Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Reinventing hell

As I watched the depleted Dees slowly slip away in the last quarter like a patient taken off life support I had some sympathy with the late Marylou Cunningham Belles, whose obituary said: 'She was also a lifelong Mets fan, though surprisingly that wasn't what killed her'. But then again she would have been alive for at least one, if not two, Mets world championships so stuff her. When following Melbourne does kill me sometime in the next 1-65 years I'd like it noted that I never even got that. Now I know how Bulldogs fans felt all those years.

I've come out of last night with my bundle reasonably intact. We went in with injury problems, we suffered more, we could still have won with more experience. You could say that it was unfair to come so close after being down to two on the bench, without a ruckman for three quarters, but to that I would say:



I'd like to preface the following remarks/lengthy whinge by saying that I don't blame the players. A handful of them played like they were on heroin, but even they tried hard in the circumstances. On another night, with perhaps three left on the bench rather than two we might have dragged their lifeless carcasses across the line for an epic victory. But it was not to be. The part of it that's truly unfair is how many times we've been turned over by sides who have lost one or two players, but when it happens to us the remainder could do no more than put up a valiant fight before eventually caving in. Not that it stopped at two injuries, Petracca was playing on one leg, and various other players were coming to the bench in the second half looking like they'd been mugged. Forget 'bruise free footy', we've gone the other way. It will pay off eventually, but not before our medical insurance bill grows to the GDP of a small country.

Let the ongoing misery that comes free with your membership not detract from the fact that we were four goals up at three quarter time, or that we completely dominated the first quarter in every aspect other than converting inside 50s or stopping Riewoldt from snapping goals out of his arse. It was an odd night, for a quarter where we couldn't stop getting the ball into attack I still couldn't believe we ended it in front. Conversely I've rarely been so convinced we were about to blow a four goal lead at the last change. And I expect to give up every three-quarter time lead of less than 47 points - it's just this time I didn't think it would probably happen, I was convinced.

After years of spitting at the sub rule I can't complain that injuries cost us. They did, but it happens. There have been games where we won because the other side fell apart like cheap imported crockery, just not in front of 85,000 people as we sat delicately poised at 2-2. There was still plenty we did wrong that had nothing to do with half the team gasping for oxygen by three-quarter time. After going on ad nauseum about how missed shots are not transferable I can't go on about how we should have had 30.5 from when we were on 35 inside 50s to 10, but the way we were playing it's not inconceivable that if we'd found a reliable route to goal the first might have been the beginning of an avalanche.

The problem was the players we lost, I wouldn't wish injury on anyone but I could think of at least four players we could have stood to lose for 3/4 of the game ahead of Spencer and Smith. Not that either of them were playing out of their skin when they went down, but it blew our structure to buggery and left Jack Watts playing another heroic innings in the ruck. When he saw Spencer go down he must have been saying "not again", like Liam Neeson in one of those films where his family mysteriously keeps getting kidnapped.

In a surprise change of policy we've stopped gifting unknowns and journeymen career-saving games, and instead all our losses have come as a direct result of the opposition's superstars running riot. Now we've been done over by Selwood, Dangerfield, Fyfe, Cotchin, Riewoldt, and one of the most influential 35% disposal efficiency games you'll ever see from a one-legged Dustin Martin. Shows yet again - as if you needed any further proof - how important the very top end of a team is. We're nowhere near the level of having one of the above yet, let alone multiples. Give it a couple of years for Oliver and Petracca, but for now we keep battling away with a young team and have to expect random highs and ridiculous lows. Last night wasn't even the latter, we left with plenty of excuses but a lot of issues as well. We can get a lot of touches, but unless it's Oliver barging through a centre clearance or a rebound out of defensive 50 how many of them are damaging?

It's talkback caller level simplistic to say we handball too much, but bloody hell we do. Between Jones, Viney, Oliver and Tyson they had 31 kicks and 72 handballs. Other than the quick handed Hamburglar, and with respect to Viney's best performance of the season, it wasn't getting us anywhere fast. No wonder they were trying Petracca - pre-injury - and Salem in there as well. Sure, you don't want as much kicking in the wet but let's not pretend we don't play like this every week. Conditions or not, most of the time you could only get a midfielder to kick if they were heaving the ball long into the forward line and expecting Hogan or Garlett to do their Shaun Smith impersonation.

Our defenders like kicking, which is often terrifying but makes sense because god help us all if any of them other than Jetta starts trying to do dinky little handballs, but once there's any kind of pressure further than 30 metres from goal everyone goes to water and tries to get rid of it as soon as possible. It's like the whiteboard in team meetings reads MIDFIELDERS = HANDBALL, DEFENDERS = KICK, FORWARDS = GOOD LUCK. Usually the only way we'd get a decisive kick out of the middle of the ground was when a player had no other options and just thumped it at goal in the hope of something happening. It rarely did.

At least Hogan was back to provide a target. I shudder to think how Weideman would have gone in the same circumstances. Jesse wasn't spectacular by any means, but I was just happy he returned from his WA tour in one piece. I expected his trip home to look like this:


I'm not sure how he got the leave pass to go home when he was rubbed out for cracking the sads and biffing somebody, but I guess that's the sort of NQR compromise we're forced to make to keep him. He did his job on the scoreboard courtesy of a couple of gifts, and provided a better target than we had the last couple of weeks, but given the way he burst onto the scene by making Alex Rance look silly in the same game a couple of years ago he's not progressed much further since. Now that Freo are seemingly good again should we expect him to be slapping in a trade request at the end of the year so he can displace Shane Kersten and take his rightful spot alongside the Unmade Bed? Somebody spread a propaganda campaign that Fyfe won't there so he doesn't start dreaming of being paid a fortune to accept bullet passes on the tit from a fully functioning midfield.

His cause wasn't helped by playing in the wet, or alongside a second gamer who soon departed with broken ribs, and nor did it help that we kept thumping the ball long instead of trying to spot targets. Only Jack Watts - now only much maligned by people you wouldn't want to sit next to on a bus - bucked the trend, thinking about what he was going to do next in the second quarter and finding Salem with a perfect pass. I'd say they should have that passage of play on a video loop for the rest of the week, but what chance 3/4 of the list pulling it off?

After battering them from pillar to post for 10 minutes we were two goals down. Another game in a long line where we've come out strongly, wasted our chance to knife the opposition before they could get going and lost in the end. Both goals came from turnovers, reminiscent of the first time we played this fixture and they would have only kicked about four goals off their own bat. The difference was that night we had ruckmen, an intimidating forward line and 21 fit players remaining after Kent blew his hammy.

It took McDonald marauding forward and thumping a long goal to get us on the board, which was helpful because it didn't look likely that any of our actual attackers would get one. It was the first of a trio of running goals by defenders - next Hibberd, then Hunt - that came as a welcome change to every other long kick inside 50 being instantly mopped up or swept away. The measure of our success was that nobody managed to frustrate Alex Rance into thumping a defenceless player in the back of the head. He had to settle for playing a mighty game, marking everything that came near him. We're still 2-1 up on him (and indeed Richmond) in the lifetime of this fixture but that doesn't help right now.

If nothing else we get confirmation that when Essendon were pumping their players full of mystery drugs, Hibberd got something from the good batch. Having played two competitive games in around 18 months he died in the arse in the last quarter when unable to rotate, but until then he'd played a great game coming out of defence. On the other side of the WADA debacle, Melksham played like he was still suffering side-effects from his dose of elephant juice. He did another lovely tap-on and was angry, but that's not doing much for me. It's time for him to discover what life as a mid-range Melbourne player is all about, traipsing across Victoria playing at shithouse VFL venues with gale force winds blowing in all four directions at the same time.

It's a shame Milkshake hasn't demonstrated an aptitude for kicking, because at the moment the only thing separating Bernie Vince from the stereotypical view of Tom McDonald is the lack of outright howlers. Instead it's death by a thousand cuts. If you're going to play as the loose man who's not actually a defender but can be relied upon to hit targets (role previously occupied by Davey and Watts) hitting the targets is a pre-requisite. I like Salem no matter where he plays, but we might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves trying to play him as a midfielder when he could do a far better job as the trusted kicker than Vince is right now - and will be there long into the future. For all my propaganda about more kicking from the midfield - as long as it's reasonably accurate and doesn't just set up turnover goals - somebody's generally going to have to get it out of defence to them in the first place.

Once Smith departed with his ribs displaced and lung punctured, and Watts was forced into the ruck as good as permanently, we basically played without a half-forward line. Garlett flits in and out doing good things but can't be relied upon to play four quarters, so we could have done with somebody else down there with a bit of life about them. Whatever indiscretion Dean Kent was dropped for, it was not worth Kennedy-Harris' comeback performance. As much as people like to racially profile JFK as a small forward he's definitely more of a midfielder/half-forward, but didn't show anything last night that suggests the seniors is his level. It was one thing playing well against the Carlton seconds at Casey Fields, but after returning from injury he didn't seem to be banging the door down to get a start. He could get another go eventually, but will need to put together a string of games in the seconds. Now watch them double down, pick him again next week and leave Kent to wither and die on some rocky VFL outcrop.

Absurdly because of how bad we looked going inside 50, but appropriately considering how many times it happened, we were in front at quarter time. The second goal came from one of these newfangled deliberate decisions where the player is pinged for badly disguising trying to rush it over the line. What a load of old bollocks. It was a correct application but of a stupid rule. What was wrong with the rushed behind? If teams want to concede points then let them. Imagine how many times we walked into seven or more point plays after rushing a point because we had no idea how to craft a kick-in? It's just another unnecessary interpretation for umpires to get slaughtered over and people to moan about on talkback radio.

By all means ruthlessly ping deliberates around the ground, but if teams want to give up points let them. If they can convert the kick-in to a goal via a spectacular end-to-end move that's got to be more appealing to viewers than endless debate about what players are or aren't allowed to do. At the time of writing I was watching the other Anzac Day game and Leigh Matthews said it was good for the game that players had no idea what they were allowed to do. There's proof that the rules are in disarray if you ever needed it. Maybe they should hold a Constitutional Committee and rewrite them from scratch? I'd stand on a pro-early 2000s ticket with this as our theme song. Ironically a Richmond player had dashed out of bounds under little pressure like an NFL player going for the sidelines to stop the clock a few minutes earlier and went unpunished. Maybe they were just trying to square up for that?

The go-ahead goal came from a perfect Watts set shot from distance, especially impressive considering it had been pissing down for much of the quarter. Just goes to show what we missed by having to use him in the ruck for the rest of the night. I don't know why it took so long to try Frost instead, Richmond had one dangerous tall forward and another who was as useful as an oak table so we could have spared losing Sam for a few minutes to give Watts time to rest/become a target up forward. As it was we ran him into the ground and can't be far from him keeling over and dying if any more first rucks get hurt.

In the second quarter we weren't as good at getting the ball inside 50 a ridiculous number of times, but this time managed to score the first two goals instead of conceding them. First Petracca took advantage of probably the only Neal-Bullen disposal to hit the target all night, then Hogan got another from a free, before Salem added another from a perfect Watts pass and everything was starting to look Melbourne. Even though we'd lost Smith and Spencer by this point we'd finally harnessed the momentum enough to start building a lead that would somewhat insulate us against a last quarter fadeout.

After Hibberd romped down field to kick a goal we were 12 points up shortly before half-time, which lasted until approximately seven seconds before the siren. ANB got confused about what to do with a ball rolling towards the boundary line, and instead of either picking it up to try and disguise taking it out or just hammering it up the line and hoping to be pinged in a less damaging position he just shoed it straight across the line 30 metres out. Not that it diminished from the stupidity of it, but he wasn't to know there was only seven seconds left, and neither was the Richmond bloke who risked a debacle by playing on but just beat the siren.

For the third quarter in a row we opened up threatening to destroy them, kicking the first two goals in quick succession before settling back into a arm-wrestle. Things were going so well for us that even after they got their first of the quarter we responded immediately, with a goal created almost entirely courtesy of Oliver bashing through a pack at the centre bounce. Then we flipped the usual script by being the team who turned one goal against into two for, when the next bounce ended with the ball flying inside 50 and Hogan's whinge about not getting a free-kick somehow ending with him in the perfect position to soccer through another. Still didn't think we were going to win, but we were starting to build a decent sized wall to defend behind.

Like last year there was a good old fashioned melee, and again both Nathan Jones and Jack Viney came out with lighter bank balances. Jones is now not only the most fined player in MFC history ($21,750 and counting), but has also drawn level with noted mentalist Rod Grinter as the most reported player in club history. Chunk might have done $20k in fines, but he's trailing Grinter 31 games to one in actual suspensions. As far as Richmond vs Melbourne fights went it really lacked the wide-eyed lunacy of Kent/Dunn and the comic relief of Bugg/Gawn.

The dust-up was the cue for Richmond to lift, and they spent the rest of the quarter battering our line for a last goal to bring the margin under 20 at three quarter time. Once more there was an inevitability about us conceding, and surprise surprise the siren went with one of them about to have a shot. He missed, but I knew we were still stuffed. It's not every day a team comes back from that far down at three quarter time, but this was against a decimated side whose most important players had run themselves into the ground. If they suffered a few mishaps we were a chance, but as long as they had 20+ players upright it was over.

We could have done with a massive, pissing, sideways rain. And if the match started 30 minutes later we'd have got it. Our lot were already slowing to a crawl before the break, and hit 0 km/h not long after the resumption, so at least it would have dragged Richmond down to our level. It probably wouldn't have helped us get the ball out of defensive 50, by then we were working with 20 battered survivors who barely had 40 operational legs between them. If it was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it for our own protection five minutes in.

What I didn't get about the last quarter was why we didn't use Hogan in the middle, or realise that Watts was going to lose the majority of ruck contests around the ground and set up to defend the tap. The closest we got to doing something else at centre bounces was using Garlett when he was practically the last player left who could still run at any speed, but the game was shot by then. Our coaching staff must have realised we were going to fizz at some point during the quarter, so even an early goal might not have saved us. On a night where long kicking into the forward line had delivered us four marks inside 50 and not much on the scoreboard we could have had Hulk run through and bowl a few pricks out of the way to make a statement. Instead we did the traditional Melbourne thing of wandering meekly off the edge of the cliff like defeat was inevitable.

The set up at the stoppages gave me the shits, maybe they had plans which fell apart because the players were too stuffed to execute them, but at the same time maybe nobody thought that the worst thing for us in that situation was fast breaks and forgo to leave somebody out the back to stop an opposition player swooping through and picking up a loose ball? There was one perfect tap from a boundary throw in to a player dashing past that should go on the 'highlights' reel at AAMI Park alongside Watts' pass to Salem - this time as a cautionary reminder of what not to do.

They battered us for the first 15 minutes of the quarter, and even though we couldn't for the life of us get the ball out of 50 in any way effectively we did a good job to stop them from going past us and into the distance. Once they narrowly hit the lead they clammed up a bit, giving us a shot of pulling off a miracle if we could pull a goal or two from our arse. We tried hard, only for Riewoldt to take a contested mark on an obscure angle and do exactly what you'd expect one of the best forwards in the competition to and convert as if he was 20 metres out directly in front. It may have been his first real full forward style goal of the night, and it came at just the wrong time for us. We had another couple of forward thrusts, with one golden opportunity for Garlett to cut the margin back to less than a goal with plenty of time remaining, but we didn't have enough up front and down we went.

It was all for nothing as the game was already stuffed by that point, but I loved Sam Frost cutting Riewoldt in half with a 'tackle' at the end. It might be a controversial viewpoint, but I just like Frost in general. At the moment he's a mile ahead of Oscar McDonald in every aspect, and has enough years left in him that we can afford to develop Sizzle Jr elsewhere until the grim reaper of serious injuries arrives to haunt one of our defenders.

This is the point where people start getting nervy and start a fundraising campaign to bring back Roos, but let's not act like Richmond fans just yet. I have no idea what they've been doing with selection for the last few weeks, but let's not pretend we didn't sook about the last guy's team choices either. Maybe not in Year 1 though, when we were so grateful just to have him that we'd put up with anything. Now we expect more so the coach cops it in the neck from day one, which is an occupational hazard of being in charge of anything but the most rock bottom slop side.

2017 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
Another week of toil and struggle. I have confidence in the top four, but not necessarily the order. If Hibberd hadn't died in the arse late he was certainly on the way to a rare five vote performance on debut. The last spot was a raffle, feel free to exchange Frost for any other player and keep your own version of the leaderboard.

5 - Jayden Hunt
4 - Michael Hibberd
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jack Watts
1 - Sam Frost

Apologies to Petracca, McDonald, Viney, Salem

Leaderboard
The committee has decided to temporarily exclude James Harmes from Seecamp contention, but are open to reinstating him if he ends up back in defence. As for the Stynes, back in the days before the 10 hitout average rule came in you'd think Jack Watts would be the unlikely leader but he's only only about 6.5 so that's unfortunate for him.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Impossible to go past the lightning Salem handball to Hunt in the third quarter. One of those handballs that at full pelt you think had to be a throw, but it was legal and Hunt's finish in his newly AFL approved novelty headband was perfect. Replay also revealed the classy tap from Watts to keep the ball moving when it was going over his head.

For the weekly prize Hunt wins a full-day headband workshop with Carl Ditterich, to try and get the thing to stretch ever further until it looks like a small towel draped across the forehead. It went close to snatching the clubhouse lead, but after hours of soul searching we've opted to stick with the Watts long bomb against Geelong.


It's the annual draw for the joint banner. And what a nice banner it was too. The editing was definitely left to us because there were no spelling errors - and the person in the Richmond cheersquad waving a 'Dusty 4 Ava' banner was banned participating. Unless their name is Ava and they're hoping for a quick and dirty legover with the Tigers superstar. I doubt you would need to put together a banner to set that up. Dees 4-1-0 for the season.

Crowd Watch
Maybe turning up late for once, getting inside just in time for the commemoration and banner run-through, played to my advantage because I walked straight in via the sort of queue you'd usually get at a game against Gold Coast. Only once inside did I realise that there was a huge crowd there - our biggest home and away attendance since 1964, and the second highest for any game I've ever been to. Suffice to say I never tried to use the catering or bathroom facilities. Who'd have thought there would be a day you'd have to queue for a whizz at a Melbourne game?

Now that this game has momentum - though I bet there would have been 30,000 less there if Richmond were 0-4 - and is creeping towards the crowd the actual Anzac Day game gets I expect Eddie to finally fulfil the prophecy I've been flogging on here for years and give us the arse from permanent home status on Queen's Birthday. I don't mind it, keep the game and give them the gate every year when we've got the home Anzac Day Eve match. Every cent counts, but I'm sick of taking their charity.

The weird thing about this game is that after the solemn and well-observed pre-match ceremonies the moment the first siren goes it's straight back to hokey crowd promotions that even the NBL would refuse to get involved with. I'm not expecting them to replace the man kicking for cash while being cheered on by somebody dressed as a cardboard box with a recreation of the Battle of Long Tan, but they could have replaced the segment where people are shown tooling around on their phone in the crowd for a week with promo for Legacy or the RSL, or basically anyone remotely connected to the idea of being shot at. This is not a shot at Richmond, I can't remember what happened last year but we probably greeted quarter time with an irony free round of Hogan's Heroes.

Commemoration Corner
Unlike that bloke from SBS who got himself the sack last year I'm all for paying tribute to troops both past and present, but the wearing of special jumpers is a bit over the top isn't it? Not that you'd have known from a distance that we were wearing one, especially because in a minor design flaw the image of the bugler looked like more like a drawn on arse crack unless you were looking at it from two foot away. I presume some of the funds from selling them goes to the RSL, and if not that's even dodgier.

Next Week
Speaking of hell, it's Essendon at Docklands. We've gotten away with not having to play them there for a few years, but our luck has run out and it's time to shuffle up to the back row and sit in close proximity to conspiracy theorists and 9/11 style truthers. Drink every time one of them reminds you that we were on some sort of gear as well - and look how well the cream has done for Jack Trengove, did it have Agent Orange in it? Journalists please note - if there are boos when Melksham gets a kick don't automatically assume they're coming from Essendon fans.

Apologies to the sunshine and lollipops faction who only want brightness and positivity (as if they would be reading anyway), but I just assume we're going to lose now. Still don't think Essendon are anything more than a midtable mediocrity this year, but neither are we so it should be a good game but ultimately they're going to run us off our feet. The following changes have no hope of getting up due to all the injuries, but a man can only hope:

IN: Kent. Pedersen, Kennedy, Hannan, Lewis, Bugg
OUT: Kennedy-Harris, Melksham, Neal-Bullen (omit), Smith, Spencer, Petracca (inj)
LUCKY: Tyson, Vince
UNLUCKY: Max King (EDIT: Err that would be Mitch King - sorry, I was on the Jesse Hogans when I wrote this) and Lachlan Filipovic by default as the only real ruckmen left, no matter how unprepared for senior football. And Angus Brayshaw in general, who is one clubbering blow to the head from a low-flying seagull away from having to retire.

Was it worth it?
A marginal yes - for the atmosphere, the record setting crowd and the brief, spectacular moments when we were the better team and converting the scores to prove it. We'll look back one day and etc... etc...

Final thoughts
The first two weeks (well, the middle bit of Round 1 and the last 15 minutes of Round 2 anyway) were a nice teaser of what's it like to be a real team, now the incredible injury luck we rode through 2016 has ended and we're hurtling back towards earth like a faulty plane. That's ok if you never really expected much this season anyway. Now that I'm back into my comfortable space of thinking we'll lose and being surprised by wins I can concentrate on development instead. Maybe we'll spring a surprise, get a run on again like last year and I'll be left as wide-eyed and horny as a 5-0 Tiges fan. If not, then no drama - 2018/19/20 are the real key years.

As much as I'm expecting the season to die in the arse from here there are still going to be good weeks. Maybe we'll have to wait but this is not 2012-13, we will eventually get a run on in a game, convert and hopefully obliterate somebody. Other than injuries all the issues I have with the team are the sort of thing that could be ironed out during the season, we just need a few weeks of clear air without anyone crucial being hurt or suspended to work on it. I'm feeling a sense of disappointment, but what would following Melbourne be without one of those?

2 comments:

  1. Max King's actually been delisted. Next in line is Mitch King, the same man who did a knee reco in his first VFL game last year, and only came back from that last week.

    Bring on Cro Cop Filipovic. Right kick hospital, left kick cemetery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shit. I knew I shouldn't have written this while on the Jesse Hogans. Edited.

      Delete