously discussed, a man who looks capable of killing an animal with his bare hands and you can see exactly why Port were so keen to keep Ben Newton but also why he was keen to go elsewhere and play every week instead of pottering around in the SANFL.

Garlett's game was a joy - he plays like somebody driving at 200km/h on a wet road with the same mix of near disaster and thrilling edge-of-your-seat moments. He looked nervous early on, and that first set shot was a shambles, but as he started to chill out and enjoy himself The Big Steal from Carlton started to look even more like the deal of the 21st century. How good was his goal straight out of the middle after we'd just conceded one? It's usually us who have an almighty struggle to get one goal on the board then hand it back 13 seconds later - what divine glory it was to see it happen the other way for once.

We waited long enough for Hogan, and while I would have obviously preferred to see him without the 12 month delay it was well worth it in the end. He kicked goals, he roamed the field like a outlaw biker looking for somebody to beat up and he took contested marks - the best of which saw him dismissing his opponent with a perfectly timed and legal shove before marking. He was in everything and I think I am in love with him. He could be the first genuinely physically scary forward we've had since Neitz.

But of all the good times courtesy of the new players my personal highlight was the rock star reception afforded to Harry O, probably from the very same people who were threatening to throw their membership into the sea when we recruited him. He was better held in the second half, but it was the performance of a man with something to prove and if he's going to have to settle his feud with Buckley by playing out of his skin then we'll all be winners. The positive reaction just goes to show the idiocy of the people who were going to walk because we recruited him. You can't blame people for being antsy about it given the circumstances of his exit at Collingwood but to grandstand about withdrawing support is wacky considering some of the on and off-field thugs we've employed over the years - and some of the administrative decisions that would should have torched AAMI Park over.

The focus on the new players is not to downplay those who have done it all before but usually without the support - Nathan Jones was immense around the ball as always, Tyson solid as usual with additional goalkicking, Daniel Cross acting like he's five years young and Garland returning to something approaching 2013 form. It was just good clean fun with very few things to go home sore about. Had we contrived to completely throw away our leads in the third or fourth quarter then maybe more cracks would have appeared, but for now it looked like the only person who was out of place was Toumpas - who it would be fair to say is not low on confidence because he doesn't have any to start with. I'm not completely writing off that experiment yet, but can't see what he did in the practice games to justify a Round 1 start and he needs to go back to the VFL and smash it before we give him another run.

When we finished the first quarter both in front on the scoreboard and 10-3 in front on the free kick count I was expecting that the inevitable umpiring square-ups would come back to haunt us in the second quarter, and while there was a fair share of weird decisions (how about the guy being allowed to play on from an OOF free while standing against the fence?) the umpires resisted the temptation to try and make it come out even in the end - probably because they know nobody will call talkback radio to defend the Suns in any state of the Commonwealth. I can say this because we won the count in the end but the idea of free kicks having to be close at the end is one of the worst things about footy fans - sometimes your club just infringes a ridiculous amount of times.

Even though we were in front it was a typical MFC quarter time score of two goals to one, with no indication of the magic that was to follow - before a hint of luck going our way came early in the second quarter as Ablett added yet another goal assist to his career tally by handballing under furious pressure from Dom Tyson.. straight to Colin Garland who turned around and kicked a rare goal before he even knew what was going on. Then Watts marked on the line and goalled to make it clear something was stirring only for the lid to be blown into outer space courtesy of the goal by Howe, Garland, Kennedy-Harris and Tyson which was second only to Salem against Essendon for great modern MFC team goals.

It was then that the Suns clearly realised that they were letting the game slip away and decided to fire up before Rodney Eade decided to make an example of one of his players at half time by killing them. At this point it could have been Ablett up the against the wall, before he did what good players do and created a goal with one of the few opportunities he had to get off Viney's leash. Thankfully this came to naught about 30 seconds later when Garlett stormed through the middle from the centre bounce and realigned himself with a goal.

I loved both the variety in rotations at centre bounces and the way Hogan would start a run-up from inside 50 and storm into the centre square the moment the ball hit the ground. There was just a freedom and openness about us that I can't remember since either that last quarter against the Giants where they carked it or the day we tonked Freo in 2011. Then seconds later Garlett started another chain (CLICHE) which ended in Brayshaw handballing to Jones for another and there was a match day experience in my pants with everyone invited. I'm down for the Robert Flower Wing, but if Nathan Jones doesn't turn out to my generation's version of Tulip then somebody else will have had to come in with a Hall of Fame career to knock him out.

It had been beautiful to that point, but speaking as a fan of a depressed club there was still plenty of time to lose it. 25 points in front at half time is nothing, Carlton were that far in front of Richmond on Thursday night and still never looked capable of holding on (should have picked Garlett and.. oh that's right). But when we got the first goal of the third quarter courtesy of that man Jeff (never, ever Jeffy) standing 30m in the clear on his own and Hogan turning his man inside out to mark we got what ultimately turned out to be the sealer via a few nervous moments. In a return to traditional values, we then gave the goal straight back at the other end - probably because the defenders had blown themselves up running halfway down the ground to leap on Hogan. Lucky we got most of that palaver out of the way in the first round but I'm of the old fashioned opinion that after somebody kicks any goal other than their 100th for the season or a game winner you get back in your position as soon as possible - if you're close enough for a hug, a grab on the buttocks or a bit of a dry root then good luck to you but there's no need for key defenders to motor in from 100m away. Jesse was not going to sit down for the replay and realise that Garland hadn't flown in for a head rub from 10 deep and instantly sign a contract with West Coast.

That goal began a storming comeback, which unlike the second quarter was backed up with scoring, and while the defence was still holding firm we were suddenly getting done over by speculative snap shots from the boundary and crumb from a throw-in. Fortunately as the quarter progressed we took the blows and got back on top to kick three of the last four goals - including what turned out to be a super crucial one to Newton in the last minute. My favourite was the Watts-to-Garlett alley oop where Jack put his basketball background to good use by slapping the ball down on the goal-line for the Man That Carlton Forgot to smash home into an empty goal. We were still miles from the Chris Sullivan Line but surely this time we were home.

Apparently not, because another blistering comeback was on the cards. It was always going to be too much to ask to kick away in the first few minutes and leave us with a peaceful 20 minutes to end the game. Ablett finally showed up and kicked two in a row to cut the margin to eight points and that sinking feeling was back in vogue. We'd battered them around the ball so much during the day and put on so much forward pressure that it just felt like we were about to be carved in two. Shows what I know, but the sickness I felt when they had a shot soon after this leads me to believe if we were ever five goals in front in a Grand Final I would lose control of my bodily functions the first time the opposition went inside 50.

Fortunately the Suns - not for the first time that day - attempted a short pass inside 50 instead of having a shot and cocked it up. We might have had our own game-changing blunder when Toumpas didn't get his handball away to Newton with an open goal beckoning, but your friend and mine Heritier Lumumba was on hand to relieve the pressure with his intercept and goal. They had another pair of chances which went nowhere before we were gifted a lucky free inside 50 courtesy of the ball bouncing off one of their feet and out of bounds (the sort of thing that usually happens to us), and Watts converted from a satanic angle to heap further humiliation on the people who had written him off earlier for the dropped mark.

I still wasn't entirely sure we could keep them out, but at least there was now a reasonable buffer to defend with time ticking away rapidly. If Ablett hadn't capped off his worst game in years by dropping a sitter in the square we might have had more dramas before Hogan and Newton kicked a sealer each and we went - as the kids would say - right off.

The best bit - other than the pressure, the adventurous ball movement, a rock-solid defence and having forward targets - was the spread of goals. Not just the variety of players kicking them, but the way they teased us with two in the first quarter before kicking five each in the next three. Even nearly a day later it's hard to fault the feeling. It was like watching the first half of 2011 without so much reliance on first year players - and for all our sakes other than the sickos who just come on here to see me skirt close to a breakdown let's hope there's more to come. I still can't see us being any better than the bottom four, but that in no way precludes us from winning six or seven games and having a thoroughly good time while we do it.

Random thoughts
Lynden Dunn has become such a prominent verbal abuser that even when he's giving his teammates goalkicking advice it looks like he's screaming vile hate speech towards them. I desperately want him to become a figure of hate for opposition fans this season.

(In the original version of this post I neglected to mention another Dunn classic - the bit in the first half where he did a fake headbutt towards an opponent with a maniacal look on his face then trotted away greatly enjoying what he'd just done. Not sure if this was captured by the TV cameras, but if not the MCG should cut it from the scoreboard tapes and provide it to the National Museum for Sport as part of an exhibition highlighting the best in footballing insanity. He won't get a statue like Jones but everything he's been involved with since shaving that stupid moustache off will be fondly remembered in these parts long after he's gone).

2015 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
An early triumph for defenders, the much maligned and players tossed away by Carlton for a packet of chips. The four time champion also gets off to good start. Congratulations to those who have registered their first ever AJM votes - now Garlett has as many in his career as Emo Maric and The Spencil while Newton joins Viv Michie, Guy Rigoni and James Sellar on one.

5 - Tom McDonald (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Jeff Garlett
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Ben Newton

Apologies to Viney, Howe, vandenBerg, Dunn and Cross - but that's not to take away from about 10 others who were good and/or did exactly what was expected of them.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I have a deep fondness for the Watts to Garlett NBL/A-League mash-up in the third, but I feel that there would be rioting in the streets if this week's nomination didn't go to the clean-as-a-whistle second quarter coast-to-coast (CLICHE) goal finished off by Tyson. It started with Howe (just sign for god's sake) delivering a pin-point kick under pressure on his own line, Garland taking a strong contested mark and JFK running his guts out on the wing to be the next player in the chain. He goes into the middle for Tyson who walks around his opponent with something approaching contempt and kicks a goal on the run to open up a 27 point lead barely halfway through the quarter. Real life was temporarily put on hold. At this point can we get another airing of Sam Edmund's sneering article about ignoring Josh Kelly for Tyson/Salem. Sam, ring your unnamed recruiter and tell them to bash it up their ginger.

Crowd Watch
It would appear that scheduling our Round 1 home game against one of the lowest drawing interstate clubs was fixturing genius by the AFL. After all there's no way 27,000 would turn up for the same game without it having the opening round hope/hype and and an attractive timeslot for neturals. Then you realise that it's all a scam, that GWS are also playing an away game against a bottom two side from 2014 and the whole thing was a way to try and get the two league operated sides into home games next week (Canberra in the case of GWS, and why not because that's where they'll end up eventually) with a first up win to help boost attendances in 'markets' where nobody gives a rats.

If it guarantees us nearly 30,000 against a side who contribute 500 then I'm happy to participate again next year but I'm not being roped into thinking it was done for our benefit. At least we drew a bigger crowd than the big racists vs lefties match at Federation Square.

The crowd was helped by a thumping turn-out in the MCC Members, because the top level of the Ponsford was as relaxingly empty as any game against an interstate club. I only had to go to row P to get three rows to myself in either direction. The only sour note came from the old couple about four rows in front who showed up in the second half and exaggeratedly barracked for the Suns as if they were doing it just to annoy Melbourne fans. No idea what their circumstances were, they might have been Trent McKenzie's godparents for all I know but in the heat of the moment I just assumed that they were turncoats who had switched teams at some point in the last four seasons and took an instant dislike to them. Please note - this does not apply if you choose to follow Melbourne as an adult. Give us your money and you'll go straight to football heaven.

There's something that offends me greatly about fans of the two new teams that I don't get with Fremantle and to a lesser extent Port. It's not about following an interstate team, god knows I follow enough in other sports, but it's about people making a conscious decision to ditch a club and start again. They can't all have come from the Gold Coast or surrounding regions so the only possible explanation is that they know the league will bend over backwards to give the Suns/Giants good times in the near future so are jumping on accordingly because they're either bored with winning flags with their original clubs (poor people) or more likely follow a train wreck like us, St Kilda or the Bulldogs and have decided to go for gold - while probably reserving the right to switch back at a moment's notice if their 'other' side ever starts winning.

By the end I was so excited that as I came out onto the concourse I thought I saw somebody I knew, and with nobody else around decided to run up and leap on him out of celebration. After getting up a reasonable pace I was within about two metres before realising it wasn't who I thought it was, and with no time to think I just kept running - which could have ended up like Bluey Adams vs Des Healey in the 1955 Grand Final if somebody had been coming the other way.

To celebrate surviving I decided to take advantage of the perfectly timed "20% off at the Demon Shop" ad which I'd seen on the big screen and ended up excitedly dropping $100 on merch like a sailor visiting a Tijuana whorehouse. I was not alone, the crush was like the opening minutes of the Boxing Day sales. They talk about wins being good for the bottom line and you go "yeah, obviously" but here it was demonstrated like never before. I've never gone in there after a match before win, lose or draw but I expect the staff are usually sat around a table playing cards before shutting up shop half an hour early. Yesterday there was more trading than the floor of the Australian Stock Exchange, and I loved seeing it.

Need to ring up and change the credit card that my membership is paid on but might wait a few days because for the next few days all operators will be busy flogging premium packages to callers from around the world. If you haven't signed up yet then may I suggest you skip the 240 minute call waiting time and input your credit card details directly here.

Matchday Experience Watch
Now there's a phrase that's been inducted into the Cliche Hall of Fame in the last few weeks, and it seems that so far we're the ones who have missed out. Other clubs get a mascot tooling around in a hovercraft (Carlton) and dancing mascots (Footscray/St Kilda) and we had to settle for a solemn and dignified tribute to a legend of the game. What a shame that it is.

By the next home game we'll probably have been forced at gunpoint by the AFL to include some sort of allegedly family friendly bullshit, but really is there any point in trying to top the segment which features rank amateurs risking a broken collarbone trying to take a screamer? Especially now that we've shacked up with Haymes Paint and they also have to do it while wearing Super Mario Brothers style overalls. Save your money on the gimmicks and put it aside for the first person who sues us when we forget to have them sign a waiver and they land on their head.

Another new feature at the MCG is the digital advertising screens, and after seeing a torrent of negative feedback on Thursday night I was looking forward to getting a taste of the Las Vegas Strip excitement just for another chance to whine on an 'against modern football' topic but in the end they were a non-factor. Not sure if it's worse at night or whether we were using a more tasteful colour palette than Carlton but I barely noticed them during play. Though of course something that shows pro-home team propaganda all day isn't going to seem offensive if you are the home team, wait until it's pumping out pro-Tigers slogans in a few weeks and we'll probably all be all over the internet decrying them as the worse thing since the Bubonic Plague.

As for the people complaining about the effect it'll have on the players it's not like the old ones stopped rotating when somebody was having a shot on goal or that there's not 25,000 people or Lynden Dunn yelling abuse at them during play. Football Park had them for years and nobody seemed to care (except perhaps us, and that's why we never won there) so give it six weeks and you won't even notice or sit at home and listen to Dwayne. While the AFL's claim that it was done to improve 'fan experience' is obviously bollocks because we all know the main purpose is to flog more advertising space it's no more offensive than having a marquee outside where people can stop and sign up to an online betting agency.

Winning games is a matchday experience that'll get people dancing in the aisles but I will give a thumbs up to two other gimmicks. The idea of a pre-theme theme is still a bit weird because they only ever get about 30 seconds of it out between players running down the race and going through the banner but if you're going to try and force any hype song into such a small space then Hells Bells is probably the track for the job. In fact it was going so well that whoever was running the audio forgot to switch to the theme song until the players hit the banner, and while the Grand Old Flag should be sacrosanct I actually thought it would be a sick tune to use as a theme.

If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion to any MFC staffers who may be violating company IT policies by reading this and ask that if allowed under whatever rules the league have got around this sort of thing that it comes on earlier so we get the full menace of it's intro then segue into the theme as the players form up to crash the banner?

Speaking of hype songs I've always thought that this would bring the house down, especially if there were additional pyro effects going off. Shame you can't turn the lights out for this sort of thing at night games but I guess that's the downside to playing at a stadium with giant light pylons and not some glorified suburban indoor soccer centre like Docklands.


It could be accompanied by a hype video of our players doing horrible things to the opposition, like Dunn screaming in some munter's face and the time Neville Jetta did what appeared to be a Tornado DDT on Ash McGrath and got away with it. Fire it up, and for god's sake the next time Kane comes here on a WWE tour can we get a photo opp with him wearing an MFC jumper - there has never been a better crossover opportunity. The character has even got a backstory tragic enough for him to fit in as a Melbourne fan.

More importantly somebody, somewhere at the MFC came up with the idea of not only using the new found home team scoreboard freedom to highlight victory with the mascot doing a jaunty dance but based it on the fondly remembered 1980's Channel 7 animation that played after wins, and even had the little dude doing the same entrance and exit moves. Whoever it was that include that touch I salute you. Again, when some diseased Collingwood bird is swooping across the screen in Round 18 it will seem like the worst thing ever, but for now it is the best innovation in footy since digital scoreboards.

There was such a carnival atmosphere that even the trumpeteer was wheeled out of the morgue to play during the last quarter. They must have found a cure for 10,000 stab wounds to the back. Is it the same guy who used to wear the velvet jacket and once hit an amazing bum note during the music from Star Wars which provided the perfect metaphor for the Schwab years? Is it also possible that he was sitting there for four quarters at every home game in 2014 waiting to get a run only for us to win nowt but away games?


They've got a far bigger and louder cheersquad than the Bears used to (mainly because grown adults who switched clubs in those days were burnt at the stake) but it would still be nearly impossible for any Victorian club to lose to Gold Coast in a banner-making competition due to their limited resources - but having said that I thought our effort would have taken care of most Victorian clubs. It was bold to focus the front entirely on Lumumba's 200 games even though 199 were with some fly-by-night outfit but it worked a treat. Nobody does graphics on the banner better than our lot, and the picture of H was another winner. 1-0 Dees.

Next Week
As much as I'd love to advocate recognising a win by sending the same team to play Scumbag Scully and his Franchise Friends it's impossible not to recall Bernie Vince, and we could probably do with Dawes up front as well. The complication, and what a great problem it is, comes with Frost having done a more than convincing job as a centre-bounce ruckman alongside a not terrible performance in the forward line. I'd feel a right bastard dropping him now, and everyone should get the opportunity to stuff their old side as soon as possible, so somebody else is going to have to go. I'm going to split the difference on Kent and JFK having both been serviceable and give Kent the travelling emergency rest care of his big bump.

Where Frost's form leaves Pedersen and Gawn I'm not entirely sure. Pedo is a better forward, Maximum is a better ruckman but neither can go into defence if required. The fact that I'm even having this debate (with myself) is a grand step forward - I don't think Gawn can be completely discounted because when Jamar goes he's straight in at #1 on the ARIA Ruckman charts so for god's sake don't do anything that will cause him to demand a trade to Collingwood.

Anyway,

IN: Vince, Dawes
OUT: Toumpas (omit), Kent (omit with so many apologies)

... and if you're going to Manuka Oval please dedicate some of your abuse towards you know who from me.

Was It Worth It?
If any further proof of the effect winning has on the community was required (it isn't) then it came while I was carting my shopping from the club shop back to Jolimont Station (PS - am now 1-0 while living on the Hurstbridge Line) through the traditional death from above kick-to-kick session on the outside concourse. As a little kid no older than three or four roved his dad's kick he was shouting "JONESY! JONESY!" That kid will be there for the unveiling of the statue, hopefully Jonesy goes long enough that he can help fund the Kickstarter campaign to pay for it.

What a time to be alive. Scarves out windows, car horns blaring and people on the train who asked about the result getting the answer I wanted to hear for once. The glee on the face of our fans was in total contrast to that on the club shifters who were starting to wonder whether they'd made the right decision scabbing on their old teams for the promise of one piece of silverware.

The good times might not last so for now you have my express written permission to get your walk on and do a lap of honour at your place of business/school/other flicking lit cigarettes at the three game members of successful clubs who try to make you feel bad about supporting Melbourne. We'll rip the piss out of ourselves thanks and the rest can burn while we clap our hands.

Final Thoughts
That's Round 1 dealt with AND a score of over 100 on the same day. Good god. Now to tackle the other lengthy droughts. Return to this post through the year and check them off as they go down:

- Docklands (2795)
- Collingwood (2856)
- St Kilda (3132)
- North Melbourne (3151)
- Hawthorn (3244)
- Geelong (3258)
- SCG (3270)
- Kardinia Park (3523)
- Subiaco (3956 - and we better get on with it before they shutter the joint and leave us unable to make amends a'la Football Park)

I'd be happy to knock off about six of them this season then pick up the spare as part of our 2016 premiership year.