Saturday 3 March 2018

Uphill skiing

Talk about making life difficult for yourself. You'd think three weeks of holding opponents to 0.0 in the first quarter would have meant three thumping victories and the instant award of the premiership flag without the need for a Grand Final. Instead we've used the other nine quarters to come up with one narrow loss against rubbish, one thumping loss against rubbish and one thrilling win against a premiership contender. Just when you think you know the answers, this team changes the questions.

Crucially, this time when playing against a far better side we didn't just drop dead at the quarter time siren never to recover. There was some well suicidal play in the last few minutes, but you could forgive semi-pro players for running out of legs after nearly four quarters of thrashing into their opposition at maximum pace. I'm sympathetic to the people who don't watch this league because they're not keen on the standard, but for my money this game was a perfect example of why sometimes a brutal, full intensity slog is just as good as a free flowing, spirit of the game initiative rigged spectacle fest.

It's easy to be full of praise about our side when they narrowly held on to win for the first time in three weeks. But the washing away of some of the roadtrip from hell curse aside, how could any breathing human not love watching Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea at a minimum? That's a three player combo that almost ranks alongside the Jurassic Pack of 1998 Seecamp, Ingerson, and Shanahan in my heart. The nature of the competition is that every team will have its cohort of battlers (and if you're a Melbourne fan, is this new to you?) but those three are dynamite.

Obviously Daisy is the star attraction, and one day when DemonbracketW is an established competition I expect we'll just go back and retrospectively give her the 2017/18 titles she would have won in a landslide anyway. After being tagged to buggery last week, the captain climbed off the deck and played a blinding first half that helped set up the win. Then in the thick of the battle in the last quarter she was in everything to keep us in front, even quickly recovering from being flattened to be back in the play seconds later. What a legend.

I'm not used to having the most loved player in the land. And not a "Look, I'm wacky me. Wahey!" type like Robert Murphy who people say they ' love' just to seem more cultured. There's a reason I named a medal after her before she retired, and I can confidently predict that with allowances for there not being a senior football league until her late 20s that she'll be the first AFLW player to become a life member. Either that or I'm just unnecessarily excited over the prospect of unexpectedly re-entering the finals race when all seem doomed.

The opening of the game was more Freo than Collingwood, immediately on the attack and straight into the key performance indicator of wasting inside 50s. At least we were trying something different, as part of a post-National Lampoon's Vacation cull that also saw Laura Duryea and her comedy number ones get the boot, Alyssa Mifsud was dumped for a third time. She was replaced by charismatically named top draft pick Eden Zanker, who didn't do much other than a five minute period in the second quarter when she threatened to have the most electrifying debut since Brent Heaver. She didn't need to be the focal point, for once we did what other teams continually do against us and ripped a couple of goals out of nowhere.

After risking the reputation of that kid from the Chemist Warehouse ad by only ever kicking one career goal, Daisy took a quick handball off the ground and snapped around the corner for the opener. A few minutes later she did the same, presumably leading to the kid ripping off his Melbourne jumper like he was Hulk Hogan, running around the house like a madman and eventually realising that he doesn't need to stay in character because they're just going to repeat the old ad for years to come. The second goal came with the compliments of the enigmatic Aleisha Newman, who contested the mark, then followed up with a smother that created the opportunity. With not a single kick into space for her to run on to, Newman could have gone missing but compensated with a great forward pressure game.

Zanker's first chance came as the result of Karen Paxman doing something that you rarely see in an AFL game. The world has gone crazy for Dustin Martin fending people off with his arm, but Paxman quite literally just lifted the ball up and pushed it her opponent away with it. It deserved a goal just for novelty value. What happens if you stuff the ball straight into your opponent's head in that situation, is it a high contact free against?

Consistent with the last two weeks - other than the brief period of serious Collingwood dominance at the start last week - we constantly had the ball forward but couldn't make anything of it. On the other hand Brisbane never looked likely to score either, so Daisy's second snap for the second of the quarter was at least reward for effort, if not any comfort considering what had happened over the last two weeks. I was half willing them to score a point just so we wouldn't risk losing from an unloseable position yet again. On the other hand, the stats nerd in me wanted to join what must be an exclusive club of teams that have kept opposition clubs scoreless in the opening quarter three times in a row.

Based on recent experience the Brisbane coach probably didn't even give a team talk at the quarter time break and just sent his troops out safe in the knowledge that we'd probably get comfortable and self-destruct. Public expectation was half met, the good times surprisingly carried on as per the first quarter but less surprisingly weren't converted into goals. It wasn't just the usual desperate hit-and-hope stuff like Shaun Smith was down there, we'd also lost the ability to get the ball into dangerous places and create half chances. Naturally after piling the pressure on for several minutes we conceded. At least we kept it to that, while only scoring three behinds ourselves.

Brisbane has a solid team, but I think we can all agree that the best thing about them is the woman with the fierce mullet. Apparently it's being worn in full irony as part of charity fundraising, which is heart-warming but I was desperately hoping she was entirely serious and had no idea that it looked so hilarious. She's like what you'd get if a poxy sketch comedy program did a skit about bogans, and in this case I choose to suspend my disbelief and believe that it's real. She provided the Lions more than just a zany, party at the back barnet, calming Pearce down after her barnstorming first half. I'd like to think the attitude goes with the Prisoner Cell Block H style hair, and she spent the third quarter threatening to shank Daisy after lock up.

In a quarter where there must have been a record number of smothers, pressure acts and most likely whatever one percenters are, our best opportunity came when a loose ball bobbled towards Tegan Cunningham in the square with nobody in front of her. She was unable to manoeuvre her extra long leg to it on the bounce and it shot off her knee for another point. At the other end we were lucky not to concede a second goal when a Brisbane player walked through a flappy-armed attempt at a tackle then missed an open goal.

It was clear that our big forward line wasn't going to suddenly start pulling off a Wayne Carey style festival of contested marks, so we tried something else by benching Cunningham after half time. It might have worked, had Kate Hore not missed a sitter and Cranston's attempt to thrash one through from 40 metres gone wide. In what was obviously going to stay a low scoring game, we just needed to get six points on the board in one go instead of stringing it together with consecutive behinds and hoping we could keep the other side out. The story of our footballing lives was played out again when all the struggle was cancelled out by Brisbane kicking a goal against the run of play. I thought the men had a lot of stereotypical plays, but adjusted for shorter game length the women have well and truly got them covered.

Ironically after being downplayed at the start of the quarter, Cunningham turned out to be our saviour. With a second goalless quarter 90 seconds away, a long bomb by Shelley Scott dipped at the last minute and fell into her hands uncontested. From a slender angle she made it look difficult but converted. The glory was short lived, seconds later she had a head clash with a Brisbane player that left her sprawled on the turf, wearing the old crimson mask and probably thinking she was back in the WNBL.

Cunningham was never seen again, but nor was the Brisbane player who'd also necked herself in the contest. Given our struggles to kick a goal through a tall forward set-up them losing a defender was probably a better deal for us. She may have come in handy for stopping our first goal of the last quarter, created by Elise O'Dea cannoning through an opponent after a ball-up to clear space for Kate Hore to quickly snap one out of a pack. If you love crumb, this was the game for you. If you're keen on teams putting the opposition away when they had the chance, keep walking.

That goal extended the margin to 15, and if you thought we were home from there you've never watched a Melbourne team play. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the killer blow was lacking here, two premiership matches ago you saw them fail to rack up handy percentage against Brisbane when given the chance. The handy points slowly disappeared, before the margin was cut to six by a series of escalating debacles. First Brooke Patterson - who otherwise played her best game yet - crossed the line while kicking in, then at the bounce our ex(hibition game player), and 2017 Casey Fields tormentor Sabrina Frederick-Traub legally shoved her opponent away, grabbed the ball and kicked a training drill goal.

That left us trying to defend a one goal lead for several minutes while clearly out of gas. Not surprisingly the ball spent most of that time camped in Brisbane's attack, as they tried to find the draw that would effectively seal their Grand Final spot at our expense. A desperate defensive effort, and one golden chance where the player didn't connect with her kick, kept them at bay.

The siren went with Daisy (who else?) trying desperately to get over the line while making it look like she wasn't trying desperately to get over the line. As she crossed it with approximately one second left a Brisbane player charged through and knocked the ball out of her hands while trying to tackle. She may have had a case for holding the ball - and a shot from an obscure angle after the siren to draw - if the tackle had connected, but the umpire denied her and was rewarded with a look that suggested she was going to shank the umpire with a broken bottle. I couldn't agree with myself more:
2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Elise O'Dea
3 - Brooke Patterson
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies in the one vote space to Hickey, Hore, Scott, Newman, Smith and Guest.

And then there were the big three. Assuming for now that we've only got two games left to play, the line of doom makes its first appearance for the season and it will take something outrageous for Cunningham et al to get in the mix. It's not so much that they have to get maximum votes, the trouble is keeping the other three out of them.

14 - Elise O'Dea, Karen Paxman
12 - Daisy Pearce
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Richelle Cranston
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson
-------- Abandon hope ye below this line --------
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson, Shelley Scott
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Erin Hoare, Lauren Pearce, Katherine Smith

Banner Watch
Brisbane didn't have one, so we could have had the players run through a roll of Sorbent with a slogan written in texta and still won. Dees recover from a sticky patch to go 3-2 for the season.

Commentary Corner
Against all odds I don't mind Leigh Montagna as a rookie caller, but he'll never get anywhere in this industry without littering his call with some catchphrases and/or hysterical screaming. Look at Jason Bennett, reduced to providing a solid, insightful call of VFL games while the likes of Brayshaw, Taylor and Zempilas go off like they're strapped to the electric chair. Speaking of Dwayne, I think Kate Sheahan might be his daughter not Mike's. Both of them bring to mind that line from The Simpsons, "do you ever think anything you don't say?" And for all the "oh no, I'm not complaining because she's a woman" anxiety when she called an AFL game years ago, Kelly Underwood is fine. Your views may vary, why not start a blog and tell everyone about it?

My review of the commentary is based on the final three quarters only, because for the first their audio mix was so out of whack that you could have had Darryl Eastlake yelling through a megaphone and he'd still have been drowned out by the crowd effects. With not a word of a lie I had my back turned at the first bounce, and when a spectactor starting banging together what were presumably those inflatable orange dickhead sticks I thought somebody was vigorously knocking on my front door.

Crowd Watch
Football fans, just because somebody offers you an inflatable plastic orange stick it doesn't mean you need to take it. More importantly, you're under no obligation to whack it together like a trained seal. Kids love it, but they also try to stick forks in electrical sockets unless you educate them properly.

Meanwhile, are you the person with the number 35 banner hanging over the fence that says #fansnotfriends? If so, could you explain what that means in relation to Cat Phillips? Is it some sort of obscure frisbee in-joke? Otherwise it just looks like overt stalking that will end in a restraining order.

Next Week
Carlton are (at the time of writing) 2-2 with a percentage of 55.7, and are likely to lose to Adelaide on Saturday night. We are now within striking range of Brisbane, and can get our destiny back in our own hands going into the last round with a big win. If that's not a recipe for disaster I don't know what is.

Late-breaking scheduling shenanigans pending, I should be making my AFLW live debut. Time to slap on an asbestos suit and see if they still have a washing machine sitting at the bottom of a staircase. Maybe a dodgy Asian betting syndicate will cut the lights to influence the result. Will anyone notice the difference?

As far as team changes go I can't see them messing too severely with a winning lineup. The only considerations for me are that I'd still rather Duryea in defence than Cordner, and Whitford didn't do much on debut. You wouldn't think they'd need to alter much to beat Carlton, but if we'd beaten sides that

Final Thoughts
Life goes on in AFLW land, and the great escape remains on if we do the sensible thing next week. The problem is that I'm almost certain Brisbane aren't going to make the same mistake that we did against Collingwood, and will most likely spread them from one end of Queensland to the other. Unless we finally click in attack and kick shit out of the Blues it might all be for naught. Watch this space.

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