Saturday 11 February 2017

It begins

No matter the format you can't help but enjoy a win over Collingwood. Especially one that sinks them to the bottom of the ladder. I'd never have believed that would be the end result when the Pies were three goals up and we were playing with a forward strategy devised by random number generator. 

All I knew about women's football before AFLW was that (until the last game) we always beat Footscray. Naturally, when our inaugural list was put together I fancied myself an expert, sensing that it lacked attacking power. On the other hand, Collingwood recruited the best goalkicker in the game, and should presumably have profited handsomely. But now they're on the bottom and their season is over after two weeks. Oh well, bad luck.

It was concerning that after two games - one practice, one real - where the opposition kept Mo Hope quiet by quadruple teaming her we decided to do our bit for fairness by playing one-on-one. When that looked like a disaster in the first few minutes Mick Stinear was probably wistfully thinking back to his glory days winning TAC Cup premierships and wondering if being the first AFLW coach to be sacked would be detrimental for his career. First, she set up a goal by marking in acres of space, then kicked one immediately after to set off my nerves. Indeed I was nervous, for the second week in a row howling at the television in disgust as clear holding the ball decisions went unpaid. Until we did one and were pinched. We even managed to give away another goal from a 50. Just because you've given Jim Stynes' number to somebody from Ireland there's no need to pay tribute to him every week.

Then at three goals to one down at quarter time we discovered that the best way to stop their attack was not to let them get the ball down there in the first place. Which was noble, and kept them to one goal in the second quarter, but was handicapped by another quarter where there was more chance of a UFO hovering over Princes Park than us scoring. It was really starting to get me down, I'm not expecting a freewheeling extravaganza of amazing attacking footy in this competition but the idea of struggling to one or two goals a week didn't appeal. Fortunately, better times were on the way.

If we'd lost there would have also been plenty to say about starting Daisy Pearce forward in the first quarter, where she was tagged to buggery and barely got a kick. All's well that ends well. As the Pies fell off the face of the planet Daisy started to rack up touches at will. She wasn't known as the best player in the women's game for nothing, but it wouldn't count for much without scoring. We had plenty of system-free inside 50s, which Collingwood usually rebounded merrily. At first into attack, then as the game went on only into the midfield, until finally they could barely clear it outside their defensive 50.

Other than the forwards it was, as you'd expect in conditions about 98% drier than last week, a far better showing. There are still a few players who are out of place and run around like me in one of those ill-fated forum games a few years ago - only without the broken elbow from a failed attempt at a smother - but that's understandable. No doubt a few will be moved on at the end of the year to get some actual footy players in. What we do have is a core of quality players, and once you get to the votes you won't be surprised to discover I know who my five favourites are. I'm still not convinced we'll beat Carlton or Adelaide, and suggest we've got about a 1% chance of making the Grand Final but let's reinvestigate that after the Bulldogs game. Anyway, what would following Melbourne be if success was dropped on your doorstep immediately? A few years of suffering is mandatory.

It was clear from the start of the third quarter that we'd got their measure around the ground, it was just a case of whether anyone could fashion a goal. The spark came from frisbee guru Cat Phillips, who decided that instead of crafting one she may as well just snap through from a wacky angle.

I haven't declared an equivalent of the Aaron Davey Goal of the Year award in this competition, but suffice to say if you can kick a better goal than that it's yours. After cruelly chucking her as my favourite player just because of Cranston's malicious bump on a defenceless Brisbane player I'm back on the Catwagon. At least she's a better footy player than Jeremy Howe is a frisbeeist.

From there we made kicking goals look easy, smashing another one in a minute later to make things interesting. Who needed a system, just belt the thing into space and wait for somebody to run onto it. Just as we started to take control, but hadn't yet the hit the lead, the lights started to go out. We'll assume that was just cheap equipment rather than the work of a dodgy Asian betting syndicate. It didn't look too bad on television, but it would have been shithouse at ground level. With the experience of playing in the gloomy slurry of Casey last week, the girls activated Terminator mode and wiped the Pies off the park. Unlike so many men's team comebacks we didn't run out of energy getting back into the game then have nothing left to go on with.

It was an unexpectedly rampant finish - and I do think that we've got the building blocks for a good team in the future. I like Lauren Pearce in the ruck, and our defence was rock solid after their shaky start. Everybody's talking about the established big guns like Paxman, O'Dea, Hickey, Daisy etc... but I've been a big fan of Lily Mithen in both games so far. Until half-time I thought she was our best in trying conditions. The only concern is how much she looks like her dad, giving me flashbacks to him presenting Sunday Scoreboard on the Channel 9 news to the soundtrack of Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Let's hope she doesn't celebrate wins the same way as her old man...

I still wasn't comfortable at three quarter time, but I needn't have worried. Collingwood has now kicked 0.1 in two second halves, which would be a worry for them but is hilarious to the rest of us. The final term was a relaxed rampage, where we even started to find targets inside 50 as Pies defenders realised the euphoria of last week is gone, confronted harsh reality and lost the will to live. The most enjoyable of the last quarter goals was by Shelley Scott, who marked strongly in the pocket from a rank Daisy set shot then ran around and bounced it through an unguarded square. Anyone wearing red and blue and taking advantage of a demoralised opposition to pile on goals in the last quarter is alright by me.

So, we won. And Mia-Rae Clifford became the first AFL player in history to earn household bragging rights by winning a game against their partner. Which is nice. The song was belted out enthusiastically in the middle of the ground, complete with some zany dance routine at the end, then again in the sheds for a job well done. I will never tire of a Melbourne win in any format, let's have more of it.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
Yes, it's the exact same top five as last week. I can't think that's ever happened before. It's not because they're the only five I know, it's because they're all quite good.

5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Cat Phillips
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Elise O'Dea
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to L. Pearce, Duryea, Scott and Smith.

7 - Karen Paxman
6 - Lily Mithen, Elise O'Dea, Daisy Pearce
5 - Cat Phillips

I'm glad that our cheersquad gets a break from handcrafting their award-winning banners, and that we've roped iSelect into paying to sponsor ours. And they do look excellent, but I can't help myself but defer to the simple, homemade one that the Pies had. 1-1 for the season.

Media Watch
I'm impressed by Daisy Pearce's performance in the Chemist Warehouse ad. The only problem is that now she has to kick a goal to make it realistic, which might have been what was going through her head when she missed that set shot at the end. In the realm of modern-day Melbourne players in TV ads I'd rank her above Jack Watts for Energy Watch (*spit*) and Mitch Clark being sexually harassed by female motorists for Ultratune.

Next Week
The Bulldogs game will be the other half of a doubleheader with the pre-season men's game - and given that I've barely got the time to get to one game these days I'll be struggling to get to the Western Oval for the main event. So, on that note would you please consider contributing a guest review? Let me know before the game via your favourite social media channel or email. Same deal for the Carlton game, and the way our kooky fixture includes travel to Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in the last three weeks I think that's my hopes of making to any game short of the Grand Final shot. So, if you want to take over full reporting duties for any of the games then you are more than welcome.

As for team changes next week your guess is as good as mine - presumably Meg Downie misses after being flattened and going off on a stretcher, but with such small playing lists it doesn't make sense to replace her with the returning Cranston. Do we have any defenders left in reserve? I look forward to a glorious future where I know the who's who of our list like I do the guys.

Final Thoughts
This is good, I've already moved beyond all the shiny happy breaking down barriers stuff and am treating like this team like I would the men. Halfway through the game trying to sack everybody, then trying to desperately backpeddle once they win. Let's see how the momentum goes when the (let's be honest here) real stuff begins next week and there are competing priorities.

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