Sunday 5 February 2017

A tradition begins

The early criticisms levelled at the new AFL Women's competition have been that the games are low scoring, the players aren't skillful enough and the league is heavily subsidising teams to take part. Show me something I haven't been watching at the men's level for years.

You are of course free to ignore it, just try not to make a Rex Hunt of yourself like Twitterists with egg logos who say nonsense phrases like 'virtue signalling'. I'm all for it, not expecting the 1989 Grand Final to break out helps you enjoy what it is. More than the issue of gender equality or the fact that my kid now has a chance of playing professionally, I'm into it because there's a side called Melbourne. To be honest I'd watch televised Little League if we were involved.

At 4pm I felt guilty about not being there for the birth of a new team. I only squibbed it because I'd rather not go to Casey once a season let alone twice in one month. The prospect of large crowds didn't help either, being stuck in any ground that's one step up from a suburban park with nowhere to move is my idea of hell. Then it started pissing down like the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse were about to float past and it was obvious that I'd made the right decision. Call me when we play at an established ground somewhere closer than Cranbourne.

Ultimately the only advantage to travelling for an hour to see us kick one goal and lose in pelting rain would have been for historical value. Everyone expected us to win and we didn't - ladies, that's what playing for the Melbourne Football Club is all about.

Things almost started perfectly. As much as I declared Ultimate Frisbee champion Cat Phillips to be my favourite player pre-season, based on nothing more than her involvement in a novelty sport, I'd chucked her by the five minute mark and started supporting Rocky Cranston instead. She should have had the first goal with a piece of classic crumb but shot wide. Then, to confirm her status at the top of my list, Rocky murdered some hapless Lions defender with a bump and will probably be the first player in the competition suspended. Later in the first quarter she attempted a snap without a boot, and it's not clear if she ever managed to find it because I don't think she got another kick.

I know they scheduled the game at Casey before realising big numbers would be interested, and without access to a super long range weather forecast, but it was the worst place for spectacle. All discussions about the quality of football should be conducted against a split-screen view of some of the horrendous VFL games the Scorpions have played there. It's the black hole of death for quality footy at the best of times, let alone for a new competition.

We were dominant early, but it came to nothing due to a complete lack of spark up forward. The usual tricky Cranbourne wind was blowing towards our end - sadly now without classic Casey sponsor Lurline Liquor - but eight minutes camped in attack generated just two behinds. So far, so Melbourne. After wasting the early advantage it started pissing down, making it even less likely we'd take advantage of the breeze. That we did not - failing to kick a goal with it all day. Mind you we only got one against it, so who knows if the conditions were to blame or not.

I'm not going to live or die on this competition like I do the seniors, but my rampant pro-MFC bias was on show within the first few minutes when I was yelling at the TV for frees during some heavily suspect 'let the play go' umpiring. It seems dropping the ball doesn't exist in this competition either. 

By quarter time we were 3-0 up. On paper that was complete bollocks, but long-term readers will know I think there's something beautiful about a low scoring game. It makes every goal crucial, and while we don't want every losing team to kick one per game it meant subconsciously tensing up when Brisbane went into attack and automatically assuming there'd be no score when we did.

Ironically I had to watch most of the second quarter on delay after trying to convince my kid not to go outside in a storm. All that meant was waiting an extra 15 minutes to see Brisbane kick the first goal after we'd done all the hard work. Reversing the trend set by the men, we had an excellent chance to get it straight back by breaking out of the middle, only to turn the ball over immediately. That was the story of the day, long and hopeful roosts into the forward line that were effortlessly mopped up by defenders. That would be your homage to Queen's Birthday 2015. Later the tributes to the men's team continued as our ruck was clawed in the face and didn't get a free.

We kept up the pressure inside 50, but as much as I enjoyed Cranston shirtfronting with the spirit of Byron Pickett it doesn't look like we've got much going for us up front. Given the number of kicks that are going to miss the target going inside 50, having quick, small forwards who can gather on the run is going to be equally important as your traditional full-forward. Instead, it took a loose ball to get our first and (hopefully I never write this again) goal. Cranbourne resident Jasmine Grierson used her experience playing in shit local conditions to gather and snap us back in front. Remember the name for trivia nights - and if you're at a trivia night where they're asking obscure MFC related questions you've done well.

It was weird that some players were playing their first game of footy (presumably other than the practice match). I wonder how many good local women's players were throwing things at the TV watching rowers and frisbee players having a bash? It's understandable that the Darebin Falcons have got 16 players in the league given that they've won a million flags in a row, but what are the other six from their premiership side doing? I guess there's more publicity value from rolling out WNBL players and hoping for the best than lists full of random suburbanites without media value. It also seems NQR that this league uses a smaller ball than established competitions (according to the coverage on Friday night, scientists informed the AFL that women had smaller hands. Which is one of the worst applications of science ever). Did Darebin win flags out the wazoo because they were the only ones who could play with a normal size ball?

In a surprise twist, the second quarter was called off early due to lightning. Given that we were kicking into the breeze it would have been great news for us if they'd just called it off and come back for the third quarter, instead they took half time early and played the last three minutes after the break. Naturally, we used those three minutes to concede against the run of play.

After half times both real and fake the game degenerated into everyone chasing the ball then kicking it as long as they possibly could. If the AFL made this 16-a-side to try and judge the merits of doing that in the men's competition (for god's sake no) they would have struck this game from evidence, especially with the number of throw-ins. Mark my words, the next step will be introducing the hated last kick/free kick boundary rule.

Brisbane got their second goal, while we continued to look as potent as the year Chris Dawes led our goalkicking with 20. Back then I thought it was just because we didn't get it inside 50 enough, this time we got it down there plenty but most of them were no more than hopeful hoofs. Pack marks were at a premium in the conditions, but the Lions forwards certainly looked more likely to do it than ours. We were at a major disadvantage in marks overall, with their top three players having more than our entire 22 combined. Has anyone organised a forum thread to discuss sacking the recruiters and/or the coach yet?

The rain disappeared for a while, before bucketing down again at three quarter time. With respect to the players and the suggestion of Kelli Underwood that "nobody has left" I would certainly have done a runner at this point. If you've ever tried to drive out of Casey Fields in perfect conditions you'll know how treacherous it would be to beat 6000 people to the out of the car park in bucketing rain. If you were able to extract your car from a ditch in the first place. In this case, I was quite happy to be at home.

It said it all that Brisbane dominated the intercept marks and held an 8% better kicking efficiency (what happened to disposal efficiency?). We had a lot of kicks forward, but most of them were just panicky hoof-and-hope jobs. Let's see how it goes in the dry, but seemingly without the quick forwards I'm feeling less optimistic about this season. But who's better at complaining about Round 1 results than us?

I dare say we're not going to win this competition, all the other winners this week will clean us up without too many problems. With only six games left and the top two making the Grand Final we were already in big trouble courtesy of the percentage boosting wins elsewhere. It's curtains if we lose next week, and I for one am in a filthy mood because of it.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Elise O'Dea
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Cat Phillips

Crowd Watch
As the players evacuated the field for the early half-time Shaun Smith was seen wandering past the camera. He was one of a conveniently announced crowd of '6500' that helped carry the total attendance for the competition's first weekend over 50,000. At least change the last couple of digits if you're going to pretend it's the real figure.

Down with the introduction of a curtain, but otherwise it was quite the lovely banner. More printed than letters applied to crepe paper, but that doesn't matter. Don't know if Brisbane even had one. If they did I didn't see it, certainly did see it if they did so let's say 1-0 Dees.

Next Week
Collingwood next Saturday night - currently scheduled for Olympic Park Oval but sure to be moved due to that being a shit ground with zero facilities. There's talk about them running it as a double header with an earlier game at Princes Park, presumably meaning a bigger crowd. I expect that Moanna Hope will bounce back from suffering the league's first Media Curse to kick eight.

Final Thoughts
I'm not going to pull my hair out over this competition, but for god's sake can we just avoid the wooden spoon?

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