Monday 19 February 2018

The number you have dialled is not connected

Oh what a weekend indeed. First one of our teams won an actual footballing competition (albeit one with about as much credibility as a pub trivia night in Leongatha), then the other fulfilled their obligations to section 1.1 of the Melbourne Football Club Style Guide and blew a golden chance to thump an inferior side.

Who says people don't feel passionate about women's footy? At the moment half the AFLW sides couldn't whip cream with an outboard motor so I'm absolutely desperate to win a flag ASAP and ensure our last memory of a championship winning Melbourne side is not Neville Jetta gingerly accepting a cheap looking 'X'.

Watching the Dockers struggle to put away a putrid Collingwood side last week, and with happy memories of steamrolling them in 2017 I was convinced that there was no conceivable way we could lose. Which, as any Melbourne supporter of recent years knows, is the worst thing to do. Expect the worst and hopefully be surprised.

I forget we played a pre-season game at Fremantle Oval in 2015 until I heard their siren that sounds like an incoming scud missile alert. Any concern that the disco blue jumper and You're The Voice playing before the bounce would usher in a repeat of our 80s lost years were seemingly dismissed when we went forward from the first bounce and stayed there. Not just for a couple of minutes, but the entire first quarter. In terms of controlling territory it was one of the all-time great stranglings. Which as we discovered against GWS, and to a lesser extent Adelaide, is not much bloody use if you don't do anything with it.

As discussed endlessly on this page, the idea that a team kicking a string of behinds should have just kicked goals instead is ludicrously simplistic. Obviously there's a higher statistical chance of following one point with another if the ball is coming back from the kick-in rather than it being sent back to neutral territory in the middle of the ground. I encourage you to hurl abuse at any commentator who runs with this line - except for me right now, because with the domination we were enjoying over the Dockers I firmly believe that goals would have begat goals via a short break for us to win another centre clearance.

It was good to see the Dockers inviting the AFL to stick the famous memo up the arse by setting up a flood of biblical proportions. It didn't do much for the game, unless you're the sort of person who gets their jollies watching a team blow chance after chance on goal, and for 15 minutes the game was effectively us going forward and botching chances, then Freo kicking it straight back to a Melbourne player to repeat the cycle. I'm a perverse individual so this is the sort of scenario that would have appealed to me even if the Dees weren't involved. You can do as you like with AFLX style scoring until it doesn't mean anything, the idea of goals attaining a soccer-esque rarity creates a wonderful tension. If the league can stop forwards from kicking set shots like Jamie Shanahan but avoid the temptation to mess about with the rules to artificially promote scoring they'll have it made.

If you just watched the first quarter, went out for a milkshake and came home to see the final score you'd be flummoxed. If you missed the game then a replay viewing of the opening term is essential, you will never see a Melbourne Demons team so comprehensively throttle somebody. The shots were coming from everywhere, and from a string of novelty players. Finally after several minutes of threatening, Tegan Cunningham kicked the first. It was a nice recovery from a few minutes earlier when she had a massive height advantage on her opponent, and should have just plucked the mark over the hapless Dockeresses head but showed her inexperience by clumsily giving away a free instead.

After seven inside 50s to nil - not to mention all the times we have repeat opportunities without them getting it outside 50 first - Fremantle's defenders were probably relieved to finally concede the goal and let the ball go back to the middle so it would be somebody else's problem. They got about 45 seconds to rest before we were down there almost kicking another one. With the trouble Freo was having getting the ball over halfway we may as well have just settled in to win it on points from there and kick 1.30.36 to nil.

Opportunities to kick goals were being served up on the silverest of platters, including a Freo defender trying to avoid a 13th straight inside 50 without reply by walking over the line at a kick-in. As we'd discover much to our detriment throughout the afternoon, even when the Dockers made ball movement look more difficult than colonising Mars we never looked likely to steal a quick goal out of nowhere from a stoppage. There was the problem, we packed one tall forward in about her fourth game of competitive footy to kick at and had nothing else at ground level.

Freo must have been ecstatic to get to quarter time only 11 points down. Considering some of the pus games I've seen us involved in over the years, that might be the only time a team has failed to register a single attack of any kind in the first quarter. Not even one hopeful roost forward straight to a defender, in fact I don't think they had a possession forward of the centre circle. All the while down the other end we were attacking like an out of control fire hose. As Jasmine Grierson missed on the siren - aided by the dickhead ground announcer starting to talk in the middle of her run-up - I wondered if they really were going to try win via the death by a thousand points method.

From the available evidence we should have belied whatever slight wind there was to the left of screen and carried on merrily attacking until somebody finally shambled a goal through. Instead, in a none-more-Melbourne series of events, the Dockers kicked a goal immediately from their first attack when in a Neville Jetta style scenario one defender was left to deal with three opponents and a high ball. The three opponents won, and other than the string of points that separated the teams all that effort in the first quarter was wasted. The Dockers nearly went ahead straight after, prompting me to deliver the same sort of foul "typical Melbourne" outburst as when I watch the men on TV.

You get what you deserve for not killing off a rattled opposition when you have the chance. The only saving grace was that while we wasted chances with points, they were wasting them with aimless bombs inside 50 for no score. There was no way too wacky for us to miss a goalscoring opportunity, a rare counter-attacking goal opportunity was lost when a mark was dropped in the squad. About 90 seconds later our slender lead disappeared, the Dockers botched one gilt edged chance from the square, then thumped one through from a set shot 40 metres out. Our domination was such that if we had players who could kick 40 metre set shots accurately we'd probably never lose a game. Now we were inexplicably a point behind at half time.

I'm open minded, so after a week where I assumed the last five weeks would be a series of ruthless slayings it was time to jump out of the bandwagon like a burning bus. Maybe the Adelaide game was the outlier, and our desperate struggles to kick goals in Round 1 were a more accurate indication of where we're at. Surely we'd have had more success from our persistent attacking if they'd picked Alyssa Mifsud. She didn't do all that much last week, but ask yourself which was the game out of the three where our forward line looked most deadly. Exactly. My membership card to the Tegan Cunningham Fan Club is in the mail, but it's a bit rich to expect her to carry the entire line on her own at this stage.

A commenter quite rightly pointed out that we need a Goal of the Week award for AFLW, which I will do along with a women's #demonbracket from next season, but we'll still make sure Aleisha Newman is recognised as the Goal of the Year winner for last week's effort unless somebody does something outrageous and tops it in the last four weeks. No such heroics this time, not only did we show up without crumb, but there was only two times all game where they tried to kick it to Newman's advantage and let her burn her opponent off.

To prove that the game was no longer the landslide of the first quarter, Freo had their first inside 50 to the right of screen within 25 seconds of the third quarter starting. They kicked a third goal not long after, then a fourth and a spectacular collapse was on. The 'do it with points' philosophy was in disarray due to the Dockers refusing to participate, and now they were crushing us in the midfield battle as well. This was starting to look like the 2017 GWS disaster in a more accessible timeslot.

Finally Cranston bustled through the midfield and launched a bomb over the top for Newman to run on to. It was still difficult to comprehend how we were forced to fight back from behind, but only if you ignored everything that happened after quarter time. The damage of the early part of the quarter was cancelled when Cunningham performed a better crumb than all her shorter teammates combined for a second. We were treated to a free inside 50 from the restart when a Freo midfielder unloaded a big clearance in the wrong direction. Our single pronged attack was nowhere to be seen and they got away with it. An attempt to return the favour by handballing directly to a Dockers player running towards the 50 was only held out by desperate defence and a killer smother from Laura Duryea.

Australia's hopes of winning Ultimate Frisbee gold at the Commonwealth Games went out the door when Cat Phillips did her ankle, but shortly afterwards Karen Paxman pulled down a mark at the back of a pack in the forward pocket and we were back to where we'd been after the dominant first quarter. Back to pondering whether the league would do something bonkers like play a Grand Final at Casey Fields, or even more bonkers and play it under mood lighting at Princes Park.

Now that any theories about a 'scoring end' had been discredited, it would have been best practice for a premiership favourite to blow the Dockers away in the opening minutes. After all, a loss would leave us in a five team melange on 2-1. Instead we missed an opportunity in front of goal and Freo went the other way to level the scores with the sort of arsey snap in the middle of a tackle that we were sorely lacking. Likewise as they kicked one out of nowhere in the pocket, while we were still trying to craft artisan goals for the AFL's 'Hey women, play the game our way or else' DVD.

The last several minutes were spent desperately trying to find a winner from a goal down. Our second attempt at launching Newman like a pinball was defused by a Dockers defender performing one of the great deliberately rush behinds to absolutely no reaction from players, umpires or commentators. It got a rise from me, jumping off my couch and yelling obscenities at the TV. I will accept that Newman was in the same area as her, but given that the ball hit the ground with the Melbourne player still in mid-air, and the Docker facing the goal just stuck her arm out and thumped it through there was no doubt it was deliberate. If I had my way we'd just bring back the rushed behind in all its glory, but if you're going to have a heavily interpretation driven rule at least pay the obvious ones. I can understand the umpire squibbing a tough call in a tight game, but at least give us the courtesy of some outrage in the commentary box.

At least that cut the margin to five points, opening the prospect of a sneaky one point win if we could find some way to stick ball to boot in a pack or get a corker of a bounce from a hopeful long shot. When Elise O'Dea realised she was too far out to score and ran around the opponent my eyes lit up like saucers at the prospect of a miracle finish. Until she kicked it out on the full. It left the Dockers having to desperately guard their goal for the last minute, but nothing we did looked like it could even accidentally sneak through for a goal.

In another example of how I'm getting into this competition the final siren gave me the same sort of searing anxiety back pains that I get watching the AFLM team losing a thriller.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
And for the first time ever Daisy does the double, picking up a maximum in her own award.

5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Laura Duryea
3 - Tegan Cunningham
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Katherine Smith

Apologies to Hickey, O'Dea, Cranston, Hore, Guest and Humphries.

And it's on like the proverbial at the top of the leaderboard.

7 - Karen Paxman, Daisy Pearce
6 - Tegan Cunningham, Elise O'Dea
4 - Richelle Cranston, Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson
3 - Shelley Scott
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Erin Hoare, Katherine Smith

Banner Watch
Even I can't spin this one in our favour, the players ran out to find it had already fallen to bits. With the cheersquad taking a well-earned break, club officials tried to gamely stood there holding the side bits like nothing was wrong, leaving players to try and negotiate the wreckage without doing a knee. Freo's was nothing special, but at least it was didn't explode. For the first time in the history of this competition male or female, the Dees are behind the ledger. 1-2 for the season.

Uniform Watch
On a completely different type of jumper, Duryea's 1's were still ridiculously far apart. It must be deliberate.

Next Week
In the sort of fixturing nightmare that you've come to get used to at this club, the obvious next stop after a game in Perth is Alice Springs. I don't know how they've managed it considering the players are barely part time players, but they've taken the perfectly sensible decision to go straight to the Northern Territory. Either that or we're forcing them to spend a week performing promotional opportunities as part of the ever popular NT sponsorship deal.

The opposition will be the winless and not even remotely good Collingwood, which makes it the quintessential MFC danger game. You would expect they would be swept aside with the greatest of ease, but I don't think any of us have forgotten what happened the last time we started favourite against the Pies. Here's to the women getting close enough to an opponent to lay at least one tackle in the first 10 minutes.

As Cat Phillips becomes the latest player to drop out of the games record race (other changes pending, the survivors from game 1 are Duryea, Hickey, Humphries, Mithen, O'Dea, Paxman, D. Pearce, L. Pearce and K. Smith), it's not immediately clear who replaces her. As much as I'd like to get Mifsud in - if only to play decoy for Cunningham - they'll need somebody down the other end. Harriet Cordner has been an emergency all year so I suppose she's next cab off the rank, but based on last year it's not an option that fills me with confidence. Nothing fills me with confidence any more, I feel like a poon for being sucked in by the hype from last week and expect Mo Hope to turn up for the first time in two seasons and kick eight.

The real question is whether iSelect will pay up to print another banner and Express Post it to Traeger Park, if we'll just concede the banner race entirely or whether somebody will try to fix it with sticky tape and decapitate several players.

Administrative announcement
It will be out of sequence, but we've got a guest report on the AFLX wankfest to go live in the next couple of days. Curb your enthusiasm. Better get used to it, if the AFLW games don't turn into 180 point combined shootouts soon they'll force the women into playing that instead.

Final Thoughts
Let's not be fooled by the dominant first quarter - and is that the first time a team has come back from zero inside 50s in a first quarter to win any sort of AFL game? - it was all downhill from the moment the banner committed suicide rather than have the team run through it.

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