Sunday, 9 April 2017

Kicking into danger

It was all going so well at our old nemesis - a winning streak, a closed roof just as the weather was going troppo, more manual ticket scanning so you weren't stuck behind some dickhead who couldn't read instructions, and even an aroma from their Kaiser rip-off gourmet snag bar so appealing that I was lured into dropping $11.70 on a kransky. Then the footy started.

There was no problem in the first five minutes, in fact we were quite good. Then a lot like St Kilda 2016 x2 the walls caved in after we stopped fruitlessly attacking and gave the other team a go with the ball. Our early domination came to nothing more than two behinds, one by Garlett from a zany angle that barely scraped the post, and the other featuring Anal-Bullet starting the day's big storyline by missing a complete sitter.

Even at this point, with Gawn dominant in the ruck (if not around the ground) and the ball pinging towards our goal at a rapid rate, I still didn't think we were going to win. Although we've toppled both of them recently I still never do at Etihad or against Geelong. The rarefied air of 2-0 wasn't fooling me, even as Richmond were confounding expectations across town by winning their third game in a row I knew we were mid-table fodder at best and would have been satisfied getting out of this with a battling loss to set us up for Freo next week then the dual bubble bursters against the Tigers and Essendon after that. Like every other time I've gone in thinking I'd be ok with a competitive performance and we've nearly won I threw all that "just happy to be alive" shit out the window when it started to look like we might, then left in a foul mood when we didn't.

My nerves about being exposed as frauds are still so raw that I was even punting Richmond home against West Coast, with the theory that the better they go now the less it will hurt when they finally beat us in the Anzac Day eve game. I thought mid-table mediocrity would be a fun place to be, but it's even more stressful than being flat-out shit. I thought being mediocre it would at least be profitable, but tell that to the poor bastard trying to sell the ad space on the back of our jumper. When our five minute bubble was popped with three goals in a row I had visions of a dozen prior debacles against the Cats and started to expect we'd be thrashed. Precisely the same thing happened against St Kilda, but they are no Geelong - the club that turned a steeplechaser into a best and fairest while we were busy massacring the career of multiple top five draftees.

The problem with a smaller forward line, especially with the Weid nearly anonymous and Watts bouncing from end-to-end trying to keep us afloat once Maximum went down, is that you can't rely on the old thump and hope methods that work when you've got leviathans like Hogan and Gawn wandering around inside 50. It took a while for anyone to realise this, and they kept kicking into attack as if they expected Garlett or Kent to climb over a pack like Shaun Smith and haul in the mark of the 21st century. With no properly constructed goals on the agenda it took Petracca expertly snapping around the corner to get us on the board, and we'd have gone a lot better after this if everyone had treated their set shots the same way and kicked them on the run through a crowd.

Even though a loose first kick set up Geelong's second goal I enjoyed Tim Smith's game, especially discovering that he was the next cab off the rank for emergency ruckmen when Watts needed a rest, and though he didn't tear the house down he's definitely gone ahead of Weideman for now. As much as I loved that goal against St Kilda when the ball burst off Sam's foot like a Scud missile he needs to do what Smith has been doing for years and toil for form on some slagheap VFL grounds. There will be a school of thought that you play him next week so he can fill his boots against a shit team, but that way lies madness. Even with Hogan unable to manhandle Zac Dawson again due to a sooky punch I wouldn't risk him. Pedersen and Spencer are the no frills faction but both will at least get near the ball, and if Weideman is able to locate where the VFL has gone this year he should be able to get his development moving with a few full games as the focal point for Casey.

The best bit about Smith was how he pumped through a set shot with no fuss, which is more than you can say for almost everyone else. My favourite part was how Jetta and T. McDonald were taking their defensive responsibilities so seriously that they didn't leg it down the ground to jump all over him in celebration. I'm sure he knows they care without having to be manfully patted on the buttocks. The way our defensive structures were going they probably didn't want to get too far up the ground in case they got lost.

Other than a couple of their traditional howlers our defenders were good with ball in hand, but like the Saints, Dogs and god knows how many other games last year did a convincing Burke and Wills impression whenever the ball was turned over or came towards goal quickly. While we were torching half a dozen opportunities in the third quarter Geelong had more chances than that to stream forward quickly and find so many men waving their hands in the air that it looked like the aftermath of a maritime disaster. All that saved us was that they compensated for their deadeye goalkicking by burning an endless stream of free players inside 50 with horrible field kicks.

My key finding was that we'll do fantastically against teams that don't have good forward lines - though we played one last week and barely fell over the line so perhaps it's more accurate to say we'll do very badly against teams with good forward lines. Especially ones that can move the ball quickly out of defence and find us out of position, with multiple players running towards goal and one small defender to guard them.

Like St Kilda all over again we recovered from a disappointing first quarter by immediately romping back into the game at the start of the second. Two straight goals cut the margin to a couple of points, but unfortunately there was no bulldozer rampage on the cards this time, and a clever tap-on in the Cats' forward line set up Dangerfield - as relatively well held as you can be when you have 35 touches - to waltz into an open goal and restore control. The re-introduction of the tap-on has been a joy this season, the problem is that our foremost practitioner of the art is Melksham and he's at the other end of the field. Still, he did a couple of rippers yesterday amongst probably his best game with ball in hand (or bouncing off the hand towards a teammate) yet. Without ball in hand he was like all our other defenders - trapped in an alternate universe well away from dozens of Geelong players launching a human wave attack on goal.

We might have recovered from that goal to keep the momentum up, especially considering our fierce forward pressure was scaring the shit out of Geelong's defence, but despite having them under siege across the field couldn't convert a set shot if our lives depended on it. Smith followed his perfect strike from a difficult angle by missing a sitter, but so did practically everybody else.

We've been through this before, but for those of you who are just joining in 2017 let me reissue my theory on missed goalkicking. You cannot assign one miss to another and build them up as a case that if a team kicked (lots of goals instead of lots of points) rather than (lots of points instead of lots of goals) the result would have been different - because once the first kick that should have been converted was, then the game would have played out differently and the conditions that allowed the team to have the next behind (and the next one, and the next one, and in our case this time the next one after that) wouldn't exist. Garlett getting the first goal might have propelled us to kicking 20 straight or not scoring again and losing 1.0.6 to 35.30.240 - it is needlessly simplistic to say that we'd have won if we'd kicked 19.13 or even 14.18. The worst you can do from a missed shot is lose 11 points, the extra five you'd have got from kicking it and any immediate end-to-end goal by the opposition.

Raw and joyless statistical analysis aside we necked ourselves big time with the ludicrously bad goalkicking. There were times where one straight kick would have had untold morale boosting benefits and we flubbed it. Times when Geelong were visibly wobbling under a ferocious amount of forward pressure and one more goal might have tipped the game in our favour, but they were given an out and went down the other end to exploit a defence that was ok in one-on-one contests and decent with ball in hand but were more often than not trapped dangerously out of the position against fast breaks.

The three quarters of missing sitters made everyone forget about how we were being ransacked by the umpires, and that both holding and dropping the ball had seemingly abolished from the laws of the game, but that's how the Wheel of Decisions goes. Last week it was Carlton fans howling as we got a spectacular run of dud calls, now the leveller. Of course when the Cats got robbed blind once in the third quarter their fans nearly tore chairs from their sockets and tearfully hurled them at the field. It's frustrating, but impires don't cause a backline to crack like an egg and leave Neville Jetta and Tom Hawkins in a marking contest with acres of space in front of goal. Once we've sorted out a sponsor for the back of the jumper we should get somebody to pay to be associated with all the times the zone dies in the arse and Nifty is left desperately trying to spoil a much bigger player. Prozac would be good.

If I may continue on the rules - for a second week in a row after complaining about the focus of the AFL always being on the rules rather than the play - does the advantage rule give anyone else the shits? In a normal situation where the free is played while a player has the ball in hand or it's right in front of him there's no problem with it, but what about when the ball bounces several metres forward as the free is being payed and somebody's allowed to just scoop it up and take off? Anything to keep the ball moving apparently, no matter how unfair it is to the team on the end of it. Let's talk again when one goes in our favour and we can agree what a great rule it is.

Of course after we missed two in a row they went down the other end and found Hawkins to make no mistake. Fancy having a big focal point in front of goal rather than sitting in the stands for two weeks. He is the man all Kingsleys aspire to be - somebody who saves their best for Melbourne every time but has also gone on to kick 400 goals and win three premierships. It helped that he was left with Melksham half defending him with the other closest players being Vince, Salem and Oliver. It was not the first time they took advantage of Tom McDonald being on the bench to stitch us up - if you think you're gloomy about Max being out for four weeks imagine what will happen to us if Sizzle goes as well. For all the ridiculous panic about his occasional wonky kicks we'd be dead without him at the moment.

It took another goal from open play to show the forwards how it was meant to be done, with a panic kick under tremendous pressure out of Geelong's defence landing in the arms of Jayden Hunt with acres of space. He looked up, pondered his options for a second, realised everyone else would miss and just plowed it through from 50 on the run instead. Like the commentator I too like Kent and Hunt. True to form we missed another pair of set shots straight after, I know we had the Cats on the rack but it was a bit ambitious to be trying to set up 10 point plays.

My favourite miss - and I can't remember who was kicking it because they all eventually blend into one - was when the Geelong player on the mark turned his back during the run up. I wait with bated breath for him to try that against a better team and be standing there facing the other way as the kicker plays-on, dashes past him and runs into an open goal.

Gawn had been playing angry all day, including provoking Selwood into a free-kick winning overreaction so violent Lindsay Thomas would have applauded, so it's no wonder his hamstring went out under the strain. When he hobbled off in visible pain I thought not only were we gone for the day, but probably the season as well. Aided by the same radio dickheads who called "Tim Salem", "Oliver McDonald" and said "I love Hunt and Kent!" going on about him clutching at his knee I was having horrible flashbacks to all the times I'd ended an off-season discussion with "... but we couldn't be as lucky with injuries as we were last year". Turns out he's only done his hammy, and while that's good news for unrestricted free agent/future life member The Spencil over the next four weeks it exposes our good fortune in getting through all of 2016 without Gawn missing a game. Watts has been a competent second ruckman since mid-last year but the idea of him doing the entire second half solo (or as it turns out, with the sort of battling but not as good cameo from Smith that Jack usually provides for Gawn) didn't seem like it would end in anything other than tragedy. As it turns out he played one of the gutsiest games of his career, but you wouldn't want him doing that every week.

Thanks to the pressure we were hanging around and annoying Geelong without ever being able to get in front. It took a bit of Watts magic to keep us withing a goal at the break. In came Jack - often accused of not showing enough effort by people who were dropped on their heads as children and the rest of us whenever we get frustrated and need an easy target - having just realised he was going to have to ruck for two quarters straight in Gawn's absence, tackling two players, bouncing it to himself like a basketball on the hardcourt Docklands surface, then summing the open goalsquare and smashing the ball through with a perfect roll from 70 metres. We weren't going to get far if it was going to take goals like that to stay in it but I won't say no to random outbursts of magic.

The third quarter was more of the same, scaring the bejesus out of the other side with lightning transition (give me a C! give me an L! give me an I! You know the rest...) and violent tackling but blowing a procession of easy shots. Watts was doing well enough in the ruck contests for an enthusiastic amateur, and put in a mighty effort around the ground as we finally got in front via 5.6 of often frustrating attempts to put the ball through the middle two sticks. At the same time Geelong couldn't miss, kicking 14.2 for the first three quarters while we were burning good opportunities left, right and centre.

The pattern of scoring speculative, fluky goals but missing sitters continued. Neal-Bullen kicked one out of mid-air to open the third quarter and put us in front, and I'll forgive Jones for missing one on the run because I'd probably forgive him for murder, but then the otherwise excellent Kent joined in the missed set shot party. Fortunately he got a dodgy free in the square not long after, and converted from a range that even a Melbourne player couldn't miss from to give us a buffer of over a goal. This complete madness was quickly brought to a halt by another Hawkins goal almost immediately after. Then Garlett missed one of his casual around the corner set shots from the boundary and Geelong bounded down the other end almost unchallenged to walk through our elastic defence and go back in front.

We pottered through several more missed opportunities, before a chain of handballs where nobody wanted to have the shot finally landed with Jetta. Like Hunt before him, he showed everyone how it was done and kicked truly. The game went up a notch as we traded goals with them, before first Kent converted a classic counter-attack goal on the run then Harmes got a set shot from MFC range (0-10 metres) to leave us 15 points up deep into the quarter. This was quite ridiculous, but as long as we could get to three quarter time with that lead intact then we'd outplayed Geelong in so many ways that we'd just have to stay fit and break even in the ruck and we'd have been every possible chance. So we conceded two goals at the 31 and 33 minute mark. After the first one we tried to stack the defence and avoid conceding, which worked about as well as you'd expect. You can throw a dozen seals into the water at Sea World, but unless you train them what to do they're just going to lie there looking stupid.

After Harmes' goal we stopped playing and suddenly it looked like everyone was out of gas and dying to get to three-quarter time. We've gone into a last quarter out on our feet before and responded - remember the second Collingwood game in 2015? - but like Carlton last week one numpty kick instantly sucked all the air out of a team and the opposition responded by cartwheeling to a surprisingly easy victory.  I do have feelings for Neal-Bullen, and maybe it's protective instinct considering he reminds of Cale Morton, but what in god's name was he thinking trying to kick backwards from 30m out to a player in the defensive square? It deserved to be chopped off and converted into a goal, and that gift was soon followed by another to really rub it in. We'd outplayed them for much of the day, but when you get right down to it there is still a massive gulf in class between the sides. At least we got 90 points closer than the last time we played, and didn't need to go to Kardinia Park to see it.

If I didn't already know it was over at the end of the third quarter those two goals put it away. They looked like a side who were going to run until the final bounce while we had a ruckman playing a heroic innings that seemed likely to end with him being carted off in an ambulance through over-exertion and half a squad with hands on their hips looking like they'd done everything they could. The real problem in the last quarter - before and after we were given an extra life by Hannan snatching a failed handball in front of goal to bring the margin back to less than two kicks - was that everyone was either too fatigued or too scared to take the game on like they had for most of the day. That's what built a 15 point lead to start with, not flat-footed kicking to stationary targets. There was still effort, there just wasn't much system to go along with it. When even Jetta was stuffing the ball down an opponent's throat inside 50 to concede a goal - probably his first fatal error of the season - you knew we were cooked.

Who knows if it would have turned out the same way with them, but Hogan and Lewis would have been handy. Recruiting Lewis was buyer beware due to his known history of gleefully thumping people (though he could have waited until his carryover ban ended in Round 5 before reoffending) but this is the second time Hogan has been rubbed out for overreacting to off the ball niggle. It didn't matter that there was barely anything to it, or that the Carlton's players 'delayed concussion' fortunately cleared up in time for him to play this week, you can't go around swatting people in the head. You're on massive money to be the focal point, best get used to people scragging you without reacting like a petulant kid every time.

With the game dead and buried Sizzle Sr clattered into the back of Selwood after a mark on the wing, and like Hogan's little jab last week there wasn't much to it but you knew it would be penalised with a 50. To rub it in they paid about 85. Tom should have made it worthwhile and added a bit more force to see if he could get his head to spontaneously erupt in blood like Mt. Krakatoa again. Of course Selwood sold it as if he'd been clubbed in the back with a baseball bat, but like that NQR bloke dressed as a glittery cat in the crowd there's nothing I can say that won't end in him pointing at a room full of premiership merchandise so go for it. We'll probably finally get into ducking and diving just as the AFL really get serious about eradicating it - like when they introduced reports for staging, and in one of the five weeks where it was actually enforced the late, lamented Lynden Dunn managed to be pinched for it. We should get that guy back on a short-term loan, he would walk into the side at the moment.

Fittingly it ended with Vince missing - this time a shot on goal, rather than any target like the rest of the day - and we got a valuable lesson in our development. Take your chances and play four quarters instead of pulling up comfortably after executing a blistering comeback. It fired me up for more though, I want to play again tomorrow. This is like stumbling through the slow, early episodes of a TV show that you're convinced is going to turn out to be great.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Jack Watts
4 - Jayden Hunt
3 - Nathan Jones
2 - Dean Kent
1 - Clayton Oliver

Maximum apologies to Billy Stretch, who was just nudged out of the last spot. Other apologies to Melksham, McDonald, Jetta and Garlett.

Leaderboard
What a many and varied collection this is so far, and still nothing for red-hot pre-season favourite Jack Viney who is suffering a Trengove-esque post co-captaincy fall from grace. Time to have him torment Fyfe for four quarters next week.

7 - Clayton Oliver
6 - Neville Jetta (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Nathan Jones
5 - Christian Salem, Jack Watts
4 - Jeff Garlett, Jayden Hunt
3 - James Harmes
2 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Dean Kent
1 - Jesse Hogan


This was a strong showing from the Cats. Unlike North they didn't spell their captain's name wrong, there was no gigantic curtain for players to cheat through, the font and kerning were of an acceptable quality and most notably in the International Year of Banner Banter they managed to do one with a rhyme that scanned properly but didn't stoop to trying to get rock bottom cheap laughs at the expense of the opposition. They even did the polite thing and rotated it so all parts of the ground could see both sides - one of them was an ad, but you've got to pay the bills somehow.

So, we commend Geelong for their strong showing but they still lose. Ours had a better font, superior kerning, and two lovely flame effects down either side. Like Nathan Jones there's a lot to be said for being solid and dependable rather than trying to be unnecessarily flashy when it's not required. Dees 3-0

Capitalism Corner
The rear of jumper saga is getting a bit ridiculous now, there's only 19 rounds to go (finals?) and the price must be dropping by the week. All you can do is put your faith in the most attractive bald head under god's green earth and expect that the result will still be lucrative and preferably long-term.

Crowd Watch
As I get older and progressively lazier I'm coming to appreciate Docklands for its convenient location, and for the roof as long as it's closed at all times no matter what the conditions outside, but one thing they will never beat the MCG for is the ability to get away from people. There were 29,000 people there - roughly 25k under absolute capacity - and yet even in the back row I had strangers surrounding me. It was one of those days where I just wanted to go to the game solo, swear openly and make a dickhead of myself in seclusion where it wouldn't offend anyone else, but even after changing sides at half-time I couldn't get away from children.

This was especially problematic in the first quarter when I greeted Vince's deliberate out of bounds with a loud "get fucked with deliberate you fucking arsehole" (not sure if towards the umpire or Vince) only to realise when I saw a bunch of heads turn in my peripheral vision that not far to the right was a family with two kids old enough to know what the f-word was and that anybody who used it in public was a shit bloke. I momentarily considered apologising, before chickening out and never looking in that direction again for the rest of the half before moving. You'd never get that in Row MM of the Ponsford for a game with less than 60,000 people - and if there are that many people there it's probably Queen's Birthday and you've got more to worry about with the opposition supporters than us.

From the back row, with only families of Geelong supporters and some crunt who was lying across multiple seats like a drunk sleeping it off in a park for company, I got a great view of hundreds of people joining in a 'Dance Off'' like they were having the time of their life. And maybe they were, who am I to judge people who are happy to cut a rug in public with the express goal of being shown on the big screen. It just makes me uncomfortable because I'm the polar opposite to these people, painfully self-conscious and not even wanting to walk down the steps to go and take a whizz because it means people seeing me go back up again. If you thought the Dees needed a psychologist - and don't let two wins in a row fool you, they still do - they've got nothing on me for crippling mental issues. Thank god for having 42 bays to myself next week - and god help us all when we not only go back to Etihad at the end of the month but have to mingle with Essendon fans.

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
You could have the Ben Holland Medal for Missed Sitter Of The Week, but for once let's concentrate on the positives. There were four very good contenders here, and despite this well written threat (sadly not constructed from letters cut out of a newspaper) I'm relegating Jetta showing the forwards how it's done to a tie for third place with Hunt's Howitzer. Besides, as The Beatles found out people torching your product (right here sports fans) is the best advertising you can get.
Second goes to ANB and his speculative thump out of mid-air - a goal the AFL highlights people don't deem worthy of qualifying for the showreel. The only thing I love more than a goal from a player just lobbing his boot at the ball and hoping for the best is crumb, and in any ordinary week this would have been a worthy winner but not when you've got this. Say hello to your clubhouse leader.
For the weekly prize Jack wins a voucher donated by a Dr Josef Heiter, giving him the right to take to any three media personalities he likes with surgical tools for 60 minutes.

Next Week
Who knows if the VFL has started yet. The Casey Scorpions Demons website can't tell me because they've posted one update since September 2016. I assume the actual competition has been cancelled, and it's been reduced to a barnstorming series of exhibition games like a low-rent Australian version of the Harlem Globetrotters featuring Dean Uthoff. I suppose it doesn't matter, practice matches are as good as the real stuff when the only goal is giving players a run in live conditions.

Next it's Freo at the MCG, for what should be on paper a violent thumping victory for us. But who's actually confident of that? I'm assuming another Carlton style battling win, or in the worst case scenario Cameron McCarthy and Shane Kersten launching a joint bid to become a Kingsley by sharing 13 goals. It's better for us that they beat the Bulldogs, if they'd only given them a scare people might have remained tempted to predict a massacre while they would have been desperate to go one step better. Now let's hope they've got winning out of their system, tire themselves out singing heave ho and arrive in Victoria completely unprepared. Let's just settle for four points and any unusually large victories that come along the way will be a lovely surprise.

The first two ins are relatively obvious, but Kennedy is just a red hot guess. Hannan's last two games haven't been much chop compared to the first, and he can go and get some form alongside Weideman in the seconds.

IN: Spencer, Pedersen, Kennedy
OUT: Gawn (inj), Hannan, Weideman (omit)
LUCKY: Tyson, Vince
UNLUCKY: Who would even know?

Was It Worth It?
We imploded from a winning position in a stadium where you're forced too close to humans for comfort, but ultimately yes. One day we'll look back at afternoons like this and realise it was a vital step towards becoming a really good side, but at the moment I'm still bitter and twisted about it. That's probably a good sign, imagine the glee you'd have had even last year kicking 96 points and pushing Geelong for three quarters? That sort of mid-table mediocrity shit is very 2016, and even if I think that's exactly where we'll end up this year it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Final Thoughts
Some people go to games and vent their frustrations by screaming vile abuse at all and sundry for four quarters, and they will probably live to a ripe old age while people like me who internalise the pressure will topple over and die before reaching 40. I've got four years before then, and I'm still convinced there's a very good team brewing here. The most important thing is selling that to good players from other clubs so we can accelerate things a bit, Geelong were handed Patrick Dangerfield in gift-wrap but look at everyone they've managed to knock off from other clubs. In recent years the only even remotely premium player we've got from anywhere else - with apologies to Hibberd who is still an unknown quantity, and Lewis who is on the downside of his best years - was Vince. Everyone else has been a bit-part player, and most of them have been ok but we're just lacking the big hits that will push us over the edge. I'm not expecting to get Fyfe and Martin at the end of the year, but plugging gaps at either end of the field is going to be important if we're going to get anywhere quickly. Now watch us end up tackling our accuracy issues by signing Levi Casboult.

2 comments:

  1. 'You can throw a dozen seals into the water at Sea World, but unless you train them what to do they're just going to lie there looking stupid.' I'm getting that on a T-shirt.

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  2. Agree with your 'in's except I would rather bring in Trengove than Kennedy. He needs to be given a chance and he would find the ball regardless. Pedo for Weideman should be a no-brainer but I can only think that Sam's family has a picture of Simon Goodwin doing the lambada with a goat preventing the obvious spell in the 2s.

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