Monday, 25 April 2016

Gawn Service

* Headline courtesy @ethan_meldrum, but as publisher I'll take the heat when some tabloid hack deems it offensive.

Neutral supporters cannot possibly understand the psychological trauma that being a Melbourne fan puts you though. Even after a great victory last week when everybody but the bookies thought we'd win two straight in the same season for the first time since the golden age immediately pre-186 here I was fretting that because we'd unexpectedly beaten Richmond two years in a row now that the whole country was watching we'd probably cock it up. That's no way for a rational person to think, but it's not just players who have been Melbourned by the last decade.

The tension was not helped by a roaring headache caused by a small child earlier delivering me a headbutt that a Glasgow street thug would have been proud of. The pain in my nose and teeth mysteriously disappeared between approximwately 8pm last night and 8am this morning when first the contest, then the jubilation masked the damage like a heavy opioid. Now that I've had time to calm down and watch the replay my nose feels like it's got a Stevie Nicks style hole in the septum from excessive cocaine consumption, but it's all good because we're living in a world where indications are that the worst nightmares of the #fistedforever era have been banished, we're comfortably mid-table almost a quarter of the way through the season and a viable path is emerging to future success.

It's not just Melbourne's fortunes that have changed, after years of hiding up the back sweating, swearing and shaking my supporting life has taken a dramatic turn in the last two weeks. First I was in the corporate box necking caffeine at a near fatal rate, and without much arm-twisting was convinced to sit in the AFL Members last night. There was certainly more atmosphere than when I walked in through an unmanned door during the 2012 Gold Coast game and the entire section was practically me and one grown man supporting the Suns who would wave a tiny flag whenever they kicked a goal.

Being away from the friendly confines of the Ponsford usually has a psychological effect on me, but if the Dees are going to start playing like they're from Hollywood I might as well join in. Who knows what's on the agenda next week, I might just walk into the President's Lunch next week, sit down next to Glenn Bartlett and see if anyone notices. Given that it's our home game at Docklands it will hopefully be held at Nandos. All I know is that I'll be back to perching myself in the rafters so if we lose it will be a sign to give up my loner lifestyle for good and return to the people.

With a second ticket I intended to do my bit for rorting the crowd in our favour by scanning in once on my membership then again on the extra ticket, but thanks to the MCG's ticketing system breaking down I never got the chance. Anyone who's ever tried to buy a ticket at Etihad Stadium knows what a nightmare that is, but at least if you walk up with a pre-purchased ticket or membership you can get in without drama. When I arrived to see the queue at the MCC Members almost in the park it looked like we'd be lucky to get in by the fourth quarter, but the dear old Ponsford Stand came to the rescue as always and the only delay at Gate 1 was the cursory waving of the security wand by a guard who had no interest in actually finding anything.

Ticketing woes have nothing on football woes, and I was trapped in the twilight zone between thinking we were going to win and shitting myself that we wouldn't. This is an unfamiliar feeling, like a movie robot suddenly developing emotions and learning how to cry. It didn't hurt that the whole country would be watching the game, and our response to that sort of scrutiny is usually to fall to pieces or make high profile Fitzpatrick-esque blunders. I went in worried and ended the night in a situation where I didn't have to write lengthy manifestos to soothe my soul, but because I'd had so much fun. What a wonderful world.

Nerves were calmed in the first minute by Brayshaw's goal which he got courtesy of refusing to be tackled. After Vince kicked the second thanks to an Oliver-like handball in traffic from Watts, I even started to think well prematurely that we might win. This was ridiculous because on my personal Duckworth Lewis Method style chart of when you can be confident of victory there is no entry for 12-0 at five minutes into the first quarter. What you could tell was that unlike the Essendon game - which will remain the standard for measuring first quarter effort for years to come - we were 'on'. It didn't mean we'd win, but you could at least be sure Richmond were being taken seriously.

Before you knew it we were behind and that familiar feeling of dread was back. Throwing away a two goal lead in the first quarter is not as much reason for distress as doing it in the last but I'm still not mature enough to see any sort of lead without worrying about what's going to happen next. It was the last lead they'd have all night, but at the time I was thinking about taking up sniffing glue.

The simultaneous best and worst thing about the game was that Richmond only ever seemed to kick goals from our turnovers. You don't want to get into that position too often if you've got any designs on being a good side but at least it left our fate in our own hands, because they had no idea how to create them on their own. They also had a handy habit of giving goals straight back after kicking them, and the lead only lasted about a minute before Watts continued his fiesta of laser-like set shots. We were challenged several times more but never cracked.

The willingness to run and play on quickly this year is welcomed, it means there will be turnovers and you'll get situations like Harry O getting pinched for running too far trying to get the ball inside 50 but that's ok because it's also creating a (relative by our standards) shitload of scoring opportunities the likes of which we've not seen in years. When you put this alongside forward targets, crumb, a killer ruckman and midfielders ready to crash through brick walls the signs are billboard sized. We're at the mercy of injuries but don't be like me and Jesse Hogan worrying about injuries that haven't even happened yet, enjoy the moment.

Richmond had kicked two goals but Gawn was clambering all over Maric (not the good one) and half their side hadn't had a touch yet. We were certainly playing better, it was just a matter of killing them off before they realised how much trouble they were in like we'd done to the Pies. They were probably going to start playing death or glory "you're getting sacked in the morning" footy so any buffer to work with would be important.

Before we get too overheated it's prudent to remember we were playing an opposition horribly down on form, because good sides wouldn't let us get away with some of the loopy kicks and loose handballs like last night. Nor will they reply to Dunn's torpedo into the middle of the ground by torpedoing it straight back out on the full. We were also lucky to get away with Pedersen spending an unusual amount of time in the ruck during the first quarter after Gawn had been dominant, playing some sort of first half as he marked everything that came near and kicked two goals. Our fortunes rest on his shoulders like no other.

After a few minutes where the game devolved into a complete slopfest and the door cracked open slightly for the Tiges we came alive late in the quarter by playing with genuine freedom and hate in their hearts for the opposition. We'll see what happens when we run into a side who aren't famously flaky, if we can find a way to batter Hawthorn without provoking them into kicking nine goals straight in response we'll have officially graduated from Football University.

From Richmond nearly kicking a goal with two minutes left we were the beneficiaries of some muppet kicking the ball out on the full under no pressure - which happened several times during the evening - which first led to Garlett's inside-out wondergoal then Gawn's screaming pack mark. Those of us who remember Maximum's first shot on goal on debut from the top of the square still get nervous when he takes one to this day but god knows why he's actually a rock solid set shot kicker now for somebody who has to drop the ball two miles to get it on the boot. We might be teetering on the brink if he's injured but for all the whinging about us needing a forward/ruckman who could take the heat off him why not just have one guy who does it all?

What a return it was for Garlett, four goals just when I thought he'd mysteriously lost the use of his foot for the rest of the season like Sam Frost last year. If Carlton hadn't just won a game it would have been another opportunity to laugh heartily at them for letting him go in one of the worst trades of the 21st century.

Gawn's goal capped off the sort of collapse that we used to do, and might very well do again in the future, having a side in sight in the last 90 seconds then letting them kick two goals to steady going into quarter time. Which is where the fun really kicked off...

I'm still unconvinced as to the merits of Tomas Bugg as a footballer, but as a personality he has rocketed to the top of the charts with a bullet. He is the hateable character I've waited years for, through false alarms like Dunn and Tapscott who tried but never quite achieved major league status and Dean Kent who may actually be a violent offender at heart rather than just a serial pest. What a first quarter of Buggery it was - refusing to let go of a tackle, laying a bump that was lucky not to hit his opponent in the head, teaming with Dean Kent to spew invective in the face of Trent Cotchin after a Hogan mark then sitting on the ground after the last Gawn mark casually listening to several Richmond players screaming abuse in his face while ignoring the umpire's requests for him to stand up.

His public profile had already been boosted by that rampage before going through the roof at the end when he started a reasonable brawl by modern standards after abusing some goose who was trying to grow a moustache but hadn't even managed to get it to Lynden Dunn size. He then argued with another guy who looked like he'd been dragged out of the pub to play an AFL game by accident and informed Ivan Maric that Max Gawn had just stuffed him all ends up with the mark. The best bit was the beaming smile Watts had enjoying all this carnage taking place, before Dunn decided that anything Bugg could do he could do better by plowing in to save Salem from the clutches of that lummox Vickery and really kicking off the battle royale.

Helpfully the AFL - the same people who have fined players from both sides a fortune on the grounds that it was a 'bad look for the game' uploaded a video of it to their website which allowed us to review the action and discover that while Bugg might have provoked it with his anti-social antics the best on ground was definitely Dunn, plowing through their huddle and being generally abusive to everyone. God it was fun. The answer of who Melbourne fans can be arrogant towards is still open, but the players can definitely pencil in Richmond.

For all the suspicions about the umpiring in the second half it was difficult to deny we got away with one at the start of the second when Kent was tackled for what should one of the most obvious holding the ball frees of all time. He even looked over his shoulder before tackled for god's sake, and it led directly to Watts' second goal from the boundary line. The umpire who likes to pretend he's about to call deliberate then bring the other hand up for a throw-in also failed to be sucked in by a player reacting to Gawn's brutal tackle by throwing his head back in the opposite direction to where he was tackled.

It was one of the many times for the night where we had the knife poised but couldn't put them away, and they got the goal back almost immediately. Up went my blood pressure again, and when they got another straight after it was heading towards deadly territory again. I'd seen bigger margins than 22 thrown away, but that was either in the pre-186 era where everything was different or when we were at such a low ebb that it seemed natural to turn into pumpkins at the drop of a hat.

When they got the third I was under more pressure than an air traffic controller, but the most pleasing about the evening was that three times we wobbled but stood up, took the blows and kept coming back until their spirit finally broke. The turnover goals continued, with the third one coming from a blunder from McDonald and if Sam Frost had the classic half/half game last week then McSizzle set a new standard last night. Has there ever been a greater difference between power of marks and quality of disposal? The first one was at All-Australian standard and the second was like an out of control fire hose. It was nice to see him recover and hit some decent passes towards the end, because at the start of the last quarter he was wearing self-doubt like a sandwich board. There was also a great moment where he won a free kick, then pushed his opponent back to the ground and took off for a play-on, so how could you not love him?

Another contributor to the all-new Feelgood Factor was the performance of the fringe players. Neither Wagner or Hunt showed anything in the pre-season and I was nervous about promoting them to the seniors but both have shown they deserve their spot. Wagner especially was fantastic, which is terrible news for Colin Garland who might never been seen again at this rate. Let's do it against top clubs before we really get excited, but while both might have their ups and downs they've made a positive start.

We might have lost the lead if Watts hadn't turned a goal into an out on the full with a crucial tackle, and it gave us another life which allowed the People's Champion Bugg to go forward, jump all over an opponent and run into an open goal. Usually after a player creates havoc karma gets him with a shambolic turnover or a shanked kick, and he's had enough of those this year anyway, but to prove the football gods were on our side for once the Buggery party continued unabated as he not only ran into the open goal but raised the arm to salute like David Schwarz against Carlton then gave the "shhh" gesture to the Richmond cheersquad. Opposition fans won't like it, opposition fans can get stuffed.

It was magic stuff, causing celebrity Tigers fan Jon Ralph to sook that he should get a kick before he does that. He did, it went straight through the goal and a legend was born. Having never paid more than cursory interest to his career before he arrived we'd already pegged him as an alternative thinker from the time he donned a bomber jacket to shield against the Gatorade spray after his first game and this almost made him my favourite player. Who gives a shit if he can play football with comedy capers like that? The only thing it lacked for a visual spectacular was a Richmond fan leaning over the fence yelling abuse at him.

Let the record show that I'm not just in favour of these sort of thing because it was our player, that sort of thing should be encouraged across the league. What better fan engagement and interaction can you get? It will happen to us one day and it will be the best goal we've ever conceded.

He nearly got another one immediately after as well, Viney won it out of the centre in a way that I could only have dreamed of until recently and Bugg stormed right up the middle of the 50 only to lose out to a desperate last second spoil. How we got to a point where Tomas Bugg is executing the perfect lead I'm not sure but if he'd kicked that he might have done something in celebration that would have got him arrested.

What a night he had, right down to winking at teammates after his evil deeds. If the secret recipe for the Jakovich votes wasn't so closely guarded I'd have broken with convention and given him one just for his evil performance. In an episode of Law and Order he'd be the charming mastermind behind the crimes committed by Kent, Viney and Dunn.

I'm sure he gives up his seat to old ladies on the train but he plays football like he's generally unhinged. He was already feuding with Nick Riewoldt after clocking him last year (we can only hope next week will provide more fireworks after they warmed up with some theatrical jostling in the pre-season), but either somebody in the Riewoldt family killed his dog or he just enjoys being horrible because he joined in on Jack as well. Bumping an injured player being tended to by trainers was a bit over the top but if you're going to be a bad guy then go all in. I'm prepared to overlook it due to being genuinely overjoyed at having such a provocative player. Football is temporary, niggle is forever.

Life is unfair as a ruckman, because if his teammates had taken advantage of his work Gawn would have been best on ground by a mile. It wasn't just the goals or the marks around the ground, his taps set up so much in the first half including Salem's goal that restored a 10 point margin. As usual he never tired, but there were periods in the third quarter where he dominated Maric only to watch the ball be swept away by an opponent. Also there was more third man up action around the ground which reduced some of his power at ball-ups and needs to be addressed before smart sides use that to rumble us.

Even our kick-ins look good, other than when Jayden Hunt lost his mind and tried to handball his way out of the square, and we'd often find three targets in a row to at least get the ball to the wing before it was in dispute again. It helped having Gawn running up and down the line marking everything that came near him - and equally importantly in front of goal. How much time did we waste sitting in the reserves while the side was otherwise shit? You can't argue the development path now, but I feel like we could have reached this point earlier. The marks in front of goals were brilliant but I can't be the only one who winced when he and Hogan crashed into each other, if they took each other out we'd be instantly transported back to 2013.

We should have had more at the end of the quarter too, Garlett might have kicked a goal when the ball bounced off Rance's foot and out of bounds (Alex, bless him, demanded a video replay) and not that he was afforded the full 10 metres to run around in but with his record for novelty goals he should have nailed it. Rance would later nearly knock himself out ducking into a tackle but just because he went down clutching his neck he got a free for it. He will probably use it in his defence for belting Watts.

Garlett could have had another one when he and Brayshaw did the old "you first, no you first" routine in front of goal and neither of them ended up having the shot but still we'd kicked five goals in the second quarter where I was wrongly convinced based on previous records that after such a good opening term we'd have followed it with one goal. Then Gus redeemed himself by finding Vince on his own inside 50, he kicked the sixth after the siren and while I was still full of terror at the prospect of losing it was starting to seem like we had enough in us to absorb their pressure and strike back. Which was lucky because it kept happening, but the elastic band never snapped.

Conceding the first goal of the third quarter in a minute wasn't ideal, and gave me shocking acid flashbacks to 2013 when that would happen every bloody week, but it was probably the first real goal they'd kicked all night. It was no coincidence that Riewoldt finally had a decent day against us after Frawley pushed off, because Chip owned him so comprehensively he should have had his name branded across Jack's forehead. Conceding the second not long after was even less helpful, but it made little difference in the end.

You don't know how much of it was Richmond losing the plot or us playing well but if you stacked this game up next to the Essendon fiasco you'd notice we had players running free all over the place, and this allowed us to clear it out of defence and go forward quickly. It was another example of how Lumumba benefits a team playing well where he has moving players to aim at.

It might have been back to nine points but we were still playing better so I was no more scared than usual watching this team play. This was the key point of the game where Gawn's taps were coming to nothing, but while they had us on the ropes they missed three chances in a row before we pulled off one of the great end-to-end goals to ensure their good play had been wasted.

Riewoldt narrowly missed a shot, Dunn launched the traditional 'get out of jail' kick long and to the left, Watts delivered a spot on handball to Tyson, who dinked it forward to take advantage of Kent's speed, he shot past his opponent like a greyhound let loose from the gates, propped for a second, then found Garlett inside 50, who lobbed a handball over to the top to Harmes to finish from the line. As it happened live there was a moment where I thought he was going to crash into Pedersen in the square and ruin it all, but it turns out the man with the NQR nickname was actually backing away to shepherd and allow Harmes to run in uncontested.

Good luck pulling a top shelf move like that off against top contenders (admittedly we managed it against North a few times), but the fact it ended with somebody putting on a block to protect his teammate made me quiver with joy. In years gone by even if we had somehow managed to pull off the first five steps it would have probably ended with Harmes being tackled on the line due to the lack of anyone providing security. Then straight out of the middle Garlett kicks another and this was the point where I started to believe in a red and blue future.

Consulting the Duckworth Lewis chart (which I will sit down and formally construct one day) shows that halfway through the third quarter the lead would need to be about 55 for me to truly relax but to beat us from there Richmond would need to have lifted their game several times over. We might have discovered a new life of mid-table mediocrity but a good side would have sprinted off on them like the Eagles did in the first half last week.

My self-belief went supernova as Frost's shot looked like it was going through, but when it hit the post I had to temporarily take a breath and concentrate on my anxiety again. It was a mark of how tense the idea of winning makes me that I hadn't left my seat since the first bounce, there was no wandering off for a comfort hot dog I just wanted to stay in one place and probably not blink once for the entire evening.

Then when McDonald continued his topsy turvy evening by gifting Riewoldt with another goal via a 50 any thought of winning was officially stuffed back under the stairs. The thought process I go through when we're defending a lead is something else, if you'd started following me with documentary cameras in 2007 you'd be about to wrap up the greatest decade long documentary ever made. Imagine if every game had seen me attached to devices measuring heart rate and blood pressure with audio of all my conversations (usually to nobody in particular). I wish I'd done it myself, it could have won the Nobel Prize for Scientific Endeavour and would have confirmed that the closest I'd come to losing consciousness at a footy game was that first Neeld win against Essendon in 2012 when my legs stopped working and left me stuck in Row LL of the Ponsford until I could safely walk down stairs again.

They came at us again with another goal, and attacked again from the bounce. With the margin already back to less than 10 if Nifty Nev hadn't perfectly ridden a tackle until he could handball he'd have been pinged for holding the ball and we'd have been wobbling noticeably. It was their inattention at the end of the quarter that cost them again, allowing Tyson to kick a goal in the last minute which restored an uncomfortable but workable lead. Every lead under 48 points at three-quarter time is uncomfortable to me.

The goal was created by two tough as nails moments by Viney, first battling out of a tackle to get a handball over his head, then climbing off the ground and setting Tyson up with another handball. Jack must now be on the outskirts of the top level of midfielders, his disposal is not world class but it's more than made up for with what you would call 'bullocking' if you were flicking through the Big Book 'o Footy Cliches.

Dom turned up for the first goal of the last quarter as well, and left me very much secretly thinking "we are going to win this". A rare full viewing of the replay before writing also allowed me to enjoy the Channel 7 mobile camera crashing into a woman who looked like Gai Waterhouse as it moved through the cheersquad. To prove that we are a better class of people she apologised rather than kneeing the cameraman in the bollocks.

If David Astbury - eight career goals in 45 games, three against us on debut - had kicked a goal when he went forward I'd have first called the Kingsley Klub reporting hotline then started to wind back my predictions about victory. He missed from right in front, which is what you get using defenders randomly in attack, and we went straight down the other end where Garlett set up Frost to thump one home from the square and I would have never have said it out loud but I thought we were home.

Obviously the Richmond fans who stood up and walked out at that point did too, forgetting from so many years of losing to us that usually getting into a winning position causes Melbourne to enter a death spiral. In classic self-deprecating Demonesque fashion they were not heckled for their cowardly departure but for being stupid at leaving when we 'only' had a 26 point lead. The Tigers went forward straight out of the middle and kicked a goal, but these yellow and black loyalists knew their club far better than I did because instead of clambering back up the stairs and retaking their seats as if nothing ever happened they were never seen again.

A 20 point lead with 15 minutes left is absolutely nothing, and they got another immediately after courtesy of Pedersen not being paid a mark that would have been given 99 times out of 100. If you put me in charge of the rules committee (god help you) I wouldn't pay any of them with that little control but they do, and so we were duly ripped off. Luckily we got it back almost immediately through Vince's long range hoof and I started to believe again. On my score chart we'd have needed to be at least 36 points up for me to be comfortable but the line was rapidly moving in our favour.

Kent eventually got rid of them with a goal that capped off a great running game and confirmed that we are finally playing with a half-forward line again after years in the wilderness. Now it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy the warm glow of a big victory. Now it was just a case of kicking 20 goals - we'd done it against North but it doesn't count when you lose.

I'd underestimated how much our win would plunge Collingwood into crisis, it probably helps that they've got a spin department that any government would be envious of but other than the unnecessary drama about whether or not Cloke would be dropped they held things together pretty well instead of descending into chaos.

Looking back it was a good sign that their players ran out the game without losing their minds, which is a positive compared to the complete mental disintegration of the Tiges in the last few minutes - including sending poor old Alex Rance insane and causing him to unexpectedly whack a defenceless Jack Watts in the back of the head on the same night his club had paid tribute to the victim of a fatal king hit.

Even better than driving an opposition player off the deep end was Jack Viney running in and belting him after he did it. Like Dean Kent's bionic elbow last week he was lucky he didn't connect properly, but at least if he had whacked him he'd have gone down making a political statement. How much do you love that we now have players willing to steam in and punch on for the cause? What about the umpire trying to get Viney to stop grappling with Rance by yelling "he's been reported" as if Jack would give a half a shit. In fact it helped so little that the rest of the term plowed in to deliver victor's justice as well.

If we can ignore the cheap-shot for a second how about the way the goal was constructed - it was almost as good as the one that Harmes finished earlier. McDonald took another strong mark, hit a heart-in-mouth pinpoint pass to Tyson, who had his choice of players running everywhere, found Kent to set up Jetta for the delivery to Watts and then after Rance's best attempts to scrag him it was quite literally hammer-time on the back of Jack's head.

Post-fracas Watts got the 50 and his third goal, leaving him in the top 10 of league goalkickers with teammates practically ready to kill to defend his honour. Welcome to New Jack Watts City. If somebody had provided the same sort of violent retaliation on Queen's Birthday 2009 his timeline might have looked significantly different.

Just when you thought Jon Ralph's anti-Bugg spray (so to speak) were the pinnacle of journalists disgracing themselves on Twitter came some plonker from The Age who suggested Rance had done what "every Melbourne supporter has wanted to do to Jack Watts". Forget that the joke hasn't been relevant since Fairfax still sold newspapers, it demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of Melbourne fans who have shown over the years that while they might belt Jack with one hand they want to fight for his honour with the other. It's basically how child rearing used to work in the days where people thought beating up the kids was good for them.

We've been good in last quarters all year and it was satisfying to run away from a team. Even better that it was achieved with barely any scoreboard contribution from Hogan. Maybe he was sad that Fremantle had just lost (don't know why, they will offer him a palace of gold now that they're turning to shit) but it was not his finest outing. Not in front of goal anyway, and not when he did the Sizzle style turnover trying an ill-advised sideways kick when he should have just smashed it inside 50 but he was still a mighty presence around the ground and hauled in nine marks. Expensive decoy, but I'd pay $600,000 to erect a scarecrow inside 50 if it meant we kept playing like this. I also enjoyed his self-abuse when he missed a set shot, if you're into foul language we may be the right club for you.

Even the presence of the trumpeeter noodling away in the stands at the end couldn't ruin the good mood, it can't go on like this for much longer but suddenly football is fun again - and that was no better demonstrated by the last goal, with Pedersen doing his Harlem Globetrotters impersonation to slap the ball out of mid-air to Kent, who set up Garlett up for his fourth. Not to mention Maric trying to hang shit on Gawn for giving away a 50 right then and Maximum just laughing at him.

Melbourne Football Club, you magnificent bastards.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes

One of the most difficult choices I've ever had to make, Viney might have smashed the all-time record for contested possessions but I just can't go past Dom - it was the best game he'd played since his first season with us if not his best for us full stop.

5 - Dom Tyson
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Bernie Vince
1 - Dean Kent

Major apologies to Garlett, Jetta, Jones, Lumumba, McDonald (for the marks), Pedersen, Salem, Wagner and Watts.


The bulldozer hits the outright lead in his quest for two in a row, and Vince finds himself teetering on the brink of disqualification in the Seecamp by putting on a master class of attacking football.

14 - Jack Viney
13 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Jack Watts
7 - Bernie Vince (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
5 - Jesse Hogan, Dom Tyson
4 - Nathan Jones, Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem
3 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
2 - Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Neville Jetta, Dean Kent, Tom McDonald, Cameron Pedersen

The traditional Anzac Day joint banner draw, and even I'm not partisan enough to try and claim our side looked better. 7-1-0 Dees for the season.

Stat My Bitch Up
Finally the person who wrote in to complain about negative stats five years ago can come back, we've won two in a row within the same season and scored +100 in the same game for the first time since the great crack epidemic of 2011. It's also the first time since Round 8 last year that we've kicked at least three goals in each quarter. There are also reports coming through that we've recorded our lowest rating on the Misery Index since Queen's Birthday 2011.

On the player front can somebody with even more time than me (there must be somebody) let me know who the last MFC player to be at least +2 on his win/loss record before Jayden Hunt? Can't kick-in, can win football games. (Update - 2050 Monday - Thanks to @benno_76 who delivers the answer of Lynden Dunn in rounds 6 and 7, 2006. Matthew Bate was a week earlier in rounds 5 and 6, but he did start his career on an 8-0 winning streak then went 19-1-74 for the rest before getting into positive thinking)

Crowd Watch
Sitting shoulder to shoulder with opposition supporters for the first time at a Melbourne game since Queen's Birthday 2012 was a concern, but would have been a great opportunity for Crowd Watch material if they'd been proper nutters instead of a bunch of scarfers. One Richmond gentleman continued the proud tradition of reminding us that Jack Watts had not lived up to his billing as a number one pick, to which we asked what time Lance Franklin would be arriving to play for the Tiges.

The only controversy was after one ridiculous attempt by our fans by demand deliberate when I said words to the effect of "if you called for deliberate put your head in the oven" only for the guy two seats to the left who I couldn't hear a word from due to having a headphone on that side to turn around and glare in a way that suggested he'd done exactly that.

Worst on ground went to the 10-12 year old kid sitting in front in a Melbourne jumper banging away at an iPad game and not showing even the slightest interest in the game. His criminal disinterest made me wonder how they'd manage to get him in the jumper to start with, but the fact that he seemed to be there with a responsible guardian who was a Richmond fan made it all the more baffling.

Meanwhile you'd think that people who could afford an AFL membership could also afford licenced AFL merchandise but $2 shop scarves were all over the place. Either club is welcome to my suggestion for a scarf amnesty, where anyone seen wearing a bootleg is handed a voucher for 30% off an official version if they dump the old one into a bin at the Megastore.

News came to use from the Southern Stand that there was some real old school top of the Ponsford action going on (except in the old Ponsford nobody would care, and he'd probably having been puffing on a scoob as well):
If we keep playing like this people will start smuggling in amyl nitrate instead of booze and the place will start to resemble Studio 54.

Finally, there noticeably less "we've seen a flag" responses to chippy Melbourne fans at Jolimont Station this week - mainly because people over 40 are too old for that shit.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
This segment has gone through the roof now that there are so many contenders, but one man is the king of this sort of thing and after losing in a photo last week we welcome back Jeff Garlett. With apologies to Brayshaw standing up in the tackle and throwing ball at boot for the first goal it had to be Garlett's first where he ran along the boundary, looked around for an option, went to kick a drop punt then changed his mind and checksided it through on the run.

Apologies to Ben Kennedy but I'm going to have to promote this one to the clubhouse lead, just because there was so much going on in such a short space of time.

The transition goal in the third quarter wins a 'highly recommended' award, but Garlett pockets the weekly prize of afternoon tea at Visy Headquarters with environmental ambassador Chris Judd and Dick Pratt's mistress.

The Sponsor Shack
Obviously if you were buying a new car (and Melbourne fans do that about once every two weeks, isn't that right opposition fans? *clinks champagne flute*) you'd do it through Automative Holdings Group, but if you were one of the 1800 people in Australia who bought a Holden with the Opel badge slapped on over the top to try and introduce some European suave to your driving experience I've got some bad news for you. On the way to the station I was travelling behind one and it was spewing out more toxic waste than any car built in 2013 had the right to. What an appropriate brand to have been identified with us in our darkest hour.

Next Week

Even though it's on their ground we should start favourite against the Saints in our annual 'home' game at Docklands. The opposition is not ideal, but at least we get our trip there out of the way early in the season and might even get a big enough crowd to avoid it being a financial drain. More important they were rubbish this week so there is some hope of three in a row.

Brayshaw has had his moments forward the last couple of weeks but he's still clearly not 100%. If we can't use him full-time in the middle just yet then let's give him to Casey for four quarters of smashing people around. I didn't think his night could get any worse than when the half-time highlights called him Angus 'Bradshaw' but here we are. Bad time to not be at 100% when we've discovered an unexpected supply of depth beneath rock bottom, but has many years left in which to dominate.

After both Frost and Pedersen saved themselves with good games last week but we really don't need both of them, and Pedersen won the head-to-head battle tonight so it's his advantage.

IN: Oliver, Petracca
OUT: Brayshaw (omit), Frost (omit)
LUCKY: Harmes (due for a rotation)
UNLUCKY: Trengove (will get a very popular comeback game soon), M. Jones (went out at the wrong time)

Was it worth it?
Two in a row, what do you think? I've seen so much garbage since 186 that even if it's destined to fizzle out before long I'm going to ride this wave of public approval for all it's worth before we come out as hated as ever. Oppressed people of all colours (as long as they're red and blue), rise up and strike - at the risk of ending up in the papers for doing war metaphors Nathan Jones is our general, Jack Viney is our metaphorical tank division, Gawn represents the aerial attack and Bugg is the king of guerilla warfare. Let the good times roll.

Final Thoughts

In seven days we've done what it took us all of 2013 to. This is why it wasn't worth throwing yourself under a moving vehicle after the Essendon defeat, there are probably still bad times to come this year to balance out the good but that day was the reminder they desperately needed to start playing properly again. One day you'll send a card to John Worsford to say thanks.

We've missed the opportunity to beat North during the decade (except for the finals right?), but after two wins in a row across the same season instead of a Merv Hughes hat-trickesque split of wins across seasons it's time to attack the other chronic issues that have given us the shits so comprehensively - it starts with beating St Kilda for the first time since 2006 next week, then Hawthorn, then a win at Subiaco before it's knocked down and for god's sake I would like to go into a game and absolutely stomp somebody again. Is that too much to ask?

Not only are we going to Subiaco, we're going to Docklands and Metricon, and Darwin. We're going to Alice Springs, and Sydney, and Kardinia Park and then back to the MCG to win the flag*. YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!.

* This man withdrew from the race just under a month later, we may very well do the same.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Floating to the surface

Through my many years of writing Unabomber style manifestos about the Melbourne Football Club it's been rare to enter a fourth quarter thinking we should win. Not nearly as rare as knowing we were going to win (which by my count hasn't happened since the original Carnival of Hate) but with an added level of terror where you know snatching defeat from the jaws of victory will lead to much heartbreak and despair. Eventually we'll win enough games that throwing one away from a winning position won't be fatal, but if we'd lost from our three-quarter time position yesterday I'd still be walking home via Dimboola now.

For those who've been waiting patiently since mid-2011 for the right to be arrogant at the football again the good news is that we're closer than ever. I've got no more dislike for Nathan Buckley than most other opposition coaches, but if he had to be the victim of our latest building block towards respectability then tough luck I'm going to enjoy the guilty pleasure of tipping somebody else's club into talkback horror. I don't keep figures on how many sackings we've provoked (and let's be fair, unless he's been toppled in a midnight military coup Eddie's not going to admit defeat this easily) but two that come to mind were St Kilda '98 and '06, and at least both of those were after finals not in Round 4.

Not winning a game for the first month of the season most years didn't help, but when was the last time we dipped an opposition coach into the cooking pot this early? Richmond supporters had a bit of a meltdown when we beat them in the Anzac game last year, but nobody paid attention to them because that's their standard operating procedure. In the end it provided a much needed prompt for them to start taking the season seriously, and they went onto bigger and better things (better than us anyway). It might do similar for the Pies, but everyone knows if the coach was an outsider not a club legend he'd be on the end of the Matthew Knights treatment, catching a taxi home because somebody had put his car up on bricks.

Given how bad they've been this year it seemed ridiculous that the Pies started such warm favourites, with our price continuing to drift throughout the week. Congratulations to those who can bring themselves to bet on the Dees, I spend most games feeling like I'm about to do a Gawn in China impersonation so god knows what would happen if there was a financial interest as well. It seemed like a classic 50/50 game to me, but obviously there was an expectation that they'd come out firing after a week being battered in the media and that we'd done all we could in Hobart.

All hope went out the window and I decided it was a 10/90 game to be lost in bizarre circumstances when Collingwood paid good money to vault Jesse White into the side at four hours notice without having named him as an emergency first. If this was a trick play designed to flummox us it didn't have the desired effect considering White went into defence and proceeded to do what the kids refer to as "fuck all".

I'm not trying to tell Collingwood what to do, but given that McDonald is the only true tall in our defence I'd probably have tried to stretch us with a second option. He's not much chop, but to paraphrase Bill Hicks our defeat was "going to take a very special forward... or a bunch of average ones". There were already concerns about Cloke having flashbacks to Queen's Birthday last year and remember what he was being paid mega money to do, so it was money poorly spent when White looked completely uncomfortable in defence. It took them until the last quarter to move him forward, where he also looked completely uncomfortable.

They'll be fined for bringing him in, but that's no concern for a moneybags club who probably can't turn a cushion over at the Whatever It's Called This Week Centre without finding a bundle of cash. The argument was that they had "no emergencies" available after Tyson Goldsack had become ill, but given that the news was first reported by the AFL's official spokesman at 1120 (then again on another Twitter account other than the official AFL one half an hour later, because why just put it on the actual @AFL account with 600k followers when you can post it everywhere else first?) and their reserves team started game over the road at 1210 nobody's buying that.

The Sunday surprise led to a frenzy at the Kent Kingsley Klub, with Kent himself called back to the office to switch to DEFCON1 as we entered an imminent "maligned playing running riot against Melbourne" situation. How could they not understand that if we were going to fall for any sort of ploy involving a bizarre player that the American they've just promoted from the rookie list would have been the perfect secret weapon? We're vulnerable to internationals, somewhere Tommy Walsh is sitting on a couch in Ireland still chuckling to himself about the day he took us to the cleaners at the SCG. As it was the launch codes stayed firmly into Kent's pocket, at least until that great lummox Ty Vickery kicks six on Sunday night.

I my entire train trip pondering what it was going to be like when the White/Cloke show delivered 14 goals and we were left trodden into the MCG turf while Pies fans everywhere rushed to pat the coach on the back and say "I always believed in you mate". Such is life as a Melbourne fan, those of you who follow other clubs might think you know what it's like to be neurotic as a supporter but only the Tigers come close to us - and at least they've got a big enough supporter base to comfort themselves by acting as a mob.

During the week an Anonymous Benefactor, one of the greatest living Melbourne supporters, called to offer me the last ticket in a corporate box. While I never say no to an offer from a legend like the Benefactor if you're settling in for a serious viewing of a game then the box can be a mixed blessing. Free food and drink is ace, being pitched together with 10 people you've never met in your life, including kids and a lady who was so bored during the last quarter that she whipped out a book and didn't look up once not so. It's like being a serious, shambling alcoholic going on a pub crawl with uni students, they don't understand what it's like to be locked into a serious addiction.

Arriving before the benefactor left me in serious mingling territory, and there is nothing I want to do less than engage in small talk with anybody much less people I've never met before and never will again. So I didn't, and after cursory introductions where I forgot the names almost immediately I sat there reading the Footy Record for the first time in a year. There's a column where people write in and ask if their collectables are worth any money, and one guy asked what he could get for his collection of the Essendon magazine "given the club's recent woes" only to be informed that after putting his name to a shameless attempt at profiteering from his club's misery they were only worth $2 each.

There's not much else to justify paying for that publication, other than what I did for the last couple of years before kicking the habit and rolling it up to hit things in frustration. I did learn that Andre Gianfagna is now on the AFL umpiring rookie list, and that in the player profiles they ask "Favourite Twitter account you follow" so I'd be disappointed not to get a run there by the end of the season if not under "favourite footy journalist" thanks to the famous #fistedforever list getting a run in the papers.

Once I'd run five minutes off the clock reading that and failing to introduce myself to anyone who arrived afterwards there was a moment of doubt wondering whether I should have accepted the offer. After having to listen to a Collingwood fan moaning that the game has become too attacking this year and a Geelong fan give a long dissection of their game on Saturday which ended with "I didn't watch it though" I had to temporarily remove myself before it turned into a panic attack and I ended up sprinting for the Ponsford Stand with my pockets stuffed full of sausage rolls.

To calm the nerves I went for a walk, and on my way back in followed the largest man I've ever seen in my life who despite the fact that he was heading for all the free food he could get his hands on was carrying a box of MCG food so greasy that the box was starting to become clear. On the way back from my half-time constitutional he was walking back in carrying hot chips, he'll probably still outlive me but at least there are worse addictions in life than football.

Thankfully the benefactor arrived, and we were within striking distance of the first bounce so I could concentrate on my vendetta instead of small talk with people who were just happy to be there. The next complication was that all the best seats had been taken by freeloaders who didn't really care about the game and a family wearing $2 Shop 'COLLINGWOOD' scarves. This left me perched on a chair (admittedly a comfy one but that's not the point) at the top of the stairs where I couldn't actually see what was happening on the Member's side wing because the window covered it with a reflection of the Southern Stand goal square.

As the day wore on I started to adjust, to the point where in the second half I could squint just the right amount to make out where the real boundary line was and follow the play. Shutting the window would have helped, but given that I'd steadfastly refused to speak to any of the people sitting in the front row it would have felt rude to bark orders at them now.

I'd already caused one near scandal when I tried to change the channel on the in-box TV to our game only for some alpha male Pies fan to snatch the remote away from me to do it himself. First he couldn't get the TV to switch past the first race at Pakenham then it got stuck on a series of blank channels. He got there eventually after handing it to somebody else and barking orders at them, but at least I now had replays and comfort about how much time was left in each quarter.

We eventually got down to what we were there for (well, I was anyway), and what felt like impending doom. The Pies fans present, including Mr. Remote Control, tried to play down expectations by declaring that we were absolute certainties because they were terrible. I recognised that coping tactic from when I did it before the Essendon game. For once the laughable "We hear your fear" flag waved by the Pies cheersquad was aimed at their own fans, and it seemed to mysteriously disappear from the middle of the first quarter until the comeback began. Meanwhile one of them has a banner which reads "15 WITTY WITTS" and they should be sent to Devil's Island for it.

My interest in the tactics of opposition sides is practically nil, but whatever Bucks thought he was going to achieve by playing Pendlebury on a half-back flank in the first quarter is not clear. For anybody who looked at Jack Grimes in his prime and said "I think he can be our version of Pendlebury" this was your day. While we dominated the middle during the first quarter and clocked up a match-winning lead he only got two touches (mind you one was a goal assist) and spent more time looking up while the ball flew over his head. Shock horror when they came to their senses in the second quarter and played him in the midfield he racked up a metric shitload of possessions and gave us trouble for the rest of the afternoon.

Despite their best player wasting away at the other end it didn't start well for us. In the opening minutes the Pies were on the attack, but we should have realised at this point that their forward line had peaked on Queen's Birthday last year with Cloke kicking everything and could never hope to achieve that level of fluency again - especially with one of the best possession getters in the competition kicking dew off the grass instead of delivering them goalscoring opportunities.

We'd barely been across half way let alone inside 50 when the first goal came against the run of play through Watts, with a dinky roller from the boundary line after Tomas Bugg's second consecutive inside 50 across two states which did absolutely nothing for a forward miles in the clear. Bugg got a lot of touches and inside 50s yesterday, and I'm not saying no to anyone who laid nine tackles but he's quite the butcher - which means he'll fit in well with us.

At least yesterday we did exactly what a team who don't have the sharpest disposal skills should and ran into space to reduce the number of pinpoint kicks required. Meanwhile the Pies were turning the ball over, often in comic fashion, by refusing to accept that they're no good any more and play accordingly. Goals conceded from turnovers is one of the great stats, better than rubbish like inside 50's, and they had some rippers.

To start we had to get our own goals, Hogan continued to demonstrate why one novelty ball drop in a practice match doesn't define you as a forward and even Tyson was taking contested marks inside 50. Brayshaw showed that if he's not yet 100% he's still got the base elements of a magnificent player by gifting Pedersen with a perfect handball to run into the open goal, then when Kennedy squeezed his goal through for the fourth I was jumping out of the comfy chair, pumping my fist and generally not giving a rats about my reputation in front of strangers.

Then as our pressure caused the Pies to snap the comedy capers began, and as they didn't notice Sam Frost running off the bench he was able to do a Channel 9 style snatch and grab of a floating handball then romp into goal. If Dean Kent played the worst four goal game in history against North then Frost might have just played the most bizarre 50% terrible, 50% fantastic Jekyll and Hide game ever. Half of it was dropping marks or running around in circles, the other have was dashing through through the middle, flicking the quick handball which ultimately set up Hogan's first goal and crashing people out of the way.

His well-taken goal on the run from outside 50 came with five minutes left, but after doing all that heavy lifting we were forced to defend for the rest of the quarter instead of pressing on and really kicking their brains in. Given that we'd launched two separate outrageous comebacks on Queen's Birthday last year before Fitzpatrick ruined it all with his tunnel ball antics I was convinced that after our quick run of goals that they had one in them too.

We got to quarter time intact, but I was still nervous enough to launch a Technicolour Gawn at the ground with the same trajectory as a mortar shell. How many times during the #fistedforever era have we delivered a grand quarter like that, then kicked one or less in the second? It's not as insidious as the 61 first quarters since Round 1, 2007 where we've kicked either 0 or 1 goals, but it doesn't help your tension. Just think back to Round 1 this year where we went 5. 0, 1, 6 - you work it out because I've spent a decade trying without luck.

If we'd been the ones who'd just conceded six goals to one I'd have been donning a black veil and reading the last rites, but because we were in the ascendancy it was a case of shitting it about a horrible come from behind win. History was on our side, it would have been Collingwood's equal 8th best quarter time comeback ever, but history means stuff all when you're sitting there sweating like the man bringing his own chips to the catered superbox.

Our success to date had been built on all the right elements, we were winning the clearances, the backline was holding up, we were moving the ball quickly and the forward line was scoring efficiently but it helped to have an opposition who were trotting about casually like they were playing a picnic game. They couldn't play much worse and we probably couldn't play much better, hence the escalated farce/shambles threat level.

As the benefactor and I mulled over all the ways it could go wrong from there the most virulent Pies fan mockingly said "why are you so worried?" Not sure he was even talking to me but the response was obvious "because we're Melbourne fans?" During the third quarter we had a similar 'conversation', which was more just me baiting somebody I didn't know as he suffered a mental meltdown.

Pies Man: "Jack Watts you're soft"
Me: "Yeah, and he's just kicked four goals against you"
PM: "Jack Watts you're soft"

What I needed to calm the nerves and force the contents of my stomach back to where they were supposed to reside was an early goal, so when Harry O laid a perfect kick to a leading Watts 10 seconds into the quarter the well suppressed part of me that feels like Melbourne are going to win burst into the open. Imagine how many feet you'd be hovering off the ground now if we'd gone on to thrash the pants of them? It's my dream to thrash somebody again, but this is why you don't ever demonstrate confidence until you're at three quarter time and the 48 point Chris Sullivan Line has been breached because there is always bad news around the corner.

At first the comeback didn't have much going for it, their second goal but I suppose it had to happen eventually. It didn't take long before Lumumba set up his second goal of the quarter with another pinpoint pass to a leading forward (all is forgiven) and Hogan had cancelled it out to restore calm.

Being an anti-social git and all-round terrible guest I was listening to the radio the whole time, and after Hogan's near perfect set shot the munters on there spent significant time complaining about his run-up, then I looked up at the TV they were showing a super slow motion and presumably doing likewise. At 9.5 for the season it seems to be working reasonably well, so pipe down dickheads even if he whirls around in a circle first the last few steps are the only ones that count.

When we got another one shortly after I'd adopted a Mark Harvey style expression of shock and surprise:

That was where the offensive ended, with supply lines thinning in the face of a desperate rear guard action by the enemy. It was like Napoleon invading Moscow in 1812, but in nicer weather. We didn't start playing badly, we had good players all over the ground and Jack Viney running around the midfield like a colossus, it was that Collingwood decided to show up and have a go. Bit late for the poor old coach who inadvertently provided Channel 7 with a great afternoon cutting to him whenever he looked like he was having the worst day of his life.

When we gave them two goals in a row I thought "here we go", and even when Watts converted that fantastic set shot from almost the same place where he'd tried that failed pass against North (slightly more difficult to kick with a hurricane blowing through the ground) you knew the momentum had changed. Under proper pressure for the first time all day we were throwing dinky handballs around and panicking, and the door was wide open for a comeback that they were fortunately not good enough to launch. Somebody could have told me that at the time, but I'd probably have threatened to assault them.

Seeing Travis Cloke wander out the back and kick an easy goal caused me all sorts of anxiety. At least if we were going to let him kick goals he could be made to earn it instead of running into an open goal. Then something lovely happened, after that goal cut the margin back to four points with plenty of time left for another that would have had us wobbling all over the place Viney won it out of the middle (the free for too high was suspect considering he was twisting himself out of a tackle, but Pies fans before you burn down AFL House consider that by the time he won the free he'd already broken loose of the half-hearted attempt and was heading forward) and hoofed it long to a contest where that man Watts decided to add CRUMB to his set shots for a fourth.

The idea that Jack Watts might kick a huge bag against the Pies gave me with the sort of spiritual fulfilment that people must get from religion. Alas my red and blue clad religion has left a longer trail of disappointment than Scientology so I knew he wouldn't kick another one. Not his fault, opportunities dried up and he'd done more than enough. Still played well in the second half even if he wasn't kicking goals, and that's three good performances out of four now.

Another (tenuously related) Watts related incident I enjoyed was everyone starting a fight after Dom Tyson was pushed into the post after kicking a goal. Cast your mind back to the day Watts debuted, got buried by Collingwood players and his teammates went "oh well, that's unfortunate". It was also the day SEN stiffed me on a Name A Game DVD for calling after a goal kicked from outside 50 but who's holding grudges? Now we've got some real nutters - and for that all important psychological effect some nutter lookalikes.

Watching Melbourne defend a lead is the only time I can identify with chain smokers. If I were in the stands I'd have nervously chowed down on my fingernails, but with access to an open bar and no desire to get sloshed my own outlet was to continually consume small glass bottles of Coke Zero like oxygen on a failing airplane. By full time I'd had enough that it probably should have killed me on the spot (instead of working its way through the system towards a fatal illness which will no doubt put me away at three-quarter time the day we win the flag. Hope the MCG has an iron lung).

It hardly compared to Hunter S Thompson's daily routine, but he wouldn't have survived into the 21st century if he'd had to cope with following the Dees. Left with an elevated caffeine level that Alex Watson would have been proud of it was no wonder I couldn't sleep for shit last night, even after sensibly deciding not to stay awake until dawn watching the replay and building a small shrine to the continuing health of Max Gawn.

When Frost marked straight out of the middle to start the third quarter I didn't expect him to kick it, but I'd just nervously eaten enough to end up like the BBW (Big Black and White) fellow who'd imported his own chips so it would have been good to settle the nerves. That miss was the prompt for what should have been the grand comeback if the Pies hadn't been so wasteful with their kicking. It wasn't just forward either - after 10 minutes of pressure where the only other score we'd had was Watts sadly failing to add a banana to the mix the valve released in spectacular fashion when they delivered the sort of horrific defensive mistake that is usually only ever perpetrated by sides of our ilk.

A kick across goal is the most tension filled moment in football, and this one held up perfectly for Dean Kent to nip in and pinch it. Every time it's replayed in the future it needs to have the Benny Hill music dropped over the top for maximum effect. On the whole his one goal game was far better than his four goal game the week before, but when he gleefully thumped it high into the stands he got altogether too close to the left goalpost for my liking when he could have just kicked it and made of things.

Two more goals, including Pedersen refusing to involve himself in dinky, roller goals by thumping through a drop punt despite the general presence of a defender and then to Viney being on the end of another Pies turnover all but killed off their comeback, but it was the howler that really did them in.

There were several great things about the Viney goal other than the turnover that started it, including Hogan (who was immense up the ground with his marking and passing) slicing a kick to Bugg that was so casual it was almost on holidays, then after Bugg's handball ended in Viney kicking a goal and being bowled over Jack gave the Collingwood bloke a little pat on the head as if to say "better luck next time". It was probably retribution that caused Tyson to be crunched into the post later. Speaking of people with O RLY? owl eyes, if Alan Toovey hadn't moved his head at the last minute after the Tyson incident Dean Kent would have cracked him with a bionic elbow which would have seen them both out on the sidelines Queen's Birthday.

It would be unkind to mock Jeremy Howe for his unfortunate performance, let's get through Queen's Birthday without him kicking eight first, and after 100 games I'm not as down on him as some but he was quite terrible. When he took the mark directly in front of goal I turned around to complain to my MFC comrade only to turn around and see that he'd flubbed it with a failed attempt to set up a teammate in the square. Did it seem to anyone else that the Pies were under instructions to try and walk it in from the square as much as possible? I'd probably review that idea when somebody's taken a mark 20 metres out.

Apparently he tried one towering screamer but I didn't see it. Buckley is waging an almost Neeld-esque war against entertaining football, but if Howe's not taking big marks then he'd better find something else to do quickly. Luckily there will probably be a new coach along before long (and providing they don't lose to Essendon on Anzac Day, Queen's Birthday would be a great spot to push Bucks off the ledge), so he can join Brent Moloney as an inductee in the Angel of Death Hall of Fame as Melbourne players to get rid of three coaches then change clubs and knock off another. On that note next year Lynden Dunn must be set for some sort of record when Goodwin will be his eighth senior coach (full-time and caretaker) in approximately 180 games.

We almost got through another period of domination by the Pies, before finally conceding in the last couple of minutes. It wasn't quite the CSL but I'd have felt a lot calmer six goals in front than five. Down the hatch went another drink as my central nervous system started to react poorly to the massive chemical intake. If excessive consumption had caused a laxative effect it would have served me right, especially considering earlier I'd tried to use the bathroom and couldn't for the life of me tell whether the door was locked or not.

The first goal of the last quarter provided some relief, and neutrals would have understood that it killed the game off but the centre bounce just before was a perfect example of what a lunatic footy turns me into, when the umpire stuffed the bounce and recalled it the first thing I thought was "great, that's two seconds off the clock" with no detectable hint of sarcasm.

After being forced to come from behind three times the last quarter didn't say much for our ability to finish sides off, but we'd done enough in the first quarter to insure us against anything but the greatest disaster. It was more comfortable than it felt watching live, Collingwood were threatening to get a run on but with a forward line consisting solely of Darcy Moore (who is clearly quite good, and should remember what complete arseholes Pies fans were to his dad if he's ever considering doing a runner) they couldn't break through quickly enough to pressure us.

We managed to calm down on the handball blunders which started to cause concern at the end of the third quarter, and with a crippled Travis Cloke (jokes on a postcard please Collingwood fans) barely able to raise one arm he was unable to claim his birthright by showing up for the first time all day to beat us with six goals in the last six minutes.

Not that the Pies were completely hapless in the last quarter, at least they got wise to the fact that Gawn is a dominant ruckman and started to combat him with a third man up to some success. It was a desperate move but it made sense, last week he was hitting targets all over the place from ball-ups. Let's counter it with a fourth man up and start an arms race which will ultimately lead to two ruckmen trying to contest with 34 other players trying to leap over each other to get involved and nobody at the fall of the ball.

With four minutes left, five goals required and the Pies activating 'CBF' mode I finally relaxed and conceded that we were going to win. If Queen's Birthday is 'our Grand Final' (and here's to this being the last year we have so few other important games that it has to be) then this was our Prelim. Here's to going into these games expecting to win before long, reducing them to the status of "our Round 15" instead.

Now that we'd won all I wanted of the last few minutes was for everyone to come out alive and for us to kick another goal to take us over 100 points. The first one was half there, James Harmes suffered 'mystery collapse' in the first contest after pushing Taylor Adams into a fence but recovered. The TV coverage was being wrapped up so quickly it's lucky somebody hadn't caused it to drop out by winding a cable too sharply so we never got a replay. We'll wait to see if an assailant is identified by the Match Review Panel or if I'm just assuming a Collingwood player hit him because so many of them have form. (Update - 1444 Monday - Adams officially the assailant, no wonder Channel 7 don't have the right to Crimestoppers because they were no bloody help in catching him)

Part B was duly achieved in the last minute by that fantastic man with the beard to be feared. Enjoying a well-earned rest after another day of heavyweight solo ruckage Maximum found himself alone in front of goal and duly converted. He was so excited by driving in the last stake that he had a flashback to the Schwab era when the emblem on the jumper annoyed Hankook so much they quit as sponsor, which was a lovely gesture except that as we haven't got the emblem there any more he ended up clutching at AHG instead. Maybe it was deliberate, they have been a fine sponsor and if they're reading yes I would like a new car please. Who cares what he actually grabbed, the intent was clear.

Growing up in the 80's it was an unfortunate time to have a mysterious phobia of bearded men. My terror focused unfairly on celebrity chef (and filth merchant) Peter Russell-Clarke who I was absolutely terrified of. I'd run and hide when his show started, and once in a state of sheer panic made my mum solemnly promise that he wasn't my dad. This affected my view of beards for years to come, and it's only now that I can gaze upon pictures like this with admiration rather than suffering night terrors.

The good times might not last more than a week longer but for now we've scored 15 points more than Hawthorn, and when was the last time you could say that? Certainly not after any game against them since 2006.

More relative success please, I'm starting to get quite a taste for it.

2016 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
After a spread of votes across the first three weeks it's five of the same this week, and all the big guns other than Vince are represented. It's no offence to the fringe players, a lot of them had fine games but statistically if you're playing well it's going to be driven by your top group.

5 - Jack Viney
4 - Jack Watts
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Nathan Jones

Major apologies to Tyson, who lost a squeaker to Jones for the one vote. Apologies too in no particular order (other than alphabetical) to Bugg, Frost, Lumumba, McDonald, Pedersen, Salem and Wagner.

Gawn/Viney 2016 haven't had the same Cosmic Connection as the pre-season, but they've still found their way to the top of a competitive field. Maximum absolutely deserves to be there, and considering he's the only eligible player on the list so far (average 10 hitouts per game) he'll be declared the provisional winner soon. Still, if you were a betting man you'd recognise this is an AFL related award and back the midfielder in the overall competition.

10 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Viney
8 - Jack Watts
5 - Jesse Hogan, Bernie Vince (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Nathan Jones, Ben Kennedy, Christian Salem
3 - Clayton Oliver (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year)
2 - Matt Jones, Heritier Lumumba
1 - Neville Jetta, Tom McDonald, Cameron Pedersen

At least the opposition bothered to turn up this time, and for some reason the Collingwood one was demanding people wave their scarves in the air. It was a dull effort, with little to recommend it for a club with so many resources at their disposal but at least it was better than the race hate banner their fans put together to celebrate the Richmond game. If they thought Sheeds encouraging people to swing shit above his head was the reason Essendon beat us no bloody wonder they're in a state of disarray.

Back to banners, ours was a nicely constructed effort featuring the classic Demon in silhouette form, and opting not to join in baiting the opposition while they were down by concentrating on an all-positive method. Handy victory, and 7-0 Dees for the year before the expected joint banner draw next week.

Crowd Watch (Incorporating Matchday Experience Watch)
You couldn't get much flavour from the box, but I could see the digital boundary signs which listed their team before the game showing every player in the traditional '[first name] [last name]' format except for 'Greenwood Levi'. Do they even care? Probably not. It was significantly better than their Kiss Cam effort where a ground announcer was alleged to have suggested a patron "get stuck into" a patron with Down's Syndrome.

If you were a conspiracy theorist, and come on footy fans we all are in some way, you'd question how convenient it was for the Collingwood race to be stacked with harmless "support the boys" grannies after the game instead of frothing, beetroot faced lunatics. Not only is it a better visual but only the most anti-social supporter would think of crashing through through the elderly to call a footy player a prick.
Having missed all the fun in the stands there was adequate replacement antics at Jolimont Station. With the platform so full that one nudge would cause people to topple onto the tracks like dominos the sensible thing was to wait for a few minutes instead of storming into the melee. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy light civil disorder, as a lone Melbourne fan on Platform 1 gave it a bit of soccer style "Can you hear the Magpies sing?" but didn't have the balls to go with "I can't hear a fucking thing" in public so "bloody thing" didn't have quite the same oomph.

With tensions amongst Collingwood fans already approaching fatal levels this prompted the obvious retort of "at least I've seen my club win a premiership". Which is quite correct, but you have to wonder what they'd reach for in this situation against sides who have actually been successful. That line is not getting over against Geelong or Hawthorn supporters. In a properly moderated debate you would have scored points for shouting back "At least our club doesn't have a Kiss Cam".

The only reason I eventually decided to join the platform scrum was when I heard somebody effing and blinding about what a bunch of arseholes everybody was. My first thought was "ahh, human misery. This will make for excellent content", but sadly he didn't turn out to be a Pies fan, driven stark raving mad by defeat but rather a spectacular junkie bouncing from side to side at a rapid rate and denouncing supporters of all stripes as "pussy fans".

"I've been waiting here for half an hour and I haven't been able to get on three trains you fuckers!" he shouted to nobody while most people shuffled nervously and I cursed myself for never working out what Periscope was or how it worked. "I just want to get home and get my clothes, and if you don't get out of the way and let me on the next one I'll (inaudible threat)".

When he let a South Morang train go I decided to shift up the platform to ensure we weren't in the same carriage when the Hurstbridge train arrived. Then when the Greensborough train came and went he was still sitting on the ground yelling. He had a touch of the Diamond Creeks about him, and if you were operating with a full deck the best idea would be to get on the train and get as far down the line as possible just in case another group of footy fans turned up but I suspect he didn't want to risk ending up alone on a platform with PSOs holding stop and search powers.

Let's hope he got his clothes eventually, amongst other things. The fun with Protective Services Officers wasn't offer yet, after a train ride opposite a pair of Pies fans who could barely wait to get home and forget their sorrows by enjoying intercourse, we pulled up with the doors opening right into a pair of PSO's who were so bored of mingling with each other every night that one of them asked the first Melbourne fan he could see "How did you go?" It was a reasonable assumption that he was a Melbourne fan, given that he was wearing a Melbourne jumper only for him to respond "I'm a Richmond fan, I was just going for them because they beat us by a point". Any help is appreciated but buying a jumper out of spite is a bit over the top.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Ben Kennedy could nearly be this year's Jeff Garlett, getting nominated every second week then unexpectedly losing the competition when somebody comes along with a belter late in the year but while remains the clubhouse leader and continues to deliver contenders his surgically placed goal in the first quarter comes second.

I'm opting for Watts' opener due to the way he made the most of a shithouse kick after doing all the good work to get in the open. Jack wins a $500 voucher to Megaphone Warehouse so he can hurl abuse at his critics.

Breaking into the lucrative Chinese market
The talk of the week was Port Adelaide trying to take somebody else's home game to China. There was a heavy inference that they'd managed to convince another club to get involved, and if you're a nervous character like me you'll realise the NT deal runs out this year, they were making noise about ditching us a few weeks ago and nobody's announced an extension.

What if we're the mystery partner? What did I say last week about the internationals queuing up to get an exciting side like us to play in their home territory? The only concern I've got is the suggestion that there's no massive pay day on offer for the clubs (and why would there be considering China like 194 other sovereign nations around the club couldn't give a shit) because if China's equivalent of Clive Palmer who likes to throw his money away on lost causes offered us $5 million to turn up I'd consider it.

What could go wrong? Last time we went to China we have Gawn lose his lunch, $cully lose his interest, Kaspersky decided not to continue as a sponsor and Liam Jurrah start his path towards jail. At least we won the game though.

It's all academic considering clubs are supposed to be doing this out of the goodness of their own heart in the hope that the world's most populous nation will fall in love with a game where nobody knows which way a ruck free kick's going to go until the umpire points. Knowing the AFL they'd probably send us there in Round 9 with a six day break.

News from the Territories
There's only one other player in the competition whose welfare I concern myself with, so there were wild scenes at Demonblog Towers when the SME (Stefan Martin Experience) suffered SME (Steven May Execution) at the Gabba. We're all distressed at what Stef has done to his hair this year but knocking him out was an extreme reaction. I hope he received the bouquet of flowers and get well soon card that we sent him.

Meanwhile if you were an up and coming professional wrestling tag team you'd be mad not to take inspiration from the move below, I doubt Ablett deliberately whipped him into the path of destruction but imagine the pleasing visual specatcle of somebody doing that into a clothesline or a big boot? If he's interested in a change of career Steven is going to have several weeks to work on his application.
Next Week
Now that we've beaten one half of the Crisis Connection, pressing on to complete the double would almost cause the lid to emerge through the MCG turf and take off like a military drone, shooting at our enemies. The way Richmond are going we should beat them IF we turn up ready to play without spending the week reading our own press, but I would be much more comfortable if the bookies kept them favourites. It would be so Melbourne that after beating them early in the season has started to become a cliche that just as we've got the chance to tip them over the edge into total chaos we'll trip and fall flat on our face.

As for changes what a great dilemma to have, where two first choice players are ready to come back but nobody's obviously got to go. The ins are easy, even though Vince was stupid to get suspended (and at least if he was going to elbow the guy in the head he could have at least stopped him from kicking the goal) but he's too good to leave out. Garlett is an obvious in, and he'd have loved today's game, but given that he's gone from 'nearly' playing in Hobart to not appearing at all this week are we sure they're not hiding an amputation?

Now's where it gets difficult, vandenBerg will have to wait for now and while I'd be tempted to rest Oliver soon he should be rewarded for his performances so far by playing in a big game - also he might not have had that many touches comparatively but there were a couple of times when he did the Matrix moves in congestion to find a teammate and I love that shit almost as much as hearing that Bugg went to give a Pies player his loose boot back then threw it over his head.

Barring any mystery injuries or whatever happened to Harmes/Jones (Matt) right at the end turning septic I drop Jayden Hunt with the greatest of respect and an open invitation to return in the future. For the second one I don't think we need both Frost and Pedersen but both of them played well so I can't justify dumping either.

At the time of writing it seems Jones is the most likely to miss with injury having gone directly from the team song to hospital with a rib complaint, and for the second time this year that's horrible timing for him just as he'd started to consolidate his spot in the side. Otherwise it's spin the wheel of death, possibly landing on Brayshaw.

IN: Vince, Garlett
OUT: Hunt (omit), M. Jones (inj)
LUCKY: One of Frost or Pedersen, just because of 'team balance' (CLICHE)
UNLUCKY: Petracca (Patience my pretties, just one more week. He did it against a better side but just give it another go them wheel him out against the Saints at Docklands. Might even drag a few through the gate for our 'home' game), Trengove (will be happy to welcome him back when a spot opens), Weideman (bad timing for him to show up just as Watts hit form but he's got plenty of time)

Was it worth it?
My word yes, once I got over the horrifying prospect of having to mingle with strangers and came to grips with strange reflections it was an enjoyable afternoon and the first team I'd managed to enjoy 'corporate hospitality' and a win since we rumbled the Eagles in 2009. That day I rolled into a second box at Footscray vs Hawthorn and started drinking heavily. These days you could not tempt me with all the booze in the world to go to a game directly after ours, let's call it a sign of maturity.

Final Thoughts
The building blocks are in place, we've still got important players not at their best and are prone to occasional outbursts of toxic football but I think even though the ultimate goal is still thousands of kilometres of treacherous terrain away that the stepping stone of mid-table mediocrity can be ours soon.

Who else watched Geelong struggling to beat Essendon and thought a) I know the feeling and b) if we can get to Round 23 still a chance of the eight we could take the Cats at Kardinia Park? Too soon? If Leicester City can win the Premier League we can make the eight by 2018.