Sunday, 23 February 2020

What could possibly go wrong from here

Footy was confirmed to be back when I got a headache five minutes before the first bounce of a practice game. Even for a match that meant approximately fuck all, referred footy pressure had my central nervous system under siege. Can't see myself with head in oven if we lost, but there's a natural flaw in my DNA that causes major physical issues before the Dees play. What happens after the first bounce is all the team's fault.

These games are basically meaningless, but since going over the top about the club 15 years ago they've still felt real to me. Before that I didn't give a shit. Might read about it in the paper, might just ignore it entirely, it didn't change anything for the team if I was there or not. Still doesn't, but I'd be stressed if not allowed to watch. My days of going to every Victorian game might be over but I can still be obsessive.

My deeply held interest didn't extend to driving two hours across a torturous route through the suburbs to watch. There is probably no worse place in outer suburban Melbourne to get to Casey Fields from than where I live, so now that we're in a technological glory era of being able to watch everything on TV I declined to participate. May as well get used to watching on TV considering I can't go to an MCG game until Round 6.

There's plenty to be said about watching at home, more to come when they slash time from games and make leaving the house even more pointless. The only issue I had with watching on my in-house Megawall last year was that I didn't see us win one bloody game. To be fair, didn't see too many in person either. Like everything other than suspensions and fines, this game doesn't count for the official record, but I'll have plenty more opportunities to finally go home (from one room to the other) happy over the next few years.

Proof that my life has changed (for the better or worse) is that there wasn't even the slightest regret at not being there in person. I've done Casey to death, and even though the last time I went they seemed to have opened a few more roads so you weren't stuck roasting in your car looking at a pile of earth for half an hour after the final siren any more that's enough for me. Like Kardinia Park, where I am available to go this year but won't unless something remarkable happens between now and then. 

Viewers were immediately reminded that this wasn't a game to be taken seriously by the shot of a bank of portable toilets along the Casey wing. What an appropriate metaphor for the ground, if only we had Dwayne on commentary as well. It was also hard to take Adelaide seriously, given that their side was full of players you'd never heard of and their jumper seemingly had the flag of the German Democratic Republic on it.

I suppose Adelaide fans were likewise confused by Tom Sparrow and backman Jay Lockhart (possibly travelling the same path as Bayley Fritsch before being unleashed forward again?), but on the whole we took in a pretty accomplished lineup. Accomplished by 2018 standards anyway, if everyone played at a 2019 standard we'd have been lucky to beat the Koo-Wee-Rup thirds. Gawn, May, Fritsch and Brayshaw would have come in handy, but it was near enough to our best side that you'd have been as upset as possible for a pre-season game if we didn't put on a good showing.

You will not be surprised to discover that there was a wind at Casey. I'll stand corrected by anyone who was there, but it looked like one of the least offensive breezes ever recorded at the ground. Usually it's a force 10 gale that blows diagonally across the ground and ruins the game for both sides, this time it seemed to be gently wafting towards the goals left of screen, providing a benefit for the team kicking with it but not so much that they needed to be across the Chris Sullivan Line at the last change to be sure of victory.

In the absence of atmospheric conditions to whinge about, the main event was Christian Petracca playing the best pre-season game since Fev kicked 12 on New Year's Eve. I don't know why anyone would bet on these matches, but imagine if you'd found somebody who'd let you double a Melbourne win with the biggest truck related hit since CW McCall's Convoy. You would be, as they say in the classics, farting through silk.

By christ(ian) he was good, you always think of him as a fancy player, but if it was a real game he'd have broken the MFC record for contested possessions. He was in everything inside, outside, kicking goals, and at one point taking a screamer and looking down with pity at his vanquished opponents. Not everything came off but he generated more electricity than Loy Yang B.

We need a larger sample size and to make sure he's not drowned in the pool by our training staff again but watch out if he replicates this form when the real stuff starts. If it pushes Brayshaw out of the midfield then so be it, Gus has had plenty of good games but he's never looked like Godzilla knocking down Tokyo.

Again, fake games don't count, and we can't allow ourselves to get upset if he doesn't replicate this form BUT if you treated all MFC games as equals that was the most impactful midfield performance since god knows when. And we've played worse teams than the side Adelaide put out yesterday. Just our luck that 16 other sides will have twigged what's up and started working on how to stop him.

After moaning about playing Petracca in the midfield for most of last year (where to be fair he wouldn't have had the tank to do this for more than a quarter), another one of my cherished causes came off when Jones clubbed the opening goal on the run from 50 metres. It got us out of a Melbourne AFLW style start where we were good enough to park the ball in our forward line but didn't look like converting. It's criminal that they wasted time trying to play him as a defender last year when all was lost anyway. He can and will kick goals if you leave him forward long enough.

Further benefit came from two of the rudest moustaches since Lynden Dunn, parked at opposite ends of the ground. Mitch Brown, at least, has a touch of the country squire/minor royal about him, while Lever's looks like he should be hard at it in an adult movie (possibly behind an actress called Casey Fields). His look would have been the personal grooming disaster of the day were it not for the Adelaide player who looked like he'd had his tattoos applied with a super-heated paperclip while in the clink. I'm no tatt guru but if you're going to cover entire limbs the secret seems to be large designs, not bitty little pictures and hollow stars.

The facial hair horrors didn't detract from the performance of our bookends, who were amongst the best in the first quarter. Lever was chopping off everything that came near him early (aided by some tremendously, MFCesque kicking into the forward 50), and Brown goalled with his first two kicks. He should have had a third too, making himself feel right at home as a Melbourne player by missing a sitter.

His first was the best, soccering through after a strong second effort when the ball went to ground in a marking contest. He got three in the end, and though he'd hardly Tony Lockett he should come in handy considering we paid nothing for him. Also big laughs at Essendon's expense when Joe Daniher doesn't play and they've got nobody else up front. At this stage I'm promoting him to my Round 1 team (NB: season preview was supposed to be up last week but I ran out of time) in place of Weideman.

This feels harsh on the Weid, who didn't get the chance to play forward because in the absence of Gawn and Preuss he was required in the ruck. Sensibly, we decided not to subject Luke Jackson to the Toumpas treatment and throw him to the wolves before he was ready. Rucking is not Sam's go but he put in a reasonable performance. He certainly put everything into it but you wouldn't want to rely on him every week. Maybe they should swap him and Brown for the Hawthorn game and give us a better idea of what order they're in. Eventually you're going to want to prioritise the younger man, but we've got to get things going ASAP this year so whoever's more likely to kick goals gets the start.

Assuming Jackson isn't going to play from the start of the year, somebody's going to have to cover the 5% of the game when Gawn isn't rucking, but given the (on paper) strength of our midfield I'd be prepared to concede the centre bounce. Where we lose is his get out of jail marks around the ground. The centre bounce is overrated, I've seen James Harmes take one that we turned into a goal, it's not that important. May or Lever does it in defence, McDonald does it forward, and for stoppages in the middle of the ground hold your breath and hope for the best. It's not worth carrying players that don't fit into the rest of the plan in the off chance they might do a fancy Maximum style tap over the head.

Neither of the first game recruits set the world on fire, but they didn't need to. This was all about getting game time into them. Pickett did some good chases that won't be reflected in the stats (not the ones plebs like me see anyway) and was expertly set up for a well-taken goal by Viney, so given our absence of forward pressure last year I'd say he's an almost certain starter in the opening game.

Jackson was just there to gain experience, with no expectation on him at all. He only got a handful of touches but seemed to instinctively know what he was doing when he got it and did one monster JEff White-esque leap at a centre bounce. Sour 80s turncoat Gerard Healy complained that he wasn't getting enough of the ball, as if that mattered. He was purely there to get used to playing in adult company (Jackson that is, not Healy. Although now you say it...) and will - I presume - be given plenty of time to develop before we throw him in the deep end.

For all our early dominance, and Lever flinging himself about in mid-air like a cruise missile to stop multiple Adelaide attacks, we were barely in front and for the first time all year I was tempted to throw something when we allowed them to dink a little kick to a free play 20 metres out for their second goal. Wasn't worth it in pre-season (especially in the first quarter), I didn't even adopt my usual TV watching position of standing up and pacing the room like a maniac. Must conserve energy, we will hopefully be playing for something beyond Queen's Birthday this year.

If you thought the wind was worth worrying about, a two goal quarter time lead didn't seem like much, but it was much better than what it looked like being midway through the quarter. It's not like everyone was firing at full power, but there were enough shown that had they stopped the game there and sent everyone home you'd have come out satisfied.

Of course, the best thing about the opening term (and most of the other three) was Petracca. One thing that has hampered him is often playing one killer quarter and goes missing for the rest of the game, s o when he was on nine touches at quarter time I thought there was no way it was going to last. Wrong, he effectively finished with the same stats in each quarter. There were tackles, there were marks, there were fend-offs, and oh so many disposals. If this happens in a home and away game I'll be...




On a level somewhere between Petracca going bonkers and everything else that happened to me yesterday, one of the highlights was seeing vandenBerg out there again. Certainly didn't expect to see him in the pre-season, much less be in contention for Round 1. He's a natural footballer so he was fine coming straight back into footy after a year off but I remain cautious of his foot holding up for long. After all, he survived one game longer in last year's pre-season and was never seen again so I'll believe it when he's a) alive in Round 4, and b) we're not doing something stupid like playing him forward. All aboard the much delayed vandWagon.

Was also happy with Langdon, who offered everything we promised on the wing, explosive speed and hold your breath kicking. On the whole he offered far more good than bad. Hardly Robbie Flower, but as long as we give the forwards space that doesn't require him to do laser point kicks he can't help but do some damage with that pace. I don't know if Tomlinson was playing on the opposite side considering he seemed to be everywhere but he was ok, didn't do anything spectacular, didn't come off like somebody who'd been psychologically ruined by playing in a disastrous Grand Final.

After struggling to turn our superiority around the ground into goals with the wind (an affliction that gets to both men and women at this club), I didn't much fancy how things were going when the Crows kicked three goals in a row in the second quarter. Deep breathing and reminders to self that it was a practice game were fine, but it still felt like the side we had should have been dealing better with a glorified SANFL team.

I don't know why I was worried, like most pre-season games it was being played with the joy of life that will be forcibly squashed out of players by the time the real stuff starts. Witness them trying to keep the ball in instead of it spilling over the boundary now, when in Round 1 they'll be instructed to let it go out to create a stoppage. Also witness Gold Coast beating Geelong by 70.

You will also do well to note that we scored 101 against Richmond in the heat last pre-season and only got more than that twice for the rest of the year - and even one of those was a loss. Anyone who declares scoring to be back based on one of these games is a knob. Fortunately, if you factor in Gawn, we should be served well by the game going back to a defensive slog that makes Channel 7 executives slash their wrists.

For now I was still stressing out unnecessarily when we not only went into the half nine points down, but nearly conceded again 30 seconds into the third quarter. After sending a Casey side out in Melbourne jumpers to be savaged by Essendon on Friday (and Unless the reserves team is rebranding as Melbourne Demons this year what was the point?), and the women buggered up a golden chance to go 3-0 on Friday night, I started to get pessimistic and wonder when three Melbourne sides all lost on the same weekend was. Not counting the Little League, your answer stats fans, is Round 14, 1991, when the seniors and reserves both went down to Hawthorn, and the Under 19s to Geelong. Keep that in mind in case it comes up at a trivia night.

Not that there was any need to panic anyway, but there was no need to panic because Petracca Mania was about to erupt again. First he took Mark of the (pre) Year, and converted the set shot, but after reverting to type and missing a shot straight after, he was instrumental in a Jones > Langdon effort that retook the lead. From there it was pretty much all Melbourne. The midfield wasn't a one man show, Oliver and Viney were also excellent, and the latter set up one of two third quarter goals for his former co-skipper. All three of his goals were the sort of smart, out of nowhere ones that we lacked so many times last year - especially when Melksham was injured. I'm not the kind of person to say I told you so, but I told you so.

After midfield Truck and forward Chunk, my third long term complaint was proven correct in the second half. After not being able to get near the ball all day, Tom McSizzle had a massive finish to the game when we finally started kicking to his advantage rather than bombing the ball a mile in the air and expecting him to pluck an overhead mark over the heads of multiple defenders - and often his own teammates getting in the way. A couple of times he was at fault for expecting the ball to come over the top to him rather than going towards it, but early on our delivery forward was so bad that you had to rely on miracles rather than beautifully created goals.

Once he was able to run at the ball good times followed. This is why it's important to find a mix of forwards, one who can lead (McSizzle), one who can crumb (Melksham, Pickett?) and one who can pluck marks over a pack (TBD). If Joel Smith is still alive he could also come in handy for pack marks.

My nerves calmed as we kicked the first four goals of the quarter, including two more to Jones that made me shout self-righteous abuse at the screen. Because the Football Gods are pricks, Chunk's third goal was followed by immediately conceding one because he missed a tackle (the rare case of a player personally giving back the goal he'd kicked), then going after clattering his leg into an opponent in the same piece of play.

Given that Sizzle's season was finished last year by an innocuous knee knock I feared the worst, but it actually caught him in the shin and no harm done. We sensibly packed him away instead of tempting fate. Which is more than can be said for Nifty Nev, who hit the ground clutching his ankle and left me wanting to sob. He was soon up and hobbling about, but how many players have hobbled their way off the ground and into the rehab group for a year? Thankfully for us and a State(s) of Origin team he returned intact. Don't know if I'd have bothered, for a competition sponsored by a risk management company it would be ironic if we Joel Smithed him.

It's hard to tell what's real when you genuinely have no idea who 75% of the opposition are but we certainly looked ran out the game like a much fitter side than the shipwreck survivors of last year. No idea if it will hold, but it's an early win for the Darren Burgess program. He's in the fitness guru's golden era, between coming in to an organisation in shambles, talking up what you're doing as revolutionary and two years later when everyone's done a hammy and your professional reputation is being smeared on every corner of the internet.

After a minor comeback late in the quarter, the Crows clearly went "that'll do us" at the final huddle, probably focused on what a prick of a drive they had ahead of them from Cranbourne to the airport, and we played until the siren. Hope they were caught in a two hour traffic jam on the freeway. They got the first goal of the quarter to leave you wondering if there was a classic Melbourne collapse on the cards, before we engaged afterburner and ran away with it.

Everyone in the correct colours went home happy, and we assume neither Jones or Nev had their legs amputated during the night so I'd call it a successful start to the year.

2020 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Jack Viney
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Mitch Brown
1 - Nathan Jones

Major apologies to Tom McDonald. Other apologies to Salem, vandenBerg, Langdon, Sparrow, Lockhart and Weideman

Leaderboard
The bootleg Casey side inexplicably playing under the Melbourne name that was thrashed by Essendon on Friday barely have five listed MFC players, so obviously no votes count from that. I'll decide on the eligibility of next Friday's suburban slopfest when the teams come out.

Goal of the Week
Plenty of good, goal out of nowhere options to pick from. With apologies to Brown crumbing his own and the Viney to Pickett combo that nearly had me sliding off my seat, the choice is between two lightning kicks from that man Petracca.


As far as the TV coverage goes, the Crows didn't bother so it's a walkover win for the Dees. Solid early season hitout for the Army.

Next Week
I will give Arden Street a crack for the first and probably last time on Friday as long as we field a half competitive side with more Melbourne players than Casey. Otherwise it's Nev for the Allies if fit and Oliver sitting by the phone ready to tell their selectors to piss off if they try to give him a consolation prize when somebody else pulls out. Should base the side on early practice match form and make Petracca captain of Victoria.

After that it's Friday again for Hawthorn in Tasmania, which would probably take me less time to get to than Casey Fields but will also be enjoyed via the medium of television rebroadcast through the internet.

Final thoughts
You wouldn't link arms and sing the song with a stranger but any win is appreciated after the slurry we served up last year. More of the above please.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Friday night filth

Imagine a competition where a side called Melbourne is a big enough wheel that they get two Friday night games in a row? Against all odds here we are. By the end both Channel 7 and Foxtel were dragging the thickest possible red marker through our name and condeming us to the graveyard shift forever. A week after lighting things up in the wet, we responded by putting on a real slopfest in the dry, arguably the most disappointing performance in the three years and three weeks the women have been playing competitive games.

Back at Moorabbin for the first time since we were royally humped in a lightly attended (e.g. probably unattended) 1996 practice match against Sydney, the return to a traditional ground was celebrated by our traditional move of taking the ball straight into our forward line (via a Saints player kicking out on the full comically) and doing everything create a goal other than putting the oval ball through the middle posts. Pretty fundamental aspect of the sport as you'd probably agree, but you'd never know it from watching this.

Other than one flying shot from Goldrick for a miss all the early pressure was for nowt. Kate Hore, who was in everything and nearly our best player, got a set shot on target, but having learnt their lesson from the Bulldogs leaving the square empty last week, St Kilda sensible had their ruck in place to touch it through by the barest of margins. We were obviously the better side, but having wasted all those chances, conceded a dopy free kick in front of goal by flattening somebody having a wild ping from the pocket and gifted them the opener. Where had I seen this before? In a competition where goals are at a premium giving them away like that should be punishable by having to walk home from Casey.

A week after not even reluctantly coming to the concusion that we might win the flag came the correction that I deserved for being positive. There is no sillier thing to do as a Melbourne fan than think you're turning the corner, because you will undoubtedly be met with a fist. The lack of a functioning forward line is the Achilles' heel of this team, you can't rely on goals from random midfielders ever week.

We were in such disarry that when Hore won another free kick within range, it was wasted by Cunningham trying to get involved by taking the advantage with a wild snap that hit the post. After getting away with a similar incident earlier in the season, the umpires weren't falling for it again. I can half understand where she was coming from given Hore's set shot record, but a wild flying shot from 30 metres out was so low percentage that it was almost below zero.

If you ever wanted a quarter to explain Melbourne AFLW that was it, domination in every aspect of the game, and a huge scoring shot advantage but barely anything to show for it. You'll just need to cut out the bit at the end where we unexpectedly got a goal, Shelley Scott lobbing through a set shot from distance that evaded everyone. Kelli Underwood called her a former Dairy farmer, which means either she or Jason Bennett were wrong, and I know who I'm backing.

The second quarter was much as you'd expect with a superior side with a pox forward structure kicking into the wind. We had the ball down there enough, just no bloody idea what to do with it. At the other end St Kilda were being turned back at every opportunity by our defenders, end result near complete tedium.

Our case wasn't helped by Guerin and Goldrick coming off injured at the same time. The Irishwoman going into triage as the medical staff tried to work out whether Guerin was our fourth ACL victim of the year. When people say they want this to be more like men's footy (the standard of which they complain about every week), they didn't mean having a Melbourne list with top to bottom injuries. Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and maybe this will be the encouragement we need to #releaseTex and try something different in our misfiring forward line.

We had the better of limited opportunities, but didn't look likely to score from air or ground. Then, after 11 minutes St Kilda had their first real chance and goalled. Pardon my French, but Jesus Fucking Christ. A day before the men start I shouldn't have been this frustrated watching Melbourne. Having not fired a shot in any atmospheric conditions I reckon it's time that Tegan Cunningham belts somebody again, that was clearly what made her happy. You can't blame the conditions every week, she's been poor all year, and with nobody else likely to take a mark within 20 metres we're relying heavily on generating goals from the midfield.

In three weeks Cunningham and Newman have zero goals between them, it's not going to get us far. And it's a tremendous waste of having somebody like Paxman in the midfield. Her kicking into our attack is like Al Pacino offering acting tips to the cast of Fat Pizza.

At half time the Saints were both lucky to be a point ahead and unlucky not to lead by about three goals. With two players less on the bench we'd have an unconvincing excuse for losing, but the discerning viewer would point out that we necked ourselves in the first quarter when everyone was fit. No further goals followed. At all. At one point Paxman got sick of everyone in front of her playing like they were blindfolded and tried to do it herself, but even the greatest player in the history of this club can't work miracles.

'Cringe' is an overused term, but watching our nuffy forward play slowly strangle any chance we had of winning comfortably (or at all as it turns out) was giving me the shits. When Cunningham marked and tried to steer one through only for it to drop into the square I nearly threw a computer peripheral. This was when we had 'the wind', and while it was hardly a Casey Fields hurricane special you have to ask what's going on when players can't make the distance from that far out and a light zephyr at their back.

Kicking into said wind in the last quarter didn't help, but it also wasn't strong enough to stop us if we could - god forbid - create an opportunity so close to goal that it wasn't a factor. Instead we horrifically botched a kick in the middle of the ground that led to the Saints nearly opening the quarter with a goal and were left desperately trying to extract the ball out of defence. This wasn't our worst AFLW performance (arise, Collingwood in Alice Springs when Mo Hope became the first female Kingsley) but it was the most embarassing considering what happened last week.

We barely held the lead for the first seven minutes, before conceding the exact kind of goal that I crave more than anything while watching this side. A long kick to 40 metres out on an angle, the forward throws her opponent out of the way to mark and thumps a set shot goal through from distance. Even with the breeze advantage it was a ripper of a kick. Meanwhile at the other end we can't kick set shots from 20 metres out. Retain Kate Hore, sack the rest of the forward line, give us the Tex Perkins fill-in player experience we so desperately want.

Even at five points down in the last two minutes it felt like there was more chance of peace in the Middle East than winning. Sure, somebody might have shambled one through, or even converted a set shot, but it would probably have been one of the worst win in the history of this club in any grade - Fourths, Under 19s, Reserves, Men's seniors, women's seniors and the Little League.

We never got close, one kick that landed 20 metres out and was rebounded and it was over. The Saints had executed the perfect smash and grab counter attacking victory, and we'd executed the traditional shock loss to an average side that will ultimately keep us out of the finals. After only losing to good teams last year, this was a throwback to classics like GWS in season 1, Fremantle after holding them to zero inside 50s in the first quarter AND Collingwood in season 2. That's just what this club does.

Throw the tapes and our forward strategy into a fire and move on to next week. And never, ever trust a team playing in red and blue again.

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Elise O'Dea
2 - Maddie Gay
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Burch, Cordner, Emonson and Sherriff

Leaderboard
It's lonely at the top, and with five to play the gap is increasing. Every chance that this is renamed the Paxman/Pearce Medal in the future.

13 - Karen Paxman
9 - Kate Hore
8 - Libby Burch
5 - Maddie Gay
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Elise O'Dea
2 - Shelley Scott

1 - Harriet Cordner

Goal of the Week
Thank you for your hilarious observation.


A joint Pride Week banner means a DRAW, leaving us in the unusual position of one win, two draws, no losses. Next have a Forward Pride match and let's try and turn our numerous opportunities into a decent score.

Media Watch
I was hoping for a Libby Burch style sour half time interview with Cat Phillips where she denounced us for not supporting her frisbee ambitions. Sadly she was all class, resisting the urge to throw prime time hand grenades. There was obviously no animosity because Melbourne players spent the night kicking the bloody ball at her.

Meanwhile, Kelly Underwood thought Meg Downie was Meg McDonald for the whole first half. She said it so confidently I thought Meg must been got married during the week. Later Downie got a mention, but only when getting Casey Sherriff's name wrong. Would still rather hear her than Dwayne straining his O-Ring 30 seconds into the first quarter but it was not a night for the audio scrapbook.

Next Week
Another Friday night, at the unfriendly viewing time of 5.40pm. I would very much like you to be a guest reporter. If you want to take on the challenge, please get in contact via email (demonblogger AT gmail.com), Twitter (@demonblog) or just come around to my house. Otherwise I'll be providing rudimentary coverage at best.

After years of being crap, Collingwood has been half decent this year so this could go either way. If we turn up with the same forward plan as this week and again rack up a thousand inside 50s for no reward I'll gently spew up. Let's just assume we'll lose and be happy if it doesn't happen.

Final Thoughts
I'm a strong AFLW advocate but this was dreadful viewing. If we're not actively looking to recruit a cannon-legged forward like the one that got the Saints over the line then we should hand back our licence.

Friday, 14 February 2020

The rain it raineth every day

With rain fanging down from arsehole to breakfast across the Greater Melbourne statistical area, the prospect of an old school Western Oval style slopfest loomed large. Middle aged and worse men everywhere were nearly doing a tendon pre-writing forum posts about how awful it was to see women splashing about in such dire conditions. Sadly fans of dead-set carnage and seeing players slide for 20 metres trying to gather the loose ball, prospects of a quagmire fizzled out when the belting rain slackened off to a light drizzle by the opening bounce.

I watched said bounce on a 15 minute delay due to the youngest W member of my house running riot around the house. Asked if she wanted to watch the girls play footy she replied "no thank you", which was admirably polite but I think final proof that she won't be lured into following my disastrous obsession with the Melbourne Football Club via its women's side. The closest to interest was a run-in when Aliesha Newman was on screen to ask "why is that lady wearing a mask?" like she was some sort of Lucha Libre recruit and despite the fact that you could clearly see her face. I suppose when you've got two Irishwomen and an American on the same ground anything is possible.

Even though the Bulldogs didn't look convincing against St Kilda for the last three quarters I still thought they'd do us a mischief here. Apparently not, we had one of our easier wins in the 3.25 seasons of the competition. It took a while to get value for dominance kick away, but to say the Dogs never looked likely would be an understatement. For a side stacked with quality players they looked well off it.

Against all odds we kicked the first goal without first having seven inside 50s for 0.3 then conceding a goal on the break at the other end. And a bloody delightful goal it was too, with Newman running onto a loose ball inside 50 after a neat set up by the diamond duo of Pearce and Paxman, then throwing a handball to Emonson to whack it through from 40 metres on the run.

Don't know why any defending team wouldn't just plant somebody on the line and try to cut off kicks that don't go through at half post height but the Bulldogs defence was MIA. Ours, on the other hand, was carving their forwards up. When it wasn't Libby Burch stitching up her old teammates, who responded by trying to biff her at every opportunity, Daisy Pearce was tremendous across half back. If you were going to pick a female player to kick 30 metres for your life you'd have her, she is safe as houses. Over that distance I'd have her over a few of our male players too.

While there was no $cully style angst from Footscray fans for the return of Burch her old mates took up the mantle and spent the first half trying to batter her. At least in the rare times when the ball went into the forward line. They should have revved up the surprisingly good in the conditions live audience by playing her scathing half-time interview before the game. She basically said the Dogs were falling apart last season, she'd had enough, and how good it was to be at Melbourne. You know the sort of interview, the same one almost everyone who has left us in the last 10 years has done five minutes into their new career.

On-field Burch was the female version of everything you want Jake Lever or Steven May to be, blowing her opponent to bits in picking up touches left, right and centre. For the rest of the game after thinking that I was waiting for her to suffer the inevitable serious injury.

Speaking of ex-MFC players, for all the footage of Nathan Bourke going off his nut on the sideline and endless coverage of Robert Murphy as their runner I assume you were equally as shattered that Sam Blease is no longer an assistant at the Dogs. Between their last coach getting the arse and Bourke being appointed he briefly occupied the top job and I feel we're worse off for him no longer being involved. It's not to say he doesn't know footy or he wouldn't have been involved in the first place, but a man with a 100% strike rate of being pictured looking like he's just beamed down from another planet is just what an emerging league needs. In the unlikely event that we sack Stinear I'm going to start a change.org petition to hire Blease.

As the Dogs went to water more opportunities followed. Hore reverted to her 2019 goalkicking form with a miss, then the kick-in went straight to Shelley Scott who missed as well. Hore had another opportunity shortly after, and while she missed the lot from 20 metres out on a slight angle it ended up working well for us. She can claim an assist as Zanker stood up mightily after a marking contest to bring the ball to ground and allow Paxman snap the second. To be fair I was not expecting this.

Now, we all love Daisy, but even if you take out the year off it would be difficult to argue against Paxman being the greatest ever Melbourne AFLW player to this point. Both have won flags galore in the state leagues but it would be criminal if we don't have at the very least a decent bash at one while they're still going around.

More important than the goals or the ongoing deification of Paxy was the revelation that former dairy farmer Shelley Scott has returned to her career as a bovine milk extractor. Which means after a year away it's finally time to bring this back, and best of luck to anyone under 40 or over 50 understanding what's going on...


Paxman's goal was given back in a classic Stynes-esque moment of rule confusion when Goldrick was caught holding the ball then looked like nobody had told her what to do next, trying to give the ball to the umpire, and having it fall on the floor because he was already midway through pinging her for a 50. She should get a grant from the AFL and Channel 7 for helping improve scoring.

I assume they had taught her this fundamental of the game and that she just forget in the heat of the moment. Let it not detract from an otherwise excellent performance. Before that, and for the rest of the game she continued to be very good. Her kicking was better than anyone with two games total experience playing the sport could be expected to deliver (albeit with significant Gaelic experience), and she was animalistic in tackling to the point where she's a 100% certainty to get suspended before the end of the season for accidentally knocking somebody out.

It shouldn't count, but technically the penalty delivered Footscray their first inside 50. Until then they'd been unable to breach our defensive wall, and the gift goal didn't encourage them to start. After the frantic start we settled down as well, though Newman had a shot for a miracle goal from the pocket in the dying seconds and was unlikely to find a defender in the way. Good to see the Dogs taking notice of my earlier advice - in a post that had not yet been written - and getting somebody back there. It was rushed through, but let the record show clearly that from a rotten angle Newman had the ball dead on line, and if it had taken a novelty bounce and gone over the defender's head it would have been goal of the year.

The second quarter was a bit more the wet weather experience I'd been expecting, with the ball trapped in the middle of the ground, and the rare inside 50s usually falling apart when a forward was expected to mark a cake of soap over her head. In an ideal world you'd probably have taken one of the tall forwards out late and put in another small, but when we literally have two players available outside the matchday squad there's not much scope for tricky moves. We had plenty of opportunities but lacked the killer instinct in front of goal. If nothing else, all the points created a two goal lead that the Dogs looked incapable of reeling in. Still, dangerous to get complacent when you're a Melbourne supporter.

Rain began pelting down again after half-time, making it clear that one or two more goals and the game would be over. We missed a golden opportunity for the first, with an assist to wacky umpiring. Zanker was paid a free, and even though Emonson - high on life after kicking the first - played on and missed running into the open goal it was called back so Zanker could take a set shot. I assume the umpire thought that confusion over whether it was a free or not put her off, probably not his call to make. Especially at the point where she put boot to ball and risked it being a 50 if the whistle had been in the other team's favour.

Her kick had the same result as Emonson's (at least she didn't miss everything and leave us a point worse off), making it nine scoring shots to one. She missed again straight after, a quick snap from the pack wasted after another cracking run out of the midfield by Pearce. We were dominant everywhere other than the scoreboard. If we find a cannon-legged marking forward before Daisy and Paxman retire they will make her look like the female Tony Lockett.

The much-needed goal to put the game away came from an end-to-end move that ruined Kate Hore's big moment of being interviewed on Channel 7 midway through. You have to take these opportunities where you can get them, I got interviewed by Lou Richards for the Wide World of Sport in 1990 and have never been invited back since. She was mid-sentence when Casey Sherriff ran onto a long ball into space inside 50 and [insert soccer reference here]. She didn't waste her time bending down to pick the ball up in the conditions and just thumped it off the ground to extend the margin to 20. On a night where tall forwards were slim to no chance of marking overhead, finding alternative goalkickers was welcome.

Maddie Gay joined in the party straight after, taking advantage of a nervy defender falling in her back to finally sink a set shot and an unexpected thrashing was on the cards. The resulting ball-up indicated the Dogs were over it and dying it to get to three quarter time, letting us sweep straight out of the centre and into attack. Unfortunately for us, and Channel 7 who could have snuck in another ad, nothing came of it. Down the other end Burch was presumably telling her opponent, "told you so."

By reasonable community standards the game was over, now what I wanted was for Footscray to go the whole night without a score they'd earned themselves. Sadly right after expressing this opinion publicly they got their second goal. That cut the margin to 20 points, and my gender neutral MSDS kicked in. It was all a bit close for my liking. Shelley Scott should have had the reply straight away, from an arguably pox shepherding free, but continued to partially undo all her other good work with another peg legged set shot. She is excellent at getting to the ball, but in a league where goals are at a premium missing shots from inside 30 metres is death. Except in this case, when the opposition has already been throughly battered into submission. It will come back to haunt us eventually, as it has numerous times in the past.

The miss didn't matter, the clock was adequately run down (which is not hard when it never stops) and a much easier than expected victory was complete. The only downside was Ainsley Kemp joining the black death injury plague and seemingly doing her knee at the end. Via some confusion where they said she either didn't have an ACL or had one that didn't work properly anyway it looked like she's injured herself severely. One of the trainers leading her off seemed to be having a good old fashioned laugh but I assume that was just gallows humour. Shithouse news for her, maybe good for those of us who are dying to see Tex Perkins dragged off the emergency list and planted in the forward line.

Now that the good teams have been beaten we just have to avoid a fiasco against the dud sides and should be right in the finals mix. Male players, I'm not sure how much you care about this competition (and to be fair, many of them don't give a rat's arse about the AFL proper unless it impacts them directly), but if you're going to take anything from AFLW please note how opportunities are created when you knock over a pair of finals contenders to start the season.

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal Votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Libby Burch
3 - Daisy Pearce
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Maddie Gay

Major apologies to Goldrick, Hore and Lampard. Lower level apologies to many others.

Leaderboard
8 - Libby Burch, Karen Paxman
5 - Kate Hore
3 - Maddie Gay, Daisy Pearce
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Harriet Cordner

Goal of the Day
The first one please, the set up to get it forward was delightful, Newman's hands were A+, and even though the Bulldogs players had all pushed up the ground like their team was going to kick a real goal in the first three quarters, Emonson finished it perfectly. Plenty more of that please.

Banner Watch
The Bulldogs' effort was pretty standard, only that they've given up on doing funnies now. Some would argue that they never started. Special live correspondant Jonny Foreigner (crazy name, crazy guy) got in touch to declare the Dees "squeaked" out the victory. The Dogs seem to be doing the old GWS move of using 0 instead of O, which is an additional penalty on top of the curtain.
Media Watch
No graphic required when we remind you that Jason Bennett should be exchanged for one or both of Dwayne or BT. Sorry AFLW fanatics, it's either eight games here or 22 games in the regular season so you'll just have to put up with it.

Next Week
First wind, then rain. Any chance of playing in normal conditions? Another Friday night game seemingly rules out evil heat, and we assume that the new Moorabbin won't be a sprinkler assisted slagheap, so we just might get a regulation contest unless it pisses down again. On the strength of this performance we should beat St Kilda's brains out, but if anyone's going to doing something tremendously NQR at the banana skin it's us. I don't dare try and predict team changes in AFLW but given that Cunningham is two weeks with zero goals time to unchain Tex and send Zanker further up the ground. Dees win, hopefully by a lot.

Final Thoughts
I'm not getting ahead of myself on finishing top two yet, but it's an encouraging start. Given that we scored 55-60 three times last year I'd like to see what we do on a day where it's dry and doesn't have gale force winds going north, south, east and west. That we've won in difficult conditions twice against good sides, and in dominating fashion here, is a credit to everyone involved. Now let's wallop some of the slurry and set ourselves up for a decent crack at this competition.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Back from the dread

After three seasons of dragging AFLW season out until the last round before missing the finals, my confidence of keeping things interesting that long in 2020 was extremely low. Even before a black death style injury crisis cut a swathe through the list and the decidedly handy Bianca Jakobsson quit to become a rozzer I thought the abusive way Adelaide finished us off last year was the metaphorical slamming shut of the premiership window.

It's not that we haven't negotiated the rapid expansion of the competition to get to season four with a core of very good players, it's just that the more teams they jam into the competition the more unlikely it feels that we'll Bradbury our way through and snatch one. In the first couple of years I could have seen us winning one in our own right, now it would feel lucky. I'd still take it. Maybe this is the year for us to qualify - at the very least - for a final. Or this was just a surprise mugging off a good team and things will never get any better. Stay tuned to the next seven weeks (plus?) of our award winning AFLW coverage to find out.

Given the injury problems in our best 22 - Kat Smith gorn for the whole season, Lauren Pearce and Lily Mithen out for three weeks - it felt like a set up playing top of the table fancy North in the opener. The veil of gender non-specific negativity was not lifted by the opening minutes. I'm used to us dominating the opening of women's games and not making it count on the scoreboard, this time North did both.

My concerns were not lifted when we conceded the first goal via the ordinary scenario of an Irishwoman who'd never played a game before picking the ball up just far enough away from goal that she couldn't casually rush it and desperately struggling to drag a tackler over the line from metres out, ending in the inevitable free kick. Goldrick (whose name evokes fond memories of early 90s Crystal Palace winger Eddie McGoldrick) wasn't bad after that, but you can teach people to football all you like, finding yourself in traffic with people coming to grab you from every angle will take a bit more than one pre-season.

We had an opportunity at the response when we finally extracted the ball from North's forward 50 and got forward for the sort of kick to a key position play that the men should do more of. She took a strong chest mark, perfectly defending the drop of the ball and not letting the defender get an arm in, but if you've ever watched our AFLW side play you'll know exactly what happened next. Even without a howling breeze flapping her jumping about like a flag she'd be less than a 50/50 chance from that position, and thanks to the conditions it went *FLOMP* off her boot, didn't travel more than about 20 metres as it held up, starting like it was going out on the full before swinging back towards goal and dropping short for no score.

The most Melbourne-esque part of that miss was it setting the table for the Roos to kick a goal of their own, aided by a 50 that took them to the line and made certain of it. In a low scoring competition where teams play games on ridiculous suburban grounds that have hurricane force winds mysteriously blowing in all directions, every shot you can get from point blank, unmissable under any circumstances, even I could kick it, distance is gold.

When another 50 set up a shot at their third goal later in the term we were in disarray. The kick fell short and didn't cause any issues, but it did ensure we'd end the quarter scoreless. That was one goal in five quarters at Fortress Casey dating back to the Adelaide debacle. I don't think it will affect our long-term relationship with the region to admit that I despise that ground. Shame the proposed southern suburbs A-League didn't get up, they'd have used it over summer while waiting for their real stadium to be built and we could play somewhere better.

Now there's government money in the place (including an awkwardly added fake MFC scarf) so we're never getting out. Spend some of the money building freeway style barriers around the outside to dampen down the conditions a bit. Personally, I'd build a roof on every ground in the country and make it an indoor sport but I'm aware that's out of line with community views.

Having had more than enough of watching sides called Melbourne lose last year, I wasn't looking forward to the rest of this. And as we continued to launch suicidal runs through fierce North tackles in an assault on the Australian rules football record for being caught holding the ball it didn't look like getting any better. We finally got a goal back via a crashing tackle of our own, with Kate Hore pinning Random North Defender in a vice-like grip.

With her ponytail helpfully blowing from side-to-side so you knew there was a prick of a wind about I could have forgiven a miss, especially as Hore had 1.7 last year, but wouldn't you know it she slammed it straight through. Glory be.

That was our second life, but I've never found a Melbourne Football Club game yet that I didn't think we were going to lose. I still expected to concede nine goals to nil in the third term then have the wind swing about and cost us another nine in the last.

Our chances of victory seemingly diminished further when Eden Zanker - the prototype of an AFLW player who would get very good, very quickly until a full-time program - first did a ripping fend-off, then was bumped into oblivion and went off with a shoulder injury. Given that our senior list has already been reduced to such bare bones that we've got VFLW players on standby in case we can't field a team, this was not a good thing.

Next thing you knew Zanker returned from the grave and setting up the goal that put us ahead at half time, in what was probably the first time a serious injury has turned out to be harmless since Max Gawn's knee in the last round of 2014. I don't know if she meant to have a shot, so let's pretend the kick rolled across the face of goal from the pocket that sat up perfectly for Hore to stuff home her second was deliberate and laud her as a genius.

The wind was obviously a factor, despite total confusion in the commentary box about which direction it was going in (answer: north, south, east and west), but it didn't explain North looking as helpless in the second quarter as we did in the first.

It made no sense, North looked just as helpless in that quarter as we did in the first. Not that anyone who's watched the Melbourne men play for all but one year of the last decade can take the moral highground, but the twin tipping points for AFLW will be coast-to-coast ball movement and more than a handful of forwards with cannon legs who can easily kick 40+ metres.

For standard fanatics and men who hold strange obsessions about having things shoved down their throat, there wasn't much to say for the quality. It's arguably no better than the first season, but that's no bloody wonder when they've introduced six new teams in two seasons. Does it really matter? Probably not. Don't be the middle aged male whinging like you're owed spectacle when it's not for you and you're not being forced to watch. If you don't like it switch over to whatever episode of NCIS they're playing this hour on 10 Bold and we'll all be happy.

Wacky multi-directional winds didn't help the spectacle, but they didn't help North, who beat brave but outmatched emergency ruck Harriet Cordner and instantly swept the ball into the forward line, where it didn't leave until they kicked a goal.

Via more excursions into North's attack, all turned back via toil and struggle, we got the ball down our end, with Hore setting up another opportunity for Cunningham. In a carbon copy of her first mark she never gave the defender a chance to spoil. It ended the same way too, but in this case she was a touch unlucky. With the posts wobbling to and fro during her run-up she tried to start the ball left, only for the breeze to give up at that very minute and leave the ball sailing straight as an arrow for a behind.

Then a strong tackle in the pocket by 'I before E except after C' advocate Aliesha Newman set up another opportunity. She was stooged in the opposite fashion, trying to gingerly steer it through only for Cyclone Cranbourne to pick up mid-flight, hooking a once accurate kick violently to the left and registering no score. Those missed opportunities left us chasing a five point deficit in the last quarter. Given that all the scoring had been to the left of the screen the odds were in our favour, but I'm still recovering from not running North down in Hobart in 2017 so was not ready to trust just yet. Also, 30 years of losing to North by less than a goal.

I don't know about their decision to stick a player behind the ball and try to stack the backline right from the start. It's sensible to try and defend into the wind, but trying to hold a lead of under a goal for 15 minutes in a league where you're as likely to kick a scrambling goal from the square as one from a towering mark 40 metres from goal seemed a bit optimistic. It was also incompatible with the same coach telling players two minutes earlier to go out and win the game off their own boot. But - and usually when people say this they're being sarcastic but in this case it's true - what do I know?

What Mr. North coach (and it's a bit weird that all the coaches seem to be Mr) didn't count on was his defenders parting like the Red Sea at the first opportunity and allowing ex-dairy farmer Shelley Scott to mark. In the grandest tradition of the MFCW she kicked it out on the full, but it wasn't a day or venue for long distance assaults on goal. What we needed was a gift goal from a 50, but what we got at last was a clean transition out of defence that ended in a player - Robo Shoulder Zanker - running into an open goal.

The sealer might have come not long after that, when a kick into an open 50 with two forwards running towards it was pulled back for a free in the middle. I suppose you can't pay advantage just because the ball might go in a side's favour but it probably cost us a goal. There were more chances, and the clearly rattled North defenders started to give away free kicks left, right and centre, but the killer blow was absent.

What all the missed shots did was keep the ball at our end with the clock rapidly ticking down. It reached the last minute before North even got to half way again, running into a wall of defenders ably led by ex-Bulldog Libby Burch, who was safe as houses all day.

There was one moment of old fashioned Melbourne vs North style terror when they burst out of defence with 45 seconds left, but we held firm. Also got an assist from an umpire allowing a pack of players to madly scramble for the ball for a good 10 seconds without calling for a bounce, making absolutely sure we'd win. Certainly didn't see that coming, but when you're a Melbourne fan of any variety - even AFLX - you take wins under any circumstance in case it's the last you ever see. As long as we don't do anything stupid like lose to the expansion clubs we should be in the mix at the end of the year.

And now, the only competition in football where a player gets to compete for their own medal...

Daisy Pearce Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Libby Burch
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Maddie Gay
1 - Harriet Cordner

Apologies to Downie, Emonson, O'Dea, Pearce, Scott and Zanker.

Goal of the Year
Don't care if it wasn't intended, the soccer-esque cross by Zanker to Hore provided an appealing visual spectacle, and moves onto the second round with the lead.

Media Watch
Donating to charity is a *checks notes* good thing, but Channel 7 are a bit optimistic in thinking people are going to scan a QR code on the screen. What would have looked futuristic 10 years ago is now less QR and more NQR. We're not opening bullshit scanning apps, just spend $19.99 and create a simple .com.au and we'll type it into our internet connected device.

Meanwhile, I'm told Dwayne is going to be on the Foxtel coverage at some stage this season. On one hand, dear god no. On the other, a good chance to bring back this classic.



You just know he's going to earnestly over-compensate and treat a game at Hickey Park like the 1989 Grand Final.



The gale force winds of Casey Fields did their finest work, tearing the banners of both sides apart like they'd been peppered with artillery fire. I presume ours featured some clever gag about Daisy's return, but even I'm not corrupt enough to declare a winner based on tattered red and blue streamers looking nicer. DRAW and 0-0 for the season.

Next Week
Beat the Bulldogs away on Friday night and 2020 is most certainly ON. After that come the very beatable St Kilda, Collingwood and West Coast so this win has put us in a tremendous position, even if we lose next week not all is lost. I'm writing this before the Dogs play the ultimate frisbee Cat Phillips powered Saints tomorrow, but am assuming they'll comfortably thrash them and we won't learn anything about next week. It's winnable, but if you held me out of an upstairs window by my ankles I'd still admit that I think the Dogs will win.

Final Thoughts
It was far from convincing but given that it was a) played with Lauren Pearce or Lily Mithen, and b) took place in conditions not conducive to football of any variety I'll gladly take it. Doesn't give me any confidence in winning the flag but it's a start.