Thursday 29 February 2024

Better than the alternative

There's a time I'd have committed everything to attending a 6.40pm Wednesday practice game, in 38 degree temperatures, at a crumbling suburban ground. Not this decade. Maybe in the future when this sort of weather is considered mild. Instead, I did the right thing and took my kid to gymnastics, only to completely ignore that and watch the game on the phone while the helpfully provided fan blew the stench of an unrelated child's rogue borry directly up my nostrils. 

Speaking of foreign substances in the nose, it was another perfectly normal week at the Melbourne Football Club. First came the screaming headlines about Joel Smith's supposed 'drug trafficking'. I thought he must have upped the ante by importing millions of dollars of rack from Bolivia in spaghetti tins, but turns out he just (allegedly) offered gear to mates, making it about the lowest level of 'trafficking' you could imagine. After they'd incorrectly led you to believe that Smith had gone full Tony Montana, there was something about teammates being involved and anguished fans were about to set themselves on fire. I'll get wound up about it when the names are revealed to be anyone currently senior listed at the Melbourne Football Club. 

I've got zero professional sympathy for Smith failing the 'fuck around and find out' test, but even if the spontaneous combustion of his career is entirely his fault you're still dealing with a human who's done the most pissweak crime since jaywalking. Even if Joel never plays again, I hope the club supports him, while journalists who have about as much credibility lecturing people on drug use as Pablo Escobar can wind their outrage back a bit.

There was a short departure from self-inflicted woes as we dealt with Angus Brayshaw's immediate retirement. This was the sort of massive story I'd have found about on Twitter before current ownership botched it up. Instead, it was back to the old school (by modern standards) method of finding out crucial information via email, and when I saw the subject line 'Thank you Gus' I knew it was all over. At first I was sad about him having his career taken away, then I realised that it's better if he doesn't come back and risk long term damage. He can't get better than being part of that flag side, and will still pocket a metric shitload of money over the next several years so why not something you enjoy that won't end in serious brain damage. They can't take him starting the greatest hour in human existence away.

Now we'll never find out if Pies fans were going to disgrace themselves booing him on King's Birthday. Never mind, 2024 will still have 'Americans reelect Donald Trump' for confirming stereotypes. Maybe we should lure them into it by holding off on his lap of honour until then. If we can just get one or two red-faced scumbags yelling at him over the fence, or at the very least somebody with a mullet giving the finger, it will provide years of entertainment/moral highground. I'm not slightly into pursuing Brayden Maynard until the end of time, there's far more comedy potential in arguing with their cult-like fans.

Before officially concluding the biggest week of footy you're going to get in February with a match (remember them?), there was hysteria over some bullshit Facebook post about Simon Goodwin. Even the pre-match interview with him referenced it, shortly before he used the word "connected", said Clayton Oliver was "connecting" with his teammates, and was told "we hope you get through tonight" in a way that implied Kate Roffey was going to jam a black hood over his head mid-match. By now if he gets sacked for any reason other than starting 0-10 it'll make Glenn Bartlett look right so that's not going to happen. It did make me wonder if this could be the gateway to a long-awaited Choke Yourself With A Tie reign. Probably not, so best to just stick with the incumbent for a bit longer.

There was so much other nonsense going on that Oliver playing in the earlier Casey game barely rated a mention, but no doubt somebody's got a hot exclusive about him putting recycling in the wrong bin to drop the moment he's recalled to the senior side.

Unlike last week's non-existent game, this got the full Fox Footy treatment. I thought it was a bit rude to show highlights of the Blues knocking us out of the finals, then they balanced the ledger by reminding everyone that Carlton blew a five goal lead in the Prelim, giving everyone the chance to go into the official start/actual end of the pre-season campaign in some degree of misery.

I resolved not to take any of this seriously, but by the final siren was at least confident that if either of these sides goes into a 2019 MFC style death spiral it won't be us. Obviously that will come back to haunt me. For now, we did what was required, nobody got hurt, the players got some sort of minor morale boost from playing in a win together for the first time since R24 last year, and we head towards what I'll refer to as Round 1A until the AFL takes out an injunction to stop me. Well done Leigh Montagna for openly calling it Round 1 on commentary. He obviously got a tap on the shoulder after quarter time and started buying into the nonsense, but if Dwayne Russell worked frivolous contests like this you can imagine how excited he'd be to push the marketing department's line.

We had a lot going on inside 50 early, for about as much reward as you've come to expect. Ironically, Pickett is about to serve a one game suspension for walloping Patrick Cripps but nobody batted an eyelid about him playing against the Blues here. He turned law and order on its head by winning a free for the first shot on goal. It missed, but even after kicking 15.11 I suspect you'll need to get used to us doing that. 

It would help if we didn't set up so many shots 40 metres out hard on the boundary line. The delivery to Fritsch was reminiscent of 2020, when he was subject to enforced social distancing from any reasonable angle. When he finally got a shot, Bayley charitably tried to set it up to the top of the square where it was easily chopped off. Let's have no more of this sharing is caring rubbish, just take the shot.

As the game went on we found unexpectedly large holes in Carlton's defence, but for now targets were hard to find. Enter Max Gawn, who decided that the best way to overcome the shortage was to boot a nuclear missile set shot from about 60 metres out. Hint to opposition teams - when the real stuff begins, probably have somebody standing as close as legally possible to his right so he can't wind up like this. The difference in philosophies between the sides was shown by Carlton wiping this out about 10 seconds later by bursting from the middle and sticking the ball right into Harry McKay's guts. It involved a massive throw first, but good luck if you can get away with it.

We soon found out that forward targets were overrated, when the second goal came via a 50 to Chandler. So if other teams could just be incredibly ill-disciplined all year we should be right. When we finally did kick the ball effectively to somebody inside 50 it was van Rooyen landing it on Schache, and while I'd much rather that happen the other way around it was duly converted. For want of any other options, I think the Schache Attacke is going to feature early in the season. I'd like to say 'feature prominently', but am waiting further evidence. Maybe he's a Carlton specialist and would have done something like this if we'd ever let him on the ground in that final?

There was a claim on the commentary that the crowd was "starting to build with people coming from work", which is the most pre-COVID thing I've ever heard. They would have had plenty of time to get to Princes Park if they'd done the traditional 9-5, the delay was them getting from all points of the compass after a big day of moving the mouse to be seen online and then walking the dog.

In a real pre-season scenario, we had the benefit of kicking with the shade in the first quarter. The Blues had plenty of entries that died because the forward couldn't see a thing. Blake Acres didn't have sun in the eyes to excuse the dropped mark that gifted us another goal, and I would like to ask where were unforced errors like that when he was dicking us in the last minute of a Semi Final? In case you were focusing on that unpleasant memory, Gawn brought back thoughts of happier days with a shot after the siren. This time he couldn't run in via Moreland Road, but converted a weird set shot that looked like it was going OOF, then dragged back to practically straight through the middle. 

It was a solid quarter, but I wasn't ready to have my house on us turning it into flag. Let's just start with making the eight and not kicking ourselves out of finals then work up from there. I'm worried that we'll have a good start to the year, then fall apart when the wafer thin depth is tested. If you thought there wasn't much in the tank last year consider that Brayshaw and Smith are gone for good, Turner is already injured for half the year, Petty probably will be 10 minutes after he returns, Melksham won't be seen until August, and Ben Brown is one step from 'where are they now'. I'm all for Salem in the midfield,  Windsor on the wing, and the ongoing development of McVee, JVR etc... but none of that's going to be any good when we get to Round 20 with Oliver Sestan, Kyah Farris-White, and some rando from the mid-season draft.

If we don't even wait for an injury crisis before going tits up this year, you can be sure that the CLUB IN CRISIS montages will include Lever and May having a frank and honest discussion in the wake of a Carlton goal. I say there should be more of it, if the two greatest modern defenders in club history can't demand more from each other who can? It's not like May was yelling at some poor rookie, he was debating the issues with somebody on his level and good luck to them. At least this time he ended an argument without being punched.

Hopefully whoever was cutting up footage of that 'dispute' left the tape running long enough to see Caleb Windsor kicking a turbo goal on the run. Wherever Lachie Hunter was, I think he might have asked Google for directions to Casey Fields after seeing that. Though are we absolutely sure that Langdon even finished 2023 ahead of Hunter? Either way, I think Windsor will have the memories of his debut spoiled by it occurring in a fictional round but don't expect him to play every game so there's opportunities for all of them yet. Mind you, I thought Judd McVee was just warming a spot for Salem last year and look at him now.

Considering what Joel Smith was reportedly up to at the end of last year, it should be noted that he was having the best forward run of his career. Maybe he was like that snooker player who could only play effectively when pissed? Take note Fritsch, who came in to this game presumably stone cold sober, then kicked for goal like he'd just come from New Jack City. To keep things interesting he even punted one set shot straight into the man on the mark. JVR also missed an opportunity, before the increasingly Todd Viney-looking Sparrow randomly appeared at the top of the square for our seventh.

It took the most blatant two handed shove in the back that you'll ever see to finally get van Rooyen a shot from close range, but that balanced out the rugby pass they scored from in the opening quarter. Things were going better than I'd expected inside 50 but if Carlton doesn't have somebody else to stand in Weitering's spot they may have to rely on another miracle recovery just to make finals. When Pickett unloaded another goal from distance not long after it was almost time to pack the stars away. For some reason we didn't do this, and I can only imagine the CHAOS if anyone had been injured.

Midfield Salem may be a necessity due to the disappearance of Brayshaw, Harmes, Jordon (and temporarily Oliver), but the potential for great things was shown by the beautiful pass he put on for Billings' goal just after the restart. This seemed like the cue for Gawn to finally get the precautionary hook, and coincided with me pausing to drive home, then battling home internet suffering the biggest meltdown since Three Mile Island. When I complained to the kid she said "it must be Drugs o'clock", which makes no sense but proves we've reached the point where even nine-year-olds can take the piss.

By the time I got working vision back at something above Zero Definition, Gawn had returned. No earthly idea why. The internet died again, but fortunately Maximum survived. If Visy was still running Carlton, another cracking goal on the run from Windsor would have been the start of Recycling Time. they got a couple at the end to drag (NB: I first wrote that as 'drug', so even I'm doing it now) the margin back under 30. Which lasted about 30 seconds before Schache put them away again.

I'm not expecting anything beyond a top eight finish, but while these games mean stuff all you can tell the players weren't affected by minor off-field rumblings. Of course they'd be sad about Brayshaw, worried for Oliver, and probably burning their SIM card if Smith has been in touch, but once the ball is bounced we're far more vulnerable to an injury or confidence crisis. We've got six months for one/both of those to show up, see if you can guess the exact minute it'll happen. I'll be waiting in a secure bunker with canned food.

Hands up if you could understand why Gawn was still playing halfway through the last quarter. Tom Fullarton resumed in the VFL practice game earlier in the day, but even if 100% fit he's no Max. There was no need for risk, when it didn't matter a jot if the Blues reeled in a 40 point lead in 10 minutes. This was when we sent in Kynan Brown. If Ben is ever fit again and they're both picked at the same time a Send In The Browns headline would be good. Verrall and Tholstrup were also introduced for cameos, as we tried to turn a meaningless practice match into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sparrow kicked a third, which was nice, as the game ended in excitement levels equivalent to the sixth period against Richmond that I never bothered to watch. I think we're still reasonably good, but are sitting on top of the wobbliest house of cards known to man, ready to be knocked over by the first strong breeze. Here's to surviving far enough into the season that everything turns back in our favour and we end the year elbow deep in the throats of our critics.

2024 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Christian Salem
2 - Kysaiah Pickett
1 - Christian Petracca

Final results
It's as ridiculous as ever to judge this off two games, but unless the National Panasonic Cup comes back what are you going to do? Under the circumstances I'm surprised this is the first tie since 2021, and sees Petracca go clear at the top of the Prymke leaderboard with four titles. Other joint winners are, inevitably, Gawn and Oliver. One thing they'll never take away from us is that this is the only award anywhere on the face of the planet previously won by Jesse Hogan, Jayden Hunt, Heritier Lumumba and Jackson Redvers Watts.

6 - Christian Petracca, Kysaiah Pickett
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Christian Salem, Jack Viney
2 - Kynan Brown
1 - Jake Bowey

Next Week
It's Round 1A (it is to me anyway) against Sydney on Thursday night. I'm not going to self-harm if we lose, but it would be nice to demonstrate that we're still alive in a high profile game. We know Pickett won't be there, Oliver is questionable, and if anyone's going to have the sad scenario of their debut coming in a nameless round it'll be Caleb Windsor. Otherwise, there shouldn't be any surprises on the agenda unless something NQR happens between now and then. I predict we'll pick the boring half-half option and make Oliver the sub, allowing him to sit around for three quarters listening to the most boring people in Australia shouting 'funnies' from over the fence. Then he'll have 17 touches in the last quarter, carry us to victory, then romp to the Brownlow. Or something.

Projected ladder
Nothing says yellow-streaked cowardice like picking the reigning Grand Final teams to finish top two. Doesn't mean they'll win the league but I can't see either plummeting to the death, unless the Pies finally run out of luck and start losing thrillers every week. Not sure if I've ever had a bigger bracket of potential finals teams, but everything points to a pre-September battle royale. Even the 10th - 13th selections have their charms, and now that I'm burying them this will probably be the year when Essendon finally turn up, probably to beat us in a final.  

1. Brisbane
2. Collingwood
3. GWS
4. Melbourne
5. Sydney
6. Adelaide
7. Gold Coast
8. Carlton
9. Geelong
10. Richmond
11. Fremantle
12. Port Adelaide
13. Footscray
14. St Kilda
15. Essendon
16. North Melbourne
17. Hawthorn
18. West Coast

2024 betting markets
With thanks to our official gambling partner PovertyBet, lose your house on one or more of these fictional markets:

Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year

$5 - Christian Petracca
$9 - Jack Viney
$10 - Clayton Oliver
$12 - Max Gawn, Christian Salem
$20 - Steven May, Tom Sparrow
$22 - Bayley Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett, Trent Rivers
$25 - Jack Billings, Jake Lever, Judd McVee
$30 - Harrison Petty
$35 - Jake Bowey, Ed Langdon, Jacob van Rooyen
$40 - Caleb Windsor
$45 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$60 - Kade Chandler, Shane McAdam
$80 - Lachie Hunter, Tom McDonald
$100 - Kynan Brown, Charlie Spargo, Adam Tomlinson
$150 - Blake Howes, Josh Schache
$250 - Tom Fullarton, Marty Hore, Taj Woewodin
$300 - Jed Adams, Koltyn Tholstrup
$500 - Will Verrall
$1000 - Oliver Sestan, Matthew Jefferson
$3000 - Kyah Farris-White, Daniel Turner
$5000 - Jake Melksham
$10,000 - Angus Brayshaw (well, he might get a second opinion...)
$15,000 - Joel Smith (well, he might get a second sample...)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
$8 - Steven May
$10 - Jake Lever, Judd McVee
$15 - Christian Salem, Trent Rivers
$20 - Jake Bowey
$40 - Harrison Petty, Adam Tomlinson
$50 - Marty Hore, Blake Howes
$80 - Tom McDonald
$120 - Jed Adams
$150 - Josh Schache
$500 - Daniel Turner
$10,000 - Joel Smith

Rising Star Award
Congratulations Taj Woewodin for landing right on the four game mark to remain eligible. Bad luck to Bailey Laurie, who just missed out.

$6 - Caleb Windsor
$12 - Kynan Brown
$15 - Taj Woewodin
$20 - Blake Howes
$22 - Jed Adams, Koltyn Tholstrup
$50 - Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Will Verrall
$75 - Matthew Jefferson, Oliver Sestan
$200 - Kyah Farris-White

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
$2 - Max Gawn
$10 - Tom Fullarton, Josh Schache
$20 - Will Verrall
$30 - Tom McDonald
$100 - Ben Brown
$150 - Kyah Farris-White

Final thoughts
I'm a bit scared, but open to being amazed by a series of unexpected positive results. 

Standard 'post delayed' notification

Surely to god nobody's fanging for a review of a Wednesday night practice match, but if you are I apologise and will get back to you ASAP.

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Monday 19 February 2024

Sims 24

When the first Demonblog post went up in 2005 you'd have got better odds on Melbourne winning a flag than me going into a 20th season but here we are. It's also been about that long since I was last this woefully underprepared for the new season. Probably since the inauspicious inaugural match review when I accidentally missed seeing the first quarter. It's not that I wasn't interested in 2024, despite all our recent seasons ending in massive flakeouts, my brain just couldn't comprehend that it was time to go, even after realising that we had something approaching a game at the marquee time of 10am Sunday morning.

I'd like to blame my struggle to warm up for 2024 on the Donald Trump Appreciation Society being defending premiers, or our involvement in the absolute nonsense that is 'Opening Round', but it's probably just self-defence because I'm scared that we're going to spend another six months battling our guts out to make finals then blow it by playing as if drunk again. It'll be years until the flag anesthetic completely wears off, but you still can't help feeling like we're walking into an ambush this year. Between our questionable depth, injury concerns, and let's politely say 'off field issues', everyone's waiting for a big, face-first, comedy flop. I don't think that's going to happen, but at the same time wouldn't have five cents in Chinese money on us comfortably finishing top four. Can't lose two finals in a row if you don't get the double chance [insert picture of the guy who looks like Eddie Murphy tapping his head]. 

Hopefully we reread this post at the end of the year and go "blimey, I didn't expect that to do happen", like in 2021 when the campaign of a lifetime started with an even more obscure 9.30 Friday morning game against the Tiges. At least we could watch that for free through the website, I had to reactivate my Kayo subscription before schedule to see the modern equivalent. Apparently they're cranking up their price soon, and you could see why when the long break 'entertainment' provided was an interminable segment of Ben Dixon and Andrew Gaze having a vom while eating sardines. Otherwise I think they've still got the rights to Slippery Stairs and the European Tram Driver Championship, so I'll look forward to that.

I'll be saying this in practice match posts until dropping dead, but it still feels crazy that we can even watch these games. It took long enough to get all the official pre-season games broadcast, and there are still a few from the early 2000s where nobody bothered to record all the goalkickers or quarter-by-quarter scores, but being able to watch really off-brand matches like this is relatively new. If you're past it like me and count 2015 as new anyway.

Of course, this was not officially a 'game', but a 'match simulation'. Not sure what the difference is, unless it's an administrative scam to make sure people can't bet on it then dispute whether the result counts at the end of four quarters, or after the full seven period/episode/chukka extravaganza featuring fringe players, comeback stories and VFL players you'll never see again.

I'll take it that there's a good reason why they don't just play a proper four quarter senior practice match, then another four quarter 'reserve' match after. Nobody's going to riot if the curtain-closer is called off early due to lack of interest, but it would be a lot neater than this weird seven part series. Any credibility the game had went out the window when it was revealed that a Richmond player didn't have to turn up because his sister was getting married. They didn't even make him participate in this tepid kickaround for a couple of quarters first. Just "nah, this is bullshit anyway, don't bother coming".

The players who turned up took it seriously, but they were about the only ones. It didn't even get the real Fox Footy treatment. No stirring orchestral theme, a scoreboard that looked like it had been generated by the Sega Megadrive, and a pair of break-in-case-of-emergency commentators who opened coverage with a reminder that we'd gone out in straight sets last year. Which gender? Doesn't matter.

Somewhere, somebody was probably taking things really seriously, and they'd have been emotionally spent after what turned out to be a ludicrously up-and-down game that everyone would remember for years to come if it happened in the real stuff. But it didn't, so you can file it alongside other low-profile pre-season matches of the last decade like our trip to CraigieburnSpencil Does Subiaco and somebody tripping over the power cord

We've seen enough pre-seasons to know that they can give some clues to the future (e.g. Petracca going nuts against Adelaide), but ultimately there's little relevance to what will happen under normal conditions. They're arguably more interesting when your team is shit because you can squint and try to pretend there's light at the end of the tunnel. Now that we're a couple of years off our glorious peak and you can make a case for going backwards, this was more like watching through your fingers and hoping that none of the key players shattered their spine, or needlessly shirtfronted an opponent into another galaxy. I think we got away with it, and that's about as much as you could ask for.

As much as I'm desperately trying to play down the relevance of this game, the first possession was a thing of beauty. The Gawn years have taught me that centre bounce rucking is the least important thing a ruckman does, but his fancy backhanded tap to a charging Viney was a reminder that there's some things you can't recreate by just sticking any old player in there and hoping to win the ball when it hits the ground. The joy of seeing artisan ruckwork lasted about three seconds before our first forward entry of the season died in the hands of a defender who outmarked two forwards. Barring disaster we've still got Petty and McAdam to come in attack (+ McDonald and Brown if they ever walk again), but that was the earliest 'here we go' moment in history. 

I've got a misguided confidence that we can find a way to put up decent scores this year, but you could have put Coleman, Carey and Lockett down there and they'd have walked off in disgust when the next forward entry saw Petracca scrub the most 10am Sunday kick of all time along the ground. That was a slight blip before he went back to being awesome, but it did make me wonder whether I really needed to be watching this live. But like a complete tool I did, for the first four bits anyway. Mystery players are my passion, but even I couldn't justify hanging around for parts 5-7 just to see Andy Moniz-Wakefield and Kyah Farris-White play the hyphenation derby. Was going to watch the rest later. Didn't.

So far, so 2023. Getting the ball inside 50 was one thing, putting it to the advantage of a forward was another. After JVR dropped what looked from the cheap seats like an easy one, it was time for the old 'everyone get out of the way and let a superstar do his work' when Petracca gathered in the pocket, did a fancy step, then snapped it. According to the on-screen scoreboard we were 6.1.7, which was interesting. By the time Fritsch got another soon after they'd consulted the laws of the game and put us back to 2.1.13.

The suspicion that we weren't supposed to be taking any of this seriously increased when Richmond fielded a player named after the band Steely Dan, who were named after a dildo. So he's got that going for him. It may have been the silliest name to appear at Casey Fields since Freddie Clutterbuck's famous MFC pre-season. 

There wasn't anything new in Gawn/Viney combos, or goals from Petracca and Fritsch, so if you were looking for a new and exciting angle to concentrate on may I introduce you to Kynan Brown. Crazy name, crazy first goal. He gathered with the ball as hard as possible on the boundary line with his back turned, then kicked it off his left foot with chuff all space available. It was tremendous, and he did several nice things that made you think he might turn out to be one of our few father/son success stories. It shouldn't be hard to crack a top five that's currently Barassi, Viney, [THE DISTANCE FROM HERE TO THE SUN], Other, Other.

If you were somebody intent on taking this contest overly seriously, you'd probably have been thinking flag when we pelted straight from the middle for a fourth unanswered goal. Or if you prefer to gently drape the Veil of Negativity over your eyes, romp the regular season then explode in September like a Russian fighter jet. 

This was all very good, and when a Brown HTB ended in Petracca hoofing his second you couldn't have had many complaints, but the house of cards nature of things was best demonstrated when we turned to Josh Schache as second ruckman. He's going to do as much as anyone else when Gawn's not available, but no matter who does it they've got to kick a few goals in the other 95% of the game or we may as well have just held Brodie Grundy hostage.

Because it's the pre-season I wasn't even worried about being five goals up. Normal people wouldn't comprehend that sentence, but I still need a lot of convincing that any decent lead is real and not the start of a slapstick comedy routine. 

Under normal circumstances I'd have been sweating up at the prospect of blowing that lead (or, you know, conceding the next 10 goals in a row) but under normal circumstances there wouldn't be somebody in the crowd dressed as an unhealthily green banana, roaming just behind signage for the local swim school.

And that's where things temporarily went tits up. At this stage of the season, savagely ramming home the advantage isn't particuarly important, but I could have done without going to sleep at the end of the quarter/bit and letting in three. Nobody's at their best in February, including the graphic designers, but the backline looked excessively wobbly all day. I'm very much trying not to fall into the trap of thinking this means anything, but there was a little part of me that thought "we're not going to kick a score, we're going to concede heaps, oh dear god". It didn't last long.

For once it wasn't blowing a force 10 gale at Casey, but the scoring action quickly resumed to the left of screen. Before long scores were level, and if this happened in May I'd clamber up an MCG light tower. On February 18 it had the same effect on me as a mid-winter Port Adelaide vs Gold Coast superclash.  

Conceding goals hand over #fistedforever was one thing, but things got a bit drastic when top draft pick and potential Round 1A (fuck 'Opening Round' in the ear. That will be referred to as Round 1A, the next game will be Round 1B, then we can stop doing American things) debutante Caleb Windsor briefly looked to have broken himself running in an opponent. Fortunately he returned later with no harm done. He was pretty good in senior company for the first time, and given that like 75% of our list Lachie Hunter is injured he'll probably play from the start. Explaining to the kids that you debuted in 'Opening Round' will be like the poor bastards who played 10 minutes as a sub in their first game. God knows what was happening on the opposite wing, where you could easily have missed that Langdon was playing. Might be time to go through the middle a bit more.

Richmond's 10th unanswered goal came from May completely botched a simple mark inside 50. I don't blame him, the poor bastard probably still harbours resentment at playing one of the best key position defender finals you'll ever see against Carlton before being stitched up by everyone else. I'm not that worried, he strikes me as the sort of White Line Fever character that would struggle to get excited about a flimsy contest like this.

What level of rot there was finally ended with a Gawn set shot. Given the A4 paper depth of our ruck division it didn't fill me with joy that he already had massive bandaging around his lower leg. Never mind, there's always Tom Fullarton. Oh he's injured too. What's the Spencil doing these days?

We got another after the siren when Chandler clearly didn't mark in time but the umpire invoked the Fake Game rule and let him have the shot anyway. It dragged the margin back to 19, which was way better than the direction it was heading but still hardly indicative of what we're going to be seeing in Round 23, 24, 25 or however many rounds are in this bloody season now.

By now I knew I had better things to do. So did the coaches, who packed Gawn away for the rest of the game. It would have been a great time to have a look at the rest of our ruck division but we don't have one. Verrall played the rest of the game, but he's a longer-term project than high speed rail so we'll be in a drastic state if he's called on again.

The comeback rolled on with a Pickett goal after half time, before we gave it back x2. Novelty value went through the bloody roof when Lever kicked a goal but it was still unlikely that there'd be dancing in any streets if we overrun them to win. I was still happy for Brown to get his second goal straight from the next bounce, then Schache put us back in front, and for something that didn't even qualify as a real game this was an entertainingly off chops start to the year. Maybe I was just enjoying a Melbourne game where I didn't have to live and die on every kick, shortly before spending the next six months taking things way too seriously. 

Our lead didn't last to the moral three quarter time, wiped out by a Richmond goal after the siren. And that was about where I really lost interest. Coincidentally this came just as Richmond ran away with it, including a homecoming goal to an ex-Casey player who wasn't even officially on Richmond's list yet. And from there Richmond merrily bolted away to win comfortably, despite Verrall becoming the most unusual pre-season goalscore sincer Trent Zomer.

I can't think many people were watching this to start with, but as viewing figures dropped to community TV levels the commentators got bored and started pretending that (relatively) high scores in a defence optional kickaround was going to translate to the regular season. This happens in the first couple of rounds every year before coaches realise that they love nothing more than squeezing the life out of the opposition and scoring floats back down to normal levels. If that's the sort of rubbish they were left with in the main game I'd hate to think how the last 90 minutes went.

And err... that's it. This doesn't bode well for my performance in 2024 but let's just pretend I'm a big game writer and see what happens when a big game turns up.

2024 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Kysaiah Pickett
3 - Jack Viney
2 - Kynan Brown
1 - Jake Bowey

Next game
All our 2023 straight sets disasters come together when we play the team that knocked us out of the men's comp at the ground where we were knocked out of the women's comp. All it needs is for some Collingwood buffoon to shirtfront Angus Brayshaw while he's lining up for a hotdog and we'll have the full shithouse. I'll be taking the result of this one a little bit more seriously but still not reaching for razorblades if it goes tits up.

Final thoughts
Get on with the real stuff.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Going down in flames

Back when Twitter still had some life about it people were always demanding that you "name a more iconic duo". Turns out the correct answer is 'Melbourne premiership defence' and 'straight sets finals disaster'.

Last week suggested an uphill struggle to go back-to-back, but I thought we'd do the obvious thing and stretch things out for another week before being dismissed. Instead, the wheels came off with such force that they bounced up Royal Parade, onto Sydney Road, and are currently on the Hume Highway somewhere near Albury. 

There will be no chance to avenge our loss to Brisbane, no Preliminary Final, and no chance of a Grand Final in Victoria, because we've ended the season with downhill skiing records never to be beaten. We've got the option of playing the Chris Scott 2021-style illness card after late-season COVID anarchy, but as Alan Partridge said, "knock it off with the fancy words. It went tits up".

For all the sooking about us retaining players when expansion clubs were granted shoplifting rights at the end of last season, don't say we're not interested in equalisation. After Adelaide pounded Sydney on Saturday night, AFLW was one game away from being confirmed as a four team comp with the other 14 making up numbers. Now we've provided the "look, anything can happen" example by going out to a sixth-placed side that we'd thrashed two months earlier. 

That's a lovely feelgood story - until the Cats are held to nil by Brisbane in the Prelim - but it's giving me 'consuming water in a third world country' level shits. Pound-for-pound I'm more upset about this than our last Semi Final Fiasco. All those years thinking the men would never win anything beyond AFLX makes 2021 an emotional support flag that will take years to lose impact. On the other hand, the women have been somewhere in the mix for eight seasons straight so it's tormenting me that we got so far behind AND still nearly took it to extra time (or better) when starting hot favourites.

If you'd offered me premierships in both grades in exchange for an endless string of finals defeats I'd have done a tendon signing up, but as we won the flags without (as far as I'm aware) the help of Faustian pacts there's no reason to be losing games in Victoria hand over #fistedforever so I reserve the right to be gloomy about it for months.

You can't say we'd have played the same way/kicked the same score if the margin had only been three goals at the last change, but based on evidence from the rest of the season it's not difficult to imagine us finishing all over them. It's just the bit about trying to pull off the biggest three-quarter time comeback in the competition's history that got us. The death-or-glory recovery deserves credit, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't finish the job. We got what we deserved for the three quarters before, which completed a run of the nine worst our W side has ever played.

Much like North, apparently the Cats just needed a second look at us to get things right but let's remember the best bits of 2023. Like when we were tonking lowly sides with such ease that the coach let somebody else take over for a night (the club is pretending it didn't count but until I get advice to the contrary on MFC letterhead, Demonwiki is counting Shae Sloane as being in charge against Hawthorn), and I foolishly pondered whether this team could score a better points-per-game average than the men. That went out the door when the good teams turned up, but I still had faith that we could repeat right until last week, when the forward line disappeared into a massive sinkhole. 

When you look at how foundation clubs like Carlton and Footscray are going, it's a mark of quality that this is our first ever three game losing streak. Regular readers will know this all coincides with my AFLW membership purchase, which is reaching 'Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I' levels of joining backfire. I don't know what was supposed to be in the membership packs, but they still had plenty of the bag/water bottle combo to shift, because when I asked the staff member outside the ground if it was too late to collect mine she reached into one of several boxes and handed it over without even checking if I was really paid up. Shame, they might have seen the red flag next to my name and saved me from watching us drop another steaming turd in the middle of Princes Park.

Somebody's going to complain that we'd have won this at Casey, and you never know what weird things will happen there but if we weren't good enough to beat Geelong at Princes Park then forget the venues and concentrate on the bigger picture. Besides, for the good of the competition you can't play finals in Cranbourne. I'm sure Cats fans appreciate the irony of a team playing finals at a premium venue instead of an undersized ground about 100km from the Melbourne CBD.

It didn't need to turn out this badly. The woe of being held to one goal last week was nearly removed by fanging straight out of the middle and landing a pass with Hore after 20 seconds. She was too far out, but it was a nice reminder that we could find forward targets instead of booting the ball straight to defenders. We then switched to the innovative tactic of playing with zero forwards, and spent much of the first quarter down the other end, unable to escape and feeding them repeat entries until they couldn't help but take advantage.

For now we kept the ball down there for a bit, which was an improvement, but with absolutely not a cracker of crumb to be had you had no faith that somebody was going to pluck a goal from nowhere. Then we blundered around with some dreadful turnovers and next thing you know Geelong had the opener. This summarises the first three quarters - them converting from everywhere while we struggled to create any chances in the first place. 

I'm sure Casey Sherriff is appropriately sad for her teammates, but for the purpose of contract negotiation she must be secretly chuffed at how bad the forward line has looked since her injury. She may have only kicked 4.7 in 10 games but can now claim 'underappreciated role' status. My problem is that on the surface it doesn't look like we tried to replace her (and yes, the obvious question is "with what?" but fark me somebody's got to be paid to think about plans B, C and beyond), and it led to Bannan's influence being nuked. Between Hore's goal against the Lions and Zanker trying to win it single-handedly on Sunday, we haven't had a more awkward-looking forward line in years. And even then, a lot of the time low scoring games saved us.

The Cats were into the same Big Book Of Beating Melbourne as North, leaving no space for artisan rebound football. Instead we kicked straight at packs, and in many cases directly to their players with none of ours in the ara. Even when we did get the ball in the middle our players would look up to see nobody ahead and just madly boot it forward in hope of a miracle. There was no damaging ball movement until the last term when it was too late. I was sour on West by the end of the season but credit to her for not only being the best ball-winner but leading the disposal efficiency. However, when most them are close-range handballs to somebody about to be tackled what's the overall benefit?

We're were reduced to defending a siege, with Geelong doing us a solid by dropping a couple of marks inside 50. They seemed to pull down all the ones we booted straight towards them, including Gay having unpleasant flashbacks to playing for Carlton and turning over multiple exit kicks. Not that there were any good targets to aim at but any contest would have been better than a Geelong player 60 metres from goal. Everything was on their terms, and I'd have been sweating up like a doped racehorse if not for the memories of running all over the top of them in our last meeting. I sat there gritting my teeth and thinking things might still turn out ok if we didn't do something stupid like, or I don't know, going five goals behind.

Eventually, we gave them so many chances that they got a second. It was just the sort of goal from nowhere that we haven't gone near kicking in this final series. We'll get into snap, uneducated, and possibly dangerous suggestions about drafting and recruiting later in the post but for the love of all that is holy please find me a forward who can turn a loose ball inside 50 into a goal. 

I'd have been sweating up like a drugged racehorse if not for the memories of finishing over the top of them in the last meeting. People who hhate Melbourne (and admittedly I would have been pissing myself laughing watching as a neutral), this was the modern equivalent of "who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original". Against North we got the ball forward but were wrecked by their defenders, this time the only player with any sort of aerial presence was Gillard, who was a) on the last line of defence, and b) trying to break the world record for spoils.

The forwards were basically fictional characters by this point. Not much point having the league's top two goalscorers, a player renowned for running into open goals, and one who is probably the best contested mark in the competition on her day if they're never down there. We weren't going to kick goals from 80 metres out like Malcolm Blight, and with a 0.0% chance of crumb it was back to hit and hope in the off-chance that Geelong might do something stupid and let us get a steadier. But by now we'd lost the chance to stamp authority and they were having a wonderful time. 

You will recall, now that we need to pretend this isn't as embarrassing a loss as it seems, that the first time around they had us on the rack in the opening minutes before we goalled from a ludicrous free, then followed that with another straight from of the middle. You can't get silly frees in the forward line if the ball is never down there, and when Geelong had a Goal of the Year contender hit the post via wild ping from the pocket this was in danger of turning to shit even quicker than last week.

In the dying seconds we just got forward quick enough for Zanker to mark and miss from an obscure angle, but tellingly the ball movement was assisted by a free. Otherwise we'd never have strung together enough possessions without turning the ball over.  

I'm baffled as to how things got so bad for us in attack. Harris has not had a good season but I didn't like the idea of dropping Campbell and not picking a proper second ruck. Harris was backup ruck in a flag last year, but this was the point where we really could have done with somebody crashing packs and taking big grabs inside 50. When she finally got on one well within range later in the game she did a ridiculous pass to somebody in a worse position so who knows what the hell was going on. We should have sent her back into the ring mid-season to get the bloodlust going.

A 14 point margin at quarter time wasn't ideal but somehow it could have been worse. Still, we had three quarters to get things right and overrun them right? Apparently not. The added novelty value was Geelong fielding four of our exes, and it worked much better than when Port Adelaide tried a Barry/Toumpas/Trengove/Watts led-recovery. Everyone remembers Shelley Scott, and most will recall Chantel Emonson and Jackie Parry, but you'd do well to recall the four game career of Erin Hoare. She's one of only two players to have a career Daisy Pearce Medal tally of one, scored on debut in Round 1, 2018. And now, despite not having a kick all day she's in a Prelim and we're not. Parry was a forward who didn't kick a goal in her last 13 games for us, so who else would you want to open the second term with a goal?

We were in deep shit now, and even a good side had to be doubting themselves at a time like this. The ideal scenario was to do a men's Prelim Brisbane and come back to stamp out the underdog, but we kept going backwards at speed. When they got another goal almost straight after I was ready to discuss surrender terms with the captain who sounds like a Miami Vice character, the ex-MFC contingent, and that midfielder who used to carry Kevin Keegan's 1980s hair. 

After her rocky first quarter, Gay randomly ended the half as a hero by pulling down a tumbling kick in the dying seconds. The way things had gone I expected it to fling off the boot at right angles and kill a boundary umpire, but she converted after the siren and the comeback was ever so slightly on. The problem was wasting several minutes forward after the break without another goal, then conceding. By the time one of their players was allowed an eternity to run after a loose ball like Rocky chasing the chicken, then tap it through after a few half-hearted 'tackle' attempts we were absolutely rooted.

With the first choice forward options exhausted, our last desperate move was putting Lauren Pearce down there. Now, she's a great ruck and can take a mark but may be the least reliable set shot in Australia. We were stuck one one goal approaching three quarter time, so when she took a much-needed grab inside 50 it would have been an excellent time to rise above the ruck goakicking curse a'la Gawn 2021. We achieved full 'escaping a burning building' panic mode when Harris marked well within her traditional range on not too bad an angle and passed to Gay 50 metres out. 

At one point our 22 point recovery against Brisbane in the 2022 summer season was the greatest of all. Not sure if that's been topped since but if anybody's come back from 23 points or more they surely haven't wound in a five goal last quarter deficit. It felt stupid to stay, but I thought if I sat through Geelong beating us by 186 I could pay my respects to the death of our premiership defence in person. Last week fans voted to hear Zombie by the Cranberries at three-quarter time, and in the absence of any songs about violent civil disorder they should have played the theme from Poseidon Adventure.

We started the last quarter with Gillard in the ruck, which felt more like "let's see if we discover something for the future" than a tactic that might get us back into it but blow me down we went straight out of the middle for a goal. After mocking Pearce's goalkicking she pulled down a great mark, then did the sensible thing and dished it to a passing Hanks to finish. "Bit late for this" I thought, until Zanker whomped through a pair of set shots to cut the gap to 18 and our chances of winning were nudging just ahead of 'peace in the Middle East'.

It still needed three goals, but for the first time all day we were on top and finding space in attack. So the obvious turn of events was for Geelong to take a fortuitous mark in the square that seemingly ended it all again. In the end, it did, but not without a tremendous scare. After losing a few more minutes attacking as if drunk, we got the ball to Zanker for her third, and a minute later Mackin II was kicking a goal on the run to make the margin an even six points with a couple of minutes left.

I'd been reduced to watching the clock tick down on the AFL app, wondering how much of a lag there is between it and the real time remaining. Extra time would have done me nicely, not just for the novelty value of being there for the first time it's ever happened in a Melbourne game, and my life flashed before my eyes when Pearce grabbed the ball out of a ruck contest and ripped a snap that looked like it might go through - from my vantage point - for a millisecond. 

If my failing memory serves me correctly they had eight seconds to navigate and just got away with it. The ball was flying back towards our goal at the siren, but even though Gillard optimistically tried to claim a mark well after the siren I think she was helped by the defenders breaking off into celebration when they realised it was over. If we'd won it would have toppled coming from a shitload down in 2003 as my finest Princes Park moment, but instead I went home flat as a tack. Lucky the train across Royal Park got dismantled about 70 years ago or I'd have considered making contact with overhead wires.

Last time we ended a season this early it was at the hands of COVID-19, but at least that came after a win. So it's been a bit of a shambles, but let's agree that the pieces are there and just need to be arranged into a format that stands up all season against everyone. I appreciate the good times we had, but like watching the men all next year and thinking "yeah, but what are they going to do in the finals", I'm not going to be able to truly enjoy winning regular season AFLW games by any margin until we start winning finals again.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eliza West
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Eden Zanker
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Sinead Goldrick

Apologies to Purcell, B. Mackin and Paxman

Final results
How many years have I been doing this and only just realised you can't have a 'final leaderboard'. That's what I call post-straight sets clarity. Anyway, as there are now zero votes on offer may we offer a hearty congratulations to Tyla Hanks on her victory. After sharing the title with Olivia Purcell last year, this is her first outright victory. Paxy remains the boss, with five career titles.

No alterations in the minors, with Pearce winning her umpteenth consecutive ruck count, and Tahlia Gillard just holding off a last minute contest from Goldrick to take the award for defenders. No score in the Rising Star, so Aimee Mackin and Georgia Campbell can argue it amongst themselves but we'll be showing 'No qualified players' on the all-time leaderboard. The carryover mark for AFLW is three games, so Georgia Gall will be the only existing player to start next year eligible for the title.

34 - Tyla Hanks
29 - Kate Hore
15 - Lauren Pearce (WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Olivia Purcell
14 - Eden Zanker
11 - Blathin Mackin, Shelley Heath, Eliza West,
9 - Tahlia Gillard (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
8 - Sinead Goldrick
6 - Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman
5 - Alyssa Bannan
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
It would have been Pearce if that snap went through, but under the circumstances I'm going with Aimee Mackin's ice-cold finish in tense circumstances. Nobody would have blamed her for missing it - god knows the players who have grown up playing the game probably would have - but she gave us hope of pulling off the most ludicrous of all comebacks. Doesn't influence the overall result, so congratulations to the captain for holding on to win.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next year
Time to throw the baby out with the bathwater and try to change everything. Firstly, if the same conditions are there that almost had Paxy doing a post-flag runner to Perth for this season I wouldn't be surprised if it was on the cards again. If we can do the right thing for a legendary player and start to plan for the future at the same time it might work out for everyone. Otherwise the only first-choice players over 30 are Goldrick and Pearce, and they're not going anywhere so any other improvements are going to come via draft or trade.

From the risky suggestions department, are we sure Tayla Harris is a going concern? For all the free-scoring mayhem this year she kicked three goals and barely went near it in games that counted. I don't know if there's an injury problem, and don't doubt she can still play very good games but if you're all in on Zanker and Bannan for the future it might be a chance to improve elsewhere. Double on this if they like Gall and want her to play more senior games next year.

I'm assuming Watt retires, and without knowing contract statuses I'd suggest the majority of Fowler, Ivey, Johnson, Taylor, and Wilson will get the chop now that the real national draft is back. There's 'depth' and there's depth, so now that topping up with experienced players hasn't helped it's time to put some kids on the list and hope for the best. We're never going to have things as good as they've been over the first couple of 18 team seasons, but the pieces are definitely there to have another crack if we can fill in some of the gaps.

Final thoughts
I'm happy to take the piss out of us for losing finals left, right, and centre. Opposition fans can join in after submitting written acknowledgment of how good it was that we won a pair of flags first. Now I'm taking a long break from anything footy-related beyond trawling old newspapers for Demonwiki. See you in 2024 for M, W, and probably WTF.

Monday 13 November 2023

What a time to stop being alive

Just when you'd started to recover from the horrors of September, our worst finals performance of 2023 turns up out nowhere. This time we didn't kick ourselves out of a game, or lose in the dying seconds due to collective insanity, it was just a siren-to-siren munting by better prepared, significantly more up for it opposition. And in the week where they put all the names of members on a banner I'd like to apologise that we're now 0-2 since I joined.

Speaking of memberships, my kid won't care but I still haven't admitted to trading her membership for my cursed AFLW one. Junior was surprisingly keen to attend so I thought mentioning it would unnecessarily risk controversy. As far as a first final went it didn't give offer the same sort of inspiration that I got in 1989. In fact, after five minutes interest was lost to the point where the rest of the game was spent reading me facts from a Taylor Swift magazine and occasionally looking up to ask semi-relevant questions like "have we kicked a goal yet?" My response went from chuckling at the mad idea that we wouldn't get one, to nearly chucking shit as full time neared with us on 0.not much.

On the occasion of my second AFLW final I'm glad to see that it's traditional to make players stand arm-in-arm waiting for them to turn the top 40 tunes off. Last time it was the last song Madonna did before disappearing, this time I've got NFI what they were playing but just when you thought they were finally getting on with things somebody hit the wrong button and started playing Enter Sandman again. No wonder when the anthem started with an unusually zingy orchestral flourish I thought they'd accidentally played Austria.mp3.

Turns out it would have been better for us if they'd just played the radio for four quarters and decided the result via Rock, Paper, Scissors, because what followed made the shambolic pre-game events look like The Beatles at Shea Stadium. When you win 80% of the time the rest is going to come as a shock, but this was arguably our worst performance in W history. The last round of 2019 ended in a bigger loss, but we still hadn't played a final at that point. Now we've gone Prelim/Grand Final/Flag/top two, then into abject disarray against a side that was trampled a few weeks ago.

North are well-known for losing to the teams above them, but they're not the fourth pillar of The Good Teams for nothing. This might have been their finest moment, treating everything we did in the spirit of playing a mid-card mediocrity. The sad thing is that we didn't play badly for much of the game, it's just that the forward line suffered an Optus-style outage at Optus Oval, and after picking off our attacks with the greatest of ease North caught us out by flinging the ball back the other way at warp speed. If we'd converted anything in the first three quarters then maybe the conditions weren't there to be tormented on the counter.

If people went troppo over women's selection like they do the other stuff, then Eliza West getting the hook would have been controversial. I can see where they were coming from though, she gets a lot of it but is involved in more butchery than all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies combined. Maybe if she was involved it would have pissed about with the space-time continuum and we'd have won by lots but I don't see how 95% accumulation, 5% finesse would have helped on a day where the opposition had clearly done the same 'where will all the aimless kicks land?' studies as Brisbane.

My enjoyment of the first quarter wasn't helped by sitting at ground level. I don't care that this is how people did it for 150 years, it gives me the shits. We'd started in the stands before being driven out by a speaker that blasted everything at 350% volume like a jumbo jet taking off directly overhead. The ball coming straight towards us from the first bounce was a good sign, but North escaping without going close to conceding a score was not. Then when the ball got pinned at their end we couldn't extract it, eventually leading to an out of the arse snap into the wind. This kicked off a day where they kicked goals from every angle while we committed arson on forward entries and murder on set shots.

Like last week all over again we couldn't escape their pressure, leading to desperate kicks forward that usually landed with the opposition. They kept missing shots, including one politely from almost directly in front, but we couldn't do anything but thump the ball as far away from goal as possible and hope it didn't come back. But it did. What we needed was a repeat of the first game when they gave away a stupid 50 to get us going.

We'd come from behind against North once this year so even though we were wading knee-deep through quicksand it was only just over a goal the difference so the towel wasn't poised for throwing in yet. When Hanks won a holding the ball free near enough to right in front of me (related: that clip is probably approaching succulent Chinese meal levels of not needing the link) I thought a) this will get us going, and b) god I hope we get some kind of score for the quarter. It was a point, and a goal probably wouldn't have saved us, but from my perspective as good as level to the goalline bullshit it didn't fully cross the line before being touched. There was added confusion when the umpire signalled that it hit the post, but I watched this bit of the replay just to see if we got on camera (answer: no) and it bounced off the player into the opposite post. So if it was already touched before fully crossing the line then what does it matter if the post was involved?

Under the circumstances, it's a miracle that we got to quarter time just nine points down. This wasn't much more than their lead in the last meeting before we held North to two behinds for the rest of the game. So in two meetings this year they've gone goalless Q2-Q4 and we've done it Q1-Q3, so stand by for another pearler if we somehow get another crack at them in the Grand Final.

At this point, it was back to the stands, not just because of the reduced visibility but also somebody in front who was keen to talk to anyone. Not to mention an old man immediately to the right who had clearly only turned up because it was a final and was on the verge of sooking about the quality of the game as if he'd expected it to be North 1996 vs Melbourne 1964. I'm not defending the entertainment value of the first quarter (and the next three from our perspective), but once you've arrived at the ground carrying on about the standard is like going to the wrestling and carrying on about it being rigged.

The second term is what killed us, holding them to a handful of inside 50s but conceding the only goal and not scoring a cracker. Purcell turning a set shot into North nearly kicking a goal via yet another botched attempt at finding a forward target said everything you needed to know. I'm pinning all the blame on our forward entries. The defence might have crumbled under siege, but we had enough chances to get back into it. Even then it was only 15 points at the break, so if you were still a believer in us out-running teams then there was hope of making it interesting.

As much as I hated Harris starting the second half in the ruck and playing Pearce forward, it almost paid off when LP pulled down a mark right in front of goal after a minute. I haven't gotten over her missing from the top of the square against Adelaide last year and thought "this could go anywhere" shortly before it went anywhere but through the middle. So basically we gave up a ruck who can pick up contested possessions in the middle, and a forward who might be well down on her best this year but can take marks and kick goals.

That's when it got a bit perverse, with North kicking three quick goals to blow the margin out from 'unlikely' to 'bloody impossible'. It was approaching unmitigated fiasco territory midway through the last quarter when Hore finally pulled down a mark (or was it a free? I was losing the will to live by this point) directly in front, not far out and put it into the post. I'd have started flicking through the record books for the all-time lowest MFC scores if my kid hadn't captured the phone to play lo-fi games that would have looked shit on the Sega Master System. 

Fortunately North saved this team from being the first to go goalless since the 1956 Thirds by going into self-preservation mode long enough for Bannan to belatedly turn up. The way things were going I expected it to somehow end in us conceding at the other end but she converted, jumping us ahead of our previous lowest AFLW score. Her traditional frenzied post-goal celebration seemed a bit odd under the circumstances but I suppose when you've got the music in you etc... etc...

I'm not going to hold it against the North fans for going off their nut at the end, especially when heaps more of them turned up, but the guy doing on his feet whinging about the umpiring deep in the last quarter of a record-breaking thrashing could wind the siege mentality in a bit. 

All in all, it was one of the filthiest performances you'll ever see. I think there's a way back but not sure how far it will go before turning into a sheer drop from a cliff.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Olivia Purcell
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Sinead Goldrick

Apologies to Gay, McNamara and Paxman - just because the field in front of them was so thin.

Hopefully there's still 15 votes in this, but even if that's the case it will only prolong the Hanks vs Hore battle because everyone else is now officially stuffed. The captain reduced the gap by one, leaving the field open for any combination of final result between them. No change in the minors, with Goldrick narrowly eating into Gillard's lead, and nothing close to votes for A. Mackin or Campbell that would save the Rising Star. 

32 - Tyla Hanks
28 - Kate Hore
--- Done for ---
13 - Olivia Purcell
11 - Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Shelley Heath, Eden Zanker
9 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
7 - Sinead Goldrick
6 - Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
Get stuffed

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
No need to burn the place down yet, this may have been one of the great debacles but unless we regroup going out in straight sets could top it. Due to Channel 7's women's cricket commitments, there's no Friday game again, as if they don't have multiple other channels to put a footy game on. Great news for fans of Pie In The Sky, which couldn't be blown out of its timeslot on 7Two with explosives for something like an AFL final. 

To be fair a Friday game could only have been Adelaide vs Sydney, so an ancient repeat featuring Dr. Meinheimer from Naked Gun will probably rate better here. But that means they occupy Saturday night, and we're back to squinting in the sun at Princes Park from 3.05pm Sunday. And after waiting for years to play Geelong, it's a second game against them this year. Last time we withstood early stress to grind them into dust by the last quarter, but after this week it feels like if we're ever going to lose a final to a team outside the top four this could be it. Surely not, but the coaches will be up all night trying to find ways to look dangerous again.

The problem is that this is nearly our best side. Sherriff's mystery fracture has ended her year, and Lampard isn't going to be ready so what can you do except trust the survivors? I'm sure West will come back, and I'd prefer Wilson over Ivey, but otherwise for players who have appeared once this year you're down to Watt, Gall and Colvin - none of who are going to help if Geelong has reviewed the same tape of our forward entries. If they didn't have enough faith in Campbell to play her for a full game I suppose you could bring Watt back and park Harris inside 50 to try and create some sort of contest. Otherwise we're just going to have to hope that the players haven't entered a misery spiral and can secure a ticket in the Prelim lottery. Then it's back to Springfield and here's hoping for a better result than last time.

Final thoughts
We've nearly achieved a modified version of the famous 1996 Fitzroy banner. This time it's 'Broken by Brisbane, F'ed by North', and you can sit back and wait to see how the AFL completes the trifecta. 

Monday 6 November 2023

Red and Blue Alert

If it all goes tits up this year you can blame me for signing up as an AFLW member right before finals. When my daughter's renewal notice for the M arrived I realised that she wouldn't even notice if the money was redirected into causes under my name, then we almost immediately lost top spot and automatic Grand Final hosting rights. Sorry about that.

Losing our return trip to Premiership Alley wasn't the ideal way to end the home and away season, but as there's only four decent teams the season is probably just as likely to end in flag as it was last week. The good news is that we didn't also lose the McClelland Million, with St Kilda doing us a favour for the first time since not drafting Petracca and unexpectedly beating the Lions last week. After dropping to 1-2 against the other contenders there may be a few alpine activity-related accusations flying around, but while defeat may have cost us top spot it didn't make the coveted cash disintegrate like some bullshit cryptocurrency scam. 

Speaking of the white stuff, you can fret that this time might turn out to be downhill skiers but at least they're not engaging in Eric Clapton's 'no snow, no show' philosophy. I'm so far outside the target market for Pride Round that all I can do is offer a supportive thumbs up and genuinely wish everybody well, but if there was ever a year to celebrate other reasons to be proud they should have done half-half jumpers showing a negative drug test. 

Given that AFLW players are getting an average of $60,000 this year they're probably looking at the shenanigans on the other side and thinking "Drugs? We can't even afford food", so it's ironic that they played this as if under heavy sedation against opposition frothing to rip them apart like an outlaw motorcycle gang on bathtub speed.

In the end, as long as the trifecta of injury scares are resolved in the positive, does it really matter? Sure if we want to host the Grand Final, Adelaide needs to do their part of the Finals Bradbury Plan but we've got to get there first. Winning here would have made that easier, offering the closest thing to a Qualifying Final bye against Gold Coast. But even if we got through week one the easy way, we'd likely still have needed to beat one of the big hitters in a Prelim. I'll take the two guaranteed home finals and am happy to slay the dragon at *checks list of eligible SA venues* Norwood Oval if required.

Regardless of how much there was to play for, team selection still left me suspicious that we were comfortable gently gliding to the end of the season. I was all for Rhi Watt's record-setting debut in a throwaway game against dreck, but the logic of ditching Campbell here escapes me. She's still developing but has shown a bit this year, so pissfarting around with the ruck division a week from finals felt suss. Anything could be happening behind the scenes, but this + introducing Ivey for the first time since Round 3 last year was strange. All the best for her making a fairytale run to the flag but in a short season with no pre-finals bye I'd think you'd want pre-finals stability.

Just when you thought the drama was over, unexplained hamstring phenomena took Paxman out rogue canine style during the warm-up. Even at the tail end of a great career Paxy would be hard to replace at short notice, but the emergency reintroduction of green as grass tall forward Georgia Gall didn't do much for our structure. Maybe they knew we'd be bombing kicks towards defenders all night and thought she could help bring the ball to ground. Either that or the other emergencies had ducked over the road for a milkshake and couldn't be found.

In the same way we should never be allowed to lose at Perth Stadium again, it would have been nice to go unbeaten at Springfield forever, but Brisbane were so up for the contest that we might not have handled them with a full side. Craig Starcevich's old school motivational technique of showing players highlights of them losing the Grand Final. It obviously worked, but I hope old mate who was falsely awarded Tahlia Gillard's BOG medal realised how lucky she was that key defenders are constitutionally banned from winning AFL awards.

It's a shame we can't play the Lions again next week, because the niggle value of this game was so high that there's no way they'd have been able to recapture enough steam to do it again. They've got the coveted Round 10 Cup, and their players carried on like Footscray fans after beating us in 2022, as if one mid-season win erased the stain of playing the worst hour in the history of Grand Finals. If Brisbane go on to win the real thing I'll recognise that this was the start of something big, for now I'd like to read from the Book of Malthouse and say it was their Grand Final.

Just seeing a Melbourne side play at this ground gave me fond memories of the day we won the version. It doesn't look like much has changed since our original visit other than the locals kicking a competitive score. Seems like the brick wall of death in the right of screen forward pocket has almost entirely been covered up. Last year there were handy gaps at either end so you could slide across a wet ground and into a career-ending injury. Otherwise, it still looks a lot like Casey Fields North but with bonus Kardinia Park style train noises.

Now that you know the result, the opening minutes perfectly explained what was going to happen. We've had games that got better after a ropey start - including our other appearance at this venue - but Brisbane had us on the back foot from the first bounce. They were so dominant in the first quarter that we deserve some credit for recovering to get in front, except for the bit about not kicking another goal after.

Our backline has spent most of the year waiting for something to happen so it's probably good that they've been subjected to a pre-finals barrage. They held up well in one-on-ones, including Air Gillard flying through with spoils all over the place, but weight of numbers and inability to stop quick transitions got us eventually. When we finally escaped confined spaces and got the ball inside 50 it was plucked out of the air with the greatest of ease. Then, when Brisbane finally gave us a chance via a shizen handball in defence we turned two players running towards the loose ball into conceding at the other end.     

Thanks to Channel 7 you were lucky to know any of this was happening. I'll take up weapons to defend Jason Bennett but he should demand a trade after your home of finals warmed up by broadcasting like community television. The commentators clearly weren't there - as shown by a background during half-time that would have meant they were hovering in an airship - and they would have had all sorts of trouble calling off the screen while battling random, often transition-free zooms and picture freezes. No wonder there was so much awkward silence, they were probably slapping monitors and yelling "is this thing working?" away from the mic.

Our forward line fizzed, but they never got much of a chance to do anything with the rushed, panic kicks coming towards them. The start and end of the Adelaide game showed they can score against good sides if we can get the ball down there with some degree of poise. None of that was allowed here, and Brisbane knew exactly where to stand for our desperate kicks from packs. They kept dropping easy marks, we didn't have anyone close enough to take advantage. Then even after they lost time regathering, somebody was on their own for the next kick. This was not our night in any sense.

We were in serious danger of joining the scoreless first quarters list before snatching one against the run of play. Even with Sherriff kicking from close range at next to no angle I'll admit to having grave concerns about where it was going to end up. She made mockery of my inner-turmoil (and took advantage of a reverse mozz after her inaccuracy was mentioned on commentary) to make scores a whole lot more reasonable than they deserved to be. This was almost stuffed up by allowing the ball to get back into Brisbane's 50 in the dying seconds. We survived, then made up for it by conceding scores out the yin yang to end the next two quarters. 

But first, the 'maybe everything's going to turn out ok' revival. There was no serious wind involved (but unlike certain other venues they've been smart enough to build a structure behind one of the goals to stop Hurricane Bertha whipping through), but we turned the game around in the second quarter after finding some space. I was open to the idea of wearing them down like so many before, but in an extreme version of Adelaide there was no point running the game out better if you're a million points down.

The tide was turning in our direction. Even when Harris, who earlier nearly legally killed an opponent with a knee to the head in a marking contest, briefly seemed to have done her shoulder she cured herself with an overhead mark and goal. Good thing she came back, because we'd already lost Watt to concussion. Later Chaplin had to be assessed after another head knock, and Goldrick was hobbling around as if crocked. Shit time for an injury crisis.

We gave the goal back, but the game were turning in our favour. After being well held all night superstar mode was engaged when Hanks goalled, then Hore put through a snap from a weird angle and things were looking up. Until they weren't. After getting in the way of almost everything thrown at them until then, our defenders all missed a player standing alone in the square. It nearly got worse, in an attempt to reach half-time without further damage Bannan went behind the metaphorical ball, found herself with the actual ball, and was pinched for holding it. Just as I was doing my bit for all those "you don't get toxic male behaviour in AFLW" people by yelling obscenities they charitably missed an absolute sitter.

You'd like to stay that set up an exciting second half, but that would only be correct if you're a Brisbane fan. It might have turned out differently if Hore hadn't toepoked a loose ball in the square into the post. This indirectly led to Brisbane kicking two in quick succession and us getting none for the rest of the game. If there was anything that encapsulated our night, other than dump kicks falling straight into the arms of defenders, it was Purcell winning the ball from a contest, doing 95% of a fend-off but being caught at the last minute for holding the ball.

You can assign some of the blame to our reduced capacity side, but there were a few "can't play XYZ" every week performances. Zanker worked hard defensively but never looked like kicking a goal, Bannan may never have had a worse night, and under finals-like pressure West's already wayward kicking went to pieces. She's a great accumulator but should be named the league's first Designated Handballer and entirely banned from ever kicking. Meanwhile, without Watt we were back to playing Zanker and Hanks as second rucks. You can't factor in somebody being concussed, but if either of them do it next week in place of Campbell I'll spew up.

The umpiring was baffling, but when we were still in front after ludicrous decisions like the whistle going for a Mackin 'high tackle' (e.g. she was burrowed into) before the contact, you can't blame the decisions. We were just carrying too many fringe players to go one short for most of the game against ravenous opposition.

We were in deep shit late in the quarter, but within the range of a miracle comeback. Until they kicked the last two goals. It started with another late holding the ball, and finished with Heath being done for a dangerous tackle even after bringing player to ground without her head going close to contacting the turf. This made the points and double chance safe for Brisbane, even with one of their players ending the quarter bleeding like she'd severed the carotid artery.

Any chance of making Brisbane nervous died with another pair of intercept marks handed out like Christmas gifts. I'll take any opportunity to demand extra crumb but no point here because ball wasn't reaching ground often enough. We ran the game out much better - albeit against opposition who'd done what they needed to - but continued to attack as if drunk, completing our first goalless second half since that absolute shambles of a loss to St Kilda in 2020. The Lions didn't get one either but fat lot of good that was for us by now.

Even when we did have chances they were blown in novelty fashion. When Bannan snapped on the full it tempted me to look at her career stats to see proportion of damage done against good teams vs bad but I stopped before it made me sad. She was having such a bad run that even a kick off the ground in the square was called in danger. I'd argue that if there's a loose ball that close to goal you should know there's probably a boot in the vicinity and you dive towards it at own risk but it wouldn't have changed anything. 

It's our worse loss to them - and the only one that didn't end with a final score of 15 at Casey Fields - and means having to go back-to-back the hard way. So be it. Once the flag is in the bank we'll look back and laugh at the joy they took beating us here.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore 
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Tahlia Gillard
2 - Tayla Harris
1 - Libby Birch

Apologies to Goldrick, Hanks, Mackin, Purcell and Zanker.

And just like that's it's on again. With somewhere between 10 and 20 votes in the tank, the captain is within striking range again. As for everyone on eight votes or less, better luck next year. In more important news, the Defender of the Year committee has met and rule Blaithin Mackin is not eligible, which is tremendous news for Gillard fanatics everywhere as she has inherited the lead. Pearce is even more provisionally your ruck champion again, and it's looking like a blank year for the Rising Star.

28 - Tyla Hanks
23 - Kate Hore
--- Needs four finals ---
11 - Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Eden Zanker
10 - Olivia Purcell
9 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
6 - Sinead Goldrick, Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
It's got to be Hore from the pocket in the second quarter, just when everything looked to be turning our way and that we wouldn't concede another goal for the season. It was all a bit of a letdown after that. No change to the overall leaderboard. 

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
It's back to Fortress Princes Park to play the only top four side we've beaten this year. What could possibly go wrong? After an early scare we did North surprisingly easily last time, but I'm not taking a repeat for granted. If all of Chaplin, Goldrick and Harris survive, and we get some of Paxman, Mackin and Gay back (+ Campbell for Watt as the enforced change) then I would certainly expect to win. For god's sake I've had enough of losing finals this calendar year so let's at least get through this one, no matter how much toil and struggle it requires, then take our chances in a Prelim.

For some reason, we're playing at 3.05pm Sunday, even though there's no game scheduled on Friday. Remember the bit where I suggested tying a longer season to viewing metrics was a swizz?

Final thoughts
At least now there's no case for the league forcibly breaking us up. Which is something.

Monday 30 October 2023

Answer blows in wind

Due to being old and tired I was pleased to hand over the keys for this week to returning guest reporter Craig so he could do the game justice for the historical record. Then after all the woe is me self-pity about the season wearing me out the first thing I read is that he went from the northern suburbs to Casey via public transport, and as a resident of the far north let me tell you this is somewhere between commendable and worthy of instant life membership. Anything you read after this in italics is me, otherwise take it away Craig! 

Due to my current, albeit temporary, living arrangements I am located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Combined with attending all AFLW matches via public transport, the journey to and from Casey is quite an epic of connections and potential complications. Fortunately the earlier time of 1.05pm, as opposed to 3:05pm in our previous Casey games this season, meant arriving home on the same date I left. It did mean leaving before sunrise, but at least it gave me time to get some reading in.

Enough of my complaining (it's never stopped me before - editor), but it does say something about this team that I'm prepared to regularly spend around three hours each way travelling to watch them play about 80 minutes of football. Then there's the wind. Before the Adelaide game someone on Demonland asked for advice as a newbie visiting Casey and the first reply was "don't wear a toupee". Given how windy it was in the central suburbs, it was with some trepidation that I headed to the game, wondering what it would be like today when still days elsewhere usually mean a gale at Casey.

The conditions weren't too bad by Casey standards. That's not saying much but it has been worse. However, rather than the usual diagonal wind blowing across the ground from roughly half back to half forward, this was close to directly down the southern end, just a little off to the eastern pocket. Oddly enough, the only other game I can recalled this orientation presenting was also against Freo, in the 2021 Qualifying Final (Confirmed - I spent the whole review whinging about it). 

The breeze was of sufficient strength to mean the banner couldn't be raised, which was disappointing for two reasons. Firstly it meant no large, visual acknowledgement of Shelley Heath's 50th game, though the two-deep honour guard that stretched from the player's race halfway to the centre square compensated somewhat.  And secondly, for the dozen players (Hore, Hanks, Bannan, and Harris included), who of their own volition with no prompting from the club spent an evening with the cheer squad helping put the banner together for the second year running. You have to love this team.

This week's late withdrawal/mystery injury was Maddie Gay, who apparently reported some hammy soreness after Thursday training. So, with the non-returns of Tayla Harris, Gaby Colvin and Aimee Mackin, and with Sarah Lampard still a couple of weeks away, Georgia Gall was given her debut.

Freo won the toss and predictably kicked with the wind. The game started as it so often does for this team, quickly conceding a goal. For a side with such a fantastic defensive record it's amazing how often this happens. We soon had the ball camped in our forward line but it was obvious that with force 10 gales blowing in our faces scoring would be difficult. One attempted pass from Hanks to Purcell was perfectly on target, only to be blown five meters off course. Who else but Hanks herself stepped up with a bit of magic to open our account. It wasn't quite on the scale of the goal against the Kangas last week, but effective nonetheless. It was the last for either side before quarter time, but despite trailing by a point at the change I wasn't in the least concerned, knowing we'd done a good job keeping them to just one with the wind. 

Maybe I should have been a little worried. Despite dominating play, and the ball barely leaving our attacking 50 except to be taken back to the centre for a bounce, we blazed away with the wind, kicking 3.7 in the first 12 minutes of the quarter. This included an inspired burst of five behinds in two and a half minutes. The goals came via Zanker running onto a great tap from Pearce, and left foot snaps from congestion by Paxman and West. In the rush, Hore, Zanker and Purcell all missed snaps I'm sure they would have loved to had again (Or on a ground that's doesn't play like you're kicking directly into Cyclone Tracy). At the end Freo rushed the ball forward to an open forward line, where Wilson found herself mismatched in a foot race with a player half her size but twice her speed. Bang, Freo had gotten one back.

Speaking of Wilson, never mind other clubs going after the likes of Hore, Hanks and Zanker, you would think there is a greater danger of losing players like her. She has played eight games over the last two seasons, done all that has been asked of her, and hardly put a foot wrong but gets dropped as soon as established players recover from injury.  She'd be getting a game each week in any other team and is the player you'd think opposition recruiting officers would be targeting.

A half time lead of 18 was a little disappointing given our second quarter ascendancy.  The third started well, with territorial dominance culminating with a Kate Hore toe-poke at pace in the goal square for the first of the quarter.  Then devolved into a partial replay of the second.  Despite kicking into the wind we had the ball locked in our forward 50, but unlike the last quarter we couldn't score. Multiple opportunities weren't taken, until Freo finally got it away and were rewarded with a rough holding the ball against Goldrick right in front. They missed, so we'd again only lost the quarter by a point into the wind. On the face of it pretty good but could have been so much better.

Also worth mentioning from the third quarter was 50th gamer Shelley Heath standing her ground for a mark and being poleaxed by somebody twice her size (which is just about every player in the comp) charging through. She is tougher than nails so immediately sprung to her feet and took off, accepting the 50 metre penalty as if nothing had happened. 

The fourth quarter was rinse and repeat (Thank you again for doing this Craig, I was watching it wondering how I'd fill even a short report unless somebody went off chops again like the West Coast coach), with all the play in our forward line for no meaningful reward until Blaithin Mackin produced a great snap from distance 10 minutes again. Again, Freo got a quick reply and negated our long period of attacking. Fortunately we finished with two more goals, one to Hore after quick ball movement that left her level with Zanker on the competition goalkicking table, then one from an Edo set shot that put her back in front. It left her the first player to kick twenty goals in an AFLW H&A season, still with a round to play. So in the end a 33 point win.

I'm glad our Casey visits are over for this year, assuming any home finals will be at Princes Park (They had better be, playing any more finals at this paddock would be bringing the sport into disrepute). Never mind the wind, and the fact that it's virtually in Gippsland, you could argue that we've had our three worst performances of the year there, the loss to Adelaide and two scrappy wins over the struggling Dogs and Dockers. Our skill and superior ball movement superiority relative to other teams is less of an advantage when the wind is playing havoc and can reward a kick and hope game style more than it should.  We generally rise above it but it's just another argument against Casey.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Paxy Paxman
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Sinead Goldrick
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Tahlia Gillard

Apologies to Mackin, Hore, McNamara, Zanker, and West.

With an absolute maximum of 25 votes left if we go to the Grand Final the long way it's time for the dreaded dotted line to start eliminating contenders. It will be almost impossible for Hanks to lose from here but I'm not calling it yet. However, I think we can be pretty sure that Pearce has got the ruck award in the bank.

28 - Tyla Hanks
19 - Kate Hore
11 - Blathin Mackin (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Eden Zanker
10 - Olivia Purcell
9 - Shelley Heath
7 - Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year)
6 - Tahlia Gillard, Sinead Goldrick, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Sarah Lampard
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
2 - Lily Mithen

Goal of the Week
This week goes to Blaithin Mackin's fourth quarter effort, showing several of her teammates who've been playing the game years longer how you snap around the corner from distance. I don't know if it would dislodge any of the current top three so I’ll leave that decision to your regular correspondent.

(It does not. Existing leaderboard stands)

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
Our final home and away game is against the Lions at Springfield (or to use its official name - Premiership Alley), which was going to be the top spot/home finals/$1 million mega match before Brisbane's stumble against St Kilda and Collingwood's loss to Sydney wrapped up the McClelland Trophy. It means the club gets a cool mil, with half split between the men's and women's teams. That means relative to their actual salaries the women will get a nice little earner and the men chicken feed.  And I can't say that bothers me one little bit.

Final thoughts
Thank you again to Craig for coming off the bench. You are welcome back any time, and I would encourage the club to use a slice of their newfound mil to buy you a yearly myki. Hopefully this break will propel me to great things for the rest of the season, ending in flat out back-to-back flag carnage whether in Melbourne or Adelaide. Let the games begin.