Saturday 24 February 2018

The sound of a rapidly deflating balloon

All season I've been mocking Channel 7 for putting on dull Carlton games, and as predicted when they finally put us on they were rewarded with an exciting thrashing. That it had to come as our expense via a Hindenberg style explosion will be no concern to them.

Maybe we were thrashed by a winless side because of the Contiki tour via Perth, or because it was 37 degrees. More likely it came down to a structure that makes kicking goals look more complicated than nuclear fusion, a defence that went to pieces in the heat and the general realisation about halfway through the third quarter that we're not as good as we thought two weeks ago.

Hooray for working in the community, building our brand and helping rake in a shitload of sponsorship money but it felt cruel to send part time players into those conditions. It didn't seem to affect the Pies, who rallied from several players looking like they were about to expire midway through to win running away. Conversely our team looked like they were going to add to the wingless AFLW team structure by dying before the final siren.

It was Round 23 (an incident like 186 so infamous that you need only refer to it in general terms and people know) all over again, going into a game against Collingwood as red-hot favourites in a week where a loudmouth ex-player questioned their coach and comprehensively shitting the bed. The only difference was that this time all the best work was done in the first quarter (albeit after a shaky start) before a catastrophic collapse all but ruined our finals hopes.

The women's football weekend had already been a disappointment, on Friday night Footscray eviscerated Carlton and pinched our records for largest win and highest score. They had a player kick seven, we've now had that in total over two games. Some will question why I care so much, but I can't help getting emotionally involved when a Melbourne team is involved. While I don't care what Casey do as long as nobody gets hurt, if the MFC Under 19s came back tomorrow I'd probably be going troppo over their results too. The badge changes regularly, the jumper seems to be different every week, but there's just something about Melbourne that gets me right there. It would quite romantic if the relationship wasn't practically abusive.

We all know how badly this went in the end, and big quarter time lead notwithstanding there were definite signs of what we were in for during the opening minutes. In stark contrast to last week we were mauled out of the centre at the start and the opposition immediately went on the offensive. The only thing that saved us from a goal - or in fact any score - was that Collingwood had the attacking power of the Tongan air force. Which is what made what happened after quarter time, giving them acres of space to do as they pleased, even more offensive.

The Pies must have had about five inside 20s for no score, and we turned the tables on last week by going forward on the counter and actually converting a set shot after Kate Hore ragdolled an opponent for holding the ball. It was an impressive start, but like many of our players she was rarely ever seen again. That goal killed off Collingwood's initial burst and the normal order of things was restored, they went back to being filth and we went back to desperately trying to craft goalscoring opportunities to no avail.

Shelley Scott - who has forcibly retired one of my key gimmicks by selling her dairy farm - had two chances in 30 seconds for a point and a chase-down tackle - before falling into the same deep chasm as most of her other teammates. My theory that it was no Mifsud, no Melbourne were in tatters. We looked no more likely to kick goals with her there than not, and the Adelaide game must now be seen as a complete fluke. It took what may have been the now ex-dairy farmer's final effective intervention of the night to set up O'Dea for a tap-in from the square and extend the margin to 13. We were going
so well that Scott wasted what should have been an easy goal shortly after by trying to throw another dinky handball to O'Dea in the square. At the time it didn't seem so important, but a third goal to nil in the first quarter might have set the Pies back enough to kill them off, instead they had a second life and took full advantage.

Our kick-in routines remained unchecked for a ninth consecutive quarter of not conceding a behind. To prove that we didn't points to do wacky things in defence, there was a moment in Collingwood's early rush where Meg Downie (who turned to play have a pretty good game and looked like the only defender we had who'd played the game before) tried an ill-advised switch across goal and put it out on the full. The Pies were so toothless that despite winning the free in the pocket they still didn't score. Mind you, after holding a team to no inside 50s in a first quarter last week and losing I wasn't going to mentally bank the points against a side who'd threatened for the first five minutes.

Still, I was confident of victory against a winless side. To the point where Lynden Dunn turned up on TV as their assistant coach and I magnanimously thought I'd like them to win for him. Of course I didn't actually want that, but in my head it felt like doing the right thing by him to think it. There's nothing that can stop me from loving him. Even that article where he said he wished he'd gone to Collingwood 10 years ago. Of course he does, he'd have won a flag instead of playing for a rabble and being a sub every second week.

One part of me was trying to remain calm in the face of the Freo Fuck Up, but the hopeful version had been buoyed by the clean-up of North in the earlier game and thought that if we could even up on the clearances and the temperature dropped a few degrees we might have a chance of stealing our scoring records back. How about no. Yet again whatever was being said at quarter time, and thanks to Channel 7 showing us we can only assume the players understood the language of cliches Mick Stinear was speaking in, it didn't work. Once more we built a great platform in the first quarter then let the other side back in almost immediately. My prediction last week that Special K spokeswoman Mo Hope would finally discover her form and give us a flogging had a stuttering start with two botched shots in a row. She got there eventually, but not until after they found a player who could kick straight to set alarm bells off by cutting the margin to a goal.

Daisy Pearce not being able to get near it should have been a key indicator that we were in trouble. I thought that perhaps she was spending lots of time on the bench as an unconventional variety of the rope-a-dope where you get in front in difficult conditions then unleash the stars halfway through the game and rampage to victory. The importance of getting the ball into her hands was made clear when she hit a perfect pass into the corridor that should have set up a golden scoring opportunity but was dropped, allowing the Pies to dash off the other direction and only narrowly flub a chance with a free player in the square. The signs that the game had turned around were glaring obvious though, and when the Hope Prophecy came true with two goals in a row it looked like disappointing losses to Collingwood were the new disappointing losses to North Melbourne.

After already getting North Melbourne's Billy Hartung of North into the off-season wing of the Kent Kingsley Klub earlier in the day, this was a fair question:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Has Hope done enough (adjusting for avg AFLW scoreline) for a Kingsley?</p>&mdash; Brett Gregory (@bgregs84) <a href="">February 24, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Why not induct the entire side and their coach instead? Given that we've now played one good game out of four that'll be it for me describing other sides as no good and expecting to beat them. Maybe we're the ones who are no good? One thing I know is that I won't be trusting this side to go on with a dominant first quarter again until at least 2019. Our best players couldn't get it, and our worst players were getting near it far too often.

When even the official Twitter account dropped the usual forced positivity and said "Not our finest quarter" you knew we were in trouble. Forget the Collingwood coach getting the arse, Mick Stinear should spend the week in controversy corner after this. Now even if we win every game for the rest of the season - with some good teams to come, and Carlton who will probably beat us if we play like this - we're a game and 38% behind second placed Brisbane. Season over just like that.

There's nothing more Melbourne than seeing a side fail to meet expectations. The only thing that differentiated it from a men's game in similar circumstances was the lack of supporters cracking the sads about games in the Territory and claiming we'd be winning by 12 goals if it was being played in Victoria. If it was already becoming grim we weren't helped by Katherine Smith exiting after a head knock. Not only was that one player less to rotate in the heat, but it meant more pressure on the often baffled surviving defenders.

With Smith gone and our season hanging by a thread the start of the third quarter would have been a fantastic time for the rope-a-dope to start paying off. So of course after we wasted a run of attacks, a turnover allowed the Pies to pissbolt the other way and kick an easy goal from the square. Champion Data - feel free to confirm that nobody has kicked less of those goals than us this year. Every score has to go through a torturous process akin to dealing with a government agency.

The ongoing farce continued with Duryea (with normally positioned 1s on her jumper for the first time all year) gifting a goal via a 50 and we were in a gigantic bloody hole. The hits just kept on coming, with another immediately after. Yet another mediocre team taking advantage of the registered charity that is the Melbourne Football Club.

Finally Mifsud made her own chance by dragging a player down holding the ball and it pegged one back to keep things interesting. Then that goal was nearly handed back by our loose-as-a-goose defence. Get Duryea's silly numbers back on, this was her worst game yet. I wasn't convinced by first gamer Teague, and Cordner was only marginally better than last year. Credit to Collingwood, they perfectly exploited our disarray. Duryea must have been homesick after a week on the road, with a few seconds left in the third quarter the runner was desperately suggesting a long kick and she responded with a tiny dink straight to a Pies player. She was having such a disappointing night that at one point some attempted bumpage with an opponent ended with her falling over.

Until normal circumstances an 18 point deficit at three quarter time would not be insurmountable, but adjusted for the lower scoring in AFLW and our horribly complicated attempts at attacking I was ready to concede. An early Hore opportunity narrowly rolled wide, and rinse/repeat keeping the ball locked into the attacking 50 came to nothing. As an indication of how our night was going, two players tried to tackle the same opponent and instead crashed into each other while she
trotted off untouched. If you haven't seen the game you will not even remotely be surprised to discover that after all that attacking we let them go the other way and kick the sealer. What a swizz.

Following this club is like signing up to a pyramid scheme. Every week other teams make goals out of nothing while we have no idea how to get the ball through the goal convincingly. Newman kicking goal of the year was great three weeks ago but she's done practically nothing all since, and I'm not sure Scott was still playing after half time. Compare with the Collingwood skipper casually ripping through a goal from 35 metres on the run. Priority next year has to be some players who can kick 40 metres, most weeks our ball movement out of defence is good, and the midfield usually do their job but every goal feels like it comes by accident.

Blowing another chance to win as favourites against Collingwood irritated me, but not as much as being sucked in by our week of premiership favouritism. Don't believe the hype.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Elise O'Dea
3 - Mel Hickey
2 - Meg Downie
1 - Richelle Cranston

Apologies to nobody, half of the above were lucky to get in.

With three to play Daisy's disappointing trip to Dar... err... Alice Springs has left her with everything to do. History shows Paxman is almost certain to poll in any game where she doesn't spend three quarters off injured, so with 15 votes maximum on offer I can't see anyone but her or O'Dea winning from here.

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

Banner Watch
Never saw one for either side. Nil-all draw. Dees 1-1-2 down for the season.

We did have one, and wacky slogan it was very nice. It was also the last anyone saw of Newman for the day. Dees now 2-2 for the season.

Next Week
Back to Victoria for what is now a must win game against Brisbane. At quarter time last week we'd have been playing to all but sew up a Grand Final spot, now it's a desperate attempt to remain in the top half of the table. This is the sort of explosive decompression that you usually only get when a plane window pops out mid-flight. Maybe we'll hold them to nil in the first quarter then lose.

Final Thoughts
At least one Melbourne side won today.

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