Monday, 21 August 2017

Breathing into a paper bag

There's a psychological concept called 'self-sabotaging' where people inadvertently stop themselves from being successful. From deliberately chucking relationships when they become serious, to crumbling in a job where you feel like an impostor or basically tanking high school because you're too busy playing Championship Manager (oops) there's thousands of ways to needlessly introduce misery to your life.

Following Melbourne is definitely one, a place where even people who lead well-adjusted, normal lives free from self-destruction come to get the feeling of being involved in something they don't have any faith in. Paul Roos, David King and everyone else who's been surprised by the ongoing air of distress amongst our fans might have had a point, you'd think after last week we'd have been dying to get to this game and crush the Lions. Instead there were strong rumours that Jack Viney's foot was completely stuffed, significantly weaker ones about a player being caught with a locker full of Harley Bennell style gear, and a very real possibility shared by many people that we'd get within touching distance of the finals and stuff it up...

... and that's where pundits need to see our point. Because while the first two might have been nothing more than salacious rumours, the third was so real that it nearly happened. Of course we're scared, what's our frame of reference for entering the last game with a finals berth in our own hands after a lengthy drought? If you're old enough to remember 1976 a win wasn't enough, and in 1987 it was only what happened at Kardinia Park that made sure of it. Even if you're really old and can remember 1915 we started the final round fourth, had the bye and only fell in via the Archduke Franz Ferdinand Plan because South Melbourne lost. This is dizzy stuff. We defended our position in the last rounds of 1988 and 2005, but both of these years were immediately after finals campaigns whereas now we're emerging from a decade that even people held hostage in Lebanon during the 80s would describe as harrowing.

When my mum decided to make a surprise appearance for only the second time this season I thought it was a good thing, because it would force me to moderate behaviour. Then in one of the most amazing tactical errors in history I had the brainwave that if there would be somebody going who could be relied upon to behave themselves no matter what happened that I might take my kid as well. Ostensibly the reason was to give the long-suffering Mrs Demonblog a day off, but deep down it was an attempt to make sure I stayed calm and didn't snap a seat in two. After all, the presence of my mother didn't stop me profaning Andrew Demetriou 19 times in 10 seconds with the foulest language known to man at the end of Round 6, 2007 so why would it have stopped a similar emotional collapse now?

To say I was stressed about this game was an understatement, it was all I'd thought about during week and as the weekend approached I started sleeping badly. The night before the game it got so much that I deliberately avoided going to bed until the early hours of Sunday because I was quite literally scared too face what was going to happen at the MCG from 13:10. Honestly, what sort of way is this to live your life?

Over the years I've had to back-up on a lot of the stuff written on here, but there has never been a greater lie than after the Sydney game where I claimed to have switched focus to 2018. No doubt I sincerely felt that way at the time, but now you can see it was simply a coping strategy to deal with what felt like slowly deflating expectations. Now via various highs and losing to North, we're almost back in the same position I expected to be in at the conclusion of the Swans game. And it feels like death, I'm looking, sleeping, sounding and probably smelling like an ice addict and the situation doesn't look like getting better as the week wears on. Further on in the writing of this post I had one of the all-time great head-spins, actually rocking left and right as it passed. This is not healthy. The only thing that's going to allow me to settle down and focus on the actual important things in life is if the Pies fax through a letter of forfeit.

Speaking of back-ups, climb-downs and reversals it was also the week where I suggested it could be a win for everybody if we trade Hogan for a substantial package of goodies shortly before he made a surprise reappearance with six match-winning goals. And if that's what it takes to get more of the same next week I'll write a pamphlet and distribute it at Flinders Street Station.

It was quite the emotional rollercoaster of a day, I was already operating in an alternative universe due to lack of sleep, and the tension of possibly throwing it all away against the bottom placed side (albeit the best one since the start of the franchise era) had me so flummoxed that in the minutes before the bounce I went to have a nervous slash and accidentally walked into the women's bathroom. The worst bit was that I didn't realise until I was well inside, looking around and asking "where's the whizzer?" out loud before realising my mistake and scooting for the door. Thank god nobody was in there or walking past to see my escape, or it would have been an ironic conclusion to years of mocking that Chuck Berry style hidden Perv Cam the club uses to film people being told about their debut.

The MCG must have known that I needed a soothing, familiar tone to stop me from toppling into mental distress, which explains why out of nowhere they hired John Blackman to do their voiceovers for the day. Nothing says a blockbuster clash like the voice of Dicky Knee, and I was hoping he'd drop in with the occasional Hey Hey It's Saturday style sarcastic comment during the match. There would have been enough opportunities, but the best we got was when he nearly pissed himself laughing for some reason while reading out the names of the umpires. If nothing else I'd have liked him to say "fuck" a couple of times and engage in some old fashioned workplace sexual harassment:

Maybe he was chuckling at the conspiracy theory that first year goal umpire David Rodan would fondly remember the year he spent in penury with us and issue a series of rorts accordingly. Disappointingly Rodan took his craft seriously, and even the lone review of the day was called for by a field umpire. If only the Stefan Martin Experience had remained neutral instead of playing one of the best games of his life.

As Gawn rose from plus-sized special attraction to the best ruckman in the country I came to realise that my tantrum when the SME was traded to Brisbane for peanuts was incorrect, and that this actually was the classic win/win deal. Since then I've always wanted him to do well, but that doesn't mean he has to save his best for playing us. When he got the three Brownlow votes at Docklands in 2014 (causing me to go off on one at Neeld a year after he'd been sacked) it was cute because we were still toxic waste but yesterday was serious business, and from the first bounce he took Gawn to the cleaners in every aspect of the game. I'll still rise to applaud if he gets votes again this season.

Martin's dominance was helped by his best midfielders roaming free and racking up touches at will while ours couldn't get within the same postcode as any of the taps. It was another day where Goodwin was forced to reach for Plan B after the original was discredited, sending Melksham to tag the previously dominant Dane Zorko and being rewarded with one of the Milkshake's best games for us. Now he's proven handy as a midfielder and a forward let's try and forget those few weeks where they unsuccessfully tried to play him as a half-back flanker.

The people who say - with some degree of accuracy - that they can deduce how we'll go from the first few minutes must have been the only people in the ground more stressed than me. At first the Lions were winning the ball everywhere, while we looked like a disorganised rabble again. Now that we're at least a mid-table mediocrity I refuse to believe anybody turned up thinking they were going to steamroll the Lions at half-pace. Sure Gawn looked like he had the sooks on when the Experience was ransacking him, and there were a lot of half-arsed one arm attempts to tackle or two players running to one and leaving somebody else alone but it can't have been deliberate.

One thing I was surprised by was not playing Harmes forward after last week, he got down there and kicked an important goal in the end but with some momentum up, and having booted four against Brisbane last year he might have been a handy troublemaker. At first his only contribution was solely to run off the back of the square at centre bounces then disappear, but like many of his teammates he got better as the game went on.

When the Lions went forward effortlessly and a 45-year-old looking man with the biggest bald spot in the AFL marked my stress level jumped another few notches towards a fatality. Mind you, last year when we beat them by 10 goals they had a shot in the first 30 seconds from an even simpler dash out of the middle and kick to a forward so historically there wasn't that much to worry about if you were a normal, well-adjusted person. On the other hand I was petrified. Like last year they missed their first shot, but regrettably this time it didn't serve as the prelude to an avalanche.

We took five minutes to get the ball into some clear space, and in a good sign for the rest of the game converted our first decent (if not first full stop) inside 50. It was a close run thing, Hogan being tremendously unselfish in rewarding Pedersen for creating the goal by lobbing him a handball as he ran towards goal but seeing it go perilously close to failure when he had to wait for the loopy handball to arrive and quickly throw it on the boot in front of a diving defender. Jesse five metres off his opponent and marking uncontested was great, but given that he was directly in front I'd have preferred him to utilise his drink driving style run-up to just pop the easy goal home. It was the first of two strange giveaway goals that bookended the game.

That was a settler, and while I had my suspicions about how easily they'd extracted the ball from the opening bounce I didn't yet know that for the first half every goal we kicked would be a great opportunity for the Lions to grab it straight out the centre and go forward. With Hibberd marking everything that came near him we managed to hold them back for a few minutes, before falling victim to that classic MFC type of goal, one to a player who only had three in his previous 60 matches. Just as we'd started to get on top the defender who spent the day doing the sort of manly spoils that I wish all our defenders other than Tom McDonald wobbled a set shot through. For the first of what must have been a dozen times I said to myself "here we go".

The brief advantage after the Pedersen goal was misleading, we were still playing terrifically badly. Brisbane were keeping us tightly penned in, including Oliver barely able to touch it under a heavy tag from a semi-competent forward, while they were finding acres of space. We had so many players going badly that it was nearly impossible not to get improve. Garlett was nowhere to be seen again, Wagner and Stretch were carrying on like VFL players and Neal-Bullen was clearly suffering a dose of the Media Curse. When the paper that morning carried an article about what a top bloke he is (one which helpfully clarified that his nickname is not 'ANB' but failed to offer a verdict on Anal-Bullet) I think we all knew what was coming next.

From there the rest of the quarter was not a complete mess, we were plenty untidy with our disposal but the Lions couldn't take advantage and Hogan belatedly got his first from another mark. This time there was no dinky handball over the top, he chose to risk the undeniable fact that we waste more of his goals by immediately allowing the other side to attack from the middle than any player in history and boot it himself. Wouldn't you know it, the Lions took advantage of another strong hitout to go forward for a mark straight away. It was kicked out on the full but you see my point. Somebody go back and map the next 30 seconds after his 105 career goals and see how many of them include an opposition inside 50. You wouldn't risk it yesterday with a suspect collarbone, but once he's fit I'd put him in the middle for the bounce every time he kicks one so he can try and personally stop his work being wasted.

Given that we spent the entire first half trying to give away 50 metres penalties in inventive ways - including one against Hannan that helped the Lions to their second goal - it was nice to finally enjoy some ill-discipline in our favour when Dayne Beams delivered a textbook but unnecessary belly-to-belly suplex on Jeff Garlett. In another game where he looked well off the pace, Jeff (not Jeffy even if we win the flag) ran into an open goal on a slight angle and missed, then mid-verbals Beams picked him up and dumped him on the ground. God only knows what he said to provoke that reaction, but it must have been good considering Garlett was the one who'd just botched a sitter.

The best bit wasn't just getting another shot on goal after a miss, or the 50 that made it an absolute certainty, it was another Brisbane player plowing in and starting to throttle Garlett the moment he hit the ground. He had no idea what he was hot about, but was prepared to unconditionally pile in like a mad bastard for his teammate. Like this guy that's the exact sort of white line fever infected lunatic that really floats my boat. Credit too to Harmes, who came to Garlett's aid with a look on his face like "I have absolutely no idea what I'm fighting for here".

It was a good time for a settler, but it sure didn't look at that stage like we were going to score 104. Not that the Lions looked particularly potent either, but if we let them all rack up 50 possessions they were going to eventually bust through on sheer weight of numbers. All was not yet lost, the Lions were operating at what passes for top gear when you're 5-15 with a percentage of 74 and we could scarcely have played worse but were still winning.

Obviously a crushing landslide victory would have been preferable, but the first order of business was to simply get the win. There was still plenty of time to do an impersonation of French singer Claude Fran├žois and try to straighten a light fitting while standing in the shower if it turned bad. But all was not yet lost, when we finally managed to get the ball into some open space and head towards goal the Lions looked vulnerable. And as long as we had an alternative plan for either Zorko or Beams there was this sense of inner-calm/false bravado that we were going to win somehow. The Melksham plan worked a treat, and we slowly began to crack away at them.

Very slowly. My expectation was that we'd huddle at quarter time, review what went wrong, Goodwin would smack somebody over the head with a whiteboard Three Stooges style and that 22 men good and true would turn their pressure up to full volume. Then the Lions got the first two goals, and not for the first time my footballing life flashed before my eyes. The margin was still only six, but when the first came from hard on the boundary line and the next from a quick snap out of a pack all I could think about was the indignity of coming this close and screwing it up. Not that a loss would have eliminated us, but you know... Losing next week will be painful but at least you can piece together an explanation, it would have been vile to fall apart against a lowly team in the second last game again. Last year nobody - except me - really cared, this time there were 30,000 people there to see us play Brisbane so it's clear that it meant a lot to many people.

Hogan was our saviour again, testing out his injury by sliding low for a mark. Maybe the injury was a work and we it along with the trade rumours as part of a high-risk, pre-finals disinformation campaign? Forget Essendon giving people drugs (though I'll take a slice of whatever Hibberd had) this would be real black ops stuff. Then what else would we do to celebrate a Hogan goal except kindly allow the opposition to cancel it out, this time courtesy of the often bemused Josh Wagner giving away another 50. What stupidity, just as we'd started to get on top of them again. This is the point where if we'd lost I'd say "and that's when I knew it wasn't going to be our day". Which is exactly how I felt at the time.

We were doing just enough to make you believe the right result would come, including Melksham taking advantage of Petracca riding a tackle for a full spin to deliver another of his popular goals from the middle of a pack. The second half of the year has gone much as I expected it to, but I certainly didn't see him becoming our #1 crumber. He read the mood of the day perfectly by not going over the top with celebrations, even ignoring the Brisbane defender who tried to be manly and jostle him afterwards as if he wasn't there.

Almost the entire rest of the quarter was spent with the ball at our end, desperately needing another goal before half time to extend the margin beyond 10 and provide some breathing space. And then as if to prove Demon Time is not a myth we conceded a goal with one second left. And not just a casual hoof out of the pack when the ball was already down there, an actual end-to-end spectacle that was like a low rent reproduction of the set-up for Salem vs Essendon in 2014.

I had no idea how long there was left as they pressed up the ground almost entirely unchallenged. A look at the replay shows it was almost the classic MFC goal conceded on a quick turnover, except this time the chain started on the wing when Hibberd was beaten for a contested mark. It was one of the few times in the half he didn't get in the road of a Brisbane player, but after the grab you can see Oscar McDonald standing a few metres away so it had all the other hallmarks of the dozens of "out the back" goals we concede - including Nifty Nev bravely trying to be the last line of defence, before a bastard of a bounce landed the ball right in the path of a Brisbane player and set up three men on their own inside 50 to raffle it. As they literally walked into goal a second before the siren the Fran├žois method was looking better than ever. This was one of those rare times where there's no "if they'd kicked this they might not have got the next 12". If we'd forced them sideways for two more seconds at any time from end of the ground to the other they'd have got nothing.

It was only as the siren went that I realised how sick I felt. There was nothing biological going on, it was the crushing weight of Sports Anxiety. A year earlier I'd nearly shit my shorts in distress at our performance against Carlton, and that was only for the right to swing at a miracle in the last round. Given that I don't feel much better now it might may be the worst case of SA since we beat Carlton in 2014 and I ended up in an MRI machine. That was a game sealed by a Pedersen goal in front of the MCC too. Here's to getting through the week without having to get a baboon heart transplant. I honestly feel that the last two games of the home and away season will have more of a physical effect on me than any final up to a Prelim.

For the second time a break in play felt like a good opportunity to regroup and come back like there was something at stake. I have no doubt a few younger players are starting to hit the wall physically, but all we need is for them to drag themselves over the line in a pool of their own blood, sweat and urine Hawaiian Ironman style for one more week then they can have a rest. And most likely after one more game they'll get a few months off but that's not important right now.

At last we started to get on top, cancelling out the last minute goal through Vince in the first 90 seconds before he gifted Brisbane the reply with a howler of a kick-in. It was an eventful day for Bernie, he didn't have many other kicks but did achieve the rare feat of being fined $1500 for an mid-air clash where he won the free. Keep it quiet, but if Salem hadn't necked himself by missing this week in the VFL through suspension I'd almost rather bring him in next week. Won't happen though, we've come this far with Bernie (when not suspended) so it would be too much of a distraction to give him the chop now. Meanwhile in what may be a club record Vince has now been reported five times in one season, and sits just one off the all-time club lead. If we somehow wind up playing GWS in a final and he delivers one last coup de gras blow to $cully I will help chair him off.

A player repaying his own goal with a horror kick was another "I know we're going to lose" moment. Which is how I feel most of the time during the season, but the difference was this time we were surrounded so by a surprising number of Brisbane fans having a wonderful day so I reigned in the exhuberant displays of anxiety. Until the last quarter anyway. Given where we've come from, who am I to ruin the day of hopeful people with nervous cursing? And truth be told when we were putrid slurry it used to be my dream to wreck the finals aspirations of others so who's holding it against them for wanting to do the same?

Realistically I was just looking for reasons we wouldn't win so I'd feel better if we didn't (fat chance), because we were now playing better football. Neal-Bullen and Garlett combined for their best moments of the day when the Bullet set Jeff up right in front, then Pedersen made up for a diabolical set shot that may have hit his knee, ankle and foot in succession by providing some breathing space with his next attempt. Like Tomas Bugg before him I nearly wrecked his career by declaring that he was in great set-shot form only for him to rip out a couple of howlers. Let's hope he doesn't complete the set by taunting opponents on social media, having somebody paint a mural of him, then violently assaulting somebody. Pedersen kept his fists to himself and went on to convert a set shot in time of great need, before adding another on the run when it mattered in the final quarter. Let's see if the slightly more organised Pies also fall for him slipping into marking contests from the side unnoticed like a cat burglar. If he can pull it off again that might be all we see of the once again much maligned Jack Watts this year.

When Hogan's third went in I was simultaneously jumping out of my seat in excitement at watching him treat defenders with contempt again and nervously adjusting my collar at the idea of having suggested a trade. The record clearly shows that I wasn't saying it because I thought he was no good, but was in fact trying to look after his sanity. I'm just that kind of guy. Depending on what was coming the other way from dual 104 point losers (and earlier MFC conquerors) Fremantle you might still entertain the prospect, but this was the sort of performance that makes you buy in to the idea of him becoming a dominant full-forward whose mere name terrifies defenders up and down the league. For years I've been searching for a player who represents a psychological victory before the game even starts, and if he's wholeheartedly into staying then it may as well be him.

The joy/stress interface became more complex with his fourth, fifth and sixth. Let's have more of this, preferably starting next week. I'm still worried that a better organised defence wouldn't have allowed him the same latitude, but may lightning strike me dead the day I turn down any sort of six goal haul. There were still a few times where the moment the player further afield turned in his direction the defenders knew to run from everywhere and ambush him, but that's where finding other targets who can mark strongly overhead will come in handy. I'm not writing off the idea of a Hogan, McDonald, Pedersen/Watts combination paying off next year if they all stay fit and we discover another strong mark to play in the defence. Then you've got all the ingredients of the tall forward pyramid - your one-on-one strongman, your leading runner with bucket hands and one guy to ghost in from the side of packs and generally kick accurately.

After a quiet first half The Hamburglar burst the seams of his tag and was far more influential in the third quarter. He almost pulled off a Clayton Oliver Does Funny Things by going against everything our club stands for and taking a strong contested mark, then was so blown up from the mid-air collision that he aimlessly handballed straight out of bounds. Overall it wasn't one of his better performances but given that he can't help but get the ball the longer he can go into games the more damaging he'll be. Opposition fans don't like him but they can get stuffed, he's a bit weird but he's ours so get stuffed the lot of you. He also inadvertently set up Hogan's fourth by dropping it cold while dashing it through the middle. He just does funny things.

Now we were rolling, and when Wagner marked 45 metres out on barely any angle I was mentally preparing to embrace victory. Then he kicked it out on the full, the Lions went down the other end and what should have been an aimless kick floating through for a point was marked 'on' the behind line (or if you prefer, 'over') for the classic two goal turnaround. When they got another not long after any calm I'd been feeling earlier had vaulted over the roof of the Southern Stand and landed on Brunton Avenue.

Enter Hogan once more, with a late fifth set up by the as usual excellent Hibberd to extend the margin to 15. It was an eminently gettable three quarter time lead but I just had this serenity that everything was going to be alright. Still not sure if I really felt that way or it was self-protection to insulate me against a fiasco. Nevertheless the pressure had become far too much, and I had to relocate to that small standing area in the middle of the Ponsford top level. This was not going to be a last quarter for sitting comfortably, especially with the contents of my stomach leaping around like they were on a trampoline. It was going to be 30 minutes for pacing maniacally, cursing, waving my fist in disgust and possibly falling to the floor in a sobbing heap at the siren.

Maybe it would have been safer to leave 2/4 of my most dearly beloved somewhere else while I watched one of the other quarters try to salvage a win off the tip, but guilt about dumping an anxious tired child on a slightly less anxious, but equally tired grandparent got the better of me and they were shifted to a nearby seat. I paid for this set-up with the most nerve-wracking combination of sports and parenting I've yet experienced. Maybe one day I'll get to bring the two together again by king hitting somebody at a junior Grand Final, but for now this is as close as I've got to being an ugly sporting parent.

For the next half an hour we swung from the edge of disaster, to glory and nearly back again while a three year old who'd declared she wanted to go home five minutes into the first quarter attempted to run off in every direction. I'm not a completely horrible parent, I did spend much of the quarter stopping her from hanging off the small fence to avoid an injury, and ran after he when she decided to bump down the stairs like it was a slide. If you were a neutral it was probably quite comical, and standing in the open like that I'm lucky nobody filmed my wild swings from good parenting to bad supporting it and put Benny Hill music underneath.

I discovered why nobody stands in what otherwise seems to be an excellent spot when it became clear that you couldn't actually see the city end goal line without standing on the railing and leaning over, looking like the biggest hypocrite under the sun to a child who'd you'd just told not to do exactly that. Kid, in years to come at least make sure to give your therapist some context about how important this quarter was. Suffice to say there will be no repeat next week.

With the Chris Sullivan Line miles away I wouldn't have been comfortable unless we'd kicked the first six of the last quarter, and there was no sign of the mini-rampage to follow when the Lions only missed out on a goal in the first 90 seconds due to some spectacular bumbling inside 50. That almost made up for the one they snuck in before half time, then in the space of three minutes we punished them with three match-winning goals. First Petracca made a mockery of my theory that he's exhausted by thumping one from distance, then straight from the centre bounce Mitch Hannan of all people ripped the ball straight down Hogan's throat. He swerved, hopped, veered a bit and put through his sixth. Now we were rolling, and when Smilin' Jimmy Harmes thrashed another on the run I was starting to get warm vibes.

Then just when you thought we'd finally broken their back it all fell apart. I was never properly confident, my Duckworth Lewis Method style chart explaining when to get comfortable about last quarter leads says 32 is not enough five minutes in. You need at least 15 gone to even start thinking about that as a winning margin. If Oliver's desperate launch from 50 which fell into the arms of a waiting defender had carried that would have been different, but from that moment the game unexpectedly flipped onto the other said again. What at first looked like a consolation goal a couple of minutes later - aided by a massive shepherd on the line that I only complained about until dodgy decisions paid off for us later - got them too close for comfort. Too close for my comfort anyway.

I've no memory about what point of the quarter it happened, but I was so wound up that when Rhys Mathieson was dropped with a vicious clothesline I yelled "duck into that you fucking arsehole" with 0% comedy and 100% malice. His actions in a borderline unwatchable mid-season slopfest last year should have had no effect on me now, but anyone who'd I'd previously heard of (eliminating half their side) was likely to cop it as an outlet for my advance grief in case of defeat.

The patron saint of 'Draft Silly Names' Huge McLuggage got another to cut the margin to 19, and when not long after the ball landed in Tom Rockliff's arms directly in front I reacted poorly, turning to curse the world and stomping around a bit. At that moment a stranger appeared from nowhere, obviously not having seen the mark, patted me on the arm on his way past and said "don't worry you're still 20 points up". At that point I nearly abandoned ship and ran to Row MM to avoid any further mingling with the public on what was threatening to become a horrible afternoon. "Not when he kicks this" I snapped back, and it duly went straight through the middle.

We'd stopped dead, were only seven points up and a draw did next to nothing for us. Meanwhile I'd entered the kind of trance-like state people usually only get from eating psychoactive substances in the desert with native Americans. Future generations will just have to speculate about what I'd have done if we'd thrown it away, or show up to the MCG next Saturday and hope for a repeat. Then, just as we looked powerless to stop the onslaught, and were one Brisbane score away from quite possibly my premature death Cameron Pedersen returned for a popular curtain call.

We were lucky to get out of the ball-up that started it all on the Brisbane forward flank, with the umpire holding everyone up so Gawn could get there. What a farce, just because you're a ruckman you don't get divine right to participate in every contest, if you're late to the party stiff shit. If we'd suffered a game winning goal after the umpire delayed a stoppage so a late-comer could arrive there would be blood running down the walls. But it went our way, so hooray for everything.

Jones hopefully thumped the clearing kick forward, where we got payback for the bad bounce that rolled Jetta just before the break as two Lions defenders cluttered into each other, leaving Pedersen to nip around the back and pick up a ball bouncing towards our goal which sat up for him perfectly. Sometimes it all goes your way just when you need it to. He took one bounce, ran just inside 50 and unloaded a dippy, swervy kick that looked from my perspective like it was missing before swinging back at the last minute.

Due to not being able to see the goal-line I had to climb up on the fence to see where it landed, and as it went through I must have looked like Kate Winslet hanging off the front of the Titanic. She and I both had romantic moments in that pose, though I was the only one screaming "YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! PEDO! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!" at top of my lungs, before dropping back to ground level and vigorously grabbing at the rail like The Ultimate Warrior. If several security guards hadn't just escorted somebody out they might have been tapping me on the shoulder. It's not every day that you go into the wrong gender bathroom then gleefully scream "PEDO!" in the company of your children, but this was a special occasion.

Talk about a release of emotion, it was up there with Yze in the '06 St Kilda final. We've all come a long way since he did similar from a more obscure angle against Carlton in 2014. That was to win our first game in nine months, this was to firmly plant a foot on Mt Finals. Bigger climbs can come later, that will do me for now. At least this time I didn't nearly joyfully trample a couple of newlyweds inexplicably having their photos taken in the Ponsford Stand.

Of course it would have been too easy to just win comfortably from there, and going for time wasting kicks across defence with 2.30 left was a bit extreme. Nevertheless we wasted a good 40 seconds, and to be fair it only got turned over when we kicked long. As it came back we conceded courtesy of a goal set up by a boot loosely thrown at the ball as it bounced past, allowing another waltz into an open goal. Good thing we weren't playing Adelaide - the way we were conceding tap-in goals they'd have kicked 32.

Now after the immense highs of the Pedersen goal I was living in fear again. We had two minutes to avoid conceding two scores, and the first step to doing that to avoid them spiriting the ball straight out of the middle and towards goal. After Vince's fantastic kick-in fuck-up earlier I didn't even want them to get a point. We managed to break even and for one of the only times all day forced a second bounce. Jones won the ball and lobbed it forward more to get it away from the Lions goal than anything. The way their defenders had been taking huge pack marks all day I half expected them to intercept and storm down the other end for another tap-in but we held on for a bounce. I hadn't taken a breath for a while, but the longer the ball stayed down there the better.

Finally as a payoff to all the mystery ruck infringements last week we got one of our own directly in front. It was one of those classics where the whistle blows and everyone takes a deep breath because they don't know which way it will go, and it's a brave umpire who pays one right in front of goal in the dying minutes of a thriller so you expected it to go to Brisbane. But glory be it was ours and for the first time in 10 minutes I was able to control my shaking hands, stand still and breathe properly.

It would have been poetic if the SME had given it away to Gawn, and in classic "nobody knows what's going on" fashion he was arguing he hadn't done anything when it wasn't even against him. It actually went to Mitch Hannan for something off the ball. That was even better than Gawn, making sure there was no chance of repeating Maximum's ropey shot from nearly the exact same spot on debut in 2011. Then faced with what should have been almost the easiest kick in the book, Hannan pulled off a far riskier version of the Lewis/Neal-Bullen time-wasting shenanigans against Carlton by hoofing it 30 metres backwards to Brayshaw on a significantly more obscure angle. Now I see where he was coming from, but Jesus H Christ from the spot he was in he could have just kicked the goal, extend the margin to at least three scores and been the hero.

Let's not be fooled by Brayshaw running the clock to the last few seconds before sinking the set shot surprisingly effortlessly, imagine the carnage if Hannan's kick turned it over, leaving the Lions dashing towards goal with only defenders who weren't expecting the ball to come their way as cover. There have been many, many times where I've pondered who our Bill Buckner will be when we're about to win a flag, and a situation like this deep in the last quarter of the Grand Final would be an excellent way to make a name for yourself and/or enter the witness protection program. Good thing he connected with Gus, a cock-up that big is too good to be wasted on a home and away game.

The siren was another big moment for anyone filming me, as I adopted the sort of half-crouched, arms out, clenched fist gesture of triumph that looks great when real athletes do it but is a bit sad when copied by overweight, middle-aged men with kids in tow. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to big-up the celebrations, I was just so relieved to get away with it. This was no time to stick around and enjoy the atmosphere, after one round of trying to get my kid to sing the song I snatched her up and got the hell out of there. There was no psychic energy left to spend on battling wins, my mind had already turned to worrying about next week.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Cameron Pedersen
4 - Jesse Hogan
3 - Michael Hibberd
2 - Nathan Jones
1 - Jake Melksham

Apologies to Jetta, Lewis, Oliver and Petracca.

What a confusing spectacle this competition has become, though it will take an unexpectedly deep run into the finals to catch Hibberd or The Hamburglar. And speaking of Hibberd, we are now prepared to name him the provisional winner of the Seecamp. Jetta is still within two BOGs, but you'd think a draw would be the best he could hope for now.

With the main race down to two, and the Hilton heading to the most unsatisfactory conclusion in years the massive news is in the Stynes, where against all odds Cameron bloody Pedersen has taken the lead. When Jack Fitzpatrick won it as a forward a few years ago I introduced the arbitrary 10 hitouts a game qualification mark to try and make sure the winner was at least remotely qualified at tapping the thing, and Pedersen is currently hanging on to 10.35 per game. Hope you backed him pre-season at 80-1. The way he's going he can still snatch a share of the main event at $150 if we make the prelim.

35 - Clayton Oliver
31 - Michael Hibberd (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
------- Need two more games -------
25 - Jack Viney
------- Three more games -------
22 - Nathan Jones
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Christian Petracca
------- Four more games -------
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
15 - Cameron Pedersen (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
------- Five more games -------
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn, Jack Watts
------- Everyone below here officially eliminated -------
9 - Christian Salem
8 - James Harmes, Jordan Lewis
7 - Dom Tyson
6 - Jake Melksham
5 - Jesse Hogan, Oscar McDonald
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The best was saved for the city end, with Melksham's latest exhibition of crumb and Petracca's first goal of the last quarter both worthy contenders. But how could you opt for anything other than Pedersen's finish on the run that ultimately (via some more unsavoury twists and turns) sealed the deal? What a way to cap off a week, first he signed a new contract to ensure he'll never have to go back to working at Bunnings, then he seals a best on ground performance with the most vital goal to our finals hopes since Russell Robertson vs Essendon in 2005.

For the weekly prize he wins his own Masters franchise. That didn't cost us much. McDonald still leads for the final goal against West Coast, because without that we don't go into next week with our destiny in hand.

This was my favourite text only banner of the season, even if the claim of "any team" is incompatible with not beating North Melbourne for 11 years. The kerning and leading is fantastic as always, the Hogan tribute rammed into the top line after he was surprisingly picked stood out nicely from the rest without looking last minute, and the slogan just rolls off your tongue without any clunky scanning. I have no idea what iambic pentameter is, but this may have been it. Every club in the league should look to us for inspiration instead of trying to do Footscray style lolbanners.

After that fulsome praise it won't come as a surprise that it's another win for Melbourne, but that's not to completely downplay the Lions effort. Their font was average, and the rear-side that said "thanks to our 2017 Victorian members" was written in a way that made it look like they only had 2017 (because the year goes without saying doesn't it?), but the front contained some good old fashioned tauntery. Not gags, not cute bullshit, but classic 'we're going to beat you, have a shit day' stuff from a bygone era.

It wasn't perfect, the spurious claim that 'your season' would be over if we lost had the 'y' obscured by the curtain so by the time the players ran through it looked like 'our season'. Which obviously didn't demoralise them too much. Maybe they saw that, thought "oh thank christ" and doubled their efforts? Still, credit to Brisbane for effort, but you'll never beat a juggernaut like the Demon Army without first getting some nice looking fonts a'la St Kilda. Or if we roll ourselves by doing another Chumbawamba reference.
Dees 20-1-0 for the season. The perfect year is only one week away, but there's every chance the Pies will put up something mean-spirited and offensive which I'll enjoy. And if we lose I may need to take it out on somebody, so the the banner may have to do.
Crowd watch
I hope whoever in the marketing department came up with the membership rewards program took a photo of the novelties collection queue yesterday. The disappointment of the Nathan Jones doll not doing a bobblehead motion (though to be fair I was the only one who suggested it would) didn't stop people coming from everywhere to get involved. After 15 minutes in the queue I emerged around an hour before the bounce to see that it had doubled in length, and if I'd turned up to see that I may not have bothered.

The likeness is average, but the real drawcard is the simulation of his tatts. In real life he's got his grandfather's face, on this there's some indeterminate scribble that may be a coded message about slave labour conditions from the person who put it together. No drama, I appreciate the addition to my novelty MFC items collection and would rather an el cheapo rendition of the great man than something costing a fortune only to be given away for free. Suffice to say, when we build the Jones statue after his retirement we won't be working from the same model. Given that statues are usually a dark surface how are we supposed to accurately simulate the tatts? That alone is going to add 50% to the budget.

After sorting that out I was lucky to get inside without being mauled by attack dogs, cavity searched or extradited to Guantanamo Bay. Just as the cursory metal detector scan finished and I went to walk through the turnstiles somebody - and you know who you are - walked in behind me and jokingly said to the guard "don't let this guy in, he's got a gun". It was high risk comedy in a week where a) it was revealed that people were carrying offensive weapons into the MCG without question and b) there was a major international terrorist attack. After the great Cheese Platter Scandal I was expecting to arrive and find a table like this set up next to the bag check, stopping both arseholes intent on mayhem and our own fans from smuggling "just in case" items for self-harm...

I'm lucky not to have spent the game locked up in what used to be the Bay 6 Administration Officer, Ground Floor Olympic Stand. Fortunately, much like last week the security guards couldn't give a shit and through I went unchallenged.

Next week
As it becomes increasingly likely that our fate will rely on the result against Collingwood I keep having flashbacks to this classic Queen's Birthday moment:
In combination with the Watts (remember him?) goal that contributed to the best 10 minutes pre/post siren of the season, now I'm having nightmares of my glee at this outburst coming back like an out of control freight train. Those crunts (other than the passionately violent minority sack Buckley faction) will LOVE IT if they wrap up another season of lower mid-table mediocrity by dealing our finals hopes a seemingly fatal blow. No matter what happens, get ready for at least one a simpleton to remind you that we haven't won a flag since decimal currency.

Having my actual our sporting life on the line at a Pies home game presents a major logistical challenge. After spending the worst years of my supporting life in the top of the Ponsford Stand there's no way I'm moving for the most decisive game in a decade - but the area is likely to be filled with general admission Collingwood fans, heightening the chances of somebody being throttled. Which end of the merciless choking I'm on will be decided on Saturday afternoon, but I suppose I'll just head to Row MM and hope for the best. There's conflicting emotions, on one hand I feel like this should be watched as far away from people as possible, but at the same time maybe a responsible adult would come in handy for support and to alert authorities when I topple over with a giant heart attack. Maybe I'll bring an emotional support animal like that lady on the plane.

If you're a Pies fan in the Ponsford please do not walk up to my row, turn around to talk or ring me. This is not a week for fake friendly rivalry. The opposition could be the Danish national team for all it matters, I don't care about your club, your coach, your president, or your intermittently successful history. This week you are footy's equivalent to sperm donors, an anonymous entity who just exist to try and help us create something magical. The only thing you can do of any benefit to me is call 000 in the event of an emergency.

It's not over if we don't win, but we'll then rely entirely on Adelaide beating West Coast, or the Eagles winning by a razor thin margin. The problem is that it's happening in Perth, with the Crows already most likely having sewn up the minor premiership. They can't drop out of the top two, but the lure of finishing first should be enough to ensure they at the very least buy insurance against a GWS win in Geelong and pick a decent team. Then when the Cats win by plenty they'll probably send everyone home on the early flight and bring back Kyle Cheney to play at full forward. It's offensive to think that I might have a reason to cheer for GWS again, may as well buy a membership, a #9 jumper and drink a litre of Drano.

In direct contradiction to the mid-week rumour and innuendo that his foot was about to fall off, reasonable sources suggest Viney will return. And as Watts was reported for the most pissweak bump of all time in the VFL he will be eligible as well, but the way Pedersen's going we don't really need him. If Viney is right - and let's not gamble on this, because the last thing we need is to go a player down - then he's an automatic entry. No need to clear out anyone in the midfield for him as Melksham can go back to thumping goals from the HFF.

Stretch was very ordinary on return and Wagner just generally terrible so I'm not risking putting them out there in a crucial game. The Watts question is an interesting one, but surely there can't be any doubt about selecting Frost. Collingwood has tall forwards - not particularly good ones but give them enough opportunities and they'll get it right eventually - and having him in the side gives us the opportunity to throw McSizzle forward if things get desperate.

In a surprise twist, our old mate and still technically contracted player Heritier Lumumba might come out as the hero of the week. It feels like he's picked a great time to roll another hand grenade at Nathan Buckley (complete with 'yeah bullshit' style 'quotes' from a conversation written in a way that nobody would actually talk) and cause a bit of chaos. Until it inspires the Pies to play for the coach and they kick the first nine goals unanswered. Appropriately the documentary with the full bucket tipping airs Sunday night, hopefully providing us the opportunity to sit back with a drink in hand and toast a hatchet job well done. If we lose, let's ignore all our own shortcomings and blame him for firing them up.

As for the game itself, the performance we put out yesterday doesn't beat the one they nearly toppled Geelong with on Saturday, but who knows what you're going to get with these teams? Both swing from one end of the spectrum to the other at the drop of a hat, and Collingwood has a surprisingly good record against Geelong so hopefully that was just a North vs Melbourne style anomaly that they can't carry for another week.

Even if there was nothing on the line I'd still be nervous about our chances, but considering the circumstances I'm dying. They are without several good players, but who isn't expecting of James Aish and Mason Cox to jointly add their name next to Brad Dick and Adam Oxley in the collection of Collingwood Kingsleys? There's plenty of improvement to had from our side, but do the players still have the legs to pull it off? I don't know, and it's going to leave me frazzled for the next six days.

IN: Frost, Viney
OUT: Wagner, Stretch
LUCKY: Vince
UNLUCKY: Kennedy (CTRL+V), Maynard

Is it safe?

Not remotely, but thanks to 2/3 crucial results going our way this week (and Essendon over Gold Coast was the least damaging option) it's not only in our hands but there are crisis management plans in case of defeat.

The simple way in is to win by any margin 1+, but if we don't (and assuming the Bulldogs don't beat Hawthorn by 1000 on Friday night) the Bradbury Plan's Superbowl will be West Coast vs Adelaide at 16:40 AEST on Sunday afternoon. If it comes down to that I'll be adopting an unusually Germanic sounding surname and punting the Crows home like I've never cheered for neutrals before. As long as we keep it fragrant against the Pies, even a small Eagles win could see us in but let's not rely on that.

There's two nightmare post-defeat scenarios that I'm expecting to have to face. One is somebody foolishly agreeing to allow cameras into the room where players are watching, leading to a replay of the Essendon 2005 game where Bulldogs players were shown cracking the shits (except for a broadly grinning "well what are you going to do about it?" Brad Johnson) in somebody's loungeroom. If this happens and the Eagles screw us at the last minute I hope we get a final Clayton Oliver Does Funny Things for the season and he hits the cameraman with a chair.

The other is a repeat of one of my most cherished days, when Richmond could have lost Round 22, 1998 by a reasonable margin and still made it but were instead torn limb-from-limb and missed out. The difference is we have to play for everything, knowing that not only is the West Coast result crucial but also if our result and St Kilda's game against Richmond somehow make up about 20 odd goals of percentage the Saints could leap us too. As they say in boxing, let's take it out of the judges' hands and just knock Collingwood the fuck out.

If all goes well - and Richmond don't find a way to fall out of the four and set up our first finals meeting since WW2 - we'll be travelling to Adelaide or Sydney. Ironically doing it the easy way might be the worse result, leaving the Swans and Port in a neck-and-neck cruelty race to inflict as much damage on Carlton/Gold Coast respectively to try and push into the four on percentage. I know Port is a more appealing option, and I'd really rather not enter the state of New South Wales for any reason but for now I don't want to think about options and permutations. First step get in, next step worry about the opposition.

Was it worth it?
Yes for the final result, no for the quality of football or the belief that we have enough gas in the tank to get through next week. The football was of a barely village standard that nobody other than our coaches or players should ever have to watch again, and even then only once before the tapes are incinerated, but we got the right result eventually so load up and let's go again next week.

Stranglewank Update
After nearly going the reverse SW for the second week in a row, it's been a while since we've launched a comeback from +24 points down. When I saw this teaser with a picture of Brayshaw/Hogan attached I thought that The Guardian was finally going to name the pervert getting their jollies from all these comebacks, but alas on the day where autoerotic asphyxiation and footy finally come together it's about Sydney. If this is anyone but David Carradine you're stealing my bit.

Final thoughts
The strangest thing about next week is that unless we win I'll be writing a post not knowing what the future holds. The smart thing would be to hold off until the ladder is confirmed, but that's cheating. In the event of it all coming down to Sunday, look out for one post on Saturday night with live reaction from inside my oven, and another after the WCE/Adelaide game where I'll either be celebrating qualifying by default or turning it to Gas Mark 12.

Some may say that yesterday's game is proof that we don't deserve to play finals, but it's not a merit based system where the number of qualifiers decides on how many are likely to win the flag. Essendon are a sure thing from here and they lost to the Lions, so should we revert to a top six? Well maybe, but for now it's an eight and I desperately want in. Like a dangerously overloaded ferry in the Philippines we're still afloat for now, but at any moment the whole thing might tip over with the loss of all hands. Like me, let your week be consumed by fretting about 2.10pm next Saturday.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Standard "this post is delayed" notification

Well that match almost ended in tragedy, and if you're reading this I've still got something from a 10% - 99% completed post about it. Thanks for nothing (except paying me) [insert employer name here].

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link on Monday night. In the meantime send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Cheerio and Go Dees.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The dream shall never die (but I might)

If the people of Guam think it's stressful waiting for missiles to land on their nature strip they should try being a Melbourne fan in the week of an important game. No matter what happens we're heading towards our best season since 2006, but the way everyone went off chops this week you'd think Schwab/Neeld 2017 has been elected President.

Like the MFC legend who flipped his lid at the end of a benign loss to Fremantle in 2012 and screamed "I CAN'T TAKE THIS FUCKING CLUB ANYMORE", then kicked shit out of the stairs as he stormed out, the tension was amplified by having something nice in our hands before it slipped away. No matter what else happens, at least we've come to the point where finals drama is killing us, not just the surprise of nearly winning a game.

The thing was, it hadn't actually slipped away. There was plenty of life left in our season, but by Friday the Veil of Negativity that has hovered low to the ground like a UFO all season finally smothered everything in its path. As we turned a 40 point lead into four with 19 minutes to play in the last quarter I was fully invested in it, ready to drape it over my eyes and jump into the sea. All's well that ends well.

The mass outbreak of trauma can't just have been about GWS demolishing us inside 15 malicious minutes because that was no great surprise. Not many people - and certainly not me - took comfort in the fact that we'd be in the same position if we'd done as expected and lost to Port then beaten North. It's just that for two weeks in a row we looked incapable of kicking a winning score, so there was a creeping sense of dread that the season was going to fade away lamely like last year. Even Christian Salem escaping what initially looked like a serious injury (then being dropped anyway) didn't cheer us up, before the frenzy took a predictable detour via Melway reference JW666, where everything is Jack Watts' fault and people want to trade him to Richmond for pick 37.

Things started going our way when it was confirmed that Nick Riewoldt was out. After wrecking us regularly for years that was a handy exclusion, even if it opened the door for any number of people you've never heard of to do a Beau Wilkes style Kingsley number on us. I'm sure when the season Riewoldt will arrange to meet Neville Jetta somewhere late at night (a'la the epic 1992 Hoyle vs Deane dunk contest) and give Nifty one last chance to try and heroically spoil him in a one-on-one contest.

The depression session heated up again when the first draft of the teams arrived on Thursday night. Brayshaw was a welcome return, though at the time nobody could have seen him playing so well and coming off on the winning side of a head clash. On the other hand, Salem and Frost were out in the initial cull, with journalists confirming within two hours that Watts would be joining them. Why they had to wait until Friday to reveal this in a press conference instead of either doing it Thursday night or in the final teams on Friday I'm not sure, but two months after everyone lauded his alleged arrival on Queen's Birthday (about 30 games late) he was being stuffed headfirst into the recycling bin again. Life wasn't meant to be easy.

The final spiral into insanity began with people talking seriously about losing to Brisbane more than a week before playing them - and well in advance of them thumping Gold Coast on Saturday night. It's not out of the question, and privately we're all worried about the same thing, but what about concentrating on one perceived debacle at a time? Then a source with a famous surname and as much credibility as a 15-year-old forum wanker suggested Jesse Hogan is about to demand a trade back to Perth and the internet exploded in a shower of sparks.

Never mind that the story has been doing the rounds for months, we were in such a heightened state of awareness that it caused ripples not seen since he bought a house in Perth last year and we instantly decided he was going to dick us. Then it would have ripped the heart out of the place, but considering the arsehole of a run he's had this year cashing in now might be a win/win. After all who wouldn't want to go back to square one with Freo and lose by 100 every few weeks? At least he'd be able to enjoy the traditional surprise wins over us at the 'G. As long as we were adequately compensated and not just bent over by a contracted player I don't see it as a Carnival of Hate scenario unless he exits by wiping the sweat from his plums with the 1964 premiership flag (if somebody hasn't stolen it). I'd be morally uncomfortable if we did trade him after everything that's happened, but it may be the best thing for everyone. To calm myself I'd go into my garden and engrave his name on the honour roll of fallen post-Neitz forwards alongside Newton, Miller, Clark and Dawes.

I've not been to the snow since about 1986, but by the time the final teams came out I was just about ready to drive to Falls Creek and shelter in a chalet until the weekend was over. There was no escaping the veil's fabric tentacles, even Corey Maynard became the first player to score Jakovich votes on debut then get dropped. By Sunday I was so tightly wound that doing something like kicking six goals to one in the first quarter then losing might have done me in.

Considering the Saints pulled off a heroic (and helpful) win against the Eagles last week, while we were rubbish for all but the first 10 minutes it felt weird to start favourites. But it always feels like that when you've come from where we have, and still have a nasty habit of plummeting to the ground face first whenever expectations are raised. At quarter time the bookies looked like geniuses, before dear old flat-footed and confused Melbourne re-emerged.

It was reminiscent of the Port win, dashing off to a big lead early then being forced to defend it when the opposition bothered to show up. The difference was that day our success was built on scaring them shitless with manic pressure, whereas this came off the back of St Kilda unsuccessfully playing to a frenetic pace, going for it at a million miles an hour like fumbling horny teenagers with no idea what they were doing. They looked the far more likely side in the opening minutes, but went about moving the ball as if they'd all been chroming for an hour before the bounce and stuffed up numerous chances.

After a few minutes of insanely eager football where everyone was trying to one-up each other on artistic merit for turning the ball over things calmed down, much to our advantage. In a game with the bare minimum of stoppages Gawn was tonked in the hitouts for once, but as the ball was continually in play for most of the first quarter except when we'd just kicked a goal that didn't matter. Viney was reasonably held, but between Jones playing a vintage game, and Oliver getting his hands on everything the Saints had no idea how to stop us. Once again Plan A - now with McSizzle back in defence stopping everything that came near him - worked a treat, and this week didn't self-destruct at three goals to nil.

I enter every game genuinely scared that we won't kick any so three unanswered is a bonus, even if as we discovered in Canberra it's no sure-fire indication of success. Certainly makes a welcome change from going 25 points down and then having to claw our way back, and the inevitable Saints comeback proved correct what seemed like an outrageous quarter time statement that a five goal lead was "insurance". One day we'll go on with it. Imagine the warm feelings of a Sydney fan on Saturday watching their side go 80 points up at half time? What a wonderful world it would be to leave a 104 point win upset that you only added another four goals to the margin in the second half.

It was all well and good taking advantages of St Kilda's attempts to set the land speed record while they ironically let Jayden Hunt loose to steam the ball out of defence for the first time in weeks, but somebody still had to kick the goals. That remains my concern going into the last two weeks, I think we can get the ball enough to consistently do everything except get in a position to have shots. To calm my nerves we were handed the first on a platter, when Viney and Tyson engaged in a bit of "you first, no you..." vaudeville that tricked a Saints player into giving away a 50. Like the ball pivoting into Oliver's hands from a wonky ball-up it was probably correct to the letter of the law, but just the sort of unnecessary, administrative bullshit that drives people mad.

That stroke of luck cured the Saints of their compulsion to play insane, break-neck footy. Because for the best part of the next 20 minutes they barely got their hands on it save for one goal to a forward hanging out the back waiting for scraps. Meanwhile down the other end James Harmes - with hair veering dangerously towards an Andy Lovell style mullet - was playing some sort of quarter. The suggestion that it was best game yet ignores a smashing performance against Gold Coast last year where he looked more like Ablett than the real deal, but this was on a far more important stage.

He was lucky not to get the arse after last week, and repaid the faith of the selectors x3. I reserve the right to go on and off him weekly, but there's something momentous about a life-long Demon fan born in 1995 being part of this revival. His generation are the ones who have never seen anything other than some middle of the road finals performances pre-puberty. Most eventually told their parents to piss off and stop trying to make them go to the footy. Now he can influence our future, and has an infectious look of delight whenever he does.

His first goal came courtesy of a screaming pack mark, the sort that you'd never have backed our small forward line to pull off but ended up being vital in both the first and last quarters. Even better that it came in the middle of two defenders, from the sort of hopefully high ball that we usually see chopped off and instantly taken the other way.

The long ball was significantly less successful in the middle two quarters, with Saints defenders queuing up to chop kicks off. Speaking of chopping things, Jake Carlisle has moved from lines of gear to lines of fabric as he sported what looked suspiciously like the old three-quarter length sleeves that the Australian Fashion League once threatened to fine Adem Yze for. I can't tell if they were rolled up or he's actually had a custom job done, but it's a good look, there should be more of it, and the AFL owes Yze a written apology for persecuting him over it.

Smilin' Jimmy H got the third too, in a rare scenario where he started the attacking opportunity from the wing and ended up converting it. After a perfect kick bounced off the chest of the out-of-sorts Garlett, Harmes kept running inside 50, took an intelligent handball from Neal-Bullen when the Bullet could have blazed away from the pocket, walked around a defender and kicked it from the top of the square. Things were looking up, but there's a difference in perception between crushing a team that are being terrified out of picking up the ball, and one that simply can't get a kick. With the latter you know there's every chance they're going to get a run on at some point. They did, but not yet.

At 19-1 I was experiencing positive feelings again, until the entire ground collectively held its breath when Angus Brayshaw collided with Koby Stevens (who knew he was still playing, let alone at St Kilda). My expectations for him were low considering what he's been through and how long he's been out of the team, so after an excellent start it was absolutely taking the piss for him to crack heads with someone before quarter time. You could tell he hated wearing the helmet from the way he'd rip it off every time he went to the bench, but good thing he had it on or we might be here lamenting a medically enforced retirement. Maybe he pulled that classic 80s masked wrestler trick and loaded it with a foreign object?

As he went down I was almost at the 'shake your fist at the sky and denounce organised religion' stage of grief, before he finally enjoyed some luck and emerged unscathed while the other guy was eliminated from the game with concussion. The way his last two seasons have gone I'm surprised he didn't survive the initial contact then crumple to the ground when Gawn gave him a plus-sized pat on the head after.

The best part - other than him not suffering another head injury - was that he never flinched after. For the rest of the game he was backing into packs and throwing himself at the ball like there was nothing wrong. He ended up playing a very good game, much better than you'd expect from somebody out of the senior team for so long. Given that we were using Wagner on the wing at times (who wasn't bad, but how far are you going to get doing that?) we could still do with somebody quick on the outside, but at last the inside mids are sorted. In fact we've got too many, which is why Maynard's stay only lasted a week. Dare I say time to try and flip Tyson elsewhere to help find some pace?

Harmes had a rest and gave somebody else - popular trade bait Tyson and a St Kilda player whose name I care not to learn - a turn, before reappearing for number three. He ran around somebody again for this one, showing off the ball Mick McGuane style first before taking an unnecessary bounce and running into goal from 35 metres out. Of course I didn't think was going to last, but I did allow myself to fantasise for a bit and wonder what it would be like to make a statement by violently destroying another mid-table team. Big mistake, never let your guard down.

In a quarter where we registered our most inside 50s since Gold Coast 2016, Pedersen chucked another one in right at the end and the radio callers (led by the Andy Maher "I'm never going to tell you how long there is left in a quarter because I don't like countdown clocks" Experience) were so incredulous at our performance that they asked three times whether there was a wind blowing to one end. Of course there wasn't, as if we'd have kicked six with the aid of a strong breeze.

Quarter time put the brakes on our unstoppable scoring rampage, and though St Kilda were still finding innovative ways to avoid kicking goals - including one passage that the Three Stooges would have rejected as too improbable - they were playing a lot better. There was finally some pressure on us, Hunt was belatedly stopped from trotting off half-back with turbo mode enabled and their crackdown on Oliver was second in severity only to the umpires pinching him for a throw at every opportunity.

Nevertheless, we might have stopped scoring but the Saints didn't look like doing any better. There was no sign of the Tim Membrey who'd tormented us last year, just somebody with the same name who'd adopted an unpleasant skinhead 'n tatts gimmick that won't be looked back on fondly. I'm sure in real life he loves all the people of the world, but at the moment he looks like somebody you'd give a wide berth to on a train. They missed a shot in the early seconds, then for the next 10 minutes we were the only team who looked like scoring. Harmes sprayed a chance at his fourth - briefly threatening a bag that would make McDonald in Perth look pedestrian - before eventually Petracca found Gawn standing a mile on his own 40 metres from goal. Any suggestion that there was a distinct wind advantage was dismissed when he hoofed it through with ease.

The Saints were in such a state of disarray that you could afford to laugh heartily at Josh Bruce roving his own ball from a contest, turning to face goal under no pressure and snapping across the face out on the full. He'd been held up in the contest by Oscar McDonald, who played arguably his best game for us yet. Put him on whatever program beefed his brother up and he's going to go alright. There will be a few super blunders here and there - because it's what the McDonald family do - and you wouldn't trust him one-on-one much of the time but he just instinctively knows where to go and what to do. I'd like to find a contested mark animal so we can play his brother up front.

After Jack Billings - who'd somehow lost the use of one of his eyes - kicked a goal the usual dread came in despite still being six goals in front. Now we were going to throw away our season from a mile in front, against a team with one man off concussed and another playing through a disability. Then in a situation that usually only happens to us, we wrecked their hard fought goal straight out of the centre. I thought the Harmes/Anal-Bullet combination might crush their spirit but sadly no, and we disappeared for the next 10 minutes while they got their tails up by kicking a couple of goals.

The last thing I want in a game against us is for anyone to get a run on, because we generally concede four goals before coming to our senses. The first one said it all about the difference between the quarters - the Saints tried everything they could to stuff it up by hand before finally belting it long to the square, where Carlisle was marauding forward and brought the ball to ground for a crumber. Given the state of our tall forwards I've got no idea why they didn't leave him up there for the rest of the game. Maybe they were worried Tom McDonald would do likewise and rip them to shreds with his un-Demonlike tendency to run straight at a footy kicked inside 50.

Enter the man with the most NQR nickname in footy, Cameron Pedersen. The most beloved spare parts player in recent memory, and the ultimate winner of the McLean to Carlton trade. There's no shame in declaring your love for him, we all know he's probably going to spend 10 weeks minimum at Casey every year and won't play like this every week but what an honest individual. He doesn't kick an outrageous number of goals, but does have a knack for finding it 40 metres out on a slight angle and usually converts. Even he knows he'll probably get the boot at some point when more name brand players are ready to come back, but whisper it quietly I'd almost prefer him at the moment to players being paid a shitload more. What a long road since Round 1, 2012 when everyone wrote him off. Now if he doesn't get a contract extension the receptionist will take her phone off the hook.

It was refreshing to stitch somebody else up in the last minute, even more so because it was set up by Melksham marking under pressure, then dishing off to Hunt, who capped a half of good old fashioned piss-bolting by charging through the middle and finding Pedersen in a different area code to any defenders. A viewing of the replay reveals that your mate and mine Dwayne greeted the goal by saying "momentum with the Demons". Which would have been great if the half time siren hadn't just gone.

For the second time I thought that might have put them away, especially after dominating the last 15 minutes of the quarter and coming out with the margin exactly as it was at the first break. Just when our fans were getting a bit too complacent, starting to wear broad smiles instead of scowls, along came the third quarter. For the first time the Saints not only looked dangerous, but a much better side. This is where it started to get ropey, and fortunately I'd been too nervous to eat anything because I'd have parked it on the Saints fans in front.

At the same time they were running rings around us we were treated to a display of wacky umpiring that almost made up for the red and blue spot specials that we liberally profited from on Queen's Birthday. The angst was such that one well-known Demon loyalist journo was moved to tweet that one particular umpire - name and all - was "on the take". You can get away with saying it in the stands - and thousands do - but I would advise not putting writing it on a public forum for thousands to see. At least cloak your defamation a bit, because for all the accusations about umpires wanting to make it about themselves what better way than being the first to take somebody for a payout via legal action?

Max Gawn was more creative, being pinched on the rule of the week for having an arm that wasn't bent enough in ruck contests. Somebody was mysteriously done for the same thing in the GWS/Bulldogs game so the Reverse Murali must have been AFL Rule of the Week™. The man who once said he prepared for Darwin by leaving the heater on risked funding the rules committee end of season piss-up by responding with this:
Now there's a man who can give Clayton Oliver advice on how to write funny tweets, what a hilarious gag to post a picture of a book that small. As if all the AFL rules can be stuffed into a publication that small, where's the 776 pages of appendices covering exclusions, caveats, interpretations and stuff that they made up over lunch on Wednesday?

Perhaps Max wouldn't feel so aggrieved if he didn't spend every week having his face clawed at or punched by opponents in ruck duels for no reward? I'm surprised he's never ended a game puffed up like Billings from opponents who can't get near his hands desperately swinging around the eyes instead.

Technically the fun started with a Vince turnover, making sure that as Lewis was having one of his better games for us that there was only one man people were trying to retire on the spot. But after giving up that goal we held firm for the next few minutes, and even kicked the reply through Melksham. That led to a period of weird activities, where first Oscar McDonald had to instinctively pull out a goalkeeper style save from an ungainly snap, then Pedersen made amends for giving the ball up in the first place by touching a shot through while still sitting on the ground. We were fortunate twice, but the St Kilda goals were coming. Three in about three minutes in fact, including two thumped from long distance Melksham style and you have no idea what my innards were doing. My organs were ready to double down when they ended up with a set shot in the last few seconds. God bless the siren operator, who hit the button just as Membrey was running in and clearly put him off.

It was still too close for comfort, late in the quarter several of our players were walking around with hands either on hips or head looking spent. To say I was scared would be an understatement, especially when Skinhead Membrey almost immediately completed the rare seven point play across two different quarters in the first minute. It wasn't just the score that was worrying me, after earlier seeing a plonker in a Trump for President t-shirt and now being done over by an extra from the cast of Romper Stomper I thought the MCG might replace people in yellow tracksuits ringing the boundary in the final minutes with torch carrying fascists.

It would have been so very Melbourne to lose from there with the season on the line, but like Port we held firm and kept them out long enough to recover. After a rotten day Garlett turned up for the first time to kick a set shot steadier which took it back into double figures. That was the signal for St Kilda to pull the fire alarm and evacuate season 2017, they wouldn't kick another goal until the game was well over.

The last quarter belonged to the previously unseen, Mitch Hannan had a week of rest after his zero kick game against North and he hadn't done a whole lot more in the preceding three quarters yesterday before first setting up Garlett and then kicking two of his own. To get to his goals we first had to go through a magnificent defensive effort. With the margin still 10 and the shakes continuing (on and off-field) Hibberd ran back into the path of potential death to get a spoil in, colliding with Oscar at the same and leaving them both on the ground. Two defenders down, a loose ball spilt into the open right in front of their goal.

After being flogged up and down the country for not going hard at a ball in the last seconds of the North game, Lewis flew in with the ultimate defensive gather, getting down low enough to avoid being tackled, but staying high enough to avoid crashing into his opponent's legs. He picked it up, bounced off his opponent's midriff, and handballed to Nifty Nev. The ball found its way to Pedersen on the boundary line for saving mark and we could breathe again.

That was the decisive moment, and not long after Jetta got involved again, perfectly riding a tackle to eventually contribute to Hannan's first set shot. It was by no means an easy kick, but he made it work. Then from the next bounce fill-in ruckman Pedersen delivered the ruck tap of his life, allowing Tyson to kick long inside 50 where Hannan took a pack mark in exactly the same spot. I don't trust anything in red and blue, so I thought "there's no way he'll kick two in a row" but there you go. I was censured afterwards for ignoring the big mark and claiming it was Pedersen's goal, but it was and nothing you say will make me change my mind.

That was effectively it. After taking a massive grab on the defensive goal line one minute, Gawn did likewise down the other end and tried to give Weideman a chance to get involved but he missed. The Weid is just not ready yet, he did lay one blockbuster tackle early but can't get near it otherwise. In any other season you'd just play him anyway because either a) who cares in the last month, or b) draft picks but we can't afford to carry him with everything on the line. I hope he stays in and kicks six next week but still have nightmare visions of him flailing about in the wet against Carlton at the same time last year so perhaps it would be better to wheel in somebody with more experience.

It was a good thing I'd chucked SEN for the Tobins at three quarter time in frustration at the refusal to give updates on how much time was left, because I'd have still been shitting it royally at the 26 minute mark if I didn't know there was only three minutes to go. Especially when the Saints kicked another accidental goal after Josh Bruce stuffed up a bounce running into goal before the ball rolled out to a teammate as he was tackled. Imagine that was the game winning goal? I'd make contact with overhead electrical wires.

From there the only moment of interest left until one of Milkshake's final trademark bombs from outside 50 was Jetta making his first mistake in about two seasons by giving away a 50 in the last couple of minutes when the game was well over. I was already miles away thinking about next week - but only as far as that.

With free tickets dashed off to anybody born overseas that wanted one we generated plenty of interest, and unlike the bad old days where we'd have Members Appreciation Day then lose by 87 points (incidentally brace yourself because Members Appreciation Day is next week) our new fans went home happy. They'd seen everything from sublime, dashing football to stopping dead as if shot. First time Melbourne viewers even got to question the future of a high draft pick. The only thing missing was some weirdo hurling abuse at Jack Watts for going to a private school. And knowing our fans he was probably still copping it when not playing.

Welcome curious internationals, it's about time we started signing people up as they walk through customs. For 10 years I've been hearing "oh I went for St Kilda/Richmond because that's where I lived when I moved to Australia" and have said to probably two dozen people "but that's in Melbourne, why didn't you go for us?" in a way that suggested it was actually a sensible thing to do, not an invitation to be sad every week.

I wouldn't expect the full contingent to be back for our glamour clash with the Lions, but if you were thinking of getting involved now would be an excellent time to jump on the bandwagon. Your money is as good as any of the poltroons who have hidden in a ditch for years and have only just remembered where their allegiances lie. And if you are a new fan who has somehow found this page via an accidental Google search for the love of god treat the club like it's a new entity and don't read the archives.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Nathan Jones
4 - Cameron Pedersen
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - James Harmes
1 - Jordan Lewis

Top level apologies to Brayshaw, Jetta and Oscar McSizzle who contended for the last spots. Also to Hibberd, Hunt, Tom McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Tyson and Wagner.

The Hamburglar snatches a decisive lead, but because we are now factoring in at least one extra game after Round 23 the line of death only shifts up a couple of points. If you're willing to find a way where we make the Grand Final, the good news is the line doesn't yet exist and anybody who hasn't scored a vote yet can grab a share of the title with seven straight BOGs. Would be a reasonable way to end the year...

35 - Clayton Oliver
28 - Michael Hibberd (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
25 - Jack Viney
21 - Neville Jetta
20 - Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
------- If anybody below this line wins we've probably made the Grand Final -------
16 - Jayden Hunt, Tom McDonald
13 - Jeff Garlett
12 - Sam Frost, Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jack Watts
10 - Cameron Pedersen
9 - Christian Salem
8 - James Harmes, Jordan Lewis
7 - Dom Tyson
5 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham
4 - Mitch Hannan (LEADER: Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year), Bernie Vince
2 - Dean Kent, Corey Maynard, Alex Neal-Bullen, Josh Wagner
1 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I've got some love for the Harmes goal where he walked around a defender, and for comic value you can't beat the Viney freebie that started the first quarter avalanche, but on a day where the spectacular made way for workmanlike I can't go past Hannan's first clutch set shot. After doing not much more than the game that got him 'rested' it was an excellent time to make an impact.

It's all been downhill for weekly sponsors since Jayden Hunt won a trip to the secretive owl sanctuary, so Hannan wins the right to play for a club sitting inside the eight with two rounds to go and destiny in its own hands. What more could anyone ask for? McDonald against West Coast still leads the overall race.

It's a controversial viewpoint, but the Saints have the best font in the league. It's thick, it stands out on crepe paper, it looks great. The main side was for Nathan Brown's 150th games (how? Did he get a percentage from the other two Nathan Browns?), where the top line exploded before the team ran out and briefly threatened to have him getting 'Ongratulations' before running repairs kept it together. Bonus points for recovering from disaster, but minus points on the curtain penalty, and for a message on the back about Riewoldt's last home game with such tight leading that you had to give yourself a migraine working out what it said. I did a Twitter search for 'St Kilda Banner' to review it again, but all I found was Essendon fans having a sooky whinge from a month ago. Use your imagination.

On the other hand, ours had a lovely Michael Hibberd illustration, a gold 100, and enough space between lines that you could read it without suffering an acquired brain injury.

Spectacular #WelcomeGame banner by @DeeArmy today! Congratulations on 100 games, @M_Hibberd1 @melbournefc #afldeessaints
Dees 19-1-0 for the season. Brisbane's not going to beat us, so the Pies are the only danger of ruining the perfect regular season. IF we play finals I hope the banner just says 'BLIMEY!'
Crowd watch
Even if your motives are pure, giving out 20,000 free tickets is still open season for wankers to have a go. Including desperate shock-jocks from Channel 10, an organisation that has gone completely tits up because they forgot that building a following is a key part of staying in business. And how is 1377 MTR doing these days?

Whether the 53,000 crowd was boosted by ring-ins, neutrals enjoying a rare sunny day, or just two sets of fans desperately clinging onto the dream of being waffled in the first week of the finals it was a full 29,000 higher than our last game against them at the MCG, and the highest home and away crowd vs St Kilda since 2004. It's a bit racial to assume that every non-European in the place was at their first game, but there was still a sizeable contingent of people gamely clutching flags who you know were making their debut because they were having a good time before the bounce. Those who have been around are usually doubled over with mystery stomach pains in the last 30 minutes before the bounce. Or is that just me?

Amidst this cosmopolitan extravaganza one MCC member has become the first Melbourne fan to 'go viral' for the right reasons since the guy who waved a white flag against Gold Coast by having a BYO cheese and biscuits session in their seat. Tucking into what was incorrectly referred to as a 'platter' isn't my go, but it has provided a remarkable level of joy to people who gladly spend $13 on floppy chips and a half-cooked 'meat' pie that is lucky not to explode everywhere the moment you take it out of the wrapper.

Even landfill journalism websites took notice, misunderstanding "so Melbourne" comments as a comment about the city's culture, not the perception that our fans are all wine tasting, tartan rug covered ponces. I say well done to the cheese enthusiasts, once again we're being connected to a stereotype of class and elegance. Other clubs can recruit the kid that ate the watermelon at the BBL or some obese slop merchant tucking into a roast chicken from Coles and we'll continue to draw from the elite of society.

Meanwhile I see the crack MCG security guards failed to notice that they were carrying a knife. Doesn't that fill you with confidence? I wish I'd known you could do that 2012-2014, I could have spent the games cutting myself waiting for us to kick goals. At least this was the variety that would barely make a dent in butter, at the SCG you can practically bring a machete through the gate and best of luck to you.
The cheese appreciation society must have known it was a slow week for crowd watch content otherwise. The guy in front who stood and up and sat down on every Saints goal as if he had a carrot shelved in his arse was about the only other highlight. It was one of those days where you sit in mixed company, nothing offensive happens and you think "I could do this every week". Then the next time you end up with some sweating lunatic behind you who inadvertently spits on your neck whenever there's a controversial umpiring decision.

Next week
Trust us to play the bottom team in a make-or-break game just as they hit some form. I can't wait for the amazing irony when years of being the Stefan Martin Experience's PR department he sinks us (again).

In a reasonably competitive race to win/avoid the spoon - hopefully the former in this case - any of them, North or Carlton would be the best last placed team since West Coast finished with 77% in 2010. Nobody's finished last with five wins since Brisbane in '98, but at least they were polite enough to lose to us by 95 on the way. What I'm trying to say is be afraid, be very afraid. We should win, but having ticked off one in a row as favourites I wouldn't want to revert to lazy first quarters now. Crush their spirit early, crush it often.

What I'm most worried about is a repeat of Round 22 last year where multiple players ran out of gas at the same time. Mind you playing a tall forward line in the rain didn't help much either. I suspect Petracca is about to curl up in a ball with fatigue and go to sleep on the half-forward line, but it would be a huge call to rest him at this point of the season. Just give him a light week on the track, stick him up forward and hope for the best.

The temptation is to rush Watts back in for Weideman, and if you foolishly put me in charge I'd probably panic and do it even though Jack reportedly didn't do much for Casey. I suppose you could bring Frost back and use him and Sizzle in attack or defence as required throughout the day. As ineffectual as the Weid was, I don't think they'll mess with a winning formula. For once I'm too scared to be decisive in my team selections. Roll on 1730hrs Friday night when the final teams are released and we get some certainty. No matter what it's shithouse news for my employer, because after a week of being too depressed about footy to concentrate now I'm too nervous.

IN/OUT: No change or Frost in/Weideman out
LUCKY: Weideman
UNLUCKY: Frost, Kennedy (copy and paste endlessly), Watts

Elsewhere the Bradbury Plan is still in full effect. If we win both the remaining games who cares, but just like the first quarter today the more insurance policies you can get your hands on the better. We can be fairly sure that Essendon will beat the Suns, making the decisive games Footscray vs Port and GWS vs West Coast on Saturday. I'm still not comfortable wanting the Giants to win, so this will be the last time in 2017 I'll be doing that. The Eagles barely beat Carlton at home, so you'd assume they were going to come a cropper here but who would know with this pisstake of a season? I'm more interested in the game at Novelty Stadium in Ballarat, where Port might do us a solid by toppling the Dogs.

Is it safe?

Regrettably there's no realistic way to be confirmed finalists entering Round 23. Even if we win, both the above games go the right way and Essendon somehow find a way to neck themselves against Gold Coast. If Hawthorn ride the Luke Hodge celebrations to beat the Dogs on the Friday of the last round we will still rely on West Coast losing to Adelaide on Sunday if we don't beat the Pies on Saturday. I'm already having nightmares about Mason Cox kicking seven and Howe gleefully sticking it up us with 230 intercept marks. Of course it will end in Lynden Dunn tearfully executing his contractual duties by kicking the winning goal, and I will remain in my seat at the MCG until security has to force me out via court order. Alternatively we can lose next week and still have some path to September, so no matter what happens you've got another fortnight of this.

Please note: this is not me being in any way certain that we're going to make it but my consensus ladder prediction now has us finishing seventh and playing either Port or Sydney. If Port win next week then definitely the Swans, but otherwise it will come down to percentage. I'd rather go to Adelaide, but right now I'd go to a final in Damascus so just get us in and we'll work out the travel arrangements later. I'm not even considering the prospect of failing to secure a ticket to the Adelaide Oval/SCG yet, but if I go through all this for us to qualify and can't get in there may be complete mental collapse. MFC employees, I know you're reading so please consider all the good things I said about what you did while the rest of the club was falling apart at the seams and ironically sneak me in as the club psychologist.

Was it worth it?
It certainly was, timing my entry and exit to only be away from home for five hours door-to-door. The footy was good too. At least the first quarter and the last 15 minutes, the rest only existed to get us to the end. My god I was stressed though. Even at the end there was no linking of arms with strangers and singing the song in a variety of foreign languages, because despite the points being in the bag I still felt like ralphing. This is what I expect it feels like to be a low-range drug addict.

In case you missed it
During the week I looked at my 10 most memorable days at the footy for both good and bad reasons. In a surprise twist there were more positive games on the shortlist, possibly because the shit all blends into one toxic sludge. Had we crumbled yesterday there might have been a late inclusion...

Final thoughts
This time last year I emotionally invested everything I had in a miracle finish where we'd still have needed something outrageous in the last round to get in. Now it's right in our hands, we're in the right position, with winnable games and enough potential banana skins for other contenders. The entree has been alright save for a few gritty bits, now bring me a wonderful main course.