Saturday, 24 September 2022

Princes pork

For all my whinging about starting AFLW season in September, it's nice to extend our Grand Final weekend winning streak be another year. Round 5 in a rushed season that's playing second fiddle to the men's finals and race hate scandals isn't nearly the same as kicking 100 of the last 107 points to win a flag, but it's still nice to be involved in something at this time of the year meatier than a half time sprint.

Considering how easily the Blues were dismissed it's hard to comprehend why I thought this was a danger game. They might have been mid-table, but as we've discussed at length the gap between the top six, middle six and bottom six is like the difference between the Gross Domestic Product of the USA, Estonia and Tuvalu. 

Earlier in the day, expansion walkovers Hawthorn and Sydney had a perfectly good, competitive game, which furthered my theory about playing in divisions for a couple of years. If they had hired me to run the league, and there's still time, I'd have narrowly had the Blues amongst the top nine sides but a run of injuries would already have them in deep relegation trouble. But, even at the stage where they're promoting players directly from the the scrapheap into their starting lineup, they can be thankful that the 18 team competition offers enough dud sides that they should finish the year without being disgraced.

With paper-thin lists, injuries are an absolutely valid excuse for struggle (mind you, we made finals for the first time after activating the 'break in case of emergency' recruitment rules), but my heart positively dripped blood for them as commentators lamented their youthful team, compared to our experienced, cohesive lineup. You'll certainly remember Carlton's battle to put a team together since joining the league in... its first game.

Regardless of how they got to this point, and how little pressure comes from the sides below, the Blues are as mid-table as any team in the history of the game. They're leaning into the gimmick so hard that they'd drawn their last two games. I was worried that we'd keep them close enough to leave the door open for an unprecedented threepeat of ties. That's because I'm a panicky idiot, serious pundits would have had their house and that of every living relative on us winning. If you lived through Sydney breaking a 26 game losing streak against us in 1993 you'd have trust issues too.

While we may have never won major honours in AFLW, we've also avoided losing as hot favourites too many times. There was GWS in season one ("surely they'll never play games at 5pm Friday again" I said) , and that first game against St Kilda, both caused by players kicking for goal as if blindfolded. Other than Mo Hope unleashing a Ms. Kingsley on us in Alice Springs, we've usually only lost to genuine contenders. That's no comfort to me, I expect everyone down to the South Morang Under 11s to keep things interesting against us.

Considering how many times we've beaten good teams, it was a bit baby out with the bathwater to declare us no chance of a flag based on one loss to Brisbane. Slowly roasting a mediocre Carlton hasn't fully changed my mind, but I am willing to accept that having Tayla Harris romping around the forward line like a Viking would have improved our chances. Instead we tried to beat a top side with an underdeveloped first game spearhead who was expected to make something of forward entries which could only be described as 'chaotic'. This situation shoudn't be repeated unless Tayla is injured or belts somebody again. 

The Blues were, to put it politely, shithouse. Yes injuries, but even if pre-season form is as untrustworthy as a politician it turns out beating them by 70 points was a hint of things to come. It wasn't so savage this time, instead of a six goal first quarter they were slowly drowned under a steady wave of goals throughout the first half, and a couple of exclamation marks later. Their response was to kick one goal, score a point in the second half, and barely have any chances other than that.

I've scoffed at inside 50s as a serious stat, but if they ever tell a story it's when a team registers a comically low amount. It might have pissed rain for 10 minutes before half time but 13 is a horrendous night. The only side to have less this year, and only by one, was when Sydney kicked 0.2. Even Freo went inside 50 times when their final score was one measly point. 

If there's ever been a team capable of keeping a team away from goal to that degree and still losing due to kicking 0.7 plus nine on the full it's us, but there was no such drama in this case. From the first bounce you could tell it would take self-destruction on an apocalyptic scale to offer the Blues any hope. Still, there were a couple of nervous minutes before the scoring started. Watching any variety of Melbourne you never know when the opposition will come out flat, then get a second life when they realise we can't put them away.

We were very good, but it wasn't without help from their rancid play. Let they whose team hasn't done 3000 turnovers cast the first stone but at one point a player was pinged for a last touch free because she completely missed her teammate with a handball. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before. Our first goal was born from an intercept in the middle, before Harris took a massive contested mark at 50, turned around and low-key booted the cover off it for the opener.

As much as I don't like it, Harris as second ruck is apparently what we're doing now, but I will note that when she went forward it was generally within the sort of range where damage could be done. Compare to pre-suspension when she'd mark on the wing and look up to see nobody who could get on the end of her kick. We desperately need somebody else who can take a contested mark inside 50, by the looks of it that will never be Bannan or Zanker. Each have their charms, though neither contributed much here, but neither's going to be a KPF. 

I suppose you park Georgia Campbell at FF for Casey in next year's VFLW and hope for the best, or try and pinch one off another team. There must be prospects at one of the rock bottom teams who don't want to wait years for a win, let's exhibit big club energy and pinch one of them. This was probably the method we used to get Olivia Purcell from Geelong, and she'd turned into a possession gathering machine. Her 30 tonight is the most we've ever had in a game, and while I'm not going to sign a stat dec vouching for their efficiency, it's can't hurt having somebody win so much ball. 

Compare Purcell's accumulation with the three Carlton players who reached half time without a touch. Three more had one each and it was no wonder they barely looked like scoring. At the other end we threatened to kick a large score, and might have with a bit more marking power. See, for instance, a certain T. Harris, who dismissed two opponents to take the grab that led to our second. She does good work up the ground, and a link player would have come in handy last week, but that's all academic if you can never get the ball to a player within range to score.

You'd be mad to trust any Melbourne lead, but after keeping them to a point in the opening quarter, Paxman's ice cold Petracca in Perth style finish (and come to think of it, Harris' first was a bit like his opener that night too, so it's was nice of them to pay tribute to the greatest event in the history of the world) made it obvious where this was going. The only question was how far. 

Even when we were three goals up against Brisbane you could tell they were capable of scoring,  while  Carlton looked a half chance of finishing goalless. So I still thought "here we go" when they finally got one in completely unorthodox fashion, with a hopeful kick at a ball that hit the deck after a ball up, which then only got past a diving Birch on the line by taking a zany bounce. If that was the best they could do in a quarter and a half we should have been right. Turned out to be the best they could do in four full quarters.

It doesn't feel right now that it was still only 14 points the difference late in the first half. Enter, at last, Sabreena Duffy. After much speculation of whether she actually existed, the ex-Freo forward ran onto a handball from Daisy, took advantage of a quality shepherd from Hore, and opened her account for us. She didn't get much of the ball (and please, for the sake of headline writers everywhere can she win a game after launching into a tackle Ginnivan style so we can do 'Duffy Duck'), but still looked good and will comfortably retain her spot from here.

The Blues were still barely alive before letting another in just before the break. With one play to navigate, another Daisy handball found Harris storming towards goal, and she booted it through mid-tackle to extend the margin to four goals. Even I was ready to concede it was game over at this point, though I'd never have said it publicly.

If, like me, you were hoping to plunder Carlton for a record score, there wasn't much to offer in the third quarter. They were kept at arms' length while we picked up a million inside 50s for nowt but points and intercept marks. Even the goal we did get had an element of luck about it, bouncing straight back into Hore's hands at the top of the square with 40 seconds left.

By now the hard work was done, and with the four points easily in the bag the last quarter was about a) percentage, and b) any implications for next week. So Paxman lightly bumping a player with her head over the ball in the opening minute was a bit of a concern. It was more of a collision than an assassination attempt so I'd be outraged if she ended with anything more than a token fine.

I'd love to have run away with it but it again took until right at the end to get our only goal. At least it was a good one, with 50 gamer Lauren Pearce turning her opponent inside out, regathering and snapping. I know the Blues had lost the will to live by this point, but if more teams could allow our forwards to be in one-on-ones that close to goal it would be much appreciated.

So, it was all very good. I still don't know if it translates to winning finals but you can only beat who's in front of you - and given that about 14 of those sides are going to be the drizzling shits then we should win a lot more games than we lose this year.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tayla Harris
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Sarah Lampard
1 - Karen Paxman

Apologies to Gay, Mithen, Paxman, West and Hore.

Leaderboard
It could be the first time we've ever had a leader with higher votes than kicking efficiency, but welcome to the wild world of AFLW.

14 - Karen Paxman, Olivia Purcell
10 - Eliza West
8 - Tyla Hanks
6 - Tayla Harris
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Lily Mithen
3 - Sarah Lampard (JOINT LEADER: Defender of the Year)
2 - Libby Birch, Kate Hore
1 - Lauren Pearce


Goal of the Week 
Apologies to Paxmania at the start of the second quarter but I've got to go with Harris kicking an intercontinental ballistic missile that Vladimir Putin would be proud of. I enjoyed it so much she leaps into second place in the seasonal leaderboard.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton
3rd - Kate Hore vs Brisbane

Next Week 
It's back to dear old Perth to take on the Dockers. Last time this happened we won by a record margin and Daisy kicked five, but I've got no expectations of similar slaughter this time. For one, they won't be so short on players that randoms are being called two hours before the bounce and invited to come down for a kick. 

The good news is that while Freo are from of COVID (and haven't 'health and safety protocols' gone out the window recently?), they're still not very good. They just won their first game of the year against a West Coast side that had previously been propped up by the most generous draw in history, and drew against the same side we just trounced. Due to my deep mental scars I'm prepared to focus instead on them nearly beating Footscray and wondering the same could happen again.

It should not, which would set us up for a blockbuster against the Dogs a week later. Then we roll home downhill against some of the shit teams on to Qualifying and/or, Preliminary and/or Grand Final glory.

Final Thoughts
This was the eighth time this year that a side has scored fewer than 10 points, which might be a necessary evil when you're sprinting to get to 18 teams as soon as possible but makes the season feel like a placeholder that the league is just trying to get out of the way before coming back seriously in spring 2023. It won't stop me getting excited if we win the flag - I've got a lovely spot right next to my framed men's premiership merch for whichever gender wins one next.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

One on the Clapometer

Hello, I'm back again, crawling out from under the digital rock to get on with my footballing life post-straight sets. At least the men are still defending premier, at the time of writing, for another five days. Thanks again to guest reporter Olivia for stepping in last week while I had a breakdown. As much as I wanted to ignore footy for the rest of 2022, I can't help myself from getting involved in anything with Melbourne written on it. Even when Narrm is temporarily plastered over the top. And just like the men, we discovered that you never go full Narrm. It always starts with a win in the first week, then a loss.

Speaking of teams that have rebranded, my curtain raiser was the Casey Demons (nee Springvale Scorpions) winning a flag in the worst weather since Paul Peos was pelted from a great height at Waverley. I was very happy for all involved, especially the non-AFL players who really care but was still watching an adopted kid win. I want more premierships from real deal Melbourne Football Club teams, so the pressure is on the women to complete the set.

In a competition that has more sub-divisions than the House of Representatives, starting the season with wins against Adelaide and North was a good start. If we beat another genuine premiership contender my numerous doubts about our flag credentials would have disappeared for a bit. In the spirit of all teams called Melbourne in 2022, everything looked good early then plummeted like Evil Knievel jumping Snake River. 

If there's ever going to be a ground subject to deadly cricket ball style hail it'll be Casey, but given that I live at the other end of the Melbourne metropolitan area and we'd been battered with a storm 20 minutes before the bounce it looked like the first time the Cranbourne rain belt would ever provide a superior weather experience. Then the banner went within 0.1% stretch of falling apart due to wind, and ominous looking skies suggested players would be ankle deep in slush by quarter time. 

Sadly, we never got to find out if the world's most cheerful boundary rider could maintain enthusiasm for the full four quarters as my weather predictions proved spot on. The dark clouds were there - for now in the sky rather than on-field - but were travelling away from Casey, delivering the big piss to everyone east of Cranbourne but leaving the playing area untouched.

In the event of heavy rain, a start would be important. Shame it didn't come, because we jumped to a three goal lead and temporarily looked irresistable. It stayed dry, Brisbane eventually turned up and we slide slowly to our doom across the next two and a half quarters. You'd never guess how bad we'd be at scoring in the last three quarters when you saw Zanker swipe the ball and stuff through the opener. The problem, as we discovered throughout the afternoon, is that it's one thing to have players who can kick for distance but you have to get the ball down there to start with. 

For now it looked as big a landslide as the one that tore St Kilda apart before quarter time last week. Daisy didn't do much because the ball didn't go down her end often, but put on a perfect block at a ball up for Hore to run in from a range she couldn't miss from. Our all time greatest/notoriously wonky goalkicker then snapped a ripper out of the pocket and looked set for a massive day. And then we kicked one more goal for the rest of the game.

Conditions didn't deteriorate - and consider that we'd just seen a brave patron at the VFL pull his hoodie up and keep necking a can while Hurricane Katrina dropped on him - but it was still a day for crumb. Including Brisbane toepoking their first from the square. Fans of the men's game will recognise the same sort of non-existent defence that allowed the Lions to beat Richmond and ultimately stitch us up a week later. You'll also have noticed the similarities between sides called Melbourne fanging to an early lead at maximum speed then hitting the brakes and letting the other side back in. 

Perhaps if we'd got the ball down our end something would have happened, instead Brisbane forced us into full defensive mode for several minutes. It did more to ruin the game as a spectacle than over-expansion, and making players compete under infantile rules (smaller balls, less players, shorter quarters etc...) combined, but stopped us from running away with the game.

Brisbane had obviously done their research, because for once West and Purcell weren't allowed to rack up a thousand possessions combined. This didn't seem to affect us greatly, even with a first gamer from Northern Ireland/Ireland/United Kingdom (delete as applicable, I'm not getting involved in political scandal) who arrived in the country a month ago. Mackin could have done with a game against a shit side to get her feet, but improved as the game went on. She's also a quick learner, with a strong Acting Football League line in pretending you're trying to handball when tackled. 

In the absence of our early season stars, it was welcome back to celebrity Bunnings spokesperson Tyla Hanks, who reminded us of why she looked set to go supernova last year. I'd prefer she was the one getting bulk possessions over the other two, but once the Lions got on top it would have been good if anyone could get the ball and find a target further up the ground than the defensive 50 arc.

Tayla Harris would have come in handy, but was suspended due to finally achieving her dream of walloping somebody. This opened the door for the most novelty father/anybody selection of all time, as Georgia Campbell carried on the legacy of her dad's... err... two game stint in 1994. I bet plenty of people still think her dad is Tony. Campbell was also eligible for Footscray but apparently chose us because she lives closer to Cranbourne than the Western Oval, which might make it the first time anyone has ever considered Casey the lesser of two evils. She also appears to have Birch-esque white line fever, giving away one downfield free, then pushing an opponent over as they crossed the line. The actual getting of ball was a bit harder, restricted to one possession and never got into the game.

The prospect of another hot start going up in smoke became real when Brisbane spent the first five minutes of the second quarter camped inside 50. It eventually ended in a goal when Libby Birch was left grappling with an opponent while the rest of the defence had ducked off for a milkshake, allowing another player to waltz in under minimal pressure. Midway through the quarter we hadn't been inside 50 and I don't think the ball had gone into our side of the ground. Even when it did happen there was no reward. All the miracle goals were gone and we weren't much chance of creating one the old fashioned way. There was one bit where a fluke kick hit Paxman after travelling a distance that 9/10 umpires would probably pay. I reckon he'd already decided it was play on as initial kick was shanked and couldn't readjust in time.

Like [deleted on legal advice] in Perth, we were on the rack. The Lions blew multiple chances as we struggled to get the ball away from our end. Enter - again - Tyla Hanks, who can both tell you which aisle to buy a whippersnipper in AND kick vital goals. She also demonstrated magician style sleight of hand at one point, getting away with the biggest throw of all time directly in front of an umpire.

That goal shifted some of the momentum. Now we got the ball down our end and wouldn't let the Lions out. The difference being that the Lions didn't just keep us out, they eventually executed a golden coast-to-coast for a goal against the run of play. It looked like the player initially dropped the ball while being tackled before soccering through anyway. I'll assume they decided it hit her boot on the way between hand and ground the first time. Good luck getting a critical analysis on commentary, they didn't even know who half the players were.

A four point margin at the last change set the stage for our old friend Greta Bodey to have her third attempt after beating us with a goal after a siren. There was no need, the game was dead and buried by the final stages. Why wait for somebody to kick a set shot when opposition defenders punch the ball off a pack and directly to a player running into goal. I don't blame the backline, they'd been under siege all day so it's understandable that cracks would appear eventually. 

While we're on the subject of crumb, you'll never believe how they got their next one. Meanwhile we continued to rely on the same combination of set shots and freak snaps that carried us to the giddy heights of being thrashed in a Grand Final. Losing Harris didn't help, she played her best game of the year against Brisbane last year and was sorely missed here. Even in her questionable new role playing further up the ground, a few relieving marks would have helped.

Down we went without a trace, even Hanks was rumbled holding the ball (on a day where you had to be 101% guilty for it to be paid), and when the free kick fell short it landed straight in the hands of a player in the pocket. That only ended in a point, before our death sentence was pronounced by an intercepted handball and goal. Keep the ball down there long enough and something good will happen. We did get it straight out of the middle, but with the chance to get it back under two goals Hore spun out of traffic, faced an open goal and missed. 

In case you're counting at home, that's nine goals in the last two first quarters and one in the other six combined. Seems like an issue. Scoring is all that's holding us back at the moment, it's one thing to build on a solid defensive base but in a low scoring competition you're asking for trouble going 3/4 of a game without a goal. Good thing St Kilda were putrid at the start last week or they'd have made things interesting too.

I say it every year and we find a way to contend but this isn't a premiership team. We'll beat some of the rubbish teams into dust, but this will fall over well before the Grand Final unless they sort out the forward line. Feels like I've been saying that for seven seasons and they continually find a way to pluck victories, but surely we've learnt by now that near enough isn't good enough.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks 
--- a fair old distance ---
4 - Lily Mithen
--- an equally lengthy gap ---
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Paxman, Purcell, Lampard (who will get to run through a banner for 50 apologies soon) and Zanker

Leaderboard 
I left with the big three pocketing top votes every week, I come back to all of them missing out. Keeps things interesting. They've still got a commanding lead at the head of the pack.

13 - Karen Paxman
10 - Eliza West, Olivia Purcell
5 - Tyla Hanks, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Lily Mithen
2 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Kate Hore
1 - Tayla Harris, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Hard to go past Hore in the first quarter - where all the action is - and indeed I think it was good enough to jump her back into the top three. Let's have some of these in the second, third or fourth quarters next week?

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Kate Hore vs Brisbane
3rd - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide 

Next Week 
While everyone else gets to lay the boots into an expansion team, we get to play the W's ultimate mid-table mediocrity side Carlton. Considering how close they came to beating us last year I wouldn't take for granted that we'll return to the winners' circle. Could be a good opportunity for Harris to belt one of her old teammates, and she comes back in for Campbell at the warpest warp speed.

The good news for Sabreena Duffy fanatics is that she is alive and well, named as a emergency this week. Drop whoever you like but pick her instantly. Otherwise, unless Goldrick is ready, I don't see the need for changes outside the forward 50. Mackin came in for the much more experience Ivey but arguably showed more in one game against a top side than Ivey has done in three weeks. And if you're going to cart somebody halfway around the world to play a foreign sport you may as well get experience into them ASAP.

We beat the Blues 86-16 in a pre-season game but they must have been playing the reserves, because there's no way the margin will get anything like that under regular conditions. I think we'll win via an excessively difficult struggle.

Final Thoughts
The way this wacky league goes we'll either score 100 points or seven next week.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Kicking like the wind

(Editor's note - I was already burnt out to a crisp, then the men being eliminated in farcical fashion sent me completely off the deep end. I look forward to crawling out from under the digital rock eventually, but in the meantime thanks to Olivia for taking the guest reporter challenge.)

Greetings from your newly minted AFLW guest reporter (unless Adam ever needs a men's match report from the Members'...) I come to you extremely well qualified for the job as both a woman and a lifelong Demons supporter – inherited rather than by choice, though I've never wavered (well apart from maybe a small wobble in the depths of the Neeld debacle) – but I'm still sometimes confused by the finer points of free kick rules. 

My supporting life only really goes back as far as the last couple of years of the Daniher era, although I have vague warm and fuzzy memories of the Demons being mighty in the (very) late 90s – early 2000s, when they weren't losing the Grand Final by a significant margin. 

By the time the AFLW started I was close to despairing of ever seeing a successful Demons team, so discovering there was a team called Melbourne who were actually very good and would continue to contend in every season made a nice change from hoping to at least avoid the wooden spoon. Even after many years of getting close but never actually winning the elusive flag they've still been good enough for me to maintain my enthusiasm, albeit only enough to get me to a handful of games. Casey Fields is a lovely ground (when not blowing a gale) but it's a long way from anywhere I'd consider a convenient location for me to attend games at. 

This week I started watching on significant delay for various reasons, and the delay was then compounded by a lengthy pause for blog-writing-related technical issues. Consequently, by the time I was watching the second half I had seen the final score, but by that point of the match it was pretty clear which direction the result was heading, and the journey still held plenty of interest. 

We were wearing a pretty spectacular guernsey for indigenous round, which was nearly identical to the men's one from this season but nonetheless a beautiful design. Like the men's indigenous rounds earlier this year we were competing as Narrm, a name change the commentators seemed to adjust to without incident. This also meant that there were a few formalities before the bounce, but they all went off without a hitch and very soon the game was on. 

Both sides came into this game undefeated and St Kilda also had an impressive percentage, but that was off the back of strong victories against two brand-new hurriedly constructed expansion sides, so this would be the much-improved Saints' first big test this season. 

The opening minutes seemed to be pointing to a tight and scrappy contest, but it wasn't long before we got it inside 50 via a great intercept mark from Sheriff. Her kick didn't hit a target and St Kilda took it out, but the kick was picked off by Tayla Harris, who sent off a lovely kick to the goal square, where it was marked behind two Saints by Kate Hore. The unfortunately named Hore kicked truly against a significant wind, and the Demons were off. 

Thoughts of St Kilda producing a quick response were soon seen off by a similar sequence of the Demons getting inside 50 without a mark, the Saints getting the ball back and kicking it out only for it to be marked by a Demon and sent straight back in, this time being marked by Megan Fitzsimon. She again put it through, apparently with an assist from Tayla Harris occupying the St Kilda defender on the goal line, according to the commentators. The broadcast gave only the briefest of close-ups as the ball crossed the line, so viewers had to take their word for it. 

Our next came a few minutes later via some sterling ruck work from Eden Zanker at a throw-in, hitting it straight into the path of Eliza West, who kicked it to a player who went unidentified as the commentators were busy talking to Lily Mithen from the bench. It looked like Maeve Chaplin to me, but the wide angle and lack of visible jumper numbers made it hard to be sure. At any rate, probably-Chaplin sent it back inside to be nicely marked in a contest by Jordan Ivey. She decided she didn't have the distance and passed it off to the pocket, where everyone's favourite mullet Karen Paxman pulled down another nice contested grab. She again kicked straight in spite of the wind, and the scoreline was starting to look ominous. 

Barely a minute later we got another without St Kilda, for all their good work early, registering so much as a point. This time Zanker pulled down the Sherrin from a ball up in the forward pocket, and kicked a lovely snap from almost directly in front, which duly bounced through for a goal. 

By now there were less than five minutes left in the quarter and the Saints could be forgiven for hoping things might slow down, but a free to us in the middle led to an inside 50 off the boot of Fitzsimon, which bounced off Zanker's back into the hands of Alyssa Bannan, who was promptly tackled but got rid of the ball in the direction of multiple Demons. Some juggling led to a kick towards the pocket, which didn't hit a target but was mopped up by our fearless leader Daisy Pearce, who passed it back to Mithen. She took the sensible option and sent it to the top of the goal square to a waiting Bannan in miles of space. Even the commentators pointed out what poor defensive work this was from the Saints, as Bannan went back and, like every other shot for goal so far, put it through for a major. 

With only a little over three minutes left in the quarter St Kilda players and fans were no doubt hoping to run down the clock without further scoreboard damage, and in fact they got through nearly two minutes before a St Kilda player’s attempt at kicking the ball far away from our 50 was smothered and the ball quickly sent back inside to be marked by Zanker almost directly in front, a few metres outside the goal square. As was becoming the theme of the game, she duly turned around and kicked a regulation set shot goal. 

The dream run finally came to an end late in the quarter, with yet another forward 50 entry ending in a rushed behind. At quarter time St Kilda fans were no doubt bracing themselves for a bloodbath, but in fact the Demons would remain goalless for the rest of the game. This was not for lack of trying, and there may very well have been a wind factor impacting our kicking for goal, but as it turned out St Kilda were unable to capitalise on Narrm's three quarters of inaccuracy, so our blistering first quarter turned out to be enough to get the four points. 

Of course, in the midst of the second quarter the lack of scoring did seem to open up the possibility of a Saints comeback, but the fact that it took them most of the quarter to finally score their first goal made a six-goal turnaround by the home side in the remaining half appear unlikely. 

The second quarter started with what appeared to be more of the same, with Daisy Pearce quickly sending the ball inside 50, only for the Saints defence to finally wake up and intercept the kick, leading to some juggling which ended in a behind for the Demons.

In a pattern that would soon become familiar, the by now usual centre scrimmage led to a kick which ended up in the hands of Libby Birch via a lovely contested mark just outside our 50, and she sent it inside where Bannan took another great contested mark only to miss the set shot. Just about everything the Demons did seemed to be working, apart from our goalkicking. 

Fortunately for Narrm, St Kilda weren't faring much better. A nice passage in the middle of the quarter ended in a mark just barely on the Saints 50 by a tall redhead called Shierlaw, who sent it inside only for the kick to be picked off by the ever-reliable Paxman. Shierlaw would feature quite heavily in the Saints forward line for the rest of the afternoon, but scoring shots continued to be few and far between for both sides. 

St Kilda finally got their first late in the quarter, when Shierlaw was the beneficiary of a free kick paid against Libby Birch in the Saints forward 50, and against all trends of play kicked truly in front of goal. Giving away a free in the opposition's forward 50 is never advisable, but unlike the men's game two days earlier this one was never likely to turn the result around so I'm prepared to forgive Birch, who was otherwise very good in defence. 

At half-time the Saints late burst of life suggested a comeback was possible, but they were still in need of a five-goal turnaround against a significant wind, and so far they hadn't managed to capitalise much on Narrm's scoring slowdown. Even so, trusting teams called Melbourne (or Narrm) to hold on a lead has been a risky endeavour this year so a touch of nervousness seemed warranted. 

Or it would have, had a significant viewing delay combined with a lengthy half-time pause not led to me spotting the final score while searching the AFLW app for a list of players. Incidentally, I'm not sure why the app can’t show the same stats as the men, the framework would already exist and surely it's not that much harder to collect the data for the women's games? I would have loved the score breakdown the men's games get that shows touched and rushed behinds for this game. Ah well, maybe next year they can fund it with all that TV rights money. 

Knowing how the game turned out did allow me to approach the second half in a much more relaxed mindset, though even without that I wouldn't have been terribly worried unless the Saints started to look like getting a run on. As it turned out, the ball spent most of the third quarter camped in or near the Demons' forward 50, resulting in four scoring shots which all ended with behinds. The Saints finally broke through with around four minutes left in the term, with a passage that ended in a player clunking a mark inside 50 and then putting the set shot through for a major in spite of the strong wind. 

At three quarter time it was clear the Saints would need to do something remarkable to steal a win, and what they'd shown so far suggested that while they are no doubt a good side they probably didn't have it in them. They came in to this match undefeated, and looking like they might finally have got it together after several pretty ordinary seasons, but Narrm have consistently been a top side and are hungry coming off a Grand Final defeat last season, so it was always going to be a big ask for St Kilda to knock over the Dees. 

Mick Stinear, being interviewed as the players prepared for the start of the final term, made some interesting comments when asked how the Demons could improve their goal scoring in the final term. He said words to the effect that they needed to "work together to score a goal instead of all going for the same outcome". I wasn't quite sure what he meant, and I'm still not totally clear, but I think he may have been referring to not getting in each other's way, or possibly taking risky shots when there's a better option available? That's something the men could spend some time thinking about. 

Soon after the siren sounded the Saints made things interesting by getting their third, again through Sheirlaw. They were now only four goals down, so if they managed to get another quickly a comeback could be at least possible, though the clock was now very much against them. It turned out this would be the last goal of the game, though not for lack of trying. 

Fortunately for Demons supporters' nerve,s, at the next bounce the ball was very quickly sent in a Demons direction, with Fitzsimon again getting on the end of a forward 50 entry. She was very good in the forward line all day, starting well with a contribution to our first quarter hail of goals. This time her kick was accurate but the ball was touched before it crossed the goal. By my recollection this was just one of many near-goals saved by the St Kilda defence, but I don't have the relevant stat available to verify this impression or the energy to trawl through the full reply to check, so you'll have to take my word for it. 

As the clock ticked towards certain victory territory the Saints were putting up a decent fight, but neither side was getting much reward for effort on the scoreboard. St Kilda nearly set up another, with Sheirlaw again taking what should have been a good contested mark within range, but she dropped the ball on the way down and apparently none of the umpires had a good view because the mark wasn't paid despite her having clear control of the ball well before the fumble. I don't pretend to be an expert on these things, but I agreed with the commentators that it was very stiff not to give Sheirlaw the mark.

In any case, the Saints kept control and created a shot from somewhere not long after, but it only went through for a behind. Kelli Underwood, leading the commentary alongside an assortment of active players from other teams, initially called it correctly only to backtrack and call it a goal, by her own admission based on the crowd response. I don't subscribe to the vehement dislike of Underwood expressed by some, but I did think that was not the only time her commentary left something to be desired. 

Kelli seemed to be a fan of a Saint called Greiser, making repeated references to "the G-train" any time said player was anywhere near the ball. I have no idea whether that's an actual fan nickname or one Underwood was trying to popularise, but either way I found what had started as an amusing distraction distinctly grating by the time the final siren went. It seemed like Greiser was almost the only St Kilda player Underwood knew at times, which was a bit disappointing. 

The final quarter would bring some more questionable commentary on both teams. An inside 50 for the Dees ended up in the hands of Bannan vaguely in the vicinity of the goal posts. As she turned goalward Underwood said with much excitement “she knows where the goals are, she loves to kick them!” Alas, no goal was forthcoming this time. Eventual we set up another shot with another Fitzsimon mark but her shot was quickly smothered. 

The clock was running down but there was still time for more commentary fun when a Saints kick to a contest featuring Greiser inside 50 was described by Kelli Underwood as "set up for the G-train", only for Greiser not to get anywhere near it while the Demons almost immediately got the ball and send it back out. 

With the game all but won, Lauren Pearce, after a very good day, had a chance to end it on a high note with exactly one minute left, but like all of our shots after quarter time she only got it through for a point, with the shot intercepted by a St Kilda defender on the goal line. The Demons were still more than four goals up, so it had zero impact on the eventual result, but it was disappointing nonetheless. 

All in all, this was a match that highlighted the differences from the men's game, with a relatively low score being enough to hang on despite three quarters of inaccuracy, with the significant wind at the ground no doubt an important factor. Our vast experience kicking into a gale at Casey seemed to put us in good stead early, but perhaps the wind changed as the game went on, because our accuracy certainly didn't last for four quarters. 

The shorter quarters would seem to make it easier to defend a lead even when scoring is hard, though the opposition only scoring half as many goals in the final three quarters as us in the first definitely helped. Against a top team we might not have gotten away with it, but St Kilda, though significantly better than in previous seasons, are not quite there yet. 

Overall, despite early signs of a four quarter display of dominance over lesser opposition this turned out to be a match for us to bank the four points and move along, rather than one supporters would look back on fondly as a gripping contest. It did at least provide a nice distraction from the mens side's disappointing result two days earlier. 

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 Eden Zanker
4 Eliza West
3 Karen Paxman
2 Olivia Purcell
1 Tayla Harris 

Apologies Birch, Fitzsimon, Harris, Mithen, L Pearce and Hore 

Zanker was extremely influential, taking many good marks and kicking two goals, on top of her share of ruck duties. Eliza West was in everything around the middle, and was a key part of the delivery to our forwards. Harris also had a good day out, taking 4 marks, many of them contested, and did well in the ruck but scored only a solitary behind. One of her excellent marks has even been nominated for Mark of the Year, so at this point I'd say we're finally getting some return on the potential she didn't quite live up to last season. Olivia Purcell recorded a PB 26 disposals, but I thought she didn't have as much impact with the ball as some, which just goes to show how the stats don't always tell the whole story. 

Paxman was dependable as ever, taking good marks at both ends and kicking a goal in our first quarter blitz. Though she wasn't best on here, I'd like to take this opportunity to put in a vote for the best player award to be renamed after her. Surely after winning it so many times she's earned it. 

There were many players who had good games today but couldn't be fitted into the votes due to the many excellent performances. Lily Mithen was her usual busy self according to the stats, and Lauren Pearce also had a good day in the ruck. The other Pearce, our esteemed captain, had a quiet day from what I could tell, but she can't be expected to be a superstar every week. Over in defence, Libby Birch did well outside of the Sheirlaw free, cutting off more than one Saints passage with an intercept mark.

Leaderboard 
My choices have caused a bit of shuffling in the places, with Eliza West now drawing level with Olivia Purcell in second. Zanker also zooms into third with this week's BOG. The votes were of course decided by the very scientific method of my impressions of what I could see on the broadcast plus the comparatively meagre available stats, so some details may have been missed. If this game ends up stiffing someone out of an award I'll front up to a stewards inquiry at the end of the season, until then register your disagreement via the usual channels. 

13 Karen Paxman
10 Eliza West, Olivia Purcell
5 Eden Zanker
2 Libby Birch
1 Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard, Tayla Harris 

Goal of the Week 
There was of course a selection to choose from, but my vote goes to Zanker's snap, as one of the few not to come from a more or less regulation set shot. It was a good goal, but I’m not sure it's goal of the year material, so no need to knock off the season leader. Perhaps into third though. No offence to Daisy but I think Zanker’s was a better goal all things considered. 

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide 
3rd - Eden Zanker vs St Kilda 

Next Week 
It's ladder leaders Brisbane back at our home deck in the windswept grasslands of Casey Fields. We have a decent record against them, but they've been in dangerous form so far, so anything could happen. At time of writing there's been some whinging about what could well be game of the round between two of the leading teams of the competition being held in the far reaches of Melbourne's southeastern suburbs rather than the perfectly good stadium that will be sitting unused at Docklands, but nothing's come of it. Won't make any difference to me as I won't be going regardless, but I'm always in favour of home games at more accessible locations. 

I don't have many suggestions on selection changes because I don't think anyone played terribly, but we will need to bring our best against the Lions, so some accurate goalkickers would be useful. Maddie Gay is apparently a chance, but at this point in the season I'm not sure it's worth the risk of rushing her back if not fully fit. It should be a good contest, but it could well be the end of our unbeaten run. Alternatively, a victory over the Lions would put us in an excellent position for another run at the premiership before Daisy retires to coach Geelong. At least one Demon side is still a legitimate chance of a flag this year. 

Final Thoughts
We played well but less than stellar opposition probably made us look excellent in comparison, so let's bank the points and move right along. Kicking accurately in front of goal for four quarters instead of one would be handy against the Lions.

Monday, 12 September 2022

How to disappear completely

And so, after eight months of holding my breath waiting for everything to go wrong, it did. Our year in paradise is over, and given that the AFL can't even have silence for the Queen without getting in trouble we can't even lobby for the season to be cancelled and leave us as carryover premiers.

My plan to resign from the league on September 26, 2021 so nobody could ever beat us again looks pretty good now. As much as following the defending premier once in my life has been wonderful, I've spent the season in non-stop emotional agony, waiting to be exposed while hoping that the lightning which was absent for the first 40 years of my life might strike twice in quick succession.

In a few years we'll probably look back at this as part of a golden era - starting 10-0, winning a Grand Final rematch, finishing second, and avoiding a genuine thrashing since playing in front of 323 people would have been a dream scenario in the recent past. Get back to me in the future, for now I've seen us incinerate our premiership defence as if it was fired into the sun and am gloomier than I ever thought possible post-flag. 

The only thing that stopped me from total collapse in the immediate aftermath was the slapstick, Benny Hill fashion of our demise. I'd have pissed myself laughing if any other team had gone out like that. There have been worse forward performances this late in the season (refer: 2018 Preliminary Final), but surely not many where a side had so many chances to put the game away, then nearly launched a miracle comeback before blowing it all sky high via the most reckless 50 ever conceded in the month of September.

While I thought we were going to win (albeit in a fashion that would have left us ripe for a reverse 2021 battering by Geelong), the idea that Brisbane would fold like a house of cards against us three times in the same season was optimistic. It didn't matter that they'd wobbled unconvincingly into the finals, and plucked a win out of their arse against Richmond, if you're good enough to play the same side three times in one year you're good enough to learn something eventually. I haven't had a happiness hedge on a Melbourne result since $50 that we wouldn't make the finals in late 2018, but a Brisbane line of +22.5 nearly made me call the bank and demand the deeds for my house.

In some circles, the late withdrawal of Joe Daniher due to a partner in labour was seen as a bonus. It had me soiling myself. There was the obviously prospect of a replacement you've never heard of kicking eight, but also the fact that he's never been involved in a good forward line performance against since joining the Lions, so this forced them to try something else. Result - after 15 minutes of attacking with reckless abandon they collectively ended up looking better than any of our last few meetings. I'd much rather them booting loopy kicks towards Joe that would have been picked off from every angle.

Meanwhile, at the other end we were attacking as if drunk. A final score of 11.13 doesn't look bad compared to some of our inaccuracies this year, but consider the eight shots that failed to score and about a dozen where we had the ball within range and dithered long enough that there wasn't a shot at all. It got so bad that they should have replaced the runner with an R U OK counsellor. And yet, like Sydney all over again, we had multiple opportunities to finish them off for good.

Ending the year via stranglewank fatality was a fitting conclusion to a season where we've politely held the door open for teams across the league. I'm not saying Simon Goodwin gets his jollies from throwing away leads, but in his first season we were an average side that regularly stormed back from hopeless positions, now we're near enough to our peak and fall over at the slightest provocation. 

Collingwood might have broken the record for most wins by under two goals, but here's an arbitrary measurement to show we've protected leads as badly as anyone in recent memory:

And in the 'never forget' spirit, those blown leads were:

* 30 vs Freo at 23m Q2 (gone by 21m Q3)
* 26 vs Sydney at 1m Q2 (gone by 24m Q2) 
* 22 vs Collingwood at 9m Q2 (gone by 6m Q4)
* 27 vs Footscray at 20m Q2 (gone by 22m Q4)
* 23 vs Collingwood at 8m Q2 (gone by 13m Q4)
* 28 vs Brisbane at 27m Q2 (gone by 34m Q3)

Just the casual 156 points combined. And in the other two games we kicked the first two goals against Geelong, and were both 16 and 12 points up last week. Better to be in games than waving a white flag before the first bounce, but even without stats anyone who lived through this year would understand how we dropped more games from a winning position than any side in 20 years. Selwyn Froggitt is going to be defamed on every corner of the internet for his fitness program but as you can see above, it wasn't always late fadeouts that got us.

As the defending premier we were, by all measurements, a very good side to begin with, but it's still impressive to have been in a winning position 22 of 24 times when it was clear months ago that we hadn't seriously improved from last year. I doubted our capacity to go back-to-back without the struggle of a lifetime but willed myself to believe we could catch fire at the right time OR that there was a Bradbury path available via the misfortune of others. Round 23 lured me into thinking the first option was a chance, but by the time we'd tripped over ourselves against the Swans I was left hoping for the latter.

It will take a full coronial inquest to piece together the factors that caused spontaneous combustion. Going on with starts against slurry like GWS and West Coast is great for gathering percentage, but what does that do for you in September? That's why you can say what you like about Ben Brown, but he's a first ballot Demonblog Hall of Famer. Imagine he hadn't kicked that goal at the start of the last quarter in the Grand Final, and that the Mad Minute was just setting us up to throw a four goal lead. I'd still be under medical observation. I'm going to have to think about that during summer to get me through because at the moment I'm having a SHIT time. Real bleeding from every orifice stuff, no matter how hard I try to put a calm spin on things.

As bad as I felt for not moving heaven and earth to be at the ground, thank god I wasn't because there hasn't been a result that required so much 'free expression' since cutting my hand punching a seat, then jumping on the sunglasses that fell off my head when Ricky Petterd dropped the mark in Round 2, 2010. It's bad enough that my record at live games in the last two seasons is 5-5 (and 3-0 of that was 18 months ago) without adding another loss. Until things went tits up I'd obviously have preferred to be there but now I'm the broken down old wreck and the club isn't there's no longer the serious guilt that I'd have had 10 years ago.

As we celebrate the return of Bleak September, it's hard to reconcile that both finals saw us in winning positions during the second half. As much as I wanted to ignore men's football until February (not sure yet which year), I was roped into watching Collingwood/Freo, and was struck with how easily they could have been playing to face us on Friday. Now we're empty-handed, a bit embarrassed, and without anybody else to blame.

Considering our self-harm habit I was probably more confident before the first bounce than when we were four goals in front. We might have gone on with it like the other two games against Lions, and who knows what would have happened with that ludicrous goal just before half time, but my faith was in tatters well before the latest doom spiral. Then you had one star playing with a break in his leg, a 6x All Australian ruckman who seemed banged up like a 1982 Daihatsu Charade, and forwards who may as well have been at another ground last week. If they were going to fix my trust issues it wasn't going to be until the game was won beyond all doubt.

I was also concerned at how badly we seem to play our own ground. That's why I got a bit nostalgic when Delta turned up to sign the national anthem, because without her COVID strain keeping us away from the MCG we might never have won a flag in the first place. At the time I loved the players saying they had unfinished business, wanted to win one in front of the fans etc... because I didn't know we'd try to apply the same methods that were successful on every other ground in Australia but fell flat against good sides at home. Via several weird twists and turns the balloon slowly deflated from sending Luke Beveridge bonkers after Round 1 to total elimination, and yet we're still not that far from having made a Prelim. I doubt things would gone any further, but I'm expecting to be firmly in the mix again in 2023.

I suppose everyone expected the game to start with the same spicy atmosphere that the Gabba equivalent finished. Channel 7 were keen, playing a video package before the bounce that suggested everyone involved in the original incident was going to recreate the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Instead they decided to act like adults, leading to no serious pre-match niggle. Which was very mature of them. 

Once we'd got through pantomime booing of Zorko (and Petty, because as a lot of men have explained since Round 23, emotion = "whatareyasomekindofapooftermate?") and lost I was so over the original scandal that I'd almost have handled Brisbane winning the flag. Then the footage of Lincoln McCarthy (me either) mocking Petty was shown, and I went back to preferring every alternative premier including Geelong and Collingwood. In the grand scheme of footy controversies this one is a bit pissweak, and surely won't carry on into next season, but in the meantime let's go around the grounds and confirm which bit of cloth Harrison has the option of drying his eyes on:

First time against the Lions we absorbed 10 minutes of their horrible attempts to score before taking over, in the rematch there was a goal seconds in and things progressively got better for the next hour. This landed in the middle, they went forward in a way that pointed to an evening of frustration for fans of Fitzroy and Bears of old but our early attacks weren't much better. Bad news for Channel 7 executives dying to sell advertising. By the time the next TV rights deal kicks in they'll switch to picture-in-picture on top of ads if there's five minutes without a goal.

It took the much-maligned (recently, often by me) Anal-Bullet to get us going. Sensing tremendous malignment if he missed, he opted not to have a shot from 40 metres out directly in front, and passed to Langdon in a worse position. Ed did his bit by running into space and screaming for the ball, and ANB probably thought he'd suffer a Fritsch style media witchhunt if he didn't give it off. 

Lucky for both of them Ed kicked it, then proceeded to less than 50% efficiency for the rest of the night. That's the sort of thing you'd expect from an inside midfielder but seems less than ideal for a midfielder who usually plays in his own postcode of space. He's had very good games this year, but has failed to kick on from premiership glory as much as anyone. I suppose it's a bit of a hint for opposition coaches when your entire job is to tirelessly leg it up and down one wing for 100% of the game. He'll still be a contributor next year but they might want to think of a way to freshen up the act. 

The Bullet got our second as well, having enough impact in the first half that it justified his hotspot being shown at half time. As usual it displayed a lot of running, but if they superimposed craters in all the spots he's been caught with the ball recently it would have looked like a Cambodian minefield. I'm happy with a two goal night, and by process of elimination he was one of our better players, but unless he's playing some double secret probation role that only the coaches know the value of his second half of the year has been ordinary. That's not on him, he just keeps playing when picked. Ask the coaches who stuck with a successful system with religious zeal, well after its aura had faded.

Speaking of players who were probably lucky to be there, thanks to Jake Melksham for a pack mark in front of goal that brought back warm memories of the Carlton game. This was a good response to everyone offering to hold the door for him on the way out after last week, before proceeding to do not a lot more for the rest of the night. For once, maybe angry people on the internet were right. Surprisingly I wasn't part of the digital lynch mob, I'd calmed down by Thursday and decided that if McDonald wasn't fit enough there was no point making changes. Can't be right about everything.

We could have had any of Bedford, J. Smith, Weideman, surprise debut van Rooyen, or stuck a defender in the forward line, but I held a Linus meets the Great Pumpkin style belief that everything would turn out alright. This was before I knew that McDonald would a) play in the Casey game despite there being no more AFL finals on offer, and b) get through unscathed with three goals. In the end he probably would have done more than Melksham but considering the other players held together with sticky tape they were probably shitscared of him breaking down in the first minute.

The nuclear option would have been to debut van Rooyen, who also ended up kicking three in the VFL Prelim. It was a step too far for nervous types like me, but contributes to a growing mythical status that will leave fans disappointed if he doesn't have the best debut since John Coleman. Sadly he probably would have given a better contest than Brown, who I love for the aforementioned reasons but was unbelievably ineffective inside 50. He took a couple of nice marks up the ground, and tried hard when the ball hit the ground, but his wankhanded attempts at marking within scoring range were painful to watch. 

Ben's knee might be hamburger meat for all I know, but that doesn't take into account the bits where he got hands to the ball but couldn't pull it in. His cause might not have been helped by Fritsch regularly flying into the same airspace but they worked well enough together at the end of last year so it's not a chemistry issue. On the opening night of the season he looked set for a tremendous year, got COVID, unnecessarily belted somebody in the VFL, and has never been the same since. Investigative reporters, give up on pursuing answers from lost cause Luke Jackson and go through Ben's bins to find out what happened to him.

If the early returns continued we could have gone without a full forward because Brisbane wouldn't have scored double figures. Not only were we pouring on the pressure at our end (to be fair, for nowt but a string of behinds,) but even a gilt-edged Lions chance was stopped in the last centimetre when Petty rushed it through. When Charlie Cameron went off with an ankle complaint I didn't think anything else could go our way. Even if he'd kicked nil against us in two previous starts he was still a serious attacking weapon, so the idea of taking him out for medical sub B. Rometer appealed. 

Without wishing injury on opponents I'm not adverse to benefiting from ones that occur naturally, so when he gave what looked like a universal symbol for "I'm rooted" on the bench, you'd have started planning your trip to the Prelim if we weren't notorious for self-destructing. Next thing he was back on the ground, kicked a late goal that gave them momentum going into quarter time, and never looked troubled again. There goes my career as a body language interpreter.

This time we failed to go on with it after the break, and the Lions were quickly back in every aspect of the game other than scoring. I'd have been happy if it stayed that way, a September slopfest detrimental to the reputation of the sport would have suited me. Which is fine after you've won the game, but nerve-shredding while it's happening. The degree of risk increases against good sides, and in the sliver of after match coverage I could take, Cam Rayner said words to the effect of "we knew we could outrun them in the last quarter", which shows you the flavour of their conversations in the buildup. Our 1998 Reserves coach confirmed this in his press conference. "Melbourne’s second halves this year have not always been the best", he said charitably, "we were aware of that". You and everybody else in the competition.

Our scoring had slowed down but we still got the first of the quarter. If I was a Brisbane fan, waiting 10 minutes to see Pickett crumb one through mid-tackle would have been enough to send me into despair He did his usual move of rubbing it into the opponent after. Gee I hope that didn't come back to haunt him when he barely got another touch. He did get another important goal later, but was overall miles off his best. I'm thankful for what he's done this year, and eternally fearful that we'll lose him to an SA club when money gets tight, but we needed more than flittering in and out of the game, and certainly could have done without the petulant downfield free just as we had them under pressure in the last quarter.

We let in another goal not long after, but it was a positive to keep them to two in a quarter and a half when we weren't playing all that well and Petracca looked to be dying a thousand deaths. Kicking the next two was even better, leaving us 28 points up with 30 seconds left. I wasn't fully convinced yet, but what a platform to build on in the second half/what a buffer in case we went tits up at the end. Then, before you could even comprehend what you'd just seen we gave up the shittest goal of all time. 

Even with a champion ruckman, good midfielders, and total aerial superiority in defence, the Lions walked out of the middle for the reply 15 seconds later. I could understand a hack kick landing in a forward's arms, or an aerial contest that ends in a free, but conceding at that speed from a ground ball was vile. I know that's where we're most vulnerable, but it set me off on a rant that turned the air blue. My foulest outburst of the year barely lasted an hour before beign topped by the Lever DEBACLE.

This ridiculously quick return to send should never have happened, but we were still nearly four goals up at half time of a cut-throat final with plenty of scope for improvement. That didn't happen. Petracca, and perhaps Gawn, slowly ebbed away from their injuries, nobody improved after half time, and the forward line continued to be MIA. Oliver gamely battled a tag, and the opponent nearly scratching his eye out (though the obvious defence would be that Oliver had him pinned to the ground with an elbow at the time...), Harmes was reasonably good, and Trac went hard for somebody who probably shouldn't have been playing, but they were right in the game now and we couldn't handle it.

At the risk of being run out of town under a hail of bottles, I really don't fancy Brayshaw in our midfield. He doesn't cause harm, but I've come to the realisation since we signed him to a bumper, multi-year contract that it's not a long term solution. He was so good hoovering the ball up in defence earlier this year that it seems wasteful to make him just another midfield accumulator. He did a good tag on Neale a couple of weeks ago, but didn't have much impact to the naked eye here. Having said that, he kicked an ace goal on the run in the last quarter just as we were threatening to sink without a trace. Then we did anyway.

Now that Brisbane had turned up it was our turn to tread water. Petty made another goal saving intervention, before surly teenager Hipwood got one a minute later anyway. As we tried to set the record for kicks out on the full, they bounced down the other for another one. Post-goal music [Generic Dance Track] should have been replaced by Nearer My God To Thee. Then, out of nowhere, we banged through two goals in as many minutes and had a buffer again. Even I, the most terrified fan alive, couldn't have forseen how dramatically we'd fall apart before three quarter time. It was a self-immolation so rapid that our three quarter time huddle should have been addressed by the fire brigade.

Well north of the 30 minute mark we probably just needed to escape defence once and would have gone into the break with things flowing in our direction. Then Jackson buried May with a hospital handball, leaving 'break in case of emergency' replacement Darcy Fort to kick a set shot. His 5.0 record for the season didn't bode well, but as he's 99.9% certain of being dropped next year I thought he might do the polite thing and spray it on the full. Sadly it went through like a rocket. Which wasn't good, but not nearly as bad as Rivers being rumbled holding the ball in almost the same spot seconds later.

It was a bitter disappointment after - yet again - holding a reasonable advantage, but level scores need not have been a death sentence. Problem is that we've lost almost every last quarter on offer, and even the wins have been by thin margins. I wouldn't have had $5 of your money on us outscoring them from there, but any margin would do. The only question was whether it would be by three points, leaving open the prospect of nicking it with a fluky goal at the end, or a comfortable 30 that allowed us to sweep issues under the rug until Geelong dismembered us. It started off looking like the former, quickly escalated to the latter, then got close again for a couple of minutes before we lost our mind for the last time as premiers.

If there's ever been a time to rort the substitute rule this was it. Plucking Joel Smith off the bench would probably only have added to the aerial congestion inside 50, but what was there to lose? I suppose if we'd lost by the same margin and he didn't get a touch we'd be blaming him for everything. All I know is sore throat victim Spargo had been shizen so they had victim and motive to finally do a tactical sub. Instead we stayed pure, and the only remaining goals came from midfielders and a defender.

I don't know why I think a guy with one goal in 24 games was going to be the answer, but level scores or not drastic measures were required. If you require further proof I'd force you to sit through the cruel and unusual punishment of 'highlights' from our failed attempts to score. They were probably worried about Petracca's fibula detaching, leaving us a player short for the rest of the game. Maybe he'd have ended the game heroically kicking the winning goal while on one leg? The way we were going it would have fallen to him at the top of the square and he'd have suffered a career-ending compound fracture that would have deflected the ball out on the full.

When we conceded the first goal I was ready to discuss terms of surrender. We're like the AFL's equivalent of the Russian army, coming out of the blocks at a million miles an hour, getting our hopes up with a few unconvincing wins, then being beaten into full, screaming, panicked retreat. It came from Petty blatantly clutching at an opponent's jumper but given that he'd already been our best defender, and was about to make a key contribution at the other end I'm not holding it against him. I just wish our forwards had stood their ground in more contests, which may have ended in the same way. Instead they were jumped over or not there in the first place.

For a couple of minutes it looked like they were going to run over the top, and in the spirit of it being the hope that kills you, that would probably have been less painful. But when Brayshaw legged it to 50 and thrashed one through from an angle I was ready to believe in miracles again. Then none occurred. They kicked the next goal, we botched chances at an industrial rate, and it was all but over

Unlike last week it was back to traditional finals umpiring where you could do almost anything short of piffing the ball downfield like an NFL quarterback. So when yet another one of our rancid attempts to score was flung back the other way for Cameron to mark in the pocket I didn't even want to debate whether he juggled it while crossing the line. A brave umpire might have taken it off him four months ago, none of them were big enough grandstanders to do it here. They got another straight after and I was 50% resigned to our fate, and 50% keen to punch holes in the wall Clarko style.

That, in the end, was it, but not before we were teased by an amazing comeback before throwing it away in one of the most farcical fashions possible. With nothing left to lose we finally called an audible and sent Petty forward. As much as I was willing to forgive the Big Niggle, it would still have been top shelf content if he'd won us the game. And bloody hell he had a go, taking one massive mark and kicking a set shot, then tapping the ball on for Langdon to dribble a goal that cut the margin back to seven with two minutes left. Before that he'd also provided the presence that led to Pickett standing 20 metres from an unguarded goal and artfully rolling his shot straight into the post. But please, give me more content of him kicking meaningless Harlem Globetrotters goals at training as if that's in any way helpful to our core business.

One more goal would have led to a chaotic last minute, but instead the ball went down the other end where Lever was nabbed for a free. I assume the forward would have done a dinky, time-wasting sideways kick, but ask Carlton about how they can backfire late in games. We'll never know, because Lever chose the literal worst time of the season to have a big, sooky, eyes wide open tantrum and fail to give the ball back as directed. Given the commitment to not paying anything but the most obvious frees I bet he would have got away with dissent, but holding onto the ball while whinging and trying to get the umpire to review the big screen was so egregious that they couldn't help but pay 50. 

I got "give him the fu..." out before it was paid, then instantly switched to saying something that would be considered offensive on a wharf. This was followed by an anguished howl, which at the time of writing on Monday afternoon is still affecting my voice. Lever gets the traditional 'premiership player discount' on his crimes, but it was still the most ridiculous thing to happen to us in a final since Jim Stynes crossed the mark. I know players must be mentally cooked by this time of the season but what was he thinking? Even with a dangerous forward target for the first time all night we'd probably still have lost, but there was no need to whip out a sword and commit hari kari in the forward pocket.

Crows fans would have loved it, in the same minor league way as our lot booing James Frawley after he'd already won a flag at Hawthorn. Doesn't matter how much wedge they've got in the bank, if your side beats them to a flag you (relatively) win. That's why it was so important that GWS never won anything with you-know-who in the side.

There was neither time nor inclination for another comeback, and a UFO could have crash-landed in the middle of the MCG before the final siren and I wouldn't have cared. Didn't know I still had it in me to be so flat about a sporting result. I committed a spot of mayhem on a chair to ease my frustration, then it nearly ended in criminal charges when a few minutes after the siren somebody risked having his eyeball yanked out by sagely telling me "it all went wrong when your players started fighting with each other". Bullshit. 

Nobody knows if McDonald would have made the ultimate difference, but we demonstrably hit the skids when he went down and wasn't effectively replaced. The forward line was generally dreadful against quality opposition for the rest of the year, save a couple of discredited tonkings of the Lions, and the rest of the team could only do so much before running out of juice. That's your focus for the off-season, not just the forwards, but how you get the ball to them. I'm not asking to smash through bulk scores like Essendon 2000 (though it would be nice), but for both the last two seasons we've been the sixth highest scoring home and away team. Sometimes you turn it on in September, sometimes you don't, and if that's not addressed we're just going into 2023 crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

I'm not going to pile in on Goodwin under after a decent period of mourning, or when we lose a couple of games next year, but at the same time you might lie awake at night wondering if Essendon might do a Chelsea and pay us shitloads of money for a new coach. Probably not, so that will leave plenty of time for 'learnings' and 'connection' during the off-season. I'm not telling a premiership coach what to do, but maybe a bit less blind loyalty with team selection next time? We only used one less player than last year (though one played three quarters total, and some others spent most of their time in a tracksuit), but now that it's all over you wonder if they could have rotated the side a bit more. 

It's remarkable that we fielded two finals sides that were so close to the premiership winning team, but we didn't need to be doing that all year. I was the person who wanted to fly an injured Gawn across the country to play the worst West Coast side of all time, but that's because I'm an idiot. No wonder so many of them looked flat as a tack by the end of the season. And yet, if either Sydney or Brisbane hadn't clung to the tightrope when the game looked to be slipping out of their grasp we might still be going. But stiff shit to us we're not.

And that... is quite enough for now. At least we won't play on the Wednesday night of Round 1.

2022 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Harrison Petty
4 - Christian Petracca
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Alex Neal-Bullen
1 - James Harmes

Apologies to Langdon, May and Viney

Leaderboard
That's your lot, and as you already knew who the major winners were last week there's not much drama on offer. Oliver already broke his own votes record last week, now he's the first man ever to reach the 70s. In the minors, the only result decided here was Bedford falling over the line in the Hilton due to lack of competition. Turner remains eligible next year, and I've decided Chandler does too because only two of his 10 games have involved playing all four quarters.

The extra good news for Clayts is that he's also pocketed a share of the Garry Lyon Medal for Finals Player of the Year alongside Harrison Petty - with both finishing on seven votes across the finals. Bit harsh on Steven May after playing a game worth more than that against the Swans but you can only win on the electoral system provided. Apologies for new readers for totally forgetting to mention this award last week, I was in distress.

70 - Clayton Oliver (WINNER: Allen Jakovich Medal for Player of the Year)
49 - Christian Petracca
35 - Jack Viney
29 - Steven May (WINNER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
27 - Max Gawn (WINNER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
25 - Angus Brayshaw
21 - Ed Langdon
18 - Harrison Petty
12 - Kysaiah Pickett
9 - Jake Bowey, Bayley Fritsch
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen
6 - James Harmes, Luke Jackson, Jake Lever
5 - Michael Hibberd, James Jordon, Jake Melksham
4 - Tom Sparrow
3 - Ben Brown, Christian Salem
2 - Charlie Spargo, Adam Tomlinson
1 - Toby Bedford (WINNER: Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal), Tom McDonald, Sam Weideman

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
My hump of hate is full to the brim but I'd still like to acknowledge Brayshaw on the run in the last quarter for bringing the house down. Bit of an issue that it prompted everyone else to clock off for 10 minutes but as we've just discovered you can't win them all. I've not got the life force to come up with a weekly prize.

Pickett wins the overall competition. It's another victory for the game-winning goal, which is this award's version of a midfielder in the Brownlow.

1st - Pickett vs Carlton
2nd - Langdon vs Essendon
3rd - Fritsch vs Sydney

Next week
If Brisbane do as expected and go down in a screaming heap against Geelong I'll be satisfied that we'd have suffered the same fate. If they put on a decent show - or god forbid win - there will be further violence against inanimate objects. Good luck to all involved, I'm not sure I'll bother watching unless it gets close at the end.

The good news (?) is that Casey are in the Grand Final. VFL finals were fun when we were shit but it's all a bit hollow now. I'll still watch, if only to participate in the great van Rooyen wankfest.

And to continue my 2022 spring season tradition of complaining about the AFLW fixture, I have loved watching that team since their inception, but if they think I can muster up any emotion for a team called Melbourne at this time the AFL's kidding themselves. The next couple of weeks can be for fans of broken down male clubs to enjoy their side still going around, I just want to do the sporting equivalent of pulling a blanket over my head.

Next season
We don't need to do any crazy amputations, but a little bit of surgery is going to be needed to avoid being in the same position - or worse - in 12 months. Despite Fritsch kicking 50 goals as a number three forward acting as number one by default, our forward line was relatively disastrous. In 2014 we'd have killed for what we had this year, but it wasn't good enough for a premiership aspirant. For all the shit he gets, McDonald showed how important he was to the stucture when he left but he's not a single-handed solution at +30 years, coming off half a season injured.

For obvious reasons Luke Jackson won't be contributing to our 2023 goal tally, robbing us of a repeat of the time he kicked four against a putrid Gold Coast at an empty ground. Due to him winning a premiership and not sneaking off under the cover of night after telling a dying man that he'd stay I'm not going to treat him like a pariah when he goes, but would appreciate a quick, decisive, and honest break instead of fake agony about whether to stay or not. If you're not staying then your work is done and you should have flown home with Freo on Sunday night. Let's get on with concentrating how Freo will fist us in the trade negotiations. 

So, not accounting for any wacky, unforseen trades (and no, ANB and/or Hunt aren't going to land us second round picks, have a lie down), the other obvious cuts are Mitch Brown, Oskar Baker and Majak Daw (rookie). As much as Goodwin is a fanatic I'm also assuming Melksham wraps it up, and either of Hibberd or Brown might take this as an opportune time to pull the pin too. Otherwise, we're 100% giving Weideman away for pick 88, Bedford might go elsewhere just to get a game, and Fraser Rosman's mystery positional switch in the VFL could indicate the drawing of curtains, but there probably isn't the need for a blood dripping massacre. 

In comes whatever measly picks we get from Freo for Jackson, no first rounder of our own because Sydney's already got it, and apparently still Brodie Grundy - which seems like the AFL equivalent of buying a fancy piece of furniture that doesn't fit your house just because it's 40% off. Otherwise, I have NFI what I really want other than another forward who can ruck a bit - which is unlikely to happen if we're trying to play Grundy and Gawn. van Rooyen and Laurie at a minimum will debut next year but otherwise I'm willing to sit back and enjoy a return to the glory of the Delist > Trade > Draft cycle.

Whatever happens we should still play finals, so that's the all-important ticket in the lottery. This season I dialled my expectations down to a prelim and fell short, which means if I think we'll sneak top four again next season that should be enough to see us wobble unconvincingly into the eight. Even though post-flag priorities have changed me I expect to spend most of the year in abject misery.

Final thoughts
Now that it's over people who were dropped on their head as kids will try and make you feel bad about winning last year. That it was played in a weird place, that you (probably) didn't see it live, that it was a 'COVID flag' (whatever that means), as if keeping things together under those circumstances wasn't the greatest achievement in modern football club history. Fuck them right in the ear, it was magical. It's been our honour to be seen alongside every mention of a Grand Final in the last 11 months. This year was as shit as possible while still finishing second, but it doesn't mean you need to take any historical shit from simpletons.

On that note, until I can bring myself to do AFLW reviews again, and whenever the token end of season post comes out, that's me done for the year. It's hard to believe that wraps up 18 seasons of this nonsense. I've struggled through this one for many and varied reasons not all related to footy but it's still been fun to jam in obscure cultural references, in-jokes, and things that even I won't understand in a few years with scarce mentions of footy along the way. 

Thank you as always for the support, we should do it all again in 2023 and however long it takes for me to drop dead in Row MM. It has been a pleasure to cover the "You weren't supposed to be able to get here you know" premiership victory lap, hopefully we get to do it again one day.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

Standard 'post delayed' notification


This one might take a while, but that's ok when we've got six bloody months off. Come back early in the week, then midweek for a guest AFLW report because I can't bring myself to seriously watch any other games this weekend.

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, 5 September 2022

Growing pains

If you're looking for coverage of the Friday men's game, go here. I wouldn't bother.

Refer to last week's post for in-depth whinging about starting the AFLW season at the same time as the men's finals, but there's something extra suspect about playing a home and away game in the sport's top flight women's competition as a curtain raiser three hours before a men's match. They get to claim a crowd of 17,851, about a quarter of who were in the ground at the first bounce, at the expense of making the whole thing feel minor league like every other curtain raiser in the history of Australian rules football. 

It's good that players got to perform on the game's most famous ground (though the commentator who called the MCG the 'birthplace of football' was taking a bit of historical licence), and I acknowledge that the original plan of playing at North Port Oval from 5pm wasn't much better, but like most of 'Season 7' it made the game feel like an afterthought. Anybody could have told them that starting at this time of the year would dampen the buzz, but the league has got metaphorical blood on their hands for bringing in way too many teams too quickly at the expense of the game. They'll point to getting the Geelong power mullet in a NAB ad as a sign of progress but realistically games are no better than six years ago. At the risk of being cancelled, in the case of a team scoring 0.1 they're worse.

On an individual level there are a lot of very good players, but they're balanced out by strugglers who are filling numbers until development pathways can fill lists. Even our side, competitive from day one, now regular finalists, is fielding players that have no place in a national competition. For comparison to the men's game, imagine taking four or five of the fringe strugglers from our 2012/2013 nightmares and sticking them alongside Oliver, Gawn, Petracca etc... The stars are going to keep doing starish things on their own and amongst each other, but a lot of the games this year have looked more like a contest of who can hide their weak links better than a battle between premium players.

Having 18 places for players to go should eventually be good for development, but Christ on a bike things will be rough for a while. I'm convinced that as often as we see the footage of Gil McLachlan announcing a sell out of the first game, that the AFL doesn't really care how things look as long as they're happening. I said it last year, and it remains as valid now, if there was ever a time for an AFL sponsored competition to have two divisions with promotion and relegation this was it. Anyone who suggests it for the men should be boiled in oil, but the move to 18 AFLW teams was the right time. It allows shit sides to develop by playing amongst themselves, and nobody's going to put their head in the oven if their team drops into the second division. Will never happen now but I stand by the idea.

The window into the league's soul is the AFLW website, which remains one of the biggest technological fiascos known to man. I'd be the last person to suggest that afl.com.au is a good example of how to do a league site, but if you're going for a degree of equality between the male and female branches of the league (except the bit where facilities are so bad that players have to walk across the ground in their undercrackers to shower) wouldn't you have the same experience regardless of which gender competition you want info on? Instead they've got unsortable stats columns with patronising 'footy for beginners' tooltips like "Kicks - a legal disposal of the ball by foot", and match report buttons on the pages for individual matches that redirect to a one size fits all preview of nine completed games. The only way to get a real match report is to go to the news section and scroll until you find one. It's a farce, and the league should stop patting themselves on the back for what they did seven years ago and start being embarrassed about the service to players and fans now.

Anyway, Melbourne's 2-0 so that's a good thing. And as close as we went to disaster, the win was built off a defensive display so solid that you can imagine us going one better and holding a side to 0.0. The only issue is that for everything the defence did, the forwards may as well have turned up at Casey Fields for all the impact they had. We got plenty of the ball but made finding targets and helping them to put the ball through the middle posts look nearly impossible. Even with scoring at 1908 levels you've still got to kick goals to win.

If you just looked at the score against the Crows you'd think this was an aberration, but when you consider how many goals in that game came from zany bounces on a concrete surface, speculative snaps and interceptions, it left room for improvement. Relying on the backline to save us is risky business, as we discovered the literal one time they got through us in the first half. Beat Gillard on a lead for the first goal was their only score for the half. This was smart play, she's very good in the air (it helps to be 190cm tall), but is still green as grass so why not isolate her as far away from intercept queen Libby Birch as possible and kick to a lead. They didn't do it again, focusing on punting it down the throats of our defenders for the next three quarters instead. Cheers for that.

Their refusal to take advantage of us was one thing, but we still ended the first quarter goalless. I don't get the point of playing Tayla Harris higher up the ground when we've done nothing to replace her as a marking target inside 50. It's one thing if you go out and recruit another big goalkicker and have to change the mix, but we haven't so it's wonderful if Tayla gets the ball 60 metres out but who's she supposed to aim at? I'm not keen on any of the other players to kick 5+ goals last year (Daisy, Hore, Bannan) pulling down contested grabs, and we still seem to be refusing to participate in crumb. Mark my words, it will end badly, probably with us kicking 1.2 in a final.

I know this was a dud recruiting season due to the short turnaround but did we take Georgia Campbell last year just for the lols of everyone incorrectly thinking her dad is Tony? You can't trust a draft profile, but quoth this page: "Campbell moves well around the ground in the ruck and is a strong marking target inside 50". That'll do me, get her out of the emergencies and into the side. If you have to play Harris at CHF then at least there's somebody to boot the ball at.

The key irritation of the first quarter was that we were getting so much of the ball it should have translated into more scoring. Between Paxman, Purcell, West and Hanks, we'll match any side in the competition for accumulation but the problem is creating avenues to goal. The ball worked its way towards the good end plenty of times but lacked the connection (copyright - S. Goodwin) to finish. In a competition where the top sides will be relatively even and the bottom sides will be the female equivalent of Fitzroy 1996, this may still be enough to win a flag. I'd like to kick a few big scores just so we know it can be done.

When all else fails just get out of the way and let a legend do her thing. On the final lap of her career, Daisy Pearce ripped out two quick goals to get us going at the start of the second quarter. You liked to think that was going to encourage a huge win, especially in front of a heavily partisan crowd. But no, it was back to toil and struggle for the rest of the term, and once Pearce was blanketed after half time we didn't seem to have anyone who'd kick another goal. And for one freak snap nobody would have.

This was all fine if North continued to see every forward thrust picked off with the greatest of ease, but when they got the only goal of the third quarter we seemed to be wandering into a trap. Dud teams are going to let us walk goals in by the dozen but I'm concerned that this isn't going to stack up in [whatever month finals are this season]. I can't wait to get Sinead Goldrick back, at least she'll provide some extra dash out of defence, which might help catch sides out on the counter. 

Yet again I had a golden chance to get to a game live, and for the sixth and a bit consecutive season was thwarted by everything going wrong. My only option was to watch the first half at home, then go into a media ban until I got to the station, then finish watching on the way to the only game on Friday that the Melbourne Football Club failed to win. Knowing that the margin was likely to be razor-thin either way I expected to be stitched up by somebody nearby reacting to a final score but got away without knowing what happened until the end. This was made more difficult by Kayo acting like an absolute bastard for the entire delayed viewing of the last quarter - buffering, pausing, stopping, halting and everything in between as I tried to blank out any of the inane conversation around me that might give a hint about the result.

Despite the game being scheduled like the Under 19s I was still deeply invested in this result, to the point where I had to stop myself from openly cracking the shits mid-journey as North kicked two goals to take the lead. Good on them for being 100% efficient with their scoring shots but it still felt like we were about to be THIEVED out of a win. We couldn't even blame the umpires, even the one who took so long to whistle that you'd think the most obvious frees in history weren't going to be paid.

Enter - at the fullest pelt - Alyssa Bannan. She's done next to nothing in the opening weeks, but proved an MCG specialist in last year's Prelim, and delivered again here. When Goal of the Year is handed out she must call Eliza West onto the stage with her, because without her this didn't happen. West got on the end of a chain of handballs in the middle, kick forward to a contest, then kept running and snatched the ball off the pack Pickett vs GWS style, before booting the ball over Bannan's head for her to run on to. Luck played a part via the bounce of a lifetime, right back into her hands, but the finish was superb, a right foot snap around the corner while running towards the boundary with an opponent right on her hammer. She finished with one of her elite celebrations before falling to the ground dead from the exertion.

This was good, and I let out a little yelp that startled the crusty old grannies next to me on the train, but there were still four minutes left for North to fix us up. Then nobody scored again. It took a bit of grim defence on our behalf, but you can tell how reasonably easy it was from the 'mini match' on the world's worst website (which you can find by clicking 'watch replay', then scrolling past an unrelated article, then choosing it from a list of videos that doesn't include a replay) skipping from one defensive effort at three minutes to the last five seconds when we had it won.

I'm certainly not arguing a 2-0 start against the first and fourth best sides last season, but there may never have been a premiership contender more vulnerable to injuries. None of the recycled players have shown anything yet, and we've got the thinnest of stocks in reserve, so please face Casey Fields and pray for the health and well-being of our stars. The competition itself may be all over the shop but I'm dying to see how our season turns out.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Eliza West
2 - Libby Birch
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Hanks, D. Pearce, L. Pearce, and Heath

Leaderboard
Not that it's all about midfielders or anything, but I think for the first time in the hundreds of reviews I've done since 2005, the same players got top billing in the same order. In a shortened season that should ensure that one of them wins. 

Libby Birch jumps in front in the defender award, while the Rising Star remains open. Due to the limited games on offer, I'm going to set the qualification mark as two career games before the start of the year - that means eligible players are Georgia Campbell, Maeve Chaplin, Georgia Gall, Blaithin Mackin and Ella Little. Other than Chaplin they'll all need to get a game before trying to win an award.

10 - Karen Paxman
8 - Olivia Purcell
6 - Eliza West
2 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Kate Hore
1 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard

Goal of the Week
Not much to choose from, and for the second week in a row Daisy is relegated to the apologies. It must be Bannan, and it is. She moves into pole position for the annual award.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne
2nd - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide
3rd - Daisy Pearce vs Adelaide

Next Week
We've got St Kilda on Sunday afternoon, and as you can probably tell from the quality of this post it's time for me to take a break. If the Friday night semi goes badly you might need to fish me out of the river. The good news is that a TBA guest reporter will be taking up the challenge of continuing our in-depth (!?) AFLW coverage.

Our list is so paper thin that until Goldrick comes back (currently listed at 1-2 weeks) the only other obvious inclusion is Sabreena Duffy. Is she still around? We pinched her gratis from the Dockers, she had a fitness scare in a half-arse pre-season game, but isn't shown on the injury lists and hasn't been talked about since. Would be handy in the forward line.

On paper the Saints have had a good start, sitting second on the ladder with a 2-0 record. I don't know how seriously you can take a ladder with Geelong on top, and St Kilda's position has clearly been boosted by playing two expansion clubs. So you'd think we'd remind them of their place in the AFLW hierarchy fairly comfortably, but they've upset us before so don't take anything for granted.

Final Thoughts
More crumb please.