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THE CURSE by Whispering Jack

 

Exactly twelve months have passed since Melbourne travelled to the Top End where it took on Port Adelaide and delivered Dean Bailey his last win as an AFL senior coach. The team laboured hard in Darwin's heat and humidity and was always going to finish in front of the Power whose season had been horrible to that point and was only going to get worse.

 

For Melbourne, the four premiership points for the win gave it 9th position on the ladder and a definite chance to participate in the AFL finals series for the first time since 2006. The Demons were facing a tough month but there were three relatively easy games waiting at the end of the run home and a game in hand over its rivals for a finals berth who all had equally difficult tasks ahead of them.

 

We all know the outcome of the story of how a club imploded; the way in which it fell to pieces, the on and off field convulsions, the crisis of confidence of the players, the thrashings, the injuries, the falling away of form and the fact that in the interim, the coach left in harsh circumstances, the club's young number 1 draft hopeful walked out chasing the almighty dollar, the demise of a major sponsorship, the president sadly passed away and the team managed only three wins over the past twelve months, two of them to the new franchises.

 

The trip north for a game at Darwin's picturesque TIO Stadium is meant to serve a number of purposes, the main one being to bolster the club's finances. It is also designed to create a link between the Melbourne Football Club and the community of the Northern Territory and in particular the indigenous community which has produced so many excellent players in recent years.

 

In light of the aftermath of that trip north, one might be forgiven for believing that somehow and for some unknown reason on that steamy night, a curse was visited on the Demons and their indigenous heroes.

 

Melbourne returned home to a game against Hawthorn and, with Liam Jurrah and Tom Scully missing through illness and injury, a tired team was easily overpowered and beaten. Six days on and the team was decimated by Geelong as it suffered the second largest defeat in the game's history. Another day later and the coach was gone.

 

The club's indigenous players have all fared badly over the past twelve months.

 

Austin Wonaeamirri was still mourning the untimely deaths of his father Matthew and his close relative Maurice Rioli and missed the Darwin game. He returned to the club and suffered a bad injury to his ankle on comeback at Casey. It effectively ended his career and he was delisted at the end of the year.

 

Jurrah was injured late in the season, breaking a wrist in a fall after taking a trademark hanger in the team's win over Gold Coast. The surgery to repair the wrist was unsuccessful, it required more work and while in rehabilitation, he travelled home to Yuendumu. The result of that visit has been well documented and will play itself out in the NT court system. Jurrah finally returned from injury but in his comeback game against Sydney, a game lost by in excess of 100 points, he injured an ankle and has not played a game since.

 

Aaron Davey was also recuperating from a knee injury when the team went to Darwin last year. He returned to the side some weeks later but was out of form and frustrated. He was reported for an uncharacteristic infraction against Richmond, missed the final two games and has had a torrid time with injury and form ever since. He was at the centre of the Jason Mifsud racism controversy earlier this year and many felt that the incident had touched his soul badly. Less than a fortnight ago, his season ended with the discovery of stress fractures in a foot.

 

Neville Jetta was on the comeback trail from shoulder surgery a year ago but it was discovered that the operation had failed and the result was more surgery and a major interruption to his pre season. Then, in a practice game at Casey, he twisted an ankle badly and he has only recently started playing again in the VFL. On Saturday night, he returns to the Melbourne side for his first game since late last season.

 

Jetta's mate Jaimie Bennell has just gone through an indifferent season drifting between Melbourne and Casey before he too succumbed to one of the game's toughest injuries last weekend and he underwent knee surgery on an ACL yesterday.

 

Rookie Kelvin Lawrence who has struggled at Casey and last played in the Scorpions' reserves is also out at the moment with a calf injury as he fights for his future on the club's lists.

 

I should point out that it's not only the club's indigenous players who make up Melbourne's large injury list and, of course, there's no scientific basis for believing in curses. This week, veteran broadcaster Tony Charlton joked with compere Mike Sheahan on his programme about another alleged curse which some believe afflicts the club - the Norm Smith curse. Charlton believes that talk of such curses is nothing more than sheer nonsense. 

 

There probably is a logical reason for everything bad that's happened to the Melbourne Football Club over the years since it last tasted premiership glory. The same can be said of the events of the past twelve months. The likelihood is that they are related to a number of complex matters such as those which the club and its coaches are impressing on supporters at those briefings that are happening at the moment.

 

So there probably is no Top End curse and all of those bad things are coincidental. But just in case, I'll be scouring the television screen on Saturday night before the game hoping to catch a glimpse of somebody in the crowd making all of the appropriate gestures necessary to lift the cursed spell - because enough is enough!

 

THE GAME

 

Melbourne v Port Adelaide Saturday 21 July, 2012 at the TIO Stadium, Darwin, 7:40pm AEST

 

HEAD TO HEAD

 

Overall Melbourne 11 wins Port Adelaide 13 wins

 

At TIO Stadium Melbourne 2 wins Port Adelaide 0 wins

 

Since 2000 Melbourne 8 wins Port Adelaide 11 wins

 

The Coaches Neeld 0 wins Primus 0 wins

 

MEDIA

 

TV – Fox Footy Channel (Live) at 7:30pm

 

Radio – SEN ABC774

 

THE BETTING

 

Melbourne to win $2.30 Port Adelaide to win $1.60

 

THE LAST TIME THEY MET Port Adelaide 17.10.112 defeated Melbourne 15.14.104 at Adelaide Oval, Round 24, 2011.

 

This was the first ever game at the beautiful Adelaide Oval which is being redeveloped for more football and, in the AFL’s endless  drive for dollars, it will no doubt soon become a concrete amphitheatre rivalling Metricon and Skoda Stadiums for sheer ugliness.

 

If you wanted proof of the curse then this game was it. Even if it was depleted by injury, Melbourne should have won the game easily but some mysterious umpiring decisions kept Port in the game all day and mysteriously in front by eight points at the end of the game.

 

THE TEAMS

 

MELBOURNE

Backs Daniel Nicholson James Frawley Colin Garland

Half backs Joel Macdonald Tom McDonald Jack Grimes

Centreline Rohan Bail Colin Sylvia Sam Blease

Half forwards Ricky Petterd Stefan Martin Jeremy Howe

Forwards James Magner Jared Rivers Brad Green

Followers Jake Spencer Jack Trengove Nathan Jones

Interchange Thomas Couch Lynden Dunn Neville Jetta James Strauss

Emergencies Matthew Bate Jordan Gysberts James Sellar

In Lynden Dunn Neville Jetta James Magner Jake Spencer

Out Matthew Bate (omitted) Jamie Bennell (knee) Jordie McKenzie (groin) Mark Jamar (calf)

PORT ADELAIDE

 

Backs Jackson Trengove Alipate Carlile Paul Stewart

Half backs Tom Logan Troy Chaplin Domenic Cassisi

Centreline Matthew Broadbent Travis Boak Kane Cornes

Half forwards Andrew Moore Justin Westhoff Danyle Pearce

Forwards John McCarthy Daniel Stewart Brett Ebert 

Followers Matthew Lobbe Bradley Ebert Matt Thomas

Interchange Thomas Jonas Jasper  Pittard Chad Wingard Aaron Young

Emergencies Darren Pfeiffer Brent Renouf David Rodan

In Domenic Cassisi Jasper  Pittard

Out Darren Pfeiffer Jarrad Redden 

BEATING THE CURSE

I've been reading an article about how Melbourne's performance since its shock win in round 10 against the Bombers has progressively gotten worse in several key areas - Falling down

The writer in question notes that since the Demons beat Greater Western Sydney in round 13, the defence has collapsed, with Melbourne now the third easiest side to score against in the competition (surprisingly, it's also currently third last), while its average disposal differential and uncontested possession differential have both slipped drastically in the same period. 

To gain an understanding of the reason for the sharp decline in these statistics, Demon legend Garry Lyon was consulted. He was at a loss to come up with an explanation but opined:-

''They are having 30 minutes of footy when they don't appear to be in the contest at all. Why is that? There is no excuse for it. It's certainly something they need to sort out.

''Their skill execution has been something that has been really disappointing. The fundamental footy has been disappointing, but it hasn't been for want of trying. They were pretty competitive against Collingwood, after Collingwood kicked the first eight goals. Against Freo, they were 20 points up with five minutes to go in [the] third quarter.

''They have been competitive for periods of the game, but when they are uncompetitive they are getting monstered.''

Lyon did admit in the end that the fall away against the Dockers could have something to do with the fact that ruckman Mark Jamar hobbled from the field with an injured calf and Jamie Bennell ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament but it all remained a mystery.

I suppose injury played its part. With your All Australian ruckman out of the game after five minutes and your ability to rotate in a tight game seriously impaired, it might explain why a team full of young players, a few coming back from long term injury might tire badly. That the writer also failed to examine the rest of the club's injury list and the extensive number of players from its best 22 also out missing was probably an oversight. He also carried out no analysis of the changes in those KPI statistics over a longer period, say the past twelve months. Specifically, since the Demons last made the trip up to the tropics and Darwin.

This brings me to Saturday night's Top End clash against Port Adelaide which would, in a round billed as one of closely matched and exciting contests, stand out like a sore thumb if it weren't for the fact that the Dockers await the Giants in Perth for what will most likely be a right royal execution.

I'm actually surprised that a journalist wasn't dispatched during the week to check out Port Adelaide's statistics for heroic acts in football of late. After all, it was well in the game against Essendon at half time last week and lost by 50 points. The week before it was crushed by Adelaide in the latest version of the Showdown. No signs of any alarm there? Right, then I might have to tip them to beat Melbourne.

If there was any logic in this football caper I think I would be safe in relying on the teams' respective performances against Essendon who Melbourne beat by 5 points - a much better result than Port's capitulation. The Demons might have undergone a sharp decline in recent KPI's but I would prefer to deal in cold, hard facts and I know for a fact that the team that was selected to travel north this week is dedicated to removing the Top End curse placed on it exactly twelve months ago when they last travelled to the Territory.

Ending the curse will depend primarily on who controls the midfield and in this respect, I think the Demons will surprise despite the fact that they decided to leave out Brent Moloney who polled maximum Brownlow votes on both occasions when these teams met in 2011. 

I look at Melbourne's rucks in Jake Spencer and Stef Martin and I am automatically filled with confidence about their capacity to overcome Matthew Lobbe and whoever else the Power are going to use in the ruck in this game (you can tell I don't know much about the opposition). Spencer killed them last week in the VFL while Martin stepped into the breach quite nicely when Jamar had to pull up stumps early against the Dockers.

There's been a lot spoken and written about Travis Boak recently but quite frankly, I think he's under pressure and too distracted to perform against Nathan Jones who is one of the most improved midfield performers in the competition this year. He would surely have far more recognition if not for Melbourne's plight this year and the fact that the journos and commentators persist in going on wild goose chases searching for reasons why a young club, with a large injury list isn't travelling so well at the moment. In any event, I'm backing Jones, Colin Sylvia, Jack Trengove, Rohan Bail and first year hard nuts James Magner and Tom Couch to more than match Port Adelaide's on ball division to give their team the winning edge in this game.

I'm also delighted that Neville Jetta is finally back and playing after an horrific run with injuries over the past twelve months. Although, one can't expect too much given that he had a truncated pre season and several months on the sidelines, he has shown previously that he loves this ground and can carry the responsibility that goes with being the only one of Melbourne's wonderful indigenous players left standing at the moment. I have this vision of Nev swooping on the ball, running into goal and kicking the matchwinner to put the Top End curse to rest for once and for all.

I'm therefore tipping Melbourne to win by a point.

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