Archive for March, 2012

GLORY days, HEART warming or just an April fool’s

 

April Fool’s day 2012 will be a momentous day for Melbourne Heart fans, it will either put an end to John Van’t Schip’s tenure as head coach, or provide the club with their a memorable first playoff win.

Van’t Schip will have to call upon all his tactical nous to defeat a Perth Glory team that have won five of their last six home appearances, only losing to my title favourites Brisbane Roar.  Simon Colosimo will have to be at his best to contain game breaker Shane Smeltz.  Colosimo would be the first to say he hasn’t had the greatest year of his distinguished career but finals are an entirely different ball game.

The clash will be decided on the form of either superstar on both teams.  Smeltz is coming off an incredible four goal blitz against the horribly disappointing Melbourne Victory, whilst Melbourne Heart captain Fred has been consistently showing his sublime skills over the last month.  Fred has done everything but score goals lately, and may have to find the back of the net if Heart were to succeed.  Matt Thompson will have to take control of the midfield for Heart, and make sure Jacob Burns and Liam Miller in check.  Both these players are under fitness clouds, but you would expect them to play in an elimination final.

Whilst Perth will be relying on Smeltz to score heavily, Heart fans will turn to Eli Babalj and Mate Dugandzic.  The youngsters have contributed almost half of their team’s goals this season.  This game will be an open, free flowing affair providing chance for both teams.  Don’t expect the lock down finals pressure that may affect the other two A-League fixtures.

At the moment my head says glory, but my heart says heart (naturally).  I can see the game going to extra time, but not to penalties.

John Van’t Schip needs to remember that he brought out Rutger Worm with him for a reason, and I see no better reason that this Sunday afternoon.  When in full flight Worm looks almost too good for the A-League, but flip the coin and he looks a park footballer at times.  Van’t Schip has to instil that believe into his fellow countryman for Heart to be creative.

For all those fans attending you will be in for a treat, Heart fans you will witness history, where as Perth fans you can almost guarantee s special performance from Smeltz.  He will be lurking ominously in and around the Heart defence, and unfortunately for those travelling fans may become a Heart breaker for all involved.

Prediction: Melbourne Heart 2 – Perth Glory 3 (After extra time)

Meetings this season:

16th October 2011: Melbourne Heart 1 – Perth Glory 2 (AAMI Park)

17th December 2011: Perth Glory 1 – Melbourne Heart 2 (NIB Stadium)

15th January 2012: Melbourne Heat 1 – Perth Glory 2 (AAMI Park)

  • All games have been 2-1 wins to the AWAY team
  • Shane Smeltz has scored THREE times against Heart this year
  • Its ELEVEN week’s since the teams last clashed

Predictions from the twitterverse

@patzocaval Heart 3-1 (Babalj hat trick)

@majorCoronary Heart 2-1

@biancorosso7 Heart 3 (Babalj, Terra, Fred) Glory 2 (Smeltz double)

@jenweya Heart 2 – Glory 1 (Mate to grab the first and Eli with the winner)

 

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AFL Season Preview – The Top Six

 

Ok so here goes, it’s time for @thehardsword to look at the 2012 AFL season.  Yes we are 1 game in but that result was expected. This year the season opener was all about making noise in the harbour city, not the game itself.

The Geelong era may very well be over, no Ling, Milburn, Ottens or Mooney will hurt one of the best teams we have all seen in our lifetime, but who is to replace them at the top of the tree?  Looking through all the teams, all but four can make the top 8 and about six are capable of winning Australia’s sporting Holy Grail.

2012 not only brings us a new team, but one of the toughest to pick in recent times.  Looking into my crystal ball I see Luke Hodge holding up the Premiership cup, Ross Lyon still in the Premiership race and football millionaires Gary Ablett, Israel Folau & Karmichael Hunt starting their annual leave in September once again.

Premiers – Hawthorn

All the stars might just align for the team that sports the worst colours (including Fremantle) in the league.  A team sheet that contains Hodge, Franklin, Mitchell, Rioli and Burgoyne will never be far away from that final day in September.  Some ruck and defence deficiencies may let the team down at times, but if Jordan Lewis and Jarrod Roughead have good years there will be forgotten.  Hawthorns stars in 2012 will be just too prominent; thank goodness Jeff is no longer President.

2nd Collingwood

Eddie’s boys will be close again, but for the legion of fans I see heartbreak for yet another year.  In what may be Scott Pendleberry’s final year at the pies falling at the final hurdle if my predictions run true.  Injuries will hurt the pies early in the season, but Collingwood have a deep list and will be more than capable to cover losses such as Macaffer and Krakouer.  Travis Cloke will frustrate fans once again, and there will be more than one occasion that media outlets (the few that don’t employ Eddie McGuire) will be questioning the coaching tenure of Nathan Buckley.

3rd Geelong

The carnival is over down at the cattery.  Too many veterans have departed for Joel Sellwood to become a four time premiership player.  Once again Steven Wells has recruited well to keep the cats in the top four, but ultimately the most attacking team of the last 20 years, will find the going just that bit tougher in 2012.  The loss of Brad Ottens will be the cruellest on the cats, and we cannot under estimate the value of rugged tagger Cameron Ling.  Tom Hawkins will be looking to build his name on from his impressive Grand Final performance, whilst you can never under estimate any team with Jimmy Bartel on the team sheet.

4th West Coast

As we rediscovered last year, it’s very hard to return from across the Nullarbor with four points.  The loss of LeCras will hurt their forward stock, but may open the door of a return to form for Quinten Lynch.  Last year the West Coast midfield showed great improvement, and will only continue to get better.  Nic Natanui will continue to provide a weekly highlight reel, but will need to improve on his all round game.  If veterans Dean Cox and Andrew Embley continue their form of last year the cup may be heading back West for the fourth time in their short history.

5th Carlton

Over the past few years Carlton have been carrying no passengers, been busy in the kitchen and this year, but this year the marketers have finally worked out their crisis identity and discovered “I am Carlton”.  Of course all this will mean little to Brett Ratten and his men if they don’t make the top four.  The engine room is one of the best in the league (Judd, Murphy & Gibbs) but down forward is where they let themselves down.  Eddie Betts and Jarrod Waite are too unreliable for the blues to be a premiership contender.

6th Essendon

James Hird, the prodigal son of Essendon now has 12 months under his coaching belt so there will be more pressure to perform this year.  At times Essendon look like world beaters, beating eventual premiers Geelong, and scoring 15 goals to 0 is a first quarter performance that was so sublime I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t witness it live.  The core of young players is very impressive, with Michael Hurley capable of performing miraculous acts with the football.  Unfortunately for the bomber fans I see their ‘Premiership drought’ (11 years at present) continuing through 2012.

AFL Season Preview – The Middle Six

Any of these next six teams could see September action.  I can’t remember a tougher year to predict the final 8, with so many mid range contenders.  unfortunately for some of these teams 12 doesn’t go into 8, so I have had to leave a few genuine finals chances out of my final 8.  Here is my 7-12, with my top Six appearing in my blog tomorrow.

I would be interested in your thoughts about my predictions, and perhaps some of yours.  No matter who you club everyone will be excited about the proper commencement of Round One.

7th Fremantle

Ross Lyon has jumped ship, and for very good reason.  Over the past few years Mark Harvey has built a very good team that was decimated by injuries last year.  Sandilands and Pavlich will once again be dominant around Subiaco.  You would expect Fremantle to win the majority of their home games, ensuring them a high finish.  Expect another solid year from Mundy, with support from youngster Moribito and Barlow.

8th Adelaide

My biggest improvers for season 2012, I see Adelaide making the finals.  The AFL fixture have been extremely kind to the crows, playing easy beats GWS and Gold Coast twice, and Collingwood and Hawthorn only once.  Bigger things will be expected of Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett this year, and I think we will some more attacking football.  Already having a NAB cup in the trophy cabinet, September action will be on the crows radar this year.

9th Sydney Swans

Whatever happens this year, Sydney will finish ahead of their new rivals.  Sydney will be once again a contender for a finals place, but I have them just missing out.  Goodes, and Bolton will be standouts once again, but youngsters like GWS target Sam Reid will have to stand up.  Sydney will be hoping they have secured a finals birth by round 18, because the club has to toughest run home on any club; finishing with Carlton, Collingwood, Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Geelong.

10th St Kilda

Some might be surprised by my prediction, but I think Ross Lyon has jumped off this sinking ship at the right time.  The same hunger doesn’t seem to be there for the saints as when they were winning for fun.  New coach Scott Waters should breathe new life into the Saints, and their supporters will be hoping more attacking football is on his coaching agenda.

11th Richmond

The most impressive Victorian team in the NAB Cup this year by far, but how long will it last.  The young tigers are showing great promise and now have experience playing under Coach Damien Hardwick.  The future is looking bright for Richmond but I think their first few rounds of playing Carlton, Collingwood, West Coast and Geelong will bring their band of loyal supporters back to reality.

12th North Melbourne

This year sees the club explore Hobart for more revenue, whilst financially it makes sense you have to ask if it will hurt them on field.    If Drew Petrie fires the club will make the 8, but he is too inconsistent for mine.  2012 will be another ‘almost’ year for the Kangaroos, and at times home attendances figures will be more important than the scoreboard for James Brayshaw and his board members.

AFL Season Preview – The Bottom Six

Over the next few days, we look at the 2012 AFL season.  Yes, it all started last Saturday night, but that won’t have any affect on the season proper.  Most footy fans are set for the proper Carlton v Richmond season opener on Thursday night.

Here is a look at my bottom six teams, these teams will be thankful the AFL haven’t bought in a draft lottery just yet.

 

13th Western Bulldogs

Footscray supporters, if you thought 2011 was a year in the doghouse think again.  Poor recruiting and a lack of stars will see the bulldogs continue to struggle.  2012 will be a harsh reality for the boys out west, considering how close they were only a few years ago.

14th Port Adelaide

By far the most disappointing team of 2011.  Their loss to Gold Coast at home summed up the lack of passion at Alberton.  Expect bigger things from the ‘other Adelaide’ team this year, but not too much.  The power have a long way before they see September action, but have started going about things the right way.

15th Melbourne Demons

Unfortunately the spirit of legend Jim Stynes will only take the plucky demons so far.  Mitch Clark will prove a great pick up for the oldest club in the league, but most of the youngsters will struggle to take the next step.  The absence of Liam Jurrah will hurt the club, as Mark Neeld finds out the reality of coaching a team on a shoestring budget.

16th Brisbane Lions

The youngster will get better, but Black & Brown may finally lose their colour.  Michael Voss will be under pressure by about round 9 from assistant coach Mark Harvey for the head coach role.  The lions will show plenty of roar, but still lack a tremendous amount of skill.

17th Gold Coast Suns

It may be very sunny up on the coast, but I’m afraid some players may suffer from the second year blues.  Lookout for David Swallow this year to deliver some of the promise he showed before his AFL days.  Gary Ablett can only carry so many players for so long.  Guy McKenna may take a gamble on Nathan Bock up forward, and would be duly rewarded.

18th Greater Western Sydney Giants

Too many kids, too many veterans.  Kevin Sheedy and his recruiting team have gone about building a strange list in my opinion, but who am I to judge a football great.  I don’t see the need for players or supporters to be learning their song words just yet.  A winless season will only benefit the team further with their surrogate father Andrew Demitriou willing to feed the young club with his silver spoon.  Maybe there is method to Kevin Sheedy’s madness.

A Win is a Loss, a Draw is nothing, and the Beach looks closed

 

This week’s round of matches has thrown up more questions than answers for most clubs, leaving fans frustrated, confused but wanting one last slice of the home and away season.

For Melbourne Victory fans the final home game of the year completed the rollercoaster of emotion that was season 2011/12.  A comprehensive 3-0 win against an inept Wellington Phoenix left the faithful dreaming of greener pastures next season, but thoroughly confused about their on field performances earlier in the season.

James ‘Jimmy’ Jeggo provided a late mouth watering goal to leave fans deliriously happy late in the game.  The goal was more Carlos Hernandez than Archie Thompson, and Jeggo should provide a somewhat adequate replacement should the Costa Rican fail to sign his new contract.

For Wellington the result was almost to be expected, knowing their poor record in Victoria.  Luckily for the Phoenix, results fell their way and a home final across the ditch is assured.

The 5:30 Fox Sports Saturday afternoon slot provided the most intrigue over the weekend.  Unusually both game Central Coast & Brisbane games kicked off simultaneously.  The Mariners looked like taking the Premiers plate until Brisbane playmaker Mitch Nichols slotted home an 81st minute penalty.

Although the 90 minutes were action packed, and gave fans sore thumbs from the red button switching, both results cancelled themselves out for the top two sides.  Newcastle let a golden opportunity slip, leaving themselves in the precarious position of needing to collect points away from home in the final match of the season proper.  Newcastle will be hoping for a repeat their 5-2 win in Sydney last month.

Someone forgot to inform Sydney FC that a finals birth was on the line when they met the youthful Melbourne Heart outfit.  Sydney were nothing short of atrocious in the first half.  Two nil down at half time, Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavick should be given credit for his tactical nous, bringing Shannon Cole on at half time, a game turning brace from Cole justified the inclusion and revived Sydney’s finals chances.  Neither Brett Emerton or Nicky Carle could take chances late in the match that would have propelled Sydney up the A-League table.

As good as Sydney were poor in the first half, Melbourne Heart led by their skipper Fred were brilliant.  His touch to set up Mate Dugandzic was world class, and other teams should be put on notice after watching Fred over the past fortnight.  Heart simply went missing after half time, playing deep and bringing Sydney back into the match.  Luckily the earlier Newcastle result meant a draw would be sufficient for the only finals bound Melbourne team.

The final game Gold Coast v Perth was like watching a boxer get back of the canvas, only to be felled the following round.  Whilst you cannot fault the performance on the pitch from the young Gold Coast side, as Lara Bingle would say “where the bloody hell are ya”.  Those who turned up to the #SaveGCU clash were true fans, and a credit to the league.  Sadly the attendance simply wasn’t good enough and gave the FFA the ammunition to say that there is no market in the area.  You could only describe Perth’s performance as ‘a day off’.  Like Wellington they lost 3-0 away from home, yet secured a home final, it’s strange how football works sometimes.

On a final note to all those courageous Gold Coast fans out there, get out and enjoy the game this weekend.  You are up against the best team in the Country in what will most likely be your final league match.  Seize the moment; don’t get caught up in the horrible politics that have ultimately killed your club.  Soak up the atmosphere from the game and make a day of it, who knows how long it will be until next time.

Football heading into Hibernation in Melbourne – Weekend Review

Football fans in Melbourne take notice. This weekend is your last chance to see your beloved sport live in this A-League season. Although 2011/12 has created mixed emotions for both Melbourne clubs, both sets of supporters will be sad to see the corner flags at AAMI stadium placed in the storage cupboards for yet another season.

Friday night sees Melbourne Victory take on Wellington Phoenix. While the Phoenix will be looking to collect more points away from home, Victory have already closed the book on season 7, and have their sights firmly on rebuilding their lacklustre squad. Most experts are predicting a big cleanout, with A-League superstar Carlos Hernandez a likely casualty.

While Victory have been quite poor, Wellington didn’t impress me last week and if it wasn’t for a cracking equalizer by Paul Ifill Melbourne Heart would have taken away a deserved three points. The inclusion of Matthew Kemp is very surprising, considering his childish outburst. Kemp is an emotional player, and his behaviour probably best summed up Victory’s 2011/12 season.

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Loyal Melbourne Heart fans have their last chance to see their always well dressed manager John Van’t Schip. The Dutch master has provided some magic moments in his two year tenure, and will be fondly remembered. All football fans know there is little room for sentiment (especially when playoff spots are on the line) and as fat would have it Heart play host to Sydney once again for their final home fixture. You only have to think back to the Aloisi/Skoko farewell match where Nicky Carle produced a late equaliser.

Local derbies aside, this match is the most significant in the short history of the Heart with a finals birth on the line. Their failure to take control last weekend may come back to haunt them. Once again I expect Babalj to find himself in great areas, but he lacks the killer instinct of a quality striker. On the other hand Sydney kept their finals hopes alive with all three points last week, and I rate them a better chance than the Newcastle Jets or Heart to see some April action.

Prediction: Sydney 2-1

On a sidenote, with no contract announcements on Alex Terra, or Rutger Worm this could be the last time we see the two fan favourites run out in front of the Yarraside fans. Neither has made a massive impact on the current season and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the door shown to both these imports. Maybe the Heart could have a look at Carlos ‘KFC’ Hernandez; he may feel more at home in the Red & White.

Melburnians, whoever you support get out and see your team this weekend. October is a long time to wait for your next A-League appearance.

Top10Tuesday – Melbourne Sporting Events

With Melbourne hosting yet another International sporting event, the Formula One season opener @thehardsword looks at the cities top 10 sporting attractions.

1.       AFL Grand Final

Possibly the biggest day on the Australian sporting calendar.  The unique Australian rules plays out its grand finale in front of a packed MCG with a capacity of 100,000.  Unfortunately just under half the crowd are real fans, with the bulk of the tickets going to the corporate dollar.  If you can’t get yourself a ticket to this event there will be plenty of pubs or BBQ’s to suffice for a great day.

2.       Essendon v Collingwood ANZAC day clash

Since Sav Rocca slotted a lazy nine goals during the drawn Anzac day game in 1995 the Collingwood/Essendon legend was born.  Two of Victoria’s biggest clubs playing on a day when so many have made the ultimate sacrifice.  At first I was opposed to the ground (especially when I see supporter gear at the dawn service) but now have come around to the idea because it has let a new generation learn about our Anzac day heroics, and the history of war in general.  A must for all football fans, not only to pay our troops, but it is one of few times fans pack out the MCG.

3.       Australian Open – Tennis

My favourite fortnight of Melbourne’s sporting calendar.  The world’s best tennis players arrive at the peak of our summer to entertain us with quality tennis for two weeks.  The city becomes a buzz of international visitors, and for those two weeks Melbourne is the sporting focus of the world.  Even for those who don’t follow the tennis that closely $30 will get you a ground pass, live music and if you’re lucky a couch in the beer garden.

4.       Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory (Melbourne Derby)

For most of the year Football/Soccer plays second fiddle to a majority of sports in Australia.  For at least three times during the season all media outlets are focussed of the game that separates the city into Blue & Red.  Those games at AAMI Park are as close as most will get to a big league European atmosphere.  If you even have the slightest interest in the game the Melbourne Derby will heighten your experience.

5.       Melbourne Cup

A race that stops a nation.  Ask some punters out there and they will tell you it’s just a midweek handicap; but most of the Australian population finds themselves betting on the race, and watching their hard earned prosper.  These days it’s not just about the race, but fashion, glamour and a great social day out.  Tickets are now all prepaid, assuring the Melbourne racing club get their piece of the cake.  My only advice is to get their early, and make sure you find a spot near a bar/TAB outlet.

6.       Boxing day Test

A strong tradition that has been around since 1950/51.  Thousands of families make the pilgrimage down Jolimont road to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  I rate this as one of the more popular sporting/social events Melbourne plays host to, with patrons able to spread Christmas cheer to friends, while watching some absorbing battles in the middle.  Let’s just hope everyone has forgotten about the Ashes disaster that was a few years ago.

7.       F1 Grand Prix – Albert Park

Year after year Bernie ‘little man syndrome’ Ecclestone threatens the existence of Melbourne’s premier motor sport event, then we the tax payer place more money into his Monte Carlo bank account.  All jokes aside, alongside the tennis the event show cases the many things that are great about Melbourne.  Some of the world’s fastest cars cruise around some of Melbourne’s most picturesque locations in and amongst Albert Park to determine who wins the first F1 race of the year.  All sports fans must attend the event at least once in their lifetime to appreciate the sights and sounds, but from then on sit on the couch at home so you can actually follow the ‘made for TV’ sport that it is.

8.       Derby Day

For all serious horse racing fans, Derby day in the best day of racing for the year.  For the less serious punter it signals the start of the free for all that is Four days of social activity of the Flemington week.  For owners/trainers it is the final chance most have to establish their place in Australia’s biggest race, the Melbourne Cup.  Horses such as Phar Lap, Tulloch, Rising Fast & Let’s Elope have all saluted the judge during Flemington’s best race day.

9.       Bell’s Beach Surf Classic

Strictly speaking, not in Melbourne, but held on Victoria’s most iconic beach.  Thousands of beach goers make the trek down the Surfcoast highway to see the world’s best compete for one of the sport’s most iconic trophies.  Traditionally held over the Easter weekend the event has been won by World champions Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore, & Mark Occhilupo.

10.   Moomba Masters – Water Skiing

Growing up as a kid, I remember this to be one of the most iconic sporting events Melbourne hosts annually.  Held on the Yarra River, the city provides an iconic backdrop to the World’s best water skiers.

There were plenty of events I didn’t take into consideration because they are not held annually.  Bledisloe cups, State of Origin clashes, and various World championships could not be taken into account.

Did I miss any of your favourite Melbourne events; Let me know on twitter @thehardsword or on facebook on thehardsword page

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