Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fortress Shithole

It's hard work being the sort of mid-range obsessive who just has to be there whenever possible, and for the first time since the day Hawthorn humped us in 2015 I was forced to accept defeat due to family reasons infinitely less important than the one that kept Jesse Hogan out. After a golden run through 2016 where nothing stopped me, it was back to my nightmare scenario for the 12th time since 2007.

Like a player propping his career record up by being dropped before the team loses, I was 1-10 in those games with two hundred point losses so it didn't seem like such a bad idea to concede for once and watch from my loungeroom. Even the win came in the days where the best you could do for 'live streaming' was radio via the AFL website, meaning that today could very well have been the first Victorian win I've ever watched live on TV. Didn't like it, won't be lining up to do it again anytime soon. Until we started machine-gunning them in the third quarter I felt out of it, like I was watching a video game. The only way you knew it was real was that if a game featured as many remarkable blunders and fantastic fuck-ups the publisher would be offering refunds.

As hated as Docklands has become over the years there was something not at all right about seeing a Melbourne team playing there on TV. I suppose if there was any day to miss out it was a 40,000 crowd full of Essendon fans. I'd have been forced to sit within a few square metres of another human, and if it had been one of the Back The Boys/Kill ASADA/I would like to wear James Hird's Arabian Goggles types who then booed Hibberd there would have been at best terse words, and at worst I'd have been glasses.

To continue the theme of good things happening when you chicken out of a game, neither Dwayne, nor 'Derm' or Tony Shaw was involved in the call. Maybe they should release the roster of callers in advance so you can decide whether or not to go to the game based on the prospects of somebody yelling complete shite for four quarters. At least with Channel 7 you know when BT's coming on and can psychologically prepare for amazing tripe, Fox Footy just mysterious foists overheated lunatics on you without warning.

There was more than a hint of bitterness in my loungeroom as I treated it like an interstate game, standing over the television when I was nervous, and slumping on the couch when it all got too much for me. The only thing this scenario offers you that going to the game doesn't is the chance to over-celebrate a modest win without anyone else seeing it.

I didn't have to be perched high (as high as you get) in the stands to recognise that I'd seen the first five minutes before. Dominating the inside 50s, and looking like a world class team in every aspect other than converting opportunities into goals. Then after smashing the door down, this time for only one point, the ball goes down the other end and they kick a goal. It's like going to see a classic band, you know you're just going to get the classics every time. The difference is that when it's the Rolling Stones you want Jumping Jack Flash, while we've all had enough of battling our hearts out to kick goals and being astonished when we score more than a hundred.

With Pedersen doing a capable job in a ruck division that has a higher casualty rate than Spinal Tap's drummers, and McDonald Sr. sensibly used as a pinch-hitter at defence stoppages, Watts was free to play one of his best games. Sure his last goal came from a free so offensive that if it happened to us we'd still be complaining about it 10 years to the round later a'la J. McDonald vs Port in 2007, but that made up for half a dozen red hot shockers like Sam Frost being given a 50 for walking sideways and Clayton Oliver being done for handballing. Just to prove it could go both ways the umpires also missed a blatant throw in front of our defensive goal, but what do you expect when part timers are expected to leaf through a 4000 page manual of vague rule interpretations before every game. No wonder they just start making it up and guessing that a player has thrown it. Which is ironic considering it happened in the very same week we went for a sook to the AFL about how Oliver's handballs were being adjudicated.

Unable to make a goal in the traditional fashion, and with both teams rushing to turn the ball over to each other as quickly as possible, it took the usual surprise intervention out of nothing from Garlett to get us on the board. A lovely goal it was too, taking advantage of a pair of dud Essendon handballs (and in this game it's important to confirm which team stuffed up, because there were a few times where we did and it still led to scoring opportunities), to nip in and screw through his kick from an angle. He then proceeded to do a shit bloke nudge into the side of an opponent, which is a much more efficient way of getting under their skin than risking suspension for punching them in the head.

It was the best moment of a quarter that was laden with some of the sloppiest football ever - including gifting their second goal via Hunt handballing it straight into the hands of an opponent. Which made it appropriate to see Mark Neeld giving sage advice to John Worsfold. Given how long it was between wins against Collingwood, is this the first time we've ever beaten him as an assistant coach? What a blow to his sparkling record of masterminding Melbourne losses.

Probably the only moment of proper class started with (surprise!) a turnover, and ended with Lewis feeding Watts to casually thump through the second goal from 40 metres on the run. Near on everything else was just plain bad - including the dual decisions not to pay a 50 when the same player knocked the ball away after a free against. Remember when Jack was having a troubled off-season and getting around with hair like 2000 Eminem? And we thought - secretly in my case - that he was going to follow up his career best season with a stinker? Whatever he did it has well and truly been forgotten by now, and he's proven a very good forward option when not being used in the ruck due to the latest mysterious injury.

One of the key suspects in the early festival of dripping slurry was Tom McDonald, whose often unfairly maligned kicking was quite right to be publicly slated at first. I'll still fight anyone to argue he does more good than harm, but some of his long kicks were ridiculously optimistic. Still, I'd rather go down trying to create something than be caught in an endless loop of kicking sideways and backwards waiting forever for an opportunity then turning it over anyone. Then in the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde performance he played 15 minutes of the third quarter that might have been the best of his career. His brother was reasonably good against a barely one dimensional forward line, so if playing him and the once again impressive Frost allows McDonald to become more of an attacking weapon then I'm prepared to go along for the ride. As long as they understand that if he's roaming around the half-forward flank then we're going to get slaughtered on quick turnovers and have a Plan B ready to be ripped from the envelope at a moments' notice.

It took a while for Joe Daniher's exhibition of peg-leg kicking to warm-up properly, only offering us one missed and an out on the full early before exploding into something approaching the day Justin Longmuir kicked 0.7 for Freo. In the end the only way he got a goal was after originally playing on and missing before being helpfully dragged back to kick again by a sensitive, helpful field umpire. Conversely Christian Petracca, now on at least 1.5 legs and playing a fantastic game as a full-time forward, was converting from the boundary line and finding time to turn around and mock some humanoid on the other side of the fence as part of his celebration.

Not long after Truck's poised finish, Daniher missed three in five minutes. Other than Hogan kicking seven against St Kilda I can't even remember the last time we had a key forward take seven shots in a game, and here this guy was on 0.6 with one out on the full at quarter time. Given our luck with playing people back into form it's a surprise he didn't bob up to kick five straight in the last quarter and win the game single handedly.

If you though the first quarter was a blight on our great game (and for those of you growing up in the "footy is shit because we don't have nine awesome matches every round", let me assure you that it was no picnic in the past either), you'd have walked out by half time. The AFL website highlights sensibly choose to play down the disastrous aspects of the contest, but Fox Sports has no such qualms and helpfully packaged up one minute of football so bad it should have been taken to the tip and thrown into a landfill. In summary:

  • Garlett stormed through the middle and for reasons unknown lobbed a handball forward at the sort of height you'd expect from a kick, as if Pedersen was on a hard lead
  • Some Essendon guy who must be shit because he's in #49 intercepts, and tries a lazy pass that is spoiled in the middle of the ground
  • T. McDonald and Oliver actually manage to connect with useful handballs Bugg kicks it over Garlett's head and straight to a Bombers' defender.
  • Essendon finally manage to go forward, before Frost smothers their attempted last kick inside 50.

It was awful, especially the Bugg kick, but calling the video 'worst patch of play in 2017?' is optimistic, it's not even the worst patch of play by us and we're apparently a fringe top eight side. That might have looked worse because it involved so many players - though the Frost smother was delightful - but far worse was the goal we conceded immediately after the trifecta of Daniher Duds when Vince played on to himself, ran a couple more steps, then tried to pinpoint a pass into a nest of five opposition players. Needless to say that didn't work, and he was quite rightly left with hands on head wondering what in god's name he'd just done. He must have changed his mind at the last minute, otherwise what's the point of playing on to yourself if you're not either going to trot off or punt it as long as possible? It was the low-point of another less than stellar day for Bernard, who must be hearing the Grim Reaper rounding the corner and coming after him.

Daniher had yet another chance immediately after which could have put them in front, and this miss was the best of the lot because it came from that diabolical 50 against Frost. This bastard played on so blatantly that Sam just shuffled across a bit to cover the space, was run into, and because the umpire was so slow to call play-on he decided that Frost was in the wrong and paid the 50. Which is the sort of decision that would be on every footy talk show for the next week if it happened to a big club. It marched him to 30 metres out and he missed again. Sensible people probably poured scorn on him, I stood there thinking "he's going to kick the winning goal after the siren".

It was truly dire stuff all round, and as much as it hurt me not to be there I was starting to see the benefit of not leaving the house to watch an endless parade of disasters. Of course at this stage I was still not expecting to win, so assumed that I'd only have had to trudge home in defeat anyway. It still baffles me that we started as favourites, having only had moderately more rest than the Bombers and without two key players. The bookies knew best, Essendon were not only untidy from the start but hit the wall with a vengeance in the third quarter. By the time we joined in halfway through the last term the game was too far gone.

Appropriately in a segment at the end of the Collingwood/Geelong game (no Lynden Dunn = no Pies) called "The best stuff" they didn't manage to find a solitary thing to show from this game. There were even highlights from a match that was in progress, but nothing from us. Of course there were worthy contenders, but it felt right not to score a mention after contributing to a first half that was such a spectacular tribute to butchery that all 44 players and three field umpires should have been presented with a meat tray.

Even our kit man earned his share of the chops, half the players had numbers touching the solid line above the white, and half had them below. Sizzle Sr even seemed to have two at different levels, like Milhouse Van Houten's eyebrows:



We only played one quarter, but it was an exciting one. Eight goals to two, starting with Neal-Bullen setting up Garlett for a gift in the square, then Tom McDonald wandering forward and kicking some sort of weird close-range torp almost immediately after. The best part of the McDonald goal was not the awkward defender's finish, but the vision Oliver had to give it to him. Forget sending a video to the league of all the times he's been rorted by the umpires this year, package up his sixth sense handballs and provide a copy on DVD/Blueray/USB to every Auskick player in the country. Last week I asked if our endless supply of handballs were damaging enough, that one sure was.

This was the break we needed, and with neither Watson nor Goddard doing anything useful (except developing a bald spot in Goddard's case) we were left free to romp around unchallenged and build a match-winning lead. There were still howlers out the yin yang, but the more times you get players 40 metres in the clear of an opponent the less chance of even the most turnover prone players giving it up. Even after those two goals Essendon clung to us like an unflushable nugget, and when Daniher finally converted I thought "here we go". But then Petracca gathered a ball in tight space in front of goal and kicked it like he was Aaron Davey (according to the commentary "The Bombers fans are livid!" But how could you tell from how they normally act?) and all was seemingly ok again. Until we conceded almost immediately from the bounce.

To continue the theme of umpire bashing it was a weird day for bouncing. They'd let them off at obscure angles and wait to make sure the ruckman who'd been disadvantaged wasn't able to cover the extra ground to get to it before recalling it. So just like you can now play the system by giving up the chance and hoping somebody's pinged for deliberate, ruckmen can now be aware that there's no point trying their heart out to get to a wonky bounce because they can get a recall by standing back and doing nothing. Then there was a slightly wonky bounce that barely left the centre circle and which Pedersen got too first that they decided to re-do. I'm a traditionalist at heart but just throw the thing up. Which for no apparent reason one umpire did in the last quarter. Good for him, there should be more of it.

I'm so used to other teams putting us away in a sharp burst of violent football that it was heartening to see it go the other way for once. In the last five minutes of the third quarter we kicked four goals and the Bombers were cactus. And four set shots too - cop that complaints about our goalkicking. Don't go looking for any of these goals in the AFL website highlights, they were obviously not important enough to qualify.

I can see why they wanted to cover up the last one. Confirmation that the umpires were on the piss came just at the right time for us, when right at the end of the quarter - in the sort of time we're normally battling hard not to concede - Watts completely misjudged a leap at the ball and was given a free for some alleged infringement. We weren't anywhere near comfortable, and the Chris Sullivan Line remains elusive as it has for every game in six years except the Carnival of Hate and Gold Coast away last year, but his goal temporarily calmed my nerves.

Any fears of a shattering reverse were quickly calmed, when first Watts kicked another of the set shots that you'd put your life on the line for, then Bugg found Hannan on his own in the square to put the margin to nearly 40. Even in my dark, Round 6 1992 damaged heart I knew Essendon couldn't win from there, but it didn't stop me shitting it royally when they whipped through two quick goals .

By the time the weary Essendon player was too scared to rush a behind, and instead sliced the ball out on the full in the back pocket at near right angles the AFL had achieved their dream of players being both tired and confused. Jordan Lewis - who had earlier confirmed his place on every montage for the week by reversing into a goalpost - converted with one of the most casual set shots from an obscene angle that you'll ever see and it was very much officially over. They got a couple of consolations, before Viney capped his best game of the season by setting up Hannan's third.

The only thing that soured the last quarter, other than my blood pressure going up and down like a rollercoaster whenever they kicked a goal, was a piece of shocking acting from Vince when lightly elbowed in the head. He went down like that bloke in the 2002 World Cup, clearly thinking that the umpires had had such a 'mare that they might just pay anything. For once the confused whistleblowers did the right thing and called play-on. We deservedly conceded a goal from it.

To confirm that it is most certainly a new day, the win lifted Dom Tyson above Martin Gleeson (who looks like he's about 14-year-old, so god knows how he's managed to lose so many games) in the current player win/loss records. This means that for the first time in god only knows how long none of the top five are current Melbourne players. We've still got six of the top 20, plus the SME and Jeremy Howe but Martin has now played more for Brisbane than us so it's their fault more than ours.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
This was difficult due to a wide range of contenders. A number of worthy players have missed out on the lower numbers, but that's the way it goes. No doubt some of them will make up for it by scoring default votes in a game where we play like shite.

5 - Jack Watts
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Clayton Oliver
1 - Jordan Lewis

Apologies to T. McDonald after the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde game, Salem, Frost, Jones, Hibberd, Pedersen, Tyson, Garlett and Hannan.

Leaderboard
The competition favourite is on the board, but with Oliver continuing his Donny Brasco style tour of inside work Viney only slices a vote off the lead and still finds himself with plenty to do in the final 16 games (plus finals? Jesus, let's not get too excited we were about to put our head in the oven last week). For now Oliver's closest rival is the ultimate utility J. Watts.

(Note: Leaderboard now updated to rightfully show Hunt as the leader in the Seecamp).

16 – Clayton Oliver
12 - Jack Watts
9 – Jeff Garlett, Jayden Hunt (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
6 – James Harmes, Neville Jetta, Nathan Jones, Christian Petracca
5 – Christian Salem
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Jack Viney
2 – Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent
1 – Sam Frost, Jesse Hogan, Jordan Lewis, Jake Spencer

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's a decent field, with Garlett's opening goal and the Petracca set shot from the boundary line both strong contenders. But even though the sting was right out of the game by the time he did it, I'm going for Jordan Lewis. Not since the 70s would a man have kicked a goal from that sort of angle with so little fuss. No running around, no theatrics, just holding the ball on an angle and casually stroking it through like he was sinking a two foot putt.

Watts vs Geelong still leads the overall competition, but for Jordan's weekly prize is an all-expenses paid breakfast with the person who puts the highlights together so he can understand why in god's name this kick didn't make it either.


Essendon's Daniher focused banner was well designed, and obviously provoked the Bombers into kicking like they were 50-year-old men so that was nice. But ours not only had the obligatory giant picture of the milestone man, but in one of the nicest touches seen on a banner in recorded history we had this from Nifty's kid. Stick your comedy routines up your arse, (though I did like St Kilda's one pre-taunting Hawthorn about giving up their first round pick) this is the good stuff. Dees 5-1-0 for the season

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Here&#39;s a special message on our banner today for <a href="https://twitter.com/melbournefc">@melbournefc</a> from Nalani Jetta <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/goDemons?src=hash">#goDemons</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/raisehell?src=hash">#raisehell</a> <a href="https://t.co/m6x9sNZTZI">pic.twitter.com/m6x9sNZTZI</a></p>&mdash; Demon Army (@DeeArmy) <a href="https://twitter.com/DeeArmy/status/858523183854403584">April 30, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Next Week
Speaking of Hawthorn, rapidly plummeting towards handing St Kilda the #1 pick, they get their chance to return to the MCG and start making amends next Sunday afternoon. The way we're travelling there we might try to get it transferred to Docklands. For all the Hawks fans that will turn up now that the rush is gone they could apply to hold it at Glenferrie Oval.

Now even with our injury issues, surely on a full week rest we're going to win. I'm not going in expecting to condemn them to another 80 point loss (because that was lies madness) but I refuse to accept that their rag tag bunch of survivors are going to climb off the life raft and topple us - especially if Hogan returns. Of course, nobody plays a side back into form better than us so stored tinned cans of food in your secure underground bunker just in case.

The two hyphens are a given, Neal-Bullen couldn't even get the ball to butcher it effectively this week and Kennedy-Harris has failed two chances to impress in the ones. Back to the windswept tundra of Casey Fields to see if they can get the ex-Scorpions a win already. Not even concerned that my ins don't balance with the outs - there are coaches paid a fortune to work this stuff out.

IN: Kent, Stretch
OUT: Kennedy-Harris, Neal-Bullen (omit)
LUCKY: Melksham, Vince
UNLUCKY: Trengove (racking them up by the dozen in the VFL, and should get a go eventually. But not here), Kennedy, Harmes

Final thoughts
The building blocks are definitely there. The rational part of my brain says that even with off-field drama and surprises losses to Freo this list is doing enough to keep it respectable this year and hopefully lure the extra players we need to have a proper, unencumbered bash at the eight or better next year. Doesn't take much to shake my faith though, by this time next week I might be back to wallowing in self-pity and declaring that the end is nigh. Such is life as a Melbourne fan. At least we're in the eight after six weeks for the first time since Ivor Warne-Smith.

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