Sunday, 26 March 2017


While many were searching for the instructions to their oven when the fixture landed us against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium in Round 1 I was secretly chuffed. What better opponent and venue than a combination of the two (with apologies to North and Subiaco) that have unmercifully taunted us for a decade? Especially considering it would have been easy to write off as the same old shit if we'd lost. I know we've got a world class reputation for sooking after Round 1 (until 2015 when we started winning every year) but as long as we avoided a humiliating loss there wasn't much potential damage to us. Instead we won handsomely and everyone cancelled whatever they were meant to be doing in September.

Nine years, 11 months and 26 days ago we walked into the MCG an outside premiership contender and left on the road to ruin, now for the love of all that is holy please let it be that we've exited Bizzaro MCG on the road to at least one big, fuck off life-affirming moment of salvation. The two games were so opposite that we even had a great first quarter in 2007 before dying in the arse, while tonight we did our best work in the last three. If the reverse form line holds this should mean we finish top four this year, win two flags in a row, have a couple of down years and then spend a few years unlucky not to be premiers.

After floating through the pre-season games with disinterest and steadfastly refusing to get involved in anything the 17 other clubs were up to the footy bug hit me again during the Friday night Bulldogs/Collingwood game. As the regrettably Lynden Dunn-less Pies peddled furiously while the Dogs went through the motions and just did enough to win the importance of watching your team play an honest to god competitive game for premiership points became clear again. Until yesterday afternoon I didn't even know what time we were playing today, then suddenly 20 hours before our game began I started to feel that crushing sense of dread that you can only get from being a Melbourne fan. Others try to imitate it, but none can duplicate it.

Some of it may have come down to crushing jealously about the Dogs flag. I'm still happy for them, after all I even shelved my usual routine of going for interstate clubs against Victorians so nobody I knew would be happy, but it just struck me that thousands of Dogs fans were watching their team play at last knowing that ultimately it didn't matter a shit if they lost because they'd seen a flag. At least everyone except the poor bastard who had a heart attack halfway through the game and woke up in ICU to discover they'd won. That will happen to me one day, except I'll wake up to discover we've lost and have to be restrained from pulling the plug on myself.

The practice games were nice casual kickarounds now it meant something, even if we had to traipse to the worst place on earth (at least since they closed the rat-infested suburban shitholes) for near inevitable defeat. There was nothing inevitable about it on paper, but the combination of playing that team at that ground made thinking about winning a stretch too far. Last year we had two outings against them there where we had some reasonable times but couldn't maintain it all day and eventually lost comfortably, so dragging it across four quarters wasn't completely out of the question but I just couldn't picture it.

No matter what happened in the end I can see an attraction to the way they play, even if their captain has a mullet and a moustache that makes him look like an extra in a Crimestoppers re-enactment. No wonder we're being pitched against them in the discussion about the next big thing, even though we all know we're just playing for the right to lose four Grand Finals in a row to GWS. Beware - the last time we were in a discussion like this Richmond arrived first, then promptly turned around and came back to Misery Town again. Appropriately we don't play the Saints again under Round 21, probably our last game against a finals contender before finishing against Brisbane and Collingwood, so you've only got to wait just under five months for the shock reverse that costs us our finals hopes.

My struggles to get involved in season 2017 almost came back to haunt me when on Friday morning I started to panic about not being able to get in due to a huge walk-up crowd (or being stuck in a traditional Docklands eight hour queue just to scan my ticket) and thought I'd pay whatever Ticketmaster wanted to reserve my member's ticket. Apparently a day and a half before the game there were no general admission tickets left, but I was welcome to fork out $50 if I really wanted to attend. Bollocks to that. No doubt I'd have found something if I'd kept checking, or would have just been able to walk in to the back row when the gates opened but fortunately one of my many beloved mystery benefactors slung me a free ticket. If it was our match I'd have tried to scan in on my membership anyway, because I really want that Nathan Jones bobblehead doll they're offering if you go to nine home games. It will either form the basis for the statue of him that I'm going to erect when he retires or replace it when the fundraising drive stalls.

My nerves about what was going to happen weren't helped by the fact that the stadium had the humid atmosphere of a greenhouse, and that due to the very un-MFC at Docklands sized crowd I was surrounded by people on all sides. There's probably evidence to suggest the seats are wider than they are at the MCG and I'm just complaining because of confirmation bias but it always feels that the Etihad Stadium version are a lot narrower and more uncomfortable. Even worse when the people next door practically have their sweat dripping onto to you. It was a small price to pay for keeping the roof closed and not going through a first half where players had to shield their eyes from sun randomly covering the ground. Still, at half time I had to go for fresh air before I expired.

If I was disinterested it had nothing on St Kilda, who opted not to do an on-ground warm-up before the bounce and instead entered the arena late and will presumably be fined. Ironically this was just after they ran a rah rah video trying to get people to make donations towards rebuilding Moorabbin. At one point I clearly saw Bernie Vince walk over to the umpires and ask "where are they?" Turns out they were just taking their sweet time, and as much as I was hoping it would backfire on them when we kicked four goals in the first four minutes it was hard to argue with the results at quarter time. Maybe they should have copped three fines and won comfortably?

I didn't think we were going to win, which was psychologically handy when we were playing like tripe at the end of the first quarter. At least I couldn't jump off, because I'd never really been on. All I wanted was a signal that we really are set for at worst comfortable mid-table mediocrity. We've already had proof that we can't have as good a run with injury as last year (and there was more to come) so I was less concerned with Vince, Lewis and even Jones than the players I'm expecting to be the vanguard of our 2019 premiership tilt. At quarter time there was precious little sign of them, and we simply looked like the same terrified side who would have moments of sublime magic but spent the rest of the game trying to make the ball somebody else's problem. From there the Clayton Oliver superhero era began, and very little went wrong after that.

Conceding the first goal of the season within 90 seconds was no great concern, at least this year it didn't come from our best fiend $cully. While we weren't necessarily playing badly in the first few minutes before the Saints avalanche came we were falling victim to their manic pressure, leading to all sorts of horrible dinky little handballs that put teammates under pressure. A classic Garlett goal where hung out the back and stormed in with nobody around him restored the lead, but there were already concerning signs. I wasn't much enamoured with Jordan Lewis early, he wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination but didn't seem to be handling their pressure well. I'm pleased to report that he ended up playing a really good game, it probably took him a bit to adjust to not playing alongside multi-time premiership stars and considering we paid practically zero for him it will be hard for that deal not to pay off in spades.

The other half of the new recruits (via a year on the couch) Jake Melksham wasn't bad. He had a few iffy moments but probably provided more than you would have got from Grimes in the same role. Obviously with our defence dropping like flies he's not going to be under any real selection pressure any time soon, and will do for now but doesn't really strike me as the sort of player who'll be in the side every week if we ever put together a serious bash at the top four. As always more than happy to be proven wrong, and he's welcome to lift up his jumper to reveal a t-shirt abusing me on the Grand Final dais when I hopefully get this wrong. I won't see it, I'll be on out the back with paramedics performing CPR.

After an even first 15 minutes where neither side looked like kicking a big score the fun started courtesy of who else but Riewoldt. I still haven't recovered from that extravaganza of aerobic capacity last year where he ran our entire backline big and small into the ground, now here he was cropping up for multiple first quarter goals again. Once he retires we'll beat this lot every time. He must have been fuming in those years when Beau Wilkes/Maister would clean us up, it would have cost Riewoldt about 35 career goals.

The most underrated player on the field was, as always, Neville Jetta. This has to be the year where other clubs and the media finally realise how good Nifty is. He was almighty in defence again, especially in the first half, getting us out of plenty of tight spots. Is he still one concussion away from retirement? Because I don't think I can live without him. For now I could easily live without Oscar McDonald, who is lucky being a backman at Melbourne this year has a higher fatality rate than climbing Mt Everest because he definitely needs extra seasoning at Casey. His brother unloads a few howlers that make him a whipping boy for people who have moved on from Jack Watts but the good far outweighs the bad. At the moment Oscar is reasonably good in the contest and in the air but his disposal fills me with terror. I'm in no way writing him off for the future, and realise that if Senior is injured then he'll practically be in charge of the defence, but I'm not ready to fully embrace him yet.

I was thrilled that Joel Smith was picked after a promising pre-season (and we can always do with further proof that we've gone beyond the nightmare father/son era of Chris Johnson and Michael Clark), and he was playing really well until he necked himself. Or more accurately until Riewoldt necked him - proving that he doesn't have to kick goals to cause pain. Unfortunately the way he blew his shoulder to shreds he won't be seen for a while but I'm reasonably confident in him being a good long term prospect. That wasn't much good to us here, and copping one of the great arsey goals of recent times didn't help my mood.

Earlier in the quarter a Saints player had seen the ball sit up in front of him and decided to just whack buggery out of it from mid-air and it was fantastic because it narrowly missed, now less so was the ball almost rolling out of bounds and the player who kept it in running on to get a handball in the square, then tapping it to himself, gathering it running away from goal and kicking over his head. Even better than it happened in the last 30 seconds of the quarter after we'd spent 10 minutes being plugged from arsehole to elbow. At four goals behind my excitement levels were wavering, but if nothing else I was back in my most comfortable place with completely deflated expectations.

You wouldn't know it from the AFL website video - and at least unlike Thursday night it's working - but Jack Watts kicked the first goal of the second quarter to keep us alive. They'll write a dozen articles speculating about his place in the side, but his goals can't even make the highlight reel. How can any goals miss out? As a Melbourne fan you might not always have been sure in recent years, but isn't that what we're paying to watch? Fortunately when he marked 20 metres out he resisted the temptation to try a dinky handball over the top to either of the players running towards goal, because the way we were going we all know how that would have turned out. It's even smarter to go back and take the kick when he's the best set shot in the team. We'd already suffered a fiasco where Lewis had tried the old Paul Wheatley handoff (later successfully executed by Gawn/Vince) with Jayden Hunt only for the ball to spill loose, the last thing we needed was to blow another chance trying to be cute.

The first comeback didn't last long, who else but Riewoldt trotting into an open goal when the ball dropped into his hands after a marking contest. With one defender gone and the Saints rattling through easy goals like they were playing Melbourne Classic I was nearly tempted to curl up under the seat and have a cry when it was revealed that Gawn was in the rooms having his back looked at. With not much more information than that I pictured him in traction for six weeks. This would obviously be a long-term disaster, but more importantly in the short term would have left Watts as the only ruckman in our side part-time or otherwise. He battles gamely when he does it, but we can't rely on that for more than a few minutes at a time.

Then Gawn re-emerged, bouncing off the ropes like Rocky mounting his triumphant comeback against Clubber Lang and beating the holy bejesus out of the Saints for the next three quarters with nary a hint of trouble from his Shagger's Back. The ban on third man up - which I admit to not having once thought about all day while busy howling in glee/anger at the umpires ignoring holding the ball in both directions - would have benefited him, and it probably helped that the umpire was throwing the ball up in the middle due to the turf being shite after an Adele concert. Lucky she got in before this game so I could still use the gag about breaking our record for depressing the largest crowd at Etihad Stadium.

At four goals down again I was feeling seedy, before the super impressive Mitch Hannan delivered lightning crumb so quick that the ball bobbled around in his hands before he could get it to boot. He kicked the goal, and a bloody nice one it was too, but it was created by Hogan's forward pressure as he tormented a St Kilda defender. Maybe it's that winning at Docklands feeling but I really felt like he was one of us today. Poor bastard.

Like so many times under Roos it took until we were staring down the barrel before we threw caution to the wind and started playing freely. In an earlier post I did an analysis of all the times we went at least four goals down before launching a comeback when he was coach, and it was a ridiculous amount with as bad a winning strike rate as you'd expect. The issue was always that we'd clatter on a few goals and look irresistible for 15 minutes then get nervy again the moment we got close. To prove that we just may be at the start of something big we went on with it this time.

It helped that the Saints disappeared off the face of the earth. The team who'd brutalised us in the first quarter could now barely get near us as we played keepings off. Until this point I'd thought we could have got more out of Spencer as a forward than Weideman, but you couldn't argue with the violence and venom of his kick on the run for the goal that reduced the margin to less than 18. He'd barely received the handball from Jones when he absolutely crushed it through from 40 metres. Still wasn't crazy about him overall today, but you sense that as he gains experience he's going to unleash hell in a couple of seasons. Now that we've won we may as well persist with him next week and see what he can do against the Blues. Last year he did chuff all against them, but I'm still grumpy that they even played him in the wet.

Improbably before you knew it we were in front after Jetta was clotheslined had won a free kick for being clotheslined. He took the set shot well for somebody who used to be a forward but hasn't kicked more than one in a season since 2011. We weren't playing all that well, it was just that St Kilda had died in the steamy atmosphere. The Saints didn't do any of the light speed slingshot shit they stitched us up with x2 in 2016, and they didn't have much of a chance when we wouldn't give them the ball. We took this to ridiculous levels in the last couple of minutes, if you didn't see the game and are judging performances on stats alone it's best to reduce the disposals of anyone in our defence by about 10% to compensate for their festival of side-to-side dink in the last two minutes.

After Hogan took a contested pack mark to extend the lead to eight (and if he's going to add massive grabs to throwing defenders out of the way in one-on-one contests then I'm going to go into a glee coma before Queen's Birthday) we tried to run out 120 seconds by lobbing the ball back and forth. It was a reasonably sound idea, after six goals in a row the last thing we wanted to do was concede one but of course 120 seconds of effective disposal was well beyond us. We got away with it, ironically after one more chance to attack courtesy of our mistake giving the ball to the Saints, who made a mistake of their own, and half time could comfortably be spent wondering what in god's name we'd just seen and whether it was sustainable.

I fully expected St Kilda to regroup, come out playing like the first quarter and be back in front within five minutes, but no. New recipe Melbourne just kept going, with Hannan pulling off another piece of crumb that must have made Dean Kent tense up and realise he might be heading towards Cranbourne next week. Hannan was great, after all he was a last start Etihad Stadium winner in the VFL Grand Final which is more than you could say for all the players we had appearing for Casey that day, where have we been hiding him all pre-season? Was it a calculated ruse to keep him out under the guise of his off-season shoulder surgery (and missing teeth) so we could unexpectedly spring him here? We did that two years ago with Brayshaw, and it worked well there too. Next thing Garlett's crumbing front and square off the pack and we're almost five goals in front after five minutes of the second half.

While a realistic person would have thought "great, we've got heaps of time to do them slowly" I was thinking "oh shit, this is leaving too long for a comeback". Because I'm neurotic. We were a player down, it was so humid that steam was about to rise from the turf like the gates of hell were located directly underneath the ground and the only reason our shaky backline wasn't causing trouble was because we wouldn't give St Kilda the ball. Damn right I was still worried. When Brayshaw got another I relaxed a bit, before Riewoldt managed to finally deliver a steadier at the other end by flukily shinning the ball through.

My nerves were calmed, not for good but at least temporarily, by a remarkable Christian Petracca set shot. Him learning to kick these has been the highlight of the season so far, and this was a special. Reminiscent of Jake Spencer on debut against North in 2009 he dropped the ball cold on his run-up, but unlike that day the umpire didn't call play on so he just scooped it up, continued his run-in and slammed it home from 50 metres out before taking off in celebration.

At 34 points in front at the start of the last quarter it was one of those scenarios where if we were behind I'd be convinced we'd lose (and we would), but because we were in front I was sweating like I was on trial. If we had to tick off one of our key cliches by conceding a goal immediately after kicking one due to the emergency ruckman being in the middle it had to be a Hogan goal that was wasted. It usually is. No wonder he's started to play some centre bounces now, he's buying insurance against them stuffing up his hard work while Gawn is on the bench. This time he was nowhere to be seen, the Saints won the centre clearance and were in a few seconds later.

After lowering his colours twice against St Kilda last year and breaking even at best in the first quarter here Gawn proceeded to give his midfielders one of the great armchair rides. It wasn't Jamar/Moloney vs Adelaide, but only because there were so many more options. At one point 50% of his 40 something hitouts had been to advantage. Many - if not most - of these were going to Clayton Oliver, who rebounded from an ineffectual four touch first quarter to drag St Kilda around for the next three like one of those bags you mop fake clay tennis courts with. By the end he had 36 touches, including 14 contested and nine clearances. But while raw stats are fun the Hamburglar story is nothing without watching him, the number of his 27 handballs that were either performed in confined spaces or shot off so quickly that you wouldn't think he even had time to realise it was going to a teammate was absurd. We already knew we were onto one here, so let's see how he goes now that the rest of the league will start paying close attention. I expect he'll just carry on wrecking people. Go back and watch the over-the-head handball to Jones that delivered the goal at the end of the third quarter. Either he got very lucky that the captain was in the right place at the right time or is a dead set genius. I'm backing the latter.

The reply to the wasted Hogan goal kicked off a purple patch for the Saints, who were rapidly running out of time but it also seemed we were rapidly running out of leg. Lucky they couldn't kick straight, eventually allowing the surprisingly impressive Alex Neal-Bullen to boot the sealer. After being as keen as mustard on Anal-Bullet last year I'd gone off him in the pre-season and admit to complaining when he was picked, but he did really well. It's an added bonus that he's got goal sense and he does remind me a bit of a more robust Cale Morton. One good game is all you need to win me back.

Usually I wouldn't have a bar of opposition players, but given that we'd comfortably sewn the game up it was sad to see Riewoldt go down like a sack of spuds like he'd done his knee late in the quarter. There are players here and there that I enjoy watching, but other than ex-Melbournians who I still pine for (💖 you Stefan) the only two players who I really cared for from other clubs are/were Pavlich and Riewoldt. Is it any wonder that I'd have a thing for them, both 300 game titans who carried their club to within touching distance of glory and will be amongst the greatest players their sides ever produce but never won a premiership. That's a story Melbourne fans can relate to - except we usually can't shepherd people through 200 games let alone 300. I'm bitter that he beats the shit out of us every time, but that's more towards us for letting it happen. I dream of a home grown player still carrying his team on his back at 34. Speaking of his back, I hope the pre-match 'light entertainment' segment where he carried a comedian around wasn't to blame for his later woes.

The second sealer came via another Petracca set shot immediately after Riewoldt was carted off, and we could spend the last few minutes drenched in sweat and joy. For the first time since Adem Yze kicked the sealer in the 2006 Elimination Final and I yelled "Fuck you!" in the face of the St Kilda fan behind me we had toppled the Saints. Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since then - followed by several senior coaches. It's hard to keep up with St Kilda but I think they've been shit, great, shit and good again since then. We've been shit, ok for a little bit, horrendous and ok again. Now to get Subiaco - which only has one year left - and North - which would probably only have one year left if they played like we did to wreck all the hoodoos. Once that's done let's petition the AFL to have a heritage round game at Football Park and try to knock that off as well.

Jordan Lewis must have been secretly bitter about having to go through the cliched first win Gatorade shower after 250 games and four premierships. Better than not going through it because we lost, but he was a good sport and didn't tell them to get stuffed then hide in a utility closet to avoid it. My abiding memory of James Sellar will always be when he heroically declined to participate on the night we beat Essendon in 2013. I enjoyed Joel Smith taking part even with his arm in a sling, unable to properly shield his eyes and probably now suffering permanent damage to his retina as well as his shoulder.

Surely all this excitement must have convinced a sponsor to fork out megabucks and put their name on the excessively red back of our jumper. Rumour has it we'd turned back several suitors because we had a big money deal ready to go only for that company to pull out at the last minute. I don't know whether that means we're renegotiating with the others or whether they've told us to do one, but it just goes to prove that you can take us out of the #fistedforever decade but you can't stop all the horror. It would have helped if we'd made it to the back pages of the newspaper tomorrow but I suppose the Bombers' big win has stuffed that up. Never mind, we're here we're proud and we're not leaving the eight for a few weeks at least.

Stat My Bitch Up
Congratulations to Neville Jetta and Jack Watts, who rid themselves of 0-15 and 0-16 records at Docklands respectively. Jack has made up for missing the GWS win when we all thought he was about to go into Paul Roos' office and dramatically slap in a trade request. I wonder if that would have been captured on the same sort of pervy hidden camera they use to film kids being told they're playing their first game.

As our beloved stalwart of the dark days, Nathan Jones also holds a rancid record at the place. He's now 3-26 there since his first start in Round 18, 2006. When our finals hopes were damaged by suffering a shock loss to a rock bottom Carlton. But of course there's no relevance to modern history there.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
1 - Jesse Hogan

Apologies to most, but especially Lewis, Hannan and Hunt. Also Vince, Stretch and Neal-Bullen.

The downside of the 'humorous' Bulldogs banners being involved in a premiership is that suddenly everyone thinks they're a comedian. There's urban legend that Carlton paid a marketing company to come up with this sack of shite, wasting money that could have been spent engaging our cheersquad as consultants on how to stick a letter on straight, now the Saints have attempted a bit of light hearted japery which suggested we hadn't won at Etihad Stadium since the presidency of George W Bush.
They're not the only organisation who refuse to acknowledge the Round 23, 2015 win over Greater Western Sydney. An AFL website match report suggested it was our "first win at Etihad Stadium since August 2007". It has become the Australian equivalent of the Americans who are convinced they've seen a movie that doesn't exist, people just cannot process that it happened.

I remember it well, not only for a rare win (and in case you're still sceptical here's video proof. We do not believe this was faked in a Hollywood studio) but because the following Monday morning I was attempting to watch the replay of the last quarter while carrying a bowl of Sultana Bran over a fence to stop my kid running out of the loungeroom, got my foot caught on the way over, lobbed the bowl halfway across the room and ended up lying amidst splinters and twisted wood on the living room floor. As I prepare to leave Demonblog Towers IX and hit double figures (or as it's counted in roman numerals, single figures) there's still time to suffer another major MFC related injury to go alongside that and the time I fell down the stairs while browsing Twitter for footy content.

What I will say for the St Kilda banner is that by selling the rights to an iced coffee company (I would rather drink lye), professionally printing it and engaging the biggest rent-a-crowd in footballing history to help get it aloft they took huge steps forward in design. For the last few years they have had the worst banners in the league, even behind when GWS used to inexplicably use a 0 instead of an O like they were cutting ransom notes out of a newspaper, but now they've taken a step on font and design if not quality of slogans. The Saints cheersquad has written in to assure me that everyone on-field was a paid up member, which I can only accept as correct, but then tried to play up the bit about GWB being about games against them, which is the worst piece of damage control since the incident with Jordan De Goey's dog. The actual writer of the banner subsequently contacted us to suggest it was supposed to say "last time they beat us" so god only knows what the real story is.
On the other hand we put in a solid effort, nothing over the top but just enough to do the job without making fools of ourselves. After dual pre-season disasters where the thing toppled over it was good to get a solid warm-up done for bigger and better things to come. The day we get into misplaced attempts at 'banter' for the sort of people who yell things out at tennis matches or introduce a curtain is the day I retire this feature. 1-0 Dees for the main season, and 2-2 including the pre-season games.

I feel that the 'raise hell' tag line the club is going with this year could lead to some real fire and brimstone old time religion slogans, leading to anarchy of biblical proportions. I've got no interest in ecumenical matters but it would shit on trying to force a comedy routine into four lines. Failing that, go for the Stone Cold Steve Austin option.

Crowd Watch
There were good signs right from the start, for all the mud I've slung at Etihad Stadium they've introduced a simple innovation which is destined to make my life easier. There are now lines where a stadium attendant will hand scan your ticket. Never again will you have to stand behind some gibbon who doesn't understand that the ticket shaped hole in the gate is where you put the barcode on your ticket. For once take note MCG, this is the wave of the future. It may cost more but customer satisfaction will go through the roof.

After Etihad had done such an efficient job of getting people into the ground it was lucky there was anybody left for the first bounce after St Kilda's pre-match entertainment package. This sort of stuff is like being a politician, people will always look favourably on their own side and think everything the other side puts out is shit but did we really need multiple renditions of the maudlin version of their theme song that sounds as if it should be played while a coffin is being lowered into a grave? To try and lift the mood after having us all reach for the anti-depressants they tried to lure their fans into community singing by piping in realistic sounding atmosphere. Nobody showed much interest until half-heartedly clapping along at the end, and I won't be taking any shit from St Kilda fans about the trumpeteer after that. When the Saints didn't bother to come out for the warm-up the person on the buttons shit themselves and played it again, exposing to anyone who'd been roped in the first time that it was all recorded. There would be a significant crossover between people who thought that was real and people who are roped into Nigerian email scams.

Any tension I have with St Kilda, and to be fair it pretty much all went away when they drew that Grand Final due to a novelty bounce then got flogged in the Lionel Richie replay, stems directly from sitting next to an insane cheersquad in the '98 finals who got a bit racial and thought there was nothing wrong with Barry Hall assaulting a Febey brother. Today there was none of that, and the absolute worst any of the St Kilda fans sitting around me could muster was a half-hearted, deflated "Jesse is a girls' name HUR HUR HUR" in the last quarter. Get that man a job writing banners immediately.

Either the Saints faithful were broken hearted at handing over their most cherished winning streak or like me they were all about to die from heat stress. Maybe it was because I unexpectedly found myself sitting near the fence on the bottom level (and can probably be seen chewing my fingernails during a boundary throw-in), with such a high class of people that even the lady who reads the Channel 7 weather was there. I'd love to say she spent the whole day swearing her head off and issuing random threats to boundary umpires but sadly not.

Also suffering in the humidity were all forms of telecommunications. I missed an entire half of post-goal checks of Dees Twitter swinging to distress to glee and all points in between. It's almost understandable that the 4G network faltered as 40,000 people rushed to their phone simultaneously to write us off, but considering how far out of their way Etihad went to talk up their awesome Wi-Fi network it would have helped if it worked for the entire first half. All I wanted to do was browse the stats and/or check the Sydney/Port score, both issues which could have been solved if they did updates on the screen. Another win for fan experience, but at least it meant I couldn't make a Rex Hunt of myself with premature adjudication about our season.

One thing you always get at Etihad which you don't at the MCG is close brushes with the stars. All mine were with ruckmen, first standing back like the gentleman I am to allow Lachlan (oddly styled as "Lochie" in the season guide - I'm not sure how you get "Loch" out of "Lach" but it's his name so he can do what he likes with it) Filipovic to walk through the crowd, then after the game seeing people mobbing The Spencil to celebrate with him. In classic Spencer style he just sort of looked baffled, but I can report his microphone hair looks even better up close than on TV.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Always nice to start the season with a raft of contenders. As tempted as I am to pick Petracca's set shot where he dropped the ball then casually scooped the it up and bombed it home I'm going to have to opt for Hannan's second piece of delightful crumb at the start of the third quarter, where he scooped the loose ball bouncing off the pack and almost threw it on his boot in a single movement before snapping around the corner. Bonus points for being the 'steadier' we needed after half time to convince everyone, players and fans alike, that we could go on with it.

Next Week
It's Carlton again, in the marquee timeslot of 3.20pm on Sunday. Good for networks who need a lead-in to the news, shithouse for those of us who like to get the footy over as early as possible and get back to our more rewarding non footy lives. All signs point to us shellacking them, except our recent record against shithouse sides - including Carlton in 2015 and 2016. It could be argued that both those games were at the end of the year when everyone was physically and/or mentally shot, and that we should have no trouble dismissing them even on two days less break and an afternoon playing in Darwin-esque humidity.

So why am I shitting bricks? It's just beyond comprehension that we could be 2-0, especially when you consider how bad we've been in second rounds recently. For those of you who missed it in the pre-season here's the recent tale of woe that we're battling:
  • 2008 - lost by 95
  • 2009 - lost by 53
  • 2010 - lose on a dropped mark in the square with a second left
  • 2011 - turned 19 point half-time lead into a 45 point loss
  • 2012 - lost by 108
  • 2013 - lost by 148
  • 2014 - lost by 93
  • 2015 - turned five goal lead into 56 point loss
  • 2016 - backed up a top Round 1 win by losing to the Essendon Reserves.
All of which means chuff all to what's likely to happen next week, but it does explain why I'm so nervous.

It can't be a good thing when the loss of a first gamer exposes your wafer-thin backline depth, but I struggle to see any direct replacement for Smith. Any of Frost, Hibberd, Wagner or Garland would have been a chance if they hadn't done themselves a varying degree of mischief. Not even really comfortable fielding Sizzle Jr at the moment, but we're just going to have to wear that and hope for the best given the lack of alternatives.

Frost was listed as a 'test' this week so he's probably the best option, but I'm going to assume he won't play and opt for Pedersen. He might not even be required to play the whole game in defence considering how few forwards Carlton have and is a marginally better ruck option than Watts. And if god forbid we do need a defender and he's not working out we can send Watts down there and play Pedersen forward.

The dominance of the midfield is terrible news for Tyson, who will have to wait his turn. I can't find a spot for Kent either, but it shouldn't be too long before somebody is injured or suspended. Incidentally there was a moment where Milkshake made reasonable front-on contact with an opponent. He wasn't hurt, but did hilariously punt the resulting free kick straight on the full. Looked like nothing more than a fine at the absolute worst, but Match Review Panel Lotto will probably put him out for 4-6 weeks. Vince also clobbered somebody in the back of the head, failing to hold off so he could be reported in Round 3 for the fourth year in a row, and could be in trouble. I suppose it's only fair if he goes down, considering at one point he got away with one of the most illegal disposals ever right in front of the umpire. If he's out perhaps bring Tyson in and use Salem in his role?

Meanwhile, if there's anything suspect about Gawn's back they have to play Spencer. We can't risk  a have-a-go fill-in ruckman playing the majority of the game against a side who are generally no good but killed us off quickly last time by dominating the centre. So, after all that it's one change and for the love of god can we please turn up in the first quarter this time?

IN: Pedersen
OUT: Smith (inj)
LUCKY: Weideman, O. McDonald
UNLUCKY: Spencer, Tyson, Kent

Was It Worth It?
By the end I was left looking like a raver in a field at 4am, sweating like Iggy Pop and with a tightly clenched jaw but a sense of euphoria and love for mankind. You're damn right it was worth it, and I hope those of you who couldn't be bothered didn't make it to the GWS game but were there today enjoyed the feeling of lifting a monkey off your back and hurling it into the sea.

Final Thoughts
Like a game of 10 Pin Bowling where you throw a strike in the first frame and briefly wonder if you might roll 300, there was a moment in the afterglow where I wondered if we might actually make the eight. That's as far as my optimism goes, and even that was most likely down to dehydration. There's a lot of ups and downs to come in the next 21 weeks, but the best thing to do to start convincing me that the glorious future is real would be to win comfortably next week. See you back in the same place next Sunday night for bitterness and recrimination.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Updated 2017 betting markets, predictions and general buffoonery

A lot has changed since the original markets were framed in the now reasonably redundant season preview. We extended our pre-season winning streak to five before Perth did us in as always, Jake Spencer is back, Colin Garland is gone and dozens of otherwise sensible people are tipping us to finish inside the eight. The last time that happened I was a fresh-faced youngster, now I'm an embittered old man so I'll believe it when I see it.

Anyway, on with the show. And a reminder again that these odds are strictly for the purposes of entertainment only, and if you're in any way considering betting on them (or Melbourne in general) then help is available by calling Gambler's Helpline on 1800 858 858.

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
We're reasonably stable here - the co-captains remain level while Gawn is slightly dialled back based on his reduced time in the middle during the pre-season. The big movers at the top are Lewis and Hogan -$5. Outside the top five Petracca is -$17 while Watts is +$5 after his weird pre-season.

Other significant gains include Hunt ($42 to $35), Melksham ($70 to $60) J. Smith ($500 to $225). As for losses, other than Garland the notable ones are - Tyson ($25 to $35), Kent ($50 to $60), Frost ($100 to $150), vandenBerg ($100 to $200), Pedersen ($125 to $150)

Based on the history of midfielders almost always winning this award it would be a staggering upset if any talls other than Gawn, Hogan or possibly McDonald contend but god damn it anything can happen at this club.

$5 - Jack Viney
$9 - Nathan Jones
$11 - Max Gawn, Jordan Lewis
$20 - Jesse Hogan
$25 - Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
$35 - Jayden Hunt, Clayton Oliver, Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince
$38 - Angus Brayshaw
$40 - Michael Hibberd, Tom McDonald
$45 - Neville Jetta, Christian Salem
$60 - Dean Kent, Jake Melksham
$70 - Billy Stretch
$80 - Jeff Garlett, James Harmes
$85 - Ben Kennedy, Sam Weideman
$100 - Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald
$125 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$130 - Jake Spencer
$150 - Sam Frost, Cameron Pedersen
$200 - Jack Trengove, Aaron vandenBerg, Mitch White
$225 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Joel Smith, Josh Wagner
$275 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$300 - Dion Johnstone
$350 - Liam Hulett
$400 - Mitch King, Pat McKenna
$500 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty
$1000 - Corey Maynard
$5001 - Colin Garland
$9999 - Heritier Lumumba

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
The big mover here is Hunt, one of the joint winners of the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance, who has come in from $10 to snatch favouritism. McDonald senior has been slightly wound down from $7.50 to $10, while Jetta moves down to the third line after his troubled pre-season. With our rapidly thinning defensive stocks Jack Watts is up from $500 to $100, while ANY OTHER PLAYER and NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE have both firmed. Also turns out I totally forget to include Joel Smith the first time, so he comes in at $60 with a bullet.

$6 - Jayden Hunt
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Neville Jetta, Bernie Vince
$16 - Michael Hibberd
$20 - Christian Salem
$25 - Oscar McDonald, Jake Melksham, Billy Stretch
$60 - Joel Smith, Josh Wagner
$70 - Sam Frost, Mitch White
$100 - Jack Watts
$115 - Cameron Pedersen
$175 - Tomas Bugg
$300 - Declan Keilty
$4000 - Colin Garland
$7500 - Heritier Lumumba

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Weideman - who remains eligible as he debuted in the last month of the previous season - remains favourite, but in a very thin field of major contenders the biggest mover is Joel Smith in from $80 to second favourite. NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE has also come in from $100 to $90.

$8 - Sam Weideman
$10 - Joel Smith
$15 - Mitch Hannan, Tim Smith
$25 - Liam Hulett
$30 - Dion Johnstone
$50 - Mitch King
$60 - Pat McKenna
$80 - Lachlan Filipovic, Declan Keilty
$500 - Corey Maynard

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Gawn reigns supreme, but the resurgent Spencil jumps from $50 to in front of NO PLAYER ELIGIBLE. Watts is another big mover - recognising that we're one injury away from him having to play in the middle enough to trip the 10 hitout per game qualifying mark.

$1.25 - Max Gawn
$15 - Jake Spencer
$50 - Jack Watts
$80 - Cameron Pedersen
$100 - Lachlan Filipovic
$125 - Mitch King
$250 - Sam Frost

The final chosen 22
B: Vince, T. McDonald, Jetta
HB: Hunt, O. McDonald, J. Smith
C: Oliver, Viney, Jones
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Kent
F: Watts, Weideman, Garlett
Foll: Gawn, Lewis, Tyson
INT: Brayshaw, Stretch, Salem, Melksham

Taking a risk on Garlett, Jetta, Kent and Tyson. Probably too much of a risk, but ironically for all our much vaunted new found depth I'm not all that confident in finding replacements.

IN: J. Smith, Melksham, Oliver/Brayshaw individually
OUT: Hibberd (inj), Kennedy (omit), Pedersen/Frost (omit/inj)

Apologies to Spencer, Harmes and Bugg + Hibberd who would be in but for injury. And christ only knows what's happened to Ben Ken, but our recent history with Collingwood imports is that it's one season and barely seen again.

Updated ladder prediction
No changes at all in my top nine, I'm extremely confident that we can narrowly miss the eight. No change in the bottom two either, at least until Carlton beat us in Round 2. All the action comes in the middle, where I've gone off Port and Freo and feel more confident about Essendon, Collingwood and North. I've also added another bracket to split 10-12 and 13-16. You may wonder how I can come to these conclusions having not seen more than about 10 minutes of a non-MFC pre-season game and you'd be right to ask. Like my successful 2016 division two FMI Tipsters League promotion campaign it's all based on the vibe.

1 - GWS [*vom*]
2 - Adelaide
3 - Sydney
4 - Geelong
5 - Western Bulldogs
6 - Hawthorn
7 - West Coast
8 - St Kilda
9 - Melbourne
10 - Gold Coast (up from 11)
11 - Essendon (up from 14)
12 - Richmond (up from 13)
13 - Collingwood (up from 15)
14 - North (up from 16)
15 - Port Adelaide (down from 10)
16 - Fremantle (down from 12)
17 - Brisbane
18 - Carlton

Let's have it shall we?

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Carnage in Cranbourne

The last line of Melbourne's franchise agreement with the AFL states that we are required to suffer one demoralising loss to an inferior team at least once in the middle of the year and once at the end (if not for the other 20 weeks as well). Fortunately in a shortened competition we were able to get both out of the way in one go against GWS, and instead concentrate on snacking on a group of hapless Dockers offering scarcely token resistance. They were like a low rent version of the Adelaide prison gang, all about giving away clumsy frees but with none of the artistic merit the Crows provided.

You'd be demoralised too when you started the season as premiership favourites, won next to nothing and had to fly three hours for a dead rubber THEN get in a bus and go 80km to Casey Fields. The commitment to players doing their normal job five days a week then going around the country for this is impressive, I know back in the day male players used to be PE teachers, pub owners or in the case of the late 80s Brisbane Bears unemployed but it was a different time. Now I'm impressed half their squad didn't chuck a sickie and watch on TV. Freo might have done better if they'd plucked a few fresh randoms out of the south eastern suburban leagues, because the players they brought look like they had enough before leaving Perth Airport. All teams have been there, in our case almost every season for a decade and without having to leave Victoria most of the time.

Intergender MSDS suggested that given the first equation for keeping our season alive was to simply win, we'd probably suffer another shock defeat to a mediocre side which rendered the result of the Adelaide vs Collingwood game meaningless. On paper the Dockers should have been a doddle, but who could honestly rule out another week of domination of inside 50s for no reward before the other side did us on the counter-attack.

Then, in a record setting quick settling of nerves, we kicked the first goal in 15 seconds flat. Straight out of the middle, and perfectly into the arms of Alyssa Mifsud at the top of the square while her opponent stood there going "oh shit, it's going to be one of those afternoons". Usually our problem in these games has been converting forward entries into shots, then converting those shots in goals. These issues were jointly solved by converting our midfield domination into a series of attacks that landed 20 metres out with Freo's defence at sixes and sevens, or gathering the ball within range and waiting for them to give away an inevitable free kick.

This game was massive finals implications was not being treated with all the respect it deserved, we all know for a men's game in the same scenario I'd have been bunkered down at home for three sleepless nights eating nothing but canned tuna but in this case the first roughly quarter and a half took place while I was in the supermarket. The chances of somebody blowing the result with a loose text message or by walking down the aisles of Coles singing Heave Ho were next to nil so I could afford to take the risk of watching on delay. If you're confident in avoiding spoilers, and don't have a ridiculous need to follow what other people are saying about TV games on Twitter this is not such a bad way to approach life. The worst time of any game is when you've got to amuse yourself for 20 minutes at half time, this way the siren goes and you fast forward for about 90 seconds then carry on.

The skill of dominating the early minutes and having it come to nowt is transferable across genders, and after kicking that first goal within seconds then attacking immediately after again we allowed Freo to go down the other end and kick a goal via a long hoof into the forward line for somebody to run on to. Something to warm you up for the 21 times St Kilda are going to do it next Sunday. I'm no expert on the rules, and why would you need to be when you spend six months a year howling from the stands about how they're incorrectly applied, but when we gave away a free in the middle and a Docker played on from about 1.5 metres ahead of where the ball had been dropped should that have been brought back? I feel like it should have, otherwise you should be able to take off from anywhere that a wacky bounce takes it post-free.

I thought that was the signal for another GWS game to break out, where we'd keep attacking for almost no reward and would lose despite conceding a relatively low score. No need to worry, that was the invitation for our lot to start cracking heads. It only took 20 seconds for another lightning attack out of the middle to find Shelley Scott practically in the same spot Mifsud had been earlier, with a new Freo defender beaten all ends up in the one on one dual.

The third, and the official floodgate opener, was created by a sublime piece of vision from Deanna Berry. It's easy to look good against an opposition as flat as this, but she was great and her handball through three Dockers while being simultaneously tackled by two others was a thing of beauty. It cracked the play open for Aliesha Newman - who is apparently a postie but is so quick she probably doesn't bother with the bike - to run into space and eventually set up Mifsud to find Phillips on her own in the square. After looking wonky in the first few quarters of the year, and to be fair the pissing rain we played the first game in was no help, Mifsud has been a great target. Considering she's one that barely played before being drafted that's a big win for our recruiters. I'm willing to reject the theory of the commentator that she was having a shot and instead put it down as a perfect pass to a teammate charging into the square. For the third time a Fremantle player stood in close proximity but was left looking confused.

The third goal was very quickly followed by the fourth, set up by a free kick against the Freo ruck where insult was added to injury when the ball was lobbed right into her face while being returned to Lauren Pearce. She was still busy ensuring her nose was still attached when it went through. A fifth straight all but ended the game. The only thing that soured the quarter was needlessly conceding a goal with 30 seconds left, but all that did was keep Freo afloat for a little bit long when they were clearly the inferior team.

As I'd missed all the pre-game reporting while perusing the roast chicken rack at Eltham Coles it didn't register with me until goals had stopped flying in every 30 seconds that it was an all-female commentary team. No dramas there, the guys on Channel 7 are excellent and probably should be called on to replace some of the buffoons they employ for the main games but I could do without Fox Footy's previous tactic of employing a famous man who only partially knew what he was talking about to lend the coverage an alleged air of credibility. Star of the show was Kate Sheahan, she of the shortest debut since Rohan Bail, who demonstrated the family traits that made Mark 'Jacko' Jackson want to her punch her dad by hanging shit on the Dockers all day. It was good, because the comments were explained rather than just being "oh wowee they're so shit LOL ROFL". It's what Dermott Brereton would do well if he explained himself succinctly instead of waffling on for 45 seconds.

Once the initial damage was done the velocity of the battering slowed for a while, and it became an extended torture session instead. Freo could barely get their hands on the ball, and when they did they looked like a country pub team having a kick and hoping for the best. The comeback was shortly lived, the second goal of the second quarter came from Cranston yanking an opponent down in such spectacular fashion that my better half confused my mouth full of food cry of "WHAT A TACKLE!" (or as it came out "WHUBATTTTTTTTTTLE") with a yell of distress.

The Dockers had no answers, like a Best of Baileyball compilation every turnover they generated was usually greeted by the player looking up to see nowt but empty space and/or Melbourne defenders in front. Their attacking made the worst we've served up this season look like Geelong 2011 in comparison, and a rare few minutes of competitiveness in the second quarter were wasted when they ran through a list of new and exciting ways to flub simple chances. There was no coming back from that, and from there it was death by a thousand cuts.

By the time Paxman burst into an open goal for our 10th goal without a miss, the margin was an AFLW record and our percentage was rapidly closing on Adelaide. With so much time lost because they don't stop the clock for routine stoppages there was never enough time to bang on the further six or so goals required but it felt pleasant to be unleashing a record setting defeat on somebody no matter what the competition or how thin the existing record book is. Now we've got the record loss in the men's game (well, the two record losses if you really want to be pedantic) and the record win in the women's. Following this club is a real rollercoaster ride let me tell you, and I'm glad we've got another branch to share in the confusion.

We were scoring at such a rapid rate that the Casey Fields DJ was going to have to start repeating his post-goal CDs before long. Why anyone allowed a match played for premiership points to have some galoot spinning pop hits throughout is a matter for another day, but don't rule out some atmospheric strugglers like Etihad Stadium or the Sydney Showgrounds bringing that in before long.

Once we hit 10.0.60 the scoring slowed down, suddenly there was a reason to think about self-preservation in the heat and after six weeks unbroken suddenly Paxman and Mel Hickey were on the sidelines receiving treatment. We stumbled along to the end missing chances like the MFC Women of old, continuing to lose players to novelty injuries such as Mithen being accidentally shirtfronted by an opponent who simply forget to stop running at her after the ball had been kicked.

We wanted 100 but had to settle for 70. That would do considering we've also kicked scores of 1.4.10 and 1.9.15 this year. You don't get to play a dispirited, disinterested opposition like that all the time (unless you're playing the MFC men in Round 23) so when you do grab it with both hands and enjoy it.

If it is to be the end of our season it's appropriate that the final quarter was spent with one of the little girls whose dreams are supposed to have been thrown wide open by this new competition pestering me to change the channel to Hey Duggee. It was a fun seven weeks (and we hope for an eighth), true to senior game form I lost interest in the non-MFC teams about halfway through but really enjoyed watching our girls play every week (in general - the record shows I CBF during the GWS match, but that had more to do with the nuffy timeslot and our inability to convert a score than anything) and they've definitely got a bright future in this competition even if we have to wait a year.

In a couple of years when a few more footballers are developed and some of the pure athletes who are lucky to be there fall off the side this will be a reasonable standard to watch. It's not bad as it is, but there's a deep frustration that all Melbourne supporters have known for decades when there's two or three lovely links in the chain and then somebody handballs it straight up in their air because they're dangerously underqualified to be participating. Nevertheless it was fun, and as long as the AFL don't do something amazingly stupid like expanding the number of teams or games played too quickly then it should go well again next year. When we will win it.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Cat Phillips
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Alyssa Mifsud
1 - Deanna Berry

Apologies to L. Pearce, Mithen, Paxman, Grierson, Cranston, Duryea, Hickey, Scott and Kemp

Final leaderboard
What bad timing for Karen Paxman to be swamped by the rising tides of a game where almost everyone won their position. According to an interview in the paper she has not the slightest interest in the AFL and doesn't watch a second of it, which (with appropriate allowances for MFC content) is something I aspire to. She should run in the top three in whatever the Brownlow Medal equivalent is, and here she finishes a strong second behind your inaugural champion Daisy Pearce.

Congratulations Daisy! Over to her #1 fan for comment:

26 - Daisy Pearce
22 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Alyssa Mifsud, Cat Phillips
4 - Laura Duryea, Katherine Smith
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Deanna Berry

Looking forward to introducing a Rookie of the Year competition next year, and there's no doubt that one day we'll retrospectively be awarding Duryea/Smith and Lauren Pearce the Defender and Ruck Of The Year awards. But not now.

Next Week
We'll know tomorrow whether it's off to a Grand Final or Mad Monday. That will determine whether Tuesday is spent taking the day off to do an in-depth study of the Lions or nursing a killer hangover. It's difficult to turn end of season celebrations into an all-out drunken chunderfest when your entire team are semi-professionals who have to return to their real job the next day but we hope they'll find a way. At least you can be reasonably sure that none of the players are going to pull off a Terlich/Georgiou-esque costume disgrace.

I used to work with a woman who played high standard local footy in the early 2000s, and once after losing a grand final her team arrived at a pub to drown their sorrows only to find the premiers having their celebration there at the same time. It ended with both sides beating the pish out of each other, and if we can get a bit of that happening with Carlton, Collingwood, Footscray or all three on Monday then this game will truly have achieved equality.

Assuming the Crows do as expected and beat the Pies our players will disperse and reconvene later in the year. When they go back to their normal club are they still going to be playing with the condescending "we did a scientific survey and discovered women have smaller hands" reduced sized ball, or will it be back to the standard size? That's going to give elite players the shits. And what of the basketballers, soccer players and frisbeeists who we signed not having played for a club before AFLW? Do they carry on playing footy on godforsaken suburban grounds covered in dog turds and broken glass or return to more traditional pursuits then come back for some more AFLW at the end of the year?

If the good times keep rolling and it's off to Brisbane for the Grand Final then I presume they'll clog up the space 0-30m from goal and we'll lost after kicking 1.10.16. I assume the league is going to take the piss out of everyone and make it the curtain raiser to the Gold Coast/Brisbane game at Metricon Stadium, which would be a great result for me considering I'm on full obsessive alert for the men on Saturday and unavailable during the day on Sunday. Not going to be an issue is it?

Final Thoughts
That's two GWS wooden spoon seasons where we've been their only victim. At least this time we might make it for it with a flag.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Peekaboo I.C.U

NB: Two days later I realised that we were actually level with Adelaide on points, not four behind. So ignore that bit.

With our grand final hopes hanging by the barest thread and a side whose heads had dropped after bashing GWS' brains out but being beaten on the counter-attack I expected the Crows would clean us up relatively easily. At quarter time when we were 13 points down, only had one inside 50 and no score that looked like it would come to pass comfortably.

It didn't feel right playing a game in the Northern Territory without our fans complaining and somebody forking over a massive cheque to us. In this case it wasn't even our home game as Adelaide includes the Northern Territory in their zone. Let's just assume we finish third next week, at least we can be sour and complain that we had to split Victoria four ways while Brisbane had access to an entire state and Adelaide to a state and a territory. If nothing else, for the first time since the 1993 Reserves saluted we'll be the best side in Victoria at something positive.

What I like about the Crows, and this remains relevant even after they went missing for most of the last three quarters, is that half their side look like members of an outlaw bikie gang. That's the sort of footballers I came to appreciate over our decade of deepression. In 2006 I still had fancy high ideals about us winning with a side of clean-cut VCE high achievers, and by the end was happy to recruit Carlos The Jackal if it got us ahead. On the other hand barely any of our side - even Cranston who should instead be overturning barricades at anti-globalisation protests under a haze of tear gas - look like they'd be happy shanking somebody in the shower block. There's a recruiting market to target in the off-season.

At first they had our measure, the combination of good players that had carried them to five wins to open the season and the thumpers scared us out of it. For all the good signs we showed over the first five weeks there were times where we looked so unlikely to score that you wouldn't be surprised if we became the first team to end a game without a goal. With the Crows still in reasonable form despite their loss a week earlier this looked like our time. At least unlike the GWS and Brisbane games we couldn't go home disappointed at spurning dozens of opportunities if we didn't have any to start with.

Inside 50s are a ridiculously misleading stat in this competition given how few players can kick that far, inside 30s would be far more interesting reading. Until the second quarter you could have dragged it out to inside 75s and we'd have still been in single figures. Other than conceding our traditional goal from unnecessary ill-discipline, the defence were the only group holding us together by quarter time. Given that in almost every other game this year we've been the ones doing all the attacking - usually fruitlessly - it was a rare opportunity for the defence to get some air-time. Two goals notwithstanding they did well - Katherine Smith and her Rapunzel style hair had their best game yet, Laura Duryea continued to impress and Mia-Rae Clifford might not get many touches but is rock solid one-on-one. We didn't have much trouble getting the ball out of 50, it was the next kick across halfway that usually did us in.

The stat of the first quarter had nothing to do with footy, it was the one about the Adelaide player who was one of 18 children. It's not completely unheard of, if they were American somebody would make a reality show about it, but I was wondering if it might have been a fun fact disaster by the commentator and they were actually supposed to say 'eight children'. Like a game earlier this year when they confidently told us one of the players was an electrician, then had to come back a minute later and admit she wasn't. Either way I feel like we should send her mum some flowers for being such a trooper - I've got no bloody idea how to manage one. In a great milestone in our family Junior wandered in yesterday wearing the 2014 member's scarf and the junior beanie I forced onto her head the day she was born.

Considering our attack had done a 180° turn from the GWS game, albeit with similar end results, the most exciting aspect of the first quarter from my perspective was the murderous shirtfront by one of their Wentworth Detention Centre style bruisers. It was thrilling, and sure you can't go around sanctioning that sort of stuff etc... etc... but I was secretly happy that we didn't get a knee-jerk reaction free for it. Based on the umpires practically making things up as they went along for the rest of the game I'm not sure the Crows player would have been penalised if she'd cracked her opponent over the back with a length of wood.

After two goals in five quarters of toil and struggle since three-quarter time of the Carlton game, the second quarter was ripped open in the first 10 seconds. Forget trying to carefully craft a goal, we just whacked it forward from the first bounce for Deanna Berry to run on to and kick the first goal. If we'd maintained that sort of 50% attacking strike rate against GWS we've have won by 233. That caused the Crows to wobble, but it didn't translate to more goals. After 10 minutes of flubbing golden opportunities the Crows went down the other end and ran onto a loose ball to cancel Berry's goal out.

For once we cancelled out an opposition goal almost immediately, with Daisy Pearce finally allowing that kid from the Chemist Warehouse ad to show his face in public again by kicking her first of the season. Now to work on saving the reputation of the lady in the other Chemist Warehouse ad who does an overtly erotic dance routine on a local bus. Daisy's goal came at an opportune time, if we'd gone to half time two goals two or god forbid conceded another it would have been curtains. This left our wafer-thin chances of a Mighty Ducks Light run into the Grand Final alive. There should have been more, Mifsud was so surprised to have a perfect lead supported by an equally good kick that she dropped a simple chest mark well within her range. Nevertheless we were still up to our necks in it, which is usually as good as you can ask for with this team.

If we were going to come good at any point it would be the third quarter, on the limited historical data available that's our time to shine. After today we're 12.10 to 3.5 in front in that time. Not only have we dramatically outscored the opposition - we're -38 points over the other three quarters - but that's roughly 44% of all our scores. The party continued here, with two goals to no score grabbing back the lead. Mifsud got the first, making up for her dropped mark by kicking a lovely rolling snap around the corner under pressure. Once again domination meant next to nothing, continually thumping the door down but being unable to convert against an opposition all but inviting us to get it over with and kick a goal so the ball could go back to the middle.

It took until the last couple of minutes before a Crows defender went to water in spectacular fashion after getting in trouble trying to play on quickly, she plonked it straight on an opponent like Cale Morton on Queen's Birthday 2012. Shelley Scott - whose fun fact about being a dairy farmer from Colac is almost more popular than Cat Phillips' pace - looked around as if to say "did that really happen" and run in kick an easy goal. This no longer in any way resembled the first quarter. I thought it might have been touched, but the defender showed no interest so there was no need to go to then non-existent video replay.

Never mind that we'd spent a quarter and a half thumping the Crows everywhere but the scoreboard, the margin was still only eight and still vulnerable to one lucky Adelaide attack. Then enter Aliesha Newman and her magic sidestep:
Another goal right after that left the Crows needing three goals in the last 90 seconds, and that should have been the end of them. We blew a few good opportunities to waste time and protect the 14 point margin, but as this league hasn't yet been infested by cynical gamesmanship we didn't take it. Which is a shame, because we could have done with some cheating. They probably thought there was no need, what are the chances of a team kicking multiple goals in a row in this competition? Err, next question please.

The first wasn't all that concerning, unless of course you were hanging on the live ladder to work out how far we were away from the grand final, but when Tex Perkins showed up for almost the first time in a month to snap around the corner with only her second kick for the night and the margin was back under a goal the farce whistle was blowing at a frequency that only Melbourne fans can hear. I dare say we didn't expect the first or the second, because Lauren Pearce was left relaxing on the bench after a job well done while Harriet Cordner - who had all of one hitout before tonight - was left at the crucial bounce. It was reminiscent of that breakthrough win in South Australia in 2014 when the Crows were mowing us down and an interchange fiasco left Jamar sitting down for the do or die centre contest. Even after we won a second bounce Lauren was nowhere to be seen and the Crows went forward again.

Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome is gender transferable, so at this point who wasn't expecting an arsehole of a bounce a'la Toumpas vs St Kilda to put us away? We held on by two points, now all we have to do is pick up roughly 10 goals on Adelaide next week. So, good time for us to start converting some scoring opportunities. If there's any hope of sneaking past them and onto a plane to Brisbane for the decider it rests on first us beating Fremantle handily, but also Collingwood toppling the Crows. The only

It won't happen, but I'm sure like me the frustrations of following any team representing the MFC have thoroughly warmed you up for the main event in a couple of weeks. By the time we're losing to Carlton in Round 2 you'll be pining for these carefree, naive days.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Katherine Smith
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Laura Duryea
1 - Elise O'Dea

Apologies to Clifford, Hickey, Mithen, Newman, Lampard, Grierson, Scott and Kemp.

And then there were two. The first award to be handed out this season was a three-way tie, so why not a share here? What I can assure is it that if there is a draw it'll be after a rigorous process, not just deliberately rorting the figures to engineer a feelgood tie.

23 - Daisy Pearce
22 - Karen Paxman
13 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
7 - Alyssa Mifsud
5 - Cat Phillips
4 - Laura Duryea, Katherine Smith
2 - Lauren Pearce

Another triumph for our fancy iSelect banners. Roll on the men's season, where the opposition put in some sort of effort.
Double points to the Dee Army for going to Perth on Thursday night, then coming home the long way via Darwin to represent the club here. I'd give them all medals. Dees 6-1.

Final Thoughts
If Fremantle hadn't just won their first game of the year you'd almost be convinced that we'd lose. Back on home turf - Casey Fields anyway - they shouldn't pose too many problems but you never know. At least it's all in our hands. The last time I said that we were playing Carlton in Round 22, 2016 to keep our finals hopes alive and we all know how well that went.

Friday, 10 March 2017

A gentle reminder

When it comes to time zones it's Australian Eastern Standard and variants or nothing for me, so you can understand how distressed I was to discover that the 5.40pm start time was really 8.40pm to us. In another win for my worst pre-season since 2007 I only then realised the game was on Thursday night, and not Friday like I'd first thought. The unsociable working hours that allowed me to be home for an AFLW game at 5.05pm last week came back to haunt me, with the game starting at roughly the time I'd have to go to bed to get a full eight hours sleep.

All the early evening timeslot did (other than providing West Coast fans the opportunity to stay away in droves to the point where it might as well have been played at Leederville Oval) was to make the first quarter a confusing ordeal for players who were forced to shield their eyes from the sun. Playing in WA with a 'feature' most often associated with Docklands? It's a wonder we didn't just forfeit. Then there was the patchy mid 80s MCG style turf that you expected to lift up and reveal a beach volleyball court underneath. Our recent history in Perth is the only thing more miserable than the atmosphere at the Adele concert that caused the trouble in the first place.

Since 2004 we've played Subiaco as a fringe finals contender, an outside premiership chance, a rapidly degenerating shambles, a side that should have been refused entry to the arena and various levels of mediocrity in between and we've never been good there under any circumstances, so there wasn't much to be gained here win, lose or draw. As long as we could avoid a soul-crushing defeat which would cause half the squad to fall out with the other the result was inconsequential. Which is of course what you say after a defeat. Had we won comfortably I'd have been down at Aussie Disposals buying a sleeping bag in which to queue for finals tickets.

For now we'll just have to console ourselves by making it through the pre-season games without serious injuries and the fact that nobody got rubbed out for Round 1 with misplaced biff. I was also hoping for the unnecessarily controversial Jack Watts to lift his jumper and reveal a "fuck the media" t-shirt underneath, but that's too much to ask for. The most defiant he got was a cracking tackle in the first quarter, which would have been a great time for some Jakovich style "up yours" but he remained calm. Which is probably for the best because you would charitably describe the rest of the game as 'working his way into the season'.

We lost, but there's no need to introduce head to oven and fumble around for Gas Mark 8 just yet. What's happened over the last three games has strengthened what I thought before they started, we're going to be better than last year but it won't be a quantum leap forward. Last night looked a lot like all the games we played against mid-range or better sides where everything worked well until the other side got the ball, then party time broke out while our team looked for the lifeboats.

Like at least half a dozen games last year we steamed out of the first bounce but couldn't properly take advantage. There were minor delays at the first bounce, where for once a Matrix style handball by Oliver failed to hit the target and instead landed straight in the hands of an opponent. It was one of the few things he did wrong in a dominant first half that seemed to indicate that if his fitness levels improve he could be the best of all our mids. Once that initial attack was defused, and we handled it relatively easy because all our defenders were in place instead of 50 metres up the ground and having to run back into whatever the hell a zone does, we took over in an un-Melbourne at Subiaco-like way. The tide must be turning, if anything it was like our last start there where we troubled them in the first quarter but couldn't go on with it.

The initial spell of pressure got an assist from a few loopy decisions. There's never been better evidence that umpires are influenced by pressure from the Subiaco crowd, the moment they were removed from the occasion we started to get a good run - like Neal-Bullen being done all ends up for holding the ball before getting the cheap free for having his back leant on. If we're going to move heaven and earth to change the rules to satisfy broadcasters and wankers what about altering the laws here while you're at it - if you tackle somebody for holding the ball and lean on their back or have a hand slip high then it doesn't stop the tackler from being paid the free. If you plow somebody into the turf or slap them around the mush fair enough, but while we persist with dinky frees for incidental contact like you can have 16 a side, zones or the Great Moscow Circus juggling with polar bears on the 50 metre line and it's not going to help enhance 'spectacle'. And because mocking it is my favourite subject in 2017, more on 'spectacle' later.

It wasn't all freebies from the umpires, before we began to wilt in the heat there were a few moments of lovely play. Like Brayshaw marking a one-on-one at the top of the square like he was a forward, or Melksham realising that he'd been set up with a hospital handball and instinctively whacking the footy out of mid-air towards a teammate instead of taking it and being instantly buried. There was also a big Spencil mark inside 50 that didn't come to anything but still caused a stirring in my loins. The problem was there were few four quarter performers, players flitted in and out for little bits but nobody had a full game in them. Maybe they just didn't care and were all trying to get to the finish line uninjured, I can dig that. Better that we lost a casual kickaround than Hunt being carried off deep in the last quarter with Gawn's thigh bone sticking through his chest.

To make sure nobody was prematurely excited by the pre-season, our now famous 10 minutes of belting a side at the start of the game for little reward was turned into two Eagles goals in a row where they bounded inside 50 unchallenged to find multiple players standing on their own and all our defenders trotting back from the wing. That's the side I remember from last year, much improved with the ball in hand but often dazed and/or confused when the ball was turned over.

It was a standard MFC in Perth first quarter, the sort that makes you think that if absolutely everything went our way we might win but it never does. A nine point deficit it certainly well under our average deficit at the first break there. It was almost more, the returning Dom Tyson was as rusty as you'd expect somebody who suffered a knee injury in December to be and he tried to run the clock down in the last few seconds by kicking across the face of goal only to land it in the arms of the two time reigning Coleman Medallist. That's what you get when players are too shitscared to just thump it down the line in case they're pinged for deliberate. By Round 5 the 'focus' on deliberate will have gone away and you'll be able to roost for the line with impunity again.

We were still very much in the game, but it was so far so much like 2016 - some fancy ball movement from defence but an elastic defence and grim struggles to connect with the last kick inside 50. What I did like, and sue me for it, was Jake Melksham across half back. He wasn't being asked to do much other than mop up shit attacks, but we've had plenty of players over the years who have had all the time in the world to dispose of the ball in those circumstances and stuffed it up. I'm sure somebody will write in with a list of examples of things he didn't wrong but you wouldn't be a Melbourne defender if you weren't prone to the odd gaffe. He all but disappeared after the first quarter, but we could do - and have done - worse.

The second quarter was almost even with four goals apiece, but what it offered that the first - and indeed all of 2016 - didn't was The Spencil marking inside 50 and confidently slotting the set shot. The run up was still unconventional, but whack straight through it went with no questions asked. I'm in no way expecting him to kick three every week, but if he can even get one a game and slaughter a few packs (for what that's worth when there's no crumb left) while giving Gawn a hand in the ruck. There's some question about whether playing him in Round 1 will be wise considering St Kilda are gearing up for another Etihad Stadium slingshot extravaganza but you'd have to be a hard hearted BASTARD to deny that he's been really good this pre-season. The first game might not be his go, especially with Watts returning, but he'll definitely get an opportunity somewhere this year.

Meanwhile, I've tried to get over some shocking lookalikes in my time but this is dead on:
and you know what they say...

With the result basically irrelevant - though while we were still up to our necks in it I wasn't completely dismissing the benefits of a win - the best thing in the first half was watching Oliver rack up touches and tackles at will. He has now officially surpassed Big Red from That 70s Show as my favourite ginger. His fitness is in question so I wasn't surprised when he wilted in the heat as the game went on, but watch out if he builds his tank.

I don't rate the Eagles as much better than us, so sticking with them but not quite managing to get in front at half time was good enough for me considering our dreadful record in the west. There were still issues - the loose defence, no crumb and a ludicrously underdone Tyson flubbing everything he went near. The first terrifies me, the second hinges on Garlett and Kent recovering, and the last will come good with time. And soon Subiaco will be turned into a housing development with street names like Phil Read Boulevard and Andy Lovell Way, so we've got that going for us too.

By the time we're ready to lose the first of our five consecutive grand finals to GWS we'll have an entirely new Perth stadium to contend with. Are the dimensions going to be the same? Because we sure have troubles coming to grips with the incumbent. After half time the Eagles trotted away merrily, while just like our last visit to the ground we burnt shitloads of inside 50s on hit 'n hope kicks to the top of the square that were easily turned back. It's just not an MFC visit to the west without dozens of attacks hopelessly dying 0 to 30 metres out. We might have tried something new and kicked to somebody 40 metres out, but the Eagles were having none of that.

It took The Spencil of all people to gather a loose ball and kick through an open goal from distance to reinvigorate us after the Eagles had walked all over us in the opening minutes of the third. It was a neat finish just when you expected his kick to spray all over the place like an out of control fire hose, but the goal was pure Angus Brayshaw. I'm not convinced he's 100% match fit and battle hardened yet, but he's shown some really good signs over the pre-season. This time he battled two Eagles to win a loose ball, followed through to get involved in the next contest and set up Harmes to tap it into Spencer's path.

We weren't just bamboozled by the unusual dimensions of Subiaco in the forward line, but in defence too. After a reasonably shambles free night we chucked the game with some more insane attempts at switching the ball across the goal. Tyson's blunder at the end of the first quarter was the worst pre-season kick against goal since Viney lost us the game against Essendon B but by the third quarter everyone was trying to join in. The other thing this game had in common with Essendon 2015 was that we named a player and didn't use them, but at least when Jordie McKenzie was asked to trot about in a green vest for four quarters and have 0% game time he could get in his car and drive home, Jack Trengove was carted to the other side of the continent only to occupy the bench for four quarters. By the end I'd have been happy for him just to play the last five minutes and ensure that Gawn and Hogan were free to sit in the dugout ensuring they didn't get hurt. Couldn't even get that, hope he enjoyed going on a six hour round trip for no bloody reason.

By the time the Eagles were gifted a goal from a ripper of a deliberate decision where our guy tried to handball to a teammate and missed him I'd already lost interest and was pondering where I should give up and go to bed. But I couldn't, I had to stay until the final siren to make sure I didn't wake up to Jack Viney having fallen down a sinkhole in the back pocket. But given that I can't even remember what player it was I think you can see how my commitment to the contest was going.

Like last pre-season 2016 the increasingly harsh interpretation of deliberate proved a talking point, and not in a good way. Here's a conspiracy theory to go alongside vaccinating your kids causing them to grow flippers, every time the AFL can create an argument about whether an OOB was deliberate or not it's one step closer to them achieving their dream of a last touch 'frees for all' policy. It'll be sold as "removing doubt", only for us to enjoy a shitload of doubt from the first game where it's implemented. For instance when Drew Petrie stuck a giant mitt out spoil a ball straight out of a bounds is he going to get pinched for that as well? If you're that desperate to raise scoring bring back the rushed behind. Maybe it's because I'm getting old and discovering that I've got lots of better things to do than care what happens when Port Adelaide play Gold Coast in Tiananmen Square but I'm over this sport - it's still not all that bad, but the ongoing misery about how terrible every aspect of it down to the time of the grand final has affected my enjoyment of the industry as a whole. Any chance of a 'press red for no speculation about the rules' button? 17 over teams can get stuffed, just give me 22 MFC games, disgust me with a GWS flag and I'll see what else I can fit in between now and the first week of October.

Err, anyway. Collusion by league authorities is the only explanation for some of the deliberates. Like one on Melksham in the first quarter that offered absolutely nothing. They do the sensible thing and suggest not giving free goals for deliberately rushed behinds, then start handing out practically free ones for deliberate out on the full. What about Sharod Wellingham - who never seems to have any luck against us - stubbing his toe trying to boot a loose ball up-field and watching it skew off at an obtuse angle before being pinged. It's the exact sort of scenario that will lead to media puppets with the league's hand up their arse like Sooty agreeing that we may as well just give frees against everyone to "remove confusion". Last night there was a mention of it being "the way the game is going", which is a ridiculous way to justify it. It's not a natural phenomenon like the melting of the polar ice caps, you can decide not to be tight in adjudicating it.

We didn't need the Australian Spectacle League's overly enthusiastic interpretations to put us away, we were quite capable of doing that ourselves. While forward thrusts continued to die a terrible death the Eagles were going down the other way whacking through goals with gleeful abandon. It was still not worth getting upset about, call me when the Saints are kicking 10 goals from the square and Riewoldt is manhandling somebody half his size and then I'll properly crack the shits.

All was not entirely lost, somehow after Jayden Hunt broke the sound barrier while sprinting to heave through a rare nine point goal we were only 11 behind with 15 minutes left. The problem was exactly like our last start at Subi - except that we kicked a goal in the last quarter this time - once we got within range we could have played for hours and not kicked enough goals to win. By the time Oscar McDonald suffered a horror flashback to his debut game on the same ground and handballed straight up in the air to gift them the sealer I'd come to terms with defeat. It wasn't a great night for the younger Sizzle brother, and for all the shit Senior gets for his contractually obligated botched kick of the week we're dead if he goes down and leaves us with Garland/Junior vs massive forwards. I suppose we couldn't leave Dunn hanging around in the 2s all year just in case but I'd feel a lot more comfortable if we had another proven performer in the tank.

All in all a night that only existed to shepherd us through to Round 1. Like any good Melbourne-related performance the quality shepherding was relatively shithouse, but let it play out and see where it goes.

Round 1 team update - incorporating the iSelect Casualty Club
There will be collateral damage to the side that played this week as we reduce to the normal team size, leaving us with some reasonable depth. The only first choice players missing were Hibberd, Jetta and Kent and I'm not expecting to see the last two immediately.

It was also revealed during the week that the reason nobody's seen Sam Frost is that he's suffered another toe injury. First he loses the vast majority of 2015 to one, now this. There are people who have been caught in a blizzard halfway up Mt Everest who've had better luck with their extremities than him - gags about his surname on a postcard to the usual address.

Uniform Watch
It goes without saying that this is the second worst away jumper we've ever had, right behind the silver monstrosity of the wooden spoon years, but what was with some of the numbers intersecting with the red bit at the top of it and some not? If I was the kit man I'd phone in my performance when forced to handle that rubbish as well.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year (pre-season edition)
Jayden Hunt in the fourth quarter. That is all.
2017 Paul Prmyke Plate for Pre Season Performance votes
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Jake Spencer
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to Salem, Gawn, Hogan, Brayshaw and Neal-Bullen who tried his guts out but was untidy.

Well this makes a total mockery of things, with Hogan missing out the other two manage to set up a three way tie. That's the rules, and with no countback in place spare a thought for me when I have to go work all three of their photos into the Plate section of the End of Season Spectacular. Congratulations all, somebody give the Hamburglar a lift home from the after party.

9 - Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt, Clayton Oliver
7 - Max Gawn
5 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jake Melksham, Bernie Vince, Jack Viney
2 - Dion Johnstone, Nathan Jones, Jordan Lewis, Christian Salem, Jake Spencer
1 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Joel Smith

I didn't see it in person due to coming into the coverage at the very last minute before the first bounce, but the good news is that at the third opportunity for 2017 we've managed to get a banner to go up and stay there without collapsing in a pile of crepe and plastic. The good news is that for the second consecutive week we could have extended a roll of toilet paper for the players to run through and still have won because the other side didn't bother to enter. So our side carted one to the other side of continent for a pre-season game at a venue where we haven't won since 2004 and the locals were supposedly told by the club not to bother. That's the sort of attitude you can afford to take when your team usually wins. Dees 2-1.

Final Thoughts
A loss you "had to have" is an irritating cliche, but at least it calmed everyone down and focused them on Round 1 instead of going off on all sorts of flights of fancy about being a guaranteed top eight starter. Lower your expectations and you'll come out of the season much more comfortable.