AFL Round 18: As a Demons fan who willed his team to lose, I feel sick

By Barry Levinson

Jordan McMahon holds the Sherrin and Melbourne’s draft hopes in his hands: 48 metres out from goal, straight in front, it’s a kick most AFL players are expected to convert.

But this is a Tiger who has already missed two sitters on the run and barely been able to hit a target all day.

I feel sick. How could the game have come to this? How did the Demons let the result slip from their grasp in time-on? It was all going to plan until young gun Jack Grimes intercepted a Richmond kick-in and slotted home a fine six-pointer, bringing the deficit to within a kick.

Not long after, Ricky Petterd pounced on a loose ball and slotted home another and the Dees were in front. The last two minutes of the battle at the MCG were excruciating. I was willing every Tiger thrust forward, hoping Ben Cousins or Brett Deledio might be able to produce something special to push their team over the line.

And just when all seemed lost, with Melbourne’s new-look defence battling manfully to lock the game down, the ball found its way to Richard Tambling, who spotted McMahon loose inside the 50.

The priority pick must go. Any rule that encourages supporters to barrack against their own team is wrong. I’m not proud of the way I felt on Sunday, but I certainly wasn’t the only conflicted Demon fan.

While there is no certainty that the best players are selected in their correct order on draft day, the difference between having a priority pick before the first round, and not, is massive.

If Melbourne win no more than four games this year, they stand to have two of the first three picks in the draft. If they wins more than four, it could be pick three and pick 19.

As a supporter, I’m not too concerned about the difference between, say, pick one and pick four. If the priority pick didn’t exist, I’d want to win every one of these last few games to try and stay as far away from the bottom of the ladder as possible. But the reward for tanking is just too hard to ignore.

Ever since the Demons recorded an upset win over Port Adelaide in round 15, I’ve been concerned about the prospect of winning too many games, particularly given our run home. On paper, matches against Sydney, Richmond and North Melbourne were all winnable, while Fremantle at the MCG in round 20 is the closest to thing to a certainty for any bottom-placed side in the history of the game.

We won’t beat Carlton and St Kilda in the final two rounds of the season, so it is imperative that we don’t win before we face the Dockers. Two of those three matches have been successfully lost, now it’s all on the line against North Melbourne this Sunday; a team that hasn’t won for more than two months.

Clubs can insist all they like that they don’t tank. Publicly, they can’t say anything different. But there was little subtlety about the way Melbourne set up at different stages of the game against Richmond. (This was despite the best endeavours of the Demons’ players, who were clearly playing to win.)

Regular defenders James Frawley and Matthew Warnock were positioned in the forward line for the first time in their careers, Brad Miller was thrown into the ruck and Michael Newton and Paul Johnson both spent considerable time in defence. And Colin Sylvia, one of the Dees’ better performed players this year, was left out of the side after serving a three-match suspension.

It seemed like a solid strategy; the only problem was Richmond. The Tigers, supposedly out to finish the season strongly under their caretaker coach, were woeful. They made some terrible mistakes throughout the day and the Demons weren’t too far behind them.

It was only the efforts of Cousins and Deledio and some flickers of magic from Nathan Brown that avoided a major embarrassment. And, of course, McMahon’s post-siren kick for goal. Everyone around me in the Northern Stand stood to watch it unfold. Would he crumble under the pressure, or would the Tigers’ whipping boy exit the MCG a hero?

I felt awful. Never before have I willed a kick from the opposition through the goals. I didn’t watch the ball sail through the sticks. Monitoring the reaction of the players told me all I needed to know. I felt like punching the air. What an indictment on this great game.

Melbourne  2.0  4.3  8.7  12.10 (82)
Richmond  1.5  4.8  7.10  12.14 (86)

GOALS
Melbourne: Dunn 2, Miller 2, Petterd 2, Jetta, Bate, Newton, Davey, Jones, Grimes 1.
Richmond: Brown 3, Morton 2, Deledio 2, Vickery, Nahas, Riewoldt, Hislop, McMahon 1.

BEST
Melbourne: McDonald, Petterd, Grimes, Dunn, Bate, Jones, Bruce.
Richmond: Cousins, Deledio, Jackson, Newman, Brown, Edwards, King.
Umpires: Farmer, James, Keating

Crowd: 37,438 at the MCG
Votes: McDonald (M) 3, Cousins (R) 2, Petterd (M) 1.

Comments

  1. Steve Healy says:

    I know what you mean Barry. It was my lowest experience ever at the footy. So many people not wanting the kick to go through. Such a weird crowd noise.
    But it’s good to see another Melbourne suporter’s view on it though.

  2. I really hope Andrew Demetriou reads that Barry.

  3. Stainless says:

    As a supporter of the winning team, it also felt strange to win a “thriller” without the normal thrill. I mean, we were supposed to win easily weren’t we?

    However, I think I can offer some perspective on this, having seen the “massive” difference to the Tigers resulting from our recent priority picks that netted Deledio and Cotchin.

    Firstly, I certainly think the priority picks should go. Whether teams are tanking or not, the perception is there and that alone is causing a stench that threatens the integrity of the game. I would actually go further and put the first 8 draft picks into a ballot for the bottom 8 teams.

    However, to the fans who actually want their team to lose – get a grip. I don;t care how good Tom Scully is, he won’t deliver Melbourne a Premiership unless the club as a whole gets its act together. I remember watching Hawthorn and Richmond playing for the “Brett Deledio Cup” at the end of 2004. I got a small sense of satisfaction that the result ensured we’d get the No. 1 pick, but it was minor compared to the disappointment of losing and being sentenced to the wooden spoon. Old fashioned thinking, maybe, but reflect on the performances of both teams since then and ask yourself whether we aren’t actually blowing the whole priority pick obsession out of proportion. You can say as much as you like about the merits of Deledio and Tambling versus Franklin, Roughead etc but the fact is strong clubs with strong lists and good winning cultures win flags, not teams that avoid winning in the hope that some skinny kid will come and save them.

    So my advice is this, Melbourne fans. Go and barrack loud and long for your team and hope that at some stage soon, the promising young kids that they’ve already got on their list will start to be taught how to win. Whether or not you get Scully, that’s your best hope of emerging from the mediocrity of the last 45 years.

  4. Around me the fans got “invested” in the final ten minutes…not teary but winning was the intent. It’s almost become a crutch to accept defeat.
    It was a poor standard game, but still a better day out than many I overheard at work on Monday!

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