Saturday 18 March 2017

Carnage in Cranbourne

The last line of Melbourne's franchise agreement with the AFL states that we are required to suffer one demoralising loss to an inferior team at least once in the middle of the year and once at the end (if not for the other 20 weeks as well). Fortunately in a shortened competition we were able to get both out of the way in one go against GWS, and instead concentrate on snacking on a group of hapless Dockers offering scarcely token resistance. They were like a low rent version of the Adelaide prison gang, all about giving away clumsy frees but with none of the artistic merit the Crows provided.

You'd be demoralised too when you started the season as premiership favourites, won next to nothing and had to fly three hours for a dead rubber THEN get in a bus and go 80km to Casey Fields. The commitment to players doing their normal job five days a week then going around the country for this is impressive, I know back in the day male players used to be PE teachers, pub owners or in the case of the late 80s Brisbane Bears unemployed but it was a different time. Now I'm impressed half their squad didn't chuck a sickie and watch on TV. Freo might have done better if they'd plucked a few fresh randoms out of the south eastern suburban leagues, because the players they brought look like they had enough before leaving Perth Airport. All teams have been there, in our case almost every season for a decade and without having to leave Victoria most of the time.

Intergender MSDS suggested that given the first equation for keeping our season alive was to simply win, we'd probably suffer another shock defeat to a mediocre side which rendered the result of the Adelaide vs Collingwood game meaningless. On paper the Dockers should have been a doddle, but who could honestly rule out another week of domination of inside 50s for no reward before the other side did us on the counter-attack.

Then, in a record setting quick settling of nerves, we kicked the first goal in 15 seconds flat. Straight out of the middle, and perfectly into the arms of Alyssa Mifsud at the top of the square while her opponent stood there going "oh shit, it's going to be one of those afternoons". Usually our problem in these games has been converting forward entries into shots, then converting those shots in goals. These issues were jointly solved by converting our midfield domination into a series of attacks that landed 20 metres out with Freo's defence at sixes and sevens, or gathering the ball within range and waiting for them to give away an inevitable free kick.

This game was massive finals implications was not being treated with all the respect it deserved, we all know for a men's game in the same scenario I'd have been bunkered down at home for three sleepless nights eating nothing but canned tuna but in this case the first roughly quarter and a half took place while I was in the supermarket. The chances of somebody blowing the result with a loose text message or by walking down the aisles of Coles singing Heave Ho were next to nil so I could afford to take the risk of watching on delay. If you're confident in avoiding spoilers, and don't have a ridiculous need to follow what other people are saying about TV games on Twitter this is not such a bad way to approach life. The worst time of any game is when you've got to amuse yourself for 20 minutes at half time, this way the siren goes and you fast forward for about 90 seconds then carry on.

The skill of dominating the early minutes and having it come to nowt is transferable across genders, and after kicking that first goal within seconds then attacking immediately after again we allowed Freo to go down the other end and kick a goal via a long hoof into the forward line for somebody to run on to. Something to warm you up for the 21 times St Kilda are going to do it next Sunday. I'm no expert on the rules, and why would you need to be when you spend six months a year howling from the stands about how they're incorrectly applied, but when we gave away a free in the middle and a Docker played on from about 1.5 metres ahead of where the ball had been dropped should that have been brought back? I feel like it should have, otherwise you should be able to take off from anywhere that a wacky bounce takes it post-free.

I thought that was the signal for another GWS game to break out, where we'd keep attacking for almost no reward and would lose despite conceding a relatively low score. No need to worry, that was the invitation for our lot to start cracking heads. It only took 20 seconds for another lightning attack out of the middle to find Shelley Scott practically in the same spot Mifsud had been earlier, with a new Freo defender beaten all ends up in the one on one dual.

The third, and the official floodgate opener, was created by a sublime piece of vision from Deanna Berry. It's easy to look good against an opposition as flat as this, but she was great and her handball through three Dockers while being simultaneously tackled by two others was a thing of beauty. It cracked the play open for Aliesha Newman - who is apparently a postie but is so quick she probably doesn't bother with the bike - to run into space and eventually set up Mifsud to find Phillips on her own in the square. After looking wonky in the first few quarters of the year, and to be fair the pissing rain we played the first game in was no help, Mifsud has been a great target. Considering she's one that barely played before being drafted that's a big win for our recruiters. I'm willing to reject the theory of the commentator that she was having a shot and instead put it down as a perfect pass to a teammate charging into the square. For the third time a Fremantle player stood in close proximity but was left looking confused.

The third goal was very quickly followed by the fourth, set up by a free kick against the Freo ruck where insult was added to injury when the ball was lobbed right into her face while being returned to Lauren Pearce. She was still busy ensuring her nose was still attached when it went through. A fifth straight all but ended the game. The only thing that soured the quarter was needlessly conceding a goal with 30 seconds left, but all that did was keep Freo afloat for a little bit long when they were clearly the inferior team.

As I'd missed all the pre-game reporting while perusing the roast chicken rack at Eltham Coles it didn't register with me until goals had stopped flying in every 30 seconds that it was an all-female commentary team. No dramas there, the guys on Channel 7 are excellent and probably should be called on to replace some of the buffoons they employ for the main games but I could do without Fox Footy's previous tactic of employing a famous man who only partially knew what he was talking about to lend the coverage an alleged air of credibility. Star of the show was Kate Sheahan, she of the shortest debut since Rohan Bail, who demonstrated the family traits that made Mark 'Jacko' Jackson want to her punch her dad by hanging shit on the Dockers all day. It was good, because the comments were explained rather than just being "oh wowee they're so shit LOL ROFL". It's what Dermott Brereton would do well if he explained himself succinctly instead of waffling on for 45 seconds.

Once the initial damage was done the velocity of the battering slowed for a while, and it became an extended torture session instead. Freo could barely get their hands on the ball, and when they did they looked like a country pub team having a kick and hoping for the best. The comeback was shortly lived, the second goal of the second quarter came from Cranston yanking an opponent down in such spectacular fashion that my better half confused my mouth full of food cry of "WHAT A TACKLE!" (or as it came out "WHUBATTTTTTTTTTLE") with a yell of distress.

The Dockers had no answers, like a Best of Baileyball compilation every turnover they generated was usually greeted by the player looking up to see nowt but empty space and/or Melbourne defenders in front. Their attacking made the worst we've served up this season look like Geelong 2011 in comparison, and a rare few minutes of competitiveness in the second quarter were wasted when they ran through a list of new and exciting ways to flub simple chances. There was no coming back from that, and from there it was death by a thousand cuts.

By the time Paxman burst into an open goal for our 10th goal without a miss, the margin was an AFLW record and our percentage was rapidly closing on Adelaide. With so much time lost because they don't stop the clock for routine stoppages there was never enough time to bang on the further six or so goals required but it felt pleasant to be unleashing a record setting defeat on somebody no matter what the competition or how thin the existing record book is. Now we've got the record loss in the men's game (well, the two record losses if you really want to be pedantic) and the record win in the women's. Following this club is a real rollercoaster ride let me tell you, and I'm glad we've got another branch to share in the confusion.

We were scoring at such a rapid rate that the Casey Fields DJ was going to have to start repeating his post-goal CDs before long. Why anyone allowed a match played for premiership points to have some galoot spinning pop hits throughout is a matter for another day, but don't rule out some atmospheric strugglers like Etihad Stadium or the Sydney Showgrounds bringing that in before long.

Once we hit 10.0.60 the scoring slowed down, suddenly there was a reason to think about self-preservation in the heat and after six weeks unbroken suddenly Paxman and Mel Hickey were on the sidelines receiving treatment. We stumbled along to the end missing chances like the MFC Women of old, continuing to lose players to novelty injuries such as Mithen being accidentally shirtfronted by an opponent who simply forget to stop running at her after the ball had been kicked.

We wanted 100 but had to settle for 70. That would do considering we've also kicked scores of 1.4.10 and 1.9.15 this year. You don't get to play a dispirited, disinterested opposition like that all the time (unless you're playing the MFC men in Round 23) so when you do grab it with both hands and enjoy it.

If it is to be the end of our season it's appropriate that the final quarter was spent with one of the little girls whose dreams are supposed to have been thrown wide open by this new competition pestering me to change the channel to Hey Duggee. It was a fun seven weeks (and we hope for an eighth), true to senior game form I lost interest in the non-MFC teams about halfway through but really enjoyed watching our girls play every week (in general - the record shows I CBF during the GWS match, but that had more to do with the nuffy timeslot and our inability to convert a score than anything) and they've definitely got a bright future in this competition even if we have to wait a year.

In a couple of years when a few more footballers are developed and some of the pure athletes who are lucky to be there fall off the side this will be a reasonable standard to watch. It's not bad as it is, but there's a deep frustration that all Melbourne supporters have known for decades when there's two or three lovely links in the chain and then somebody handballs it straight up in their air because they're dangerously underqualified to be participating. Nevertheless it was fun, and as long as the AFL don't do something amazingly stupid like expanding the number of teams or games played too quickly then it should go well again next year. When we will win it.

2017 Debbie Lee Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Cat Phillips
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Alyssa Mifsud
1 - Deanna Berry

Apologies to L. Pearce, Mithen, Paxman, Grierson, Cranston, Duryea, Hickey, Scott and Kemp

Final leaderboard
What bad timing for Karen Paxman to be swamped by the rising tides of a game where almost everyone won their position. According to an interview in the paper she has not the slightest interest in the AFL and doesn't watch a second of it, which (with appropriate allowances for MFC content) is something I aspire to. She should run in the top three in whatever the Brownlow Medal equivalent is, and here she finishes a strong second behind your inaugural champion Daisy Pearce.

Congratulations Daisy! Over to her #1 fan for comment:

26 - Daisy Pearce
22 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Alyssa Mifsud, Cat Phillips
4 - Laura Duryea, Katherine Smith
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Deanna Berry

Looking forward to introducing a Rookie of the Year competition next year, and there's no doubt that one day we'll retrospectively be awarding Duryea/Smith and Lauren Pearce the Defender and Ruck Of The Year awards. But not now.

Next Week
We'll know tomorrow whether it's off to a Grand Final or Mad Monday. That will determine whether Tuesday is spent taking the day off to do an in-depth study of the Lions or nursing a killer hangover. It's difficult to turn end of season celebrations into an all-out drunken chunderfest when your entire team are semi-professionals who have to return to their real job the next day but we hope they'll find a way. At least you can be reasonably sure that none of the players are going to pull off a Terlich/Georgiou-esque costume disgrace.

I used to work with a woman who played high standard local footy in the early 2000s, and once after losing a grand final her team arrived at a pub to drown their sorrows only to find the premiers having their celebration there at the same time. It ended with both sides beating the pish out of each other, and if we can get a bit of that happening with Carlton, Collingwood, Footscray or all three on Monday then this game will truly have achieved equality.

Assuming the Crows do as expected and beat the Pies our players will disperse and reconvene later in the year. When they go back to their normal club are they still going to be playing with the condescending "we did a scientific survey and discovered women have smaller hands" reduced sized ball, or will it be back to the standard size? That's going to give elite players the shits. And what of the basketballers, soccer players and frisbeeists who we signed not having played for a club before AFLW? Do they carry on playing footy on godforsaken suburban grounds covered in dog turds and broken glass or return to more traditional pursuits then come back for some more AFLW at the end of the year?

If the good times keep rolling and it's off to Brisbane for the Grand Final then I presume they'll clog up the space 0-30m from goal and we'll lost after kicking 1.10.16. I assume the league is going to take the piss out of everyone and make it the curtain raiser to the Gold Coast/Brisbane game at Metricon Stadium, which would be a great result for me considering I'm on full obsessive alert for the men on Saturday and unavailable during the day on Sunday. Not going to be an issue is it?

Final Thoughts
That's two GWS wooden spoon seasons where we've been their only victim. At least this time we might make it for it with a flag.

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