Sunday 25 February 2018

More of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff

Two days into our season the 2018 'Beat North in Every Format' redemption campaign is 66% complete. Now to rumble them by any means necessary in Round 3 and we can get on with having a realistic ping at the eight. To paraphrase that classic 90s banner - 'first beat North, then worry about the good sides'. Given that they've been good, bad and mediocre in the last 11 years and they've still beaten us every time I'm willing to take it.

In an abridged pre-season there's no room for messing around, so we went in with much of our best side. The only absolute certainties missing were former Demonbracket winners Viney and Jetta, plus Garlett, who might want to think about a Tonya Harding style clobbering for Bayley Fritsch during the week. On the other hand, nobody but enthusiasts know more than a handful of North players at the best of times so it's hard to tell whether their side full of workmanlike homebrand unknowns was anywhere near the best XVIII. That usually doesn't matter, they could donate one of their 250 different commemorative jumpers to a team of raffle winners and we'd spontaneously combust.

I spent the last week steadfastly refusing to accept that the season was about to start. Life was easier - but ultimately less rewarding - when you turned up in February expecting to see shite. Now I've been curled up in terror in all summer worried that we're somehow going to nobble ourselves and miss out on the much anticipated great leap forward. There was an amusing reaction to Mark Robinson suggesting we wouldn't make the eight, with people whirling into full siege mentality mode and hurling abuse at him. What right do we have to assume anything after last year? The underrated angle was him doing it in a video sitting next to David King, who famously told us to stop worrying and enjoy footy midway through last year. Various demonstrations of why we won't be comfortable until we're standing under a premiership flag were not far behind.

The traditional pre-season nerves hit me just as the coverage was about to start, only for Fox Sports to extract the piss violently by opening with a Round 23 'highlights' package about our great choke. Somewhere David King was realising exactly why the Veil of Negativity still clings to us like napalm. As much as I could have done without a reminder of what happened that weekend, it did focus me on what needs to be done this season. Batter sides that need to be battered, and always be hunting the opposition. Given our 10 Years of Terror against North (notwithstanding victory in a Kick-and-Clap picnic tournament), it would have been better viewing to spin a video of all the times they've stitched us up by margins big and small. Still, until we make up for the no tackles in 10 minutes game we deserve to be reminded of it at every available opportunity. You know you'd have a bad run when you're scarred by not having the chance to be Elimination Final cannon fodder.

Where better to start the climb back towards the eight than at the Casey Fields of the South, a windswept suburban park with the none-more-pre-season name of "Kingston Twin Ovals". For the purposes of historical record, could somebody confirm if we were playing on Twin Oval A or Twin Oval B? There was probably a Little Athletics meet going on at the other one. Either that or a swap meet, because the announced crowd was a flag year 1957, which would be our lowest pre-season turnout since 1200 idiots (including yours truly) watched us beat Richmond at Princes Park in 2007. Either it was a typo or the people of Hobart aren't as interested in the Roos as I thought. (Update - those in attendance suggest that even 1957 seems generous. I guess I'm just conditioned to expecting that people care about practice matches. Apparently not in Hobart.)

The suggestion that North weren't serious about winning was furthered by Brad Scott handing over the keys to somebody else and instead lurking around the back of the box menacingly. He'd already set up the novelty move of playing Majak Daw at full back against the Sizzle/Hogan Twin Towers, and spent most of the game sitting on a Bunnings plastic chair watching the chaos unfold. It wasn't the worst experimental move of all time, and his extendable hands bashed away a few inside 50s, but it showed the difference in where the teams are at. The most experimental thing we did was letting Clayton Oliver show up with a humorous haircut.

It hardly compares to the start of Round 1, but any anticipation for the start of the pre-season went out the window when the first bounce went violently askew. It was quite the anti-climax when I was all keyed up for a low-intensity rematch of the epic Gawn vs Goldstein World Heavyweight Championship contest from Hobart two years ago. Who are the knobs trying to shorten the length of play in a game when so much time is wasted re-doing horrible bounces? I'm usually against changing things for alleged spectacle improvements, but the bounce has had it. If everyone's so desperate to cater to consumers, theatregoers and wankers in Sydney, how are you meant to explain the wild bounce/recall scenario? Either that or just let the thing fling off in random directions and good luck to whoever gets an advantage.

After a second false start courtesy of an anti-Gawn free from the ball-up, the two put on another solid ruck clash. Goldstein is not the titan he used to be, but it was still a tough battle and by the end Max had won a decisive victory. Where are the joyless entertainment fanatics who want to abolish stoppages when this sort of fantastic battle is on? If you don't enjoy two enormous humans grappling for supremacy you may not have a pulse. Maximum was back at full strength, his taps and second efforts were a masterclass for aspiring ruckmen, and if he keeps doing that for the rest of the year uninjured it's going to give us a tremendous leg-up around the ground. We got away with not having him last year, and played some really good footy at times when he wasn't there, but a performance like this shows the difference between a competent backup and a master craftsman.

I've got plenty of respect to people who can properly tune out of pre-season games and not care what happens, but alas I'm not one of them. Not going to anything until Round 1 is as close as I'll get to being cool about the warm-up games, and when North went forward straight away the pessimist in me (and how could you not be one considering our most recent outing in a game of actual Australian rules football?) thought "oh Jesus, here we go again, we're going to lose to North here as well". If I was in a disaster movie I'd be the panicky idiot who runs around screaming "we're all going to die!"

Other than a few moments of light concern during the first half there was no need to be dramatic. Alex Neal-Bullen started the game like he was Alex Dustin-Martin and kicked the first goal, before turning provider for a dreamy lead by Sizzle Sr. The Bullet's pass was nice, and McDonald's finish was solid but it was the lead that made me quiver with ecstasy. Imagine teleporting back to 2013 and telling your past self that in five years' time you'd be as excited about Tom McDonald (under siege key defender, zero career goals) playing forward as Jesse Hogan (next big thing, great white hope, future injury victim). Old you would call the authorities and report a lunatic on the loose.

After looking much more dangerous than his attacking partner in the opening quarter, Sizzle went back to being a highly-functioning cog in the wheel as Hogan tormented a backline full of project players and nobodies. He still does quirky, alternative things that will surprise and baffle for years to come. There was one set shot so close he could have almost leant back and dinked it through with the lightest of touches, but instead took a run-up so excessive that he nearly had to catch the Spirit of Tasmania back. Then you look beyond those two behemoths and find Christian Petracca outmuscling champion rig owner Daw, see Bayley Fritsch running riot in senior company, factor in Mitch Hannan and Jeff Garlett and start to think that maybe things are going to turn out ok. If we can get the ball down there enough, and don't enough up getting scorched on the counter unless we score.

We looked the better side, both on-paper and on-field, but it wasn't all good news. The first Roos goal came after a clearly flubbed kick by Lewis, which somehow failed to factor into what was announced as a 100% disposal efficiency at quarter time. You'd have thought one of the commentators would have questioned it, but like newsreaders they will follow whatever's written on screen. One day on Sydney radio a lady dutifully read out text that finished with the phrase "like a bowling ball" (and you can guess the rest) because that's what the paper said. You could quite easily pull off the same prank on a footy commentator.

Lewis wasn't bad in the first quarter (before being packed away due to a minor injury concern), but I wouldn't bet my house on both he and Vince making it to Round 23 in the same backline. One of them fine, but somebody get out of the way for Neville Jetta and let's tighten things up instead of sending everyone up the ground to attack and being clocked whenever we lose the ball. My one game sample of Jake Lever since I started to pay an interest in him suggests he loves to wander up the ground as well, so I look forward to Nifty being called upon to rush back and try to stop his opponent several hundred times this year.

Vince did kick a goal, from one of those infuriating free kicks where the player crunches a perfect tackle but runs a fingernail across the other player's back and is penalised, but I hold significant concern for his chances of getting to the end of the year without a stint at Casey. I respect what he's done up to now, but given that we're developing a side with depth at last there's no need to drag two fading stars along for the ride. Lewis has an extra year on the contract so barring any injuries or radical changes of heart from him he'll get preference.

North's defence might have been about as fearsome as the one we once put out featuring Tom Gillies, but it's hard to deny we looked good going into attack. The problem was that in the most traditional Melbourne FC fashion we were terrifically vulnerable to quick kicks the other way catching us out, and were so ropey after turning the ball over that the preposterously named Billy Hartung's ability to run quickly scored him a nomination to join the Kent Kingsley Klub pre-season training squad.

The difference this time to most games, is that when we copped an end-to-end lightning speed goal in the last minute of the quarter we didn't just pack a man behind the ball to make flappy motions with his arms and try to stem the bleeding - we burst out of the middle and responded through the unusual duo of Maynard and Bugg. Swings and roundabouts. As long there's more (whichever is the good one) than (the bad one) we're heading in the right direction.

You couldn't argue with six goals in a first quarter, but more important was the way we got them. It wasn't just hit and hope stuff that was almost accidentally bundled through (and after intently watching four weeks of our AFLW team that was quite the relief), we were making them with solid, attractive play. This was with Oliver and his rude haircut being relatively well held, and Nathan Jones so quiet early on that I didn't think he was playing. At last there are options, and I pray to the footballing gods that we can stay fit enough that most of them aren't needed. Oliver did bust free of the shackles after half time, and some of his handballs in traffic were eye-watering. No matter how hard the tag is, they will never fully guard against him finding the ball in the middle of a pack and instinctively knowing exactly which direction to handball in and how hard. He is a mastermind.

Because the commentator was the erudite and sensible Anthony Hudson rather than a Dwayne Russell style shrieking banshee, the abolition of the nine point goal (somewhere Paul Wheatley wept) was treated as an irrelevant side-note to the game and only mentioned when somebody had a long shot. In contrast, Dwayne did the next game and mentioned it about 30 seconds in as if it was the biggest news since Cyclone Tracy. He must be in charge of the AFL website, they're still running a score box hopefully showing a column with zeroes as if they may come back at any moment. Mind you, they're also advertising games at possibly fictional grounds called LDV, MTB and TVL so who knows what's going on. I'm surprised they didn't put us at MTB just to set up Mt. Buller gags for tedious dickheads. Some poxy betting company Twitter account tried to do a snow gag and suggested we'd be calling off our September trips to Aspen, which would be fine if that wasn't still in the US summer. Aspiring Twitter comedians, know your limitations.

Nine goals in the first quarter was reminiscent of the shootout on the day of the original Gawn vs Goldstein battle, except that this time the side kicking into the breeze didn't spot the other a 40 point lead before having a go. In fact our goals were barely aided by wind, and it wasn't until the second quarter when the legally mandated raging Hobart gale to one end started up. It slowed down our scoring, just as the game was threatening to become a tribute to the NBL's late Hobart Tassie Devils who used to play just down the road. North certainly improved with the benefit of it, but only to the tune of cutting nine points from the quarter time margin. I hope for the sake of their fans (but ultimately don't care) that they had good players out, because I don't much fancy their chances of escaping the bottom four in this state.

What looked early like a Reverse Stranglewank, where we jump out to a big lead then collapse, was kept reasonably calm courtesy of a late goal by the impressive Harmes. And it was a lovely goal too, he started the attacking chain on the half-back flank, and charged down the other end to be on the end Bugg's centring pass. The Master of Buggery hasn't been given much credit since he lobbed that ill-advised haymaker against the Swans, but without his persistent efforts to keep the ball from going out of bounds the goal never happens. That was a theme of the day, other than the usual suspect North nutters like Cunnington and Ziebell we always wanted it more, he could have very easily let the ball roll out for a throw-in and made it somebody else's problem but was rewarded for fighting his heart out to try and keep it in.

Given the increasing strength of the wind it was no surprise that we improved our position at the start of the third quarter, most notably from a McDonald kick to Hogan in the square which suggests that if they stay fit it will be a lethal forward combo. Even if they were playing against a no-name defence the essentials of a great combination were there. Hulk was still content to hang out the back and try to strong-arm the opposition, but having one up the ground and one in front of goal on a rotating basis is going to be a great help.

North had one last gasp left in them, indirectly kicking a goal against the run of play courtesy of (SURPRISE!) a player standing on his own inside 50. By now the wind was blowing sideways, so he missed everything with the set shot, but from the resulting throw-in Lever was pinched holding the ball and they managed to convert at the second opportunity. I knew men's footy was back when that cut the margin to 19 and I was already fretting about who how we were going to go defending into the wind in the last quarter. Enter Max Gawn, putting a hit-out down James Harmes' throat for the reply goal not long after. That prompted North to declare their work was done, Hannan and AFLX Hall of Famer Melksham goalled immediately after and we were home with time to spare. Milkshake's goal came from a perfect ruck tap from Total Football Tom McSizzle, and my nerves reduced to a sensible pre-season level.

The sixth goal of the quarter came from the impressive Anal-Bullet (to the sound of somebody in the crowding saying "wow!" into an effects mic), and the Chris Sullivan Line was breached late by Bayley Fritsch. Whether the line should be extended when defending into a raging gale in the last quarter or not is debatable, we don't get that far in front often enough to perform situational testing. With all appropriate caveats for North's weakened team, it was pleasing that we did it without Oliver or Jones particularly prominent. Instead the unheralded XXX combination of Anal-Bullet and Long Dong Harmes were running riot. There is also an NQR nickname for Fritsch, but like Cameron Pedersen this is a family program so we're not getting involved in it.

I enjoyed how many of our scores punished North mistakes. Here's to that translating to the real stuff, our nufty disposal has fed percentages up and down the league for years and now I want to take revenge one team at a time. Our first goal of the last quarter was created by Mr Intercepts himself, but this time Lever gathered a loose ball to set up future Round 1 starter Fritsch and insulate us against a collapse. Shortly after Lever was left flat-footed by a quick kick over the top that led to a goal, but even though he looks like a lost member of My Chemical Romance you'd expect based on this that we'll get our money's worth out of him.

The game was dead after Fritsch generously gave a goal away to Gawn after a mark at the top of the square, and all that was left was to get to the final siren without anyone being seriously injured or reported. At one point a close Michael Hibberd pursuit caused Ziebell to go over the fence in comic fashion, but replays proved he was just being dramatic and Hibberd had nothing to do with it.

All in all, a solid hitout that only partially counts as a win over North. If we turn up in Round 3 and are five goals down at quarter time none of this will matter. I look to the big picture in hope.

Due to the lack of games to choose from - unless we throw in a random intra-club - the intention was not to award the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season performance. However, I've had an unpredictable change of heart, and as long as no more than two players are tied for the lead after the second practice match we will name a winner(s).

Part of the glory of pre-season votes is that players randomly disappear for quarters at a time, so while you often get real games where there's unanimous verdicts on the bests (I have even been known to pick the card occasionally) good luck finding two people who have the same view on a practice match.

5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - James Harmes
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Apologies to Oliver, Hogan, Melksham, Bugg and Salem.

Banner Watch
After last week's AFLW fiasco where the industrially printed thing fell to bits before the players appeared, it was nice to see straining crepe paper barely holding together by the skin of its teeth. No North banner was shown, so I'm just going to assume they didn't bring one and give the Dees a win. 1-0 for the pre-season.

Uniform Watch
I'm not entirely keen on the way the black Zurich box sits on the jumper, but if they've got truckloads of money (until some massive natural disaster puts them on their arse) I'm willing to live with it.

The week after next
St Kilda at Casey. Given that it's a Thursday night I sure as hell won't be there. In fact given the Demonblog Towers are now located in the outer suburbs (and are not Towers) and I'd almost have gotten to Wangaratta quicker than Cranbourne, I can't see myself ever going to Cranbourne again. We will be providing our usual level of in-depth analysis off the TV, but if you want to chip in with crowd watch observations get in touch via the usual channels.

If both teams bring their best sides, and I wouldn't be surprised if the AFLX players are utilised sparingly, this will be a better test of where we're at. I'd say they are a notch below us due to lack of star power (my god, how nice is it to write that?), and Riewoldt taking a well-earned break from his life of MFC torment, so a comfortable win would be a good sign before Round 1. And if we lose meh, as long as nobody's hurt and nothing exceedingly demoralising happens it's not going to hurt us in the long run.

Final Thoughts
We have no God-given right to make the finals, and considering our brutal run home I still think it's mad to assume the best, but this is definitely the collection of players who should at least give us a decent swing at joy in the next five years. If they don't I'm giving up on footy and moving to Micronesia.

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.

Monday 19 February 2018

Same old piss in a new bottle - the AFLX story

My deeply held belief against watching AFLX lasted until approximately 15 seconds after I heard we'd made the final. After briefly grappling with my conscience, I decided that I may never see Melbourne win anything real, so something fake would be the next best thing and crumpled like a Yugoslavian car. My reward for selling out was to see us narrowly beat a side of Hawthorn's kids in a game vaguely resembling Australian rules football and for Neville Jetta to be presented with a trophy that looked like it was bought at Lincraft.

The game wasn't terrible, but what might be perfectly suited for people pissfarting around in a suburban park competition was rendered dull as dishwater by having high paid professionals doing it. I like the idea of there being a code where Jake Melksham is the greatest player ever born, and we're one of the top three teams in history, but could happily leave it there. Fat chance of that, they're already changing the rules (because what's an AFL competition without rule changes?) and taking it overseas. Hopefully it will be left there.

I note that the sort of people who are still open to this concept as anything more than a hit and giggle wankfest have split into two groups - one orthodox line who want more stoppages and contests, and the opposition who demand different parts of the ground to be worth different scores like a game of Test Match. Usually I'd demand that they let the game evolve naturally, but in this case making it insanely ridiculous and carting in Rugby 7s style specialist players and recent retirees would be the best thing to do.

Fortunately while I was occupying myself researching 1920 Seconds fixtures and checking Twitter to make sure nobody had necked themselves, Nick Miller offered to watch the lot and report back.  We had concerns that as he's 'overseas' that he wouldn't get to the end of the matches without rushing out the door with ball in hand looking for the nearest rectangular ground to have a kick in. He bravely soldiered through to the end (of a night supposed to be the shortened version of the game, which had so many matches it actually went longer than a normal trip to the footy), not giving up either when a mime turned up saying nothing, or when Brian Taylor turned up saying anything.


What to say of AFLX? Personally I tuned in because it’s the Dees, and I’d probably watch Mitch King play backgammon in Siberia for an official MFC backgammon team. The players seemed to enjoy it, but they haven’t played competitive footy in 6 months, so who wouldn’t enjoy a low pressure, bruise-free, hit out to blow out the cobwebs? It looks like it would be a pretty good game to play as a mid-week social sport (sort of an AFL equivalent of touch rugby), but then I thought there was already AFL 9s to fill that niche.  And as far as positive comments go, that is all I have to say about that.

If you’ve been living under a rock, and have somehow avoided the AFL’s shameless self-promotion of AFLX, it is “a new and exciting game created by the AFL to showcase some of the most thrilling elements of Australian Football to attract new fans”. LOL. They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. AFLX is a camel designed by the boffins at AFL HQ to serve no apparent purpose other than the ubiquitous goals “to grow the game internationally” and/or “attract women to the game”, whichever fits at the time.  Basically Gillon was watching the Big Bash last summer and decided he wanted to do that for AFL, missing the patently obvious fact that AFL was already the T20 version of the game.  Not since the 1850s has any version of Australian football ever taken a full day, let alone five.

But was it a success?  Short answer – no.  For the long answer I will defer to Richard Hinds – “AFLX is the first attempted use of Victoria's new voluntary euthanasia laws.  AFLX is a nothing of a game. One that combines neither the best aspects of Australian Rules, nor those of any other sport, but rather dilutes them so greatly that even the leather-lunged commentary box spruikers struggled to maintain their well-paid enthusiasm." I’ll leave it at that.

I watched the action on delay from overseas, because what else would one want to do on a Friday night in New York City than watch a replay of the mighty Dees? [Bring back Plato's Retreat - Editor]. For the record; these were our lineups:

Game 1: Petracca, Melksham, Maynard, T McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Bugg, Wagner.  Int: Harmes, Brayshaw, Stretch.
Game 2:  In:  Fritsch, Jetta.  Out:  Brayshaw, Maynard.
Game 3:  In:  Maynard, Brayshaw.  Out: Fritsch, Stretch.
Did Not Play:  Spargo, Baker, Johnstone.

First up was Carlton, and we went in with what looks like a full strength team. It was surprising how seriously we took this, not even giving a token run to three of the four zero-gamers in our squad.  Big Max Gawn on the commentary described stand in Coach Craig Jennings as a “different cat” who was very keen to win. So I guess we chalk it up to that. Although I’m not sure what this approach achieved, other than blowing out the cobwebs for a few blokes we already know are best 22, and (spoiler alert) winning our first silverware of any kind since the 1989 Night Series championship.

Carlton led early via a couple of behinds each way and a 10-pointer (never a zooper goal) to Williamson until Jake Melksham happened.  First he missed an attempted screamer from a kick in, collected his own #crumb and slammed one through from right on the 40m arc for a 10-pointer.  Next he took an uncontested mark 50m out, beat the man on the mark and converted his second 10-pointer in under a minute.  A few minutes later, after a brief interlude for some Carlton scores, Melksham converted his third 10-pointer after McDonald marked 30m out and handballed back for the 10-point shot.  (Whilst fun to watch in the NBA, the day this becomes a thing in the AFL, is the day I give up.  Never change the scoring system Gillon).

In the final minute of the half Tom McDonald slotted a delightful set shot for a 10-pointer and Wagner put through another right on the half time siren [Any bastard kicking regulation goals in this game? - Ed]. With the Dees leading 53-30 at half time, that was it for the contest. Whilst the fans snoozed in the second half Petracca and Bugg scored more 10-pointers and Harmes nabbed a regular goal to wrap-up a comfortable 82-54 win.

The second match was against North, with diehard fans watching in hope of breaking the North hoodoo, which now sits at 17 regular AFL games. Though does a win in this format really count?  Unfortunately, no.

North opened with a 10-pointer, before Tom McDonald converted a couple of regular goals to give Melbourne a lead they would never relinquish. From there Bugg, Harmes, Fritsch (3), Melksham and Sir Neville Jetta converted regular goals and Melksham another 10 to give the Dees a 70-46 victory.
The highlight of this game was undoubtedly the commentary of Max Gawn, who provided a few laughs to lighten the drudgery of the on field action, and Brayden Preuss’s tackle on a slightly-too-arrogant Tom McDonald, which included a little bit of #niggle to rub it in.

All that set up a “Grand Final” clash with Hawthorn, with Coach Jennings going back to his best line-up for the decider.  Apparently Hawthorn had Gunston, Breust, Schoenmakers and Shiels in their squad, none of whom made an appearance, so it’s fair to say they took the game somewhat less seriously.

The game followed a familiar script for the night with the Dees conceding the first goal, before Bugg found a way to fix his shoddy goal kicking by converting from the goal line. Then Melksham converted a 10-pointer and we never relinquished the lead, though at least they were occasionally challenged.

Melksham’s ability to convert on either foot, off one step, from around the 50m arc is phenomenal. We saw it a number of times in the second half of 2017 and it was on full display on Friday night. He had a shaky start, but has become a sensational recruit. Since becoming a forward in round 12 last year kicked a goal in every remaining game, with a string of 11111332213 giving him 19 in 11 games.  He’s surely one of the first picked each week now and could easily kick 35-40 goals this year.

I don’t know where Hawthorn find their recruits but they seem to have a few more unsociable types in their pipeline in Worpel and Campbell Brown doppelganger Blake Hardwick, which led to a few fantastic moments of #niggle, including a minor scuffle in which Sir Neville Jetta was clearly victorious over Campbell Br-, sorry, Hardwick.

With the Hawks challenging lateish in the second half, the Dees were, for once, aided by a novelty umpiring decision.  McDonald was run down with prior opportunity, (and whilst he got a clear handball away, let’s not pretend as though the AFL won’t make that holding the ball shortly) allowing Anal-Bullet to collect and convert a 10-pointer for the Dees.  The Hawks kept coming, peppering the goals in the final three minutes, although the Dees were able to hold on and win 56-46.  It would be nice to see the regular team display that sort of composure in the season proper.

Stray Thoughts
  • Preuss from North is a big unit.  A legitimately massive man with cult hero potential.  Interesting to hear that he is Maximum’s favourite opposition ruck.  Maxy just loves the old school.
  • Tom McDonald’s set shot kicking is still laser like.  A good sign.
  • Tom Bugg’s goal kicking is still, ummm, subpar.  Not a good sign.
  • Bayley Fritsch went alright.  I imagine he’ll get a few games throughout the year, but I can’t see him being best 22 yet, particularly with the depth we have in the mid-sized forward department.
  • Whilst fairly quiet tonight, Petracca is a super star.  Will win the B&F this year and be all Australian.  Bookmark it.
  • BT was stunned to learn that Tom McDonald is Melbourne’s best time trial runner.  Seriously?  There’s a puff piece article on every media athlete each year with the results of our time trial, which Tom wins every time.  Does he even try at his job?

2018 NBA Jam Medal - Votes awarded based on performance across all three matches.
3 - Jake Melksham
2 - Sir Neville Jetta
1 – Christian Petracca

Apologies to Alex Neal-Bullen

Off the back of his barnstorming #demonbracket victory I was going to honor Sir Neville Jetta with this award (because, in the spirit AFL HQ, why give a stuff about honesty and fairness). But then Melksham happened. The bloke put together without doubt the greatest performance in the history of AFLX.  Congrats to the inaugural (and hopefully final) medal winner.

Banner Watch
I didn’t see banners on the TV feed.  Were there banners?  Did they have three for the three games?  If so, does this mean the cheer squad had a reserve banner just in case?  So many questions, for which I have absolutely zero answers.

Apologies for the failure of this segment, although let’s be honest it stopped being interesting a long time before this.

Final Thoughts (incorporating 'was it worth it?')
Despite beating North and claiming some bogus silverware, no, no it was not. Please kill this game with fire.

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.

Sunday 11 February 2018

The Quest for Fun

You're not truly a competition run by the AFL until they've overreacted to a perceived lack of spectacle and rushed in some overnight rule changes. It was almost enough to bring to a tear your eye when the AFLW was officially welcomed to the family this week. Watch out AFLX if a billion Chinese people don't rip their hammy off the bone rushing to pick up a silver ball and kick a Zooper Goal.

Usually when people complain about the standard of footy they make the fishy claim that it's "not as good as it used to be", but for the first time in recorded history players and coaches were carved up for being "not as good as they will be eventually". For you see the AFL has high expectations for the women's game, which is why they sent out the now infamous "let's work as team and do it our way" memo to 'suggest' how teams play this week. It even claimed that umpires wouldn't bounce the ball until players voluntarily complied. Bollocks they wouldn't, let's see a team refuse to comply in the dying seconds of a tight game and force an AFL official to climb the fence and order a disqualification.

The controversy followed a predictable pattern. The league came off like spectacle chasing dickheads, fans flew off the handle with their own knee-jerk reactions (guilty!), friendly journos were wheeled in to defend the AFL's position, and the competition went on exactly as planned because they've got everyone over a barrel.

Before I go off on one, let's be entirely clear that the league is bankrolling the competition so they can force whatever patronising rules they like on the women. But doing it between rounds 1 and 2 in a seven game season is so comical it should be a sitcom plot. Apparently it's not the first time they've made heavy suggestion to coaches, and finally cracked the sads when nobody was listening.

They didn't need a four game sample to come up with a smaller ball (apparently because 'women have smaller hands', shortly before recruiting half the WNBL), but were at least polite enough to wait a full season before foisting a new out of bounds rule. Then the opening game of the season receives a light critical mauling - (hint: stop putting Collingwood in it) and everyone has a nervous breakdown.

I went into this year keen on the non-MFC games again, because what the league lacked in skill it more than made up for in the charm of seeing players having an unencumbered crack for the love of the game. Now the well has been poisoned and the reality is clear that it's just another 'property' to be manipulated. Maybe I'm just overthinking it since deciding to dedicate my life to AFL related conspiracy theories, but if you're going to turn it into a Vince McMahon style predetermined swizz why not just create entirely new teams?

I'd have found it offensive telling people how to play if they'd enforced it before the season (see also: the TAC Cup, where the best and brightest are prepared for life in a league that for now doesn't require zonal buffoonery), but to drop everything and issue proclamations based on people not seeing a kick-for-kick replay of the 1989 Grand Final in Round 1 is bonkers. I suspect they're being driven by the views of people who don't have a + or - button on their remote and tune in just to hatewatch.

It was another case of high scoring being automatically correlated with excitement, and the assumption that by eradicating defensive play the competition will somehow immediately take a great leap forward. You've got to keep sponsors happy, but companies are so keen to get on board equality causes these days that nothing short of quarter time speeches from Mein Kampf will stop them from putting their money in.

The idea that a few more low scoring games is going to derail everything is kooky. If you absolutely have to manipulate the competition would it not make more sense to treat this season like an eight week experiment, measure every bit of data under the sun and then sit down with players and coaches to come up with a considered way to get to where they want to go? And yet they may, but there's nothing wrong that couldn't have waited a few more weeks instead of treating the players like they're in a test tube.

I struggle to understand what people expect from a competition where the best players are barely out of park football and lists are full of inexperienced ring-ins from other sports. It's hard enough to get the people who moan about the quality of the men's game to explain the football utopia they're searching for, without doing it here as well. Would we prefer it if teams flew merrily from one end to the other unchallenged because the opposition are all 20 metres away? Apparently yes, and given that we're one of the better teams here's to a few of the strugglers being BATTERED because they're not allowed to protect themselves. But that will be ok, because a 100-3 score is apparently better than 31-14.

My highlight of the great debate was AFLW CEO Nicole Livingstone declaring that the players weren't subject to rule changes but a "spirit of the game initiative" with a look on her face like they'd kidnapped her family as security. It was an entire phrase made up of words that signalled she was either reading directly from a script or can be safely ignored in the future. Can she share a presentation that tracks the trajectory of the spirit and can explain how much damage the AFLW players did to it last week.

Given that you presumably can't be fined for breaching a "spirit of the game initiative", it's a shame nobody tried to push it and instead risk being fined for time wasting (though technically it would be the umpire who was wasting time under the AFL's instructions, so like our not guilty tanking fine that came back as a generous payout they'd have to shuffle money around Cayman Islands style to make it work). Secretly the league would have been thrilled if somebody did that, because it would give them the chance to take the moral high ground and introduce the official "consider yourself lucky we let you out of the kitchen" rule changes they obviously didn't think they could get away with this week.

A year ago everyone was falling over themselves with self-congratulations for starting the league, now it's being treated like an unruly child. Even our game got a mention, and not even for the farcical scenario of the player having a free kick paid against her for the ball rolling over the line as she tried to pick it up. At least if the women's game has been effectively declared no good by its own parents, the good times lasted long enough for that NAB ad featuring Katie Brennan wearing a tremendous perm.

So at the end of the year, once free will has been crushed and everyone's settled in to however they're required to play everything will be fine won't it? The naysayers will flock back just in time to discover that in the rush to capitalise on the success of the first season a whole bunch of new teams have arrived. This means more games to drag interest across (and didn't the Big Bash just give a perfect demo of how to strangle interest in the end of your own tournament by carrying on two weeks too long?), and more importantly another group of inexperienced players to become cannon fodder for talkback radio malcontents.

It's one thing for fans to be unreasonable in their expectations, but if the AFL didn't have the courage to ride out a few years of average standard footy (and let's not forget, the men's season is usually an end-to-end cavalcade of people trying to change the rules for the sake of 'improvement') they shouldn't have rushed to take the pats on the back from all and sundry by launching it in the first place.

Much like the main AFL season my interest has been dulled by the ongoing talking down of the game, but much to my own detriment as long as there's still a Melbourne Football Club involved I'm in. And after a week of being made to feel like I was wasting my time showing an interest came a match of some significance against the team that narrowly kept us out of the Grand Final. I almost missed the first bounce due to my own brave but ultimately flawed attempt at entering the domain of men by trying to use a whippersnipper for the first time. In this case I actually could have done with someone sticking their nose in and telling me how to do it.

If nothing else we do our bit for getting games started in an exciting fashion. For the second week in a row Karen Paxman merrily rampaged onto the first hitout and thumped the ball deep into attack. The difference from last was week was that this time it found a target instead of just being hopefully lobbed towards goal in the hope of finding a forward.  The returning Alyssa Mifsud was handed her welcome back present on a platter, but much to the joy of people who watch the games just to complain about them she missed from 30 metres out directly in front. At least the tap > clearance > kick > mark sequence will look good in next year's ads. I think the ordinary set shot kicking is part of what triggers people so severely, and there's chuff all you can legislate for that other than a pay rise to allow more training.

Despite having a forward line that is in theory absolutely deadly, we had all the forward play for no reward again. I suppose that's going to happen when 90% of the goals come from inside 30 metres. Why not play seven a side on a rectangular ground with 10 point goals? At least this time when Adelaide cleared their defensive 50 with a long hoof down the middle it didn't skip over the top of our entire backline and lead to a goal.

In practice the old spirit of the game initiative didn't do much for this game in the first quarter considering the lack of centre bounces. By the end we'd kicked enough goals that the AFL should have sent a letter of thanks for giving the umpires so many opportunities to count who was in what part of the ground. At first the spirit had to be satisfied with the effort of two pro-am sides risking having their head caved in diving to win possession for the sort of wages you get working after school at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

We eventually lived up to our reputation as the league's great entertainers (except against GWS) when the speedy Aleisha Newman ran her opponent into the ground with three bounces, then kicked a checkside goal from an obscure angle in the pocket. She is the classic small forward, unseen for ages then mysteriously cropping up to do something magical. In real life she is apparently a postie, probably missing 5 of 10 letterboxes but hitting the rest with hook shots from the other side of the road without ever slowing down.

Newman's goal prompted Adelaide to turn up, not quite the traditional 30 minutes late but near enough to. After a series of haphazard bombs into attack were easily chopped off by our defenders, season one cult hero Tex Perkins barged through a pack like she was going to kill anyone in her way and had what was most likely a shot intercepted by a free teammate in the square. This was the beauty and the beast of a low scoring game all in one, we went through all that hard work forward and back but the ball bounces the wrong way and the margin is back to a point. Tex then proceeded to do very little for the rest of the game, prompting one of the commentators to cruelly ask "is that her first kick?" when she got one in the last quarter.

Any hope that the game would become a season-saving instant classic from the first bounce was not helped by a bastard of a wind, but if whoever allowed us to play home games at Casey didn't know that was going to happen they've never seen a VFL game. To be fair to the recently much maligned AFLW players, as if you'd watch any game played on that windswept tundra if there wasn't an MFC connection. I think we've all seen some absolutely diabolical performances at that place, it would be rude to single out anyone based on their gender. To think almost 10 years ago when I was relatively local to the place (as opposed to now, where I'm practically at the opposite end of the Melbourne metropolitan area), I'd actually voluntarily go and freeze half to death there for matches. It all ended at about half time of a Casey vs Port Melbourne game when I could barely feel my hands and left to go shopping at Moorabbin DFO instead.

Even taking into account the five minutes where we had to keep out Adelaide's furious but misguided attacks, it felt like a bad sign to only be a point ahead at quarter time considering the strength of the wind. At the time we were not to know that the Crows would return from the quarter time break with their season on the line and go "we'll be right thanks". In a competition with barely any margin for error it can't help that they were down two of their best players, but that was still an ordinary excuse for sitting back and letting us steamroll them.

How many times was there a stoppage around the ground (because good luck finding one from  a boundary throw in these days) where they were ludicrously outnumbered? Maybe they'd seen the highlights and decided that the best way to score would be to have procession of players waiting forward of the ball? This didn't reckon on the return of Karen Paxman, or the in-close attention of Lily Mithen, who looks like she'd be comfortable glassing somebody in a pub. Which is just the kind of player - male or female - that I've been demanding for years. Did her dad used to Sunday Scoreboard on the Channel 9 news? Because whenever she gets the ball it makes me think of the music they played behind the overnight soccer and tennis scores. In the 90s that music was my prompt to leg it from the room so I didn't see the Premier League scores before the Monday night highlights show that the ABC played immediately after TV's equivalent of Finey's Final Siren - Backchat.  

Just like one goal first quarters and losing when starting as favourite are key MFC male cliches, rampant centre clearances at the start of a quarter that fail to deliver a goal are starting to become a trademark of the women. For the second time in a row it was converted into a genuine chance. Tegan Cunningham missed, but by full time I was on the phone to my superannuation company telling them to invest heavily in her for the future. The second goal eventually came via Guybrush Threepwood's favourite player Shelley Scott, who we will give the benefit of the doubt to on positioning and assume she meant to be exactly where a wonky shot on goal was carried by the breeze. If she hadn't been there we'd have conceded a free, which doesn't make much sense to me but that was last week's topic of contention.

Despite counter-productive rules that should have made playing along the boundary line more dangerous than jogging on the rim of an active volcano and a violent sideways breeze, nobody seemed all that concerned about playing along the boundary line. Eventually another attack along the wing, which you'll never stop because people would rather give away an out of bounds free that turn it over in the middle of the ground, ended in an Adelaide player having to jump in the air to assault Lauren Pearce and the subsequent free kick found Cranston in the pocket for the third goal. Things were beginning to look grim for the Crows, and when Pearce got a goal of her own they were stuffed. So much for the wind advantage, just do enough to get the ball to the player standing alone in the square. If they're so desperate for scoring, maybe they should legislate that somebody has to be left in the square like a reverse goalkeeper.

The game was one Melbourne goal away from being over before half time, before the Crows snuck a lucky one through courtesy of a long ball bouncing past everyone. Their revival didn't last long, almost immediately from the centre bounce brilliant former mystery back injury victim Karen Paxman found Tegan Cunningham for the killer blow. It was a fantastic piece of play from both of them, first Paxman realised that they didn't have anyone to kick to and delayed things by taking off and running around her opponent until an option appeared, then Cunningham converted the set shot. Granted she was only 20 metres out at best, but worse have been missed by this time, and for a 6' 3" basketballer she couldn't have hit it any better. If anything that's what the game lacks at the moment, the belief that when a player marks 30-50 metres out that she's going to convert. For now let's concentrate on getting 10-30 metres right and work develop the Paul Wheatley style bombs later. At which point I bet you they bring in nine point goals.

It took until the third quarter to finally score a goal in the first minute, and the secret was not to first have a barnstorming centre clearance. The goal that practically ended Adelaide's premiership defence came from Mel Hickey snapping around the corner from 50 metres out. It's a mark of how well we're going (and yes, I know last week I was about 20 seconds from writing us off) that we don't need Hickey or Daisy Pearce to star every week. There's enough quality there to keep us afloat without stars like Paxman or Elise O'Dea having to do all the work. Bianca Jakobsson was mopping up attacks like classic era Jared Rivers, and both Cat Smith and Emma Humphries are underrated cogs in the wheel. I also enjoyed the enthusiastic forward pressure of Kate Hore. In a further retreat from my panic last week, I think that if this side can avoid a none-more-Melbourne snatch of defeat from the jaws of victory they should make the Grand Final.

Any chance the Crows had of launching a blockbusting comeback in the last quarter were killed off when they crumbed one in the last 90 seconds of the third term, then Cunningham replied about 20 seconds later. By now Adelaide's players had the same look of realisation as Freo when we pulverised them in the final round of 2017, that they not only had to fly home but also had to get from Cranbourne to the airport first. It might have been a long last quarter for them, but our lot were in a generous mood and opted not to kick them while they were down.

With the game well won, and the Crows on the ropes taking punches, BOG Karen Paxman was withdrawn to have treatment on her dicky back. Everyone else seemed quite content to get to the final siren and hit the discos/airports. It took Newman to bring some excitement to the game, dashing onto a ball that had flown over pack. Until that point even I was starting to consider changing the channel to something more dynamic. Once the sting was entirely out of the game the Crows got a consolation goal, which I'm sure prompted all mentally scarred Dees to think "well, that'll end up keeping us out of the Grand Final". Frisbee enthusiast Cat Phillips had a late chance to get us the vital six points back but missed, the sort of meaningless end of game miss that I never considered might come back to haunt us until Round 23, 2017.

The Melbourne juggernaut might have been slow to get going, but it seems to have arrived. And for the first three quarters at least I can confirm that I was definitely having fun.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Bianca Jakobsson
3 - Tegan Cunningham
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Elise O'Dea

Apologies to Newman, Smith, Hore, Humphries, Duryea, Guest and Downie.

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

Banner Watch
I can't read what the Crows banner says, but how good is that ENORMOUS font? I will never be impressed by words in unnecessarily large letters. With the curtain penalty for the Dees, and that weird iSelect slogan on the run-through side it's an Adelaide win. 1-1 for the season.

Crowd Watch
There was no sign of the daytime fireworks, probably due to complaints from Cranbourne police, who have enough issues to deal with before being called out to a dozen reports that Pearl Harbour is under attack.

Next Week
What wacky rule changes will AFLW players discover when they open Round 3 of their Footy Advent Calendar? Best not get complacent considering they won this week, but any alterations from here will hopefully exacerbate the quality gap between us and Freo rather than concentrate on equalisation, allowing us to wallop them unmercifully.

What in god's name were they thinking sending us to Perth next week instead of being the visiting team for the opening of the new stadium? When the ground itself was what the majority of people were coming to see there was no need to fall back on the old chestnut of the Pies being a guaranteed attraction, may as well have invited The Entertainers to come along and dismember the locals.

Final Thoughts
Last week the idea of being premiership favourites seemed ludicrous, now I expect that we'll plow through the season undefeated and win the Grand Final by 92 points. Put your house on it*

* Gamble responsibly.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Trial by video

Other than not going to any games last year (and the fixture suggests that's not changing until one of the last rounds this time), I'm about as into the idea of a Melbourne women's team as you can get. There are, however, some crucial differences - in the last minute of this match I might have been tense and nervously swearing, but there wasn't that same feeling of oncoming blackout and a major stroke as when the more established team are a goal up and defending grimly.

The more telling sign that interest hasn't reached AFLM levels is that when a country getaway was tacked on to the back of a Friday wedding I didn't throw a tantrum or threaten to go home early to watch because we didn't have access to Fox and/or Wi-Fi. I just enacted a social/old style media ban and watched live the next day. This should not be considered a slight on the AFLWists, it's just that when you're already blocking out 24 days a year to watch either pre or regular season games (but not finals) it makes it difficult to play the "drop everything for the Dees" card on the first Saturday in February.

If it's any consolation, the process of trying to avoid the score caused me significantly more hardship than you'd expect. Checking Twitter is my black-lung free version of being a two carton a day chain-smoker. Any time where I'm unoccupied it's my go-to time-filler and top source of reassurance that nothing interesting is happening that I don't know about. Sure, in the absence of footy and/or social media I spent quality time with my loved ones instead but in an ideal world that could have been combined with the elevated blood pressure that comes from watching any Melbourne Football Club team play anything but AFLX or laser class dinghy racing.

If I'd grown up in the pre-personal computer era I'd have probably done something magnificent with my life, instead I discovered (in order) the Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive, Championship/Football Manager, Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter. Now I'm content to play out time like a cricket team trying to bat for a draw on the fifth day. Anyway, enough of my mid-life crisis.

The season started with Carlton and Collingwood on Friday night, which I didn't see a second of but am reliably informed was a bit of a slopfest. At least for the first time in years Carlton has gone two years without being responsible for ruining an opening game blockbuster. The first sign that Melbourne is ahead of the rest of the league - and it's only in AFLW that you'll ever heard that said in a positive way - came on Thursday night when the announced team suggested Daisy Pearce would play at full-forward. The Giants were not fooled, tagging her to buggery in the midfield for the first half before class toppled niggle.

Last year when I had to watch a game on TV that I should have been at it was a traumatic experience, this time when I wouldn't have been doing a three-hour roundtrip to Casey even if I had been able to it was a much more comfortable experience. You can even fast forward through the time-filling waffle at the breaks, this is something I might get into (albeit with a much tighter time frame) in a few years when I've completely snatched it with society and am refusing to leave the house.

We were expected to beat the Giants in a canter, and that's where things usually go wrong for any team called Melbourne. It didn't work last year (on the day we completed the male/female double of giving GWS teams their only win of the season), and nearly went the same way this time. Again it was the story of a much better team failing to take advantage of their dominance and being punished on the counter-attack, the only difference (other than the game not being played at the ludicrous time of 5.05 on a Friday night) being that we narrowly got away with it.

The quality of the game was up and down again (at least adjusted for the tripe I've seen the men dish up for years), but does that particularly matter? It certainly does to some people, either rushing to sook up over the level of coverage the competition gets or attacking anyone who even gently criticises the game as if they've demanded all women be forced back into the kitchen at gunpoint.

As usual the dickheads at either extremity of a debate ruin it, leaving the truth somewhere in the middle. Mind you there was something to be said about Scot Palmer, the man who's previous contribution to women in sport has been to put them on the back page of the paper in their knickers, calling for the game to become 16-a-side when it already is. If you're offended by the standard of play don't act like you're forced to watch, and if you don't like the coverage it's getting then consider what outlets you're getting your news from. And if you're from the other end of the nuffy spectrum, accept that not everyone's going to think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread just because you do.

On the whole, the competition existing and being covered in the media cannot be anything other than a good thing. My kid saw a story on the news about the season launch, and 30 seconds later she reemerged clutching a toy footy and asking to have a kick. If that sort of thing means a few years where disposals are sprayed like an out of control fire hose then so be it. And if it reaches the point where I can't handle watching I... won't. Besides, what more could you ask for than rookie commentator and former best supporting actor in a group sex scandal Leigh Montagna refer to a trio of players as a "threesome"?

Last year the Giants won the spoon with stuff all percentage, but have reportedly bolstered their side with experience and were far from the pushovers I was hoping for. It didn't look promising for them when Karen Paxman stormed through the middle at the first bounce like a truck with a brick on the accelerator and pumped the ball into attack, but it came to nothing for want of anyone to get on the other end. Because they're a team called Melbourne the women did all the hard work attacking into the wind, failed to capitalise with any score, and conceded a goal the first time they were called upon to defend. Like Melbourne Sr it looked like everyone pushed up the ground to get into the attack and were caught by surprise when the ball was quickly launched in the opposite direction. All it lacked was a female Neville Jetta gamely taking on players twice her size.

I've no doubt some people are in love with the idea, but the last touch free kick rule proved to be as much of a shambles as when it was trialled in the NAB Cup. The last thing umpires need is more interpretations, and they couldn't work out between them what the definition of a disposal was - in the first quarter the ball bounced off a player's foot and went out for a throw-in, then later the ball bouncing off the toe while attempting to gather it was penalised. What a fiasco.

If they have to do it, I was more comfortable with the pre-glory Richelle Cranston shanking a kick in the opposite direction to where it was meant to go. But they don't have to do it, when this rubbish is introduced to the men's game there will be a couple of weeks of people pretending it's an improvement before everyone realises how much they miss the underrated beauty of stoppages. It's a bad enough rule as it is, but fancy introducing it to a competition that is already struggling to find enough players who can accurately dispose of the ball. Naturally the puppet commentators loved it, claiming it would encourage players to go down the corridor. Why is that automatically a good thing? It was so successful that 90% of transitions out of defence went down the boundary line.

Just when it looked like we were due for a Super Stinear Quarter, we calmed the nerves with a goal through Shelley Scott in the last three minutes. This prompted what sounded like somebody firing a shotgun in celebration

It took until the last three minutes to finally get a goal (it would be rude to refer to it as a Stinear Quarter considering the games are lower scoring), with Shelley Scott prompting what sounded like somebody firing a shotgun outside Casey Fields in celebration. I thought it might have been a reference to her putting away lame animals in her second career as a dairy farmer, but it turns out they were fireworks that went off for every Melbourne goal. Also for one behind, where somebody pressed the wrong button and they shot off unexpectedly like a Hawaiian nuclear missile alert. I'm not the target market for such gimmicks, but aren't daytime fireworks a bit unnecessary?

We should have had a second goal immediately after, with Paxman missing a sitter with her eighth disposal of the quarter before mysteriously doing her back and disappearing for the rest of the game. Next thing you know, GWS were converting their second decent inside 50 of the quarter into a goal. In the grandest MFC tradition of helping the inexperienced and not very good, the goal was conceded to an Irish player who didn't know how to bounce or kick a drop punt. According to the commentary she was the league's first international recruit, which must have come as a surprise to her countrywoman Laura Duryea who was standing about five metres away. Conceding goals to unconventional Irish GWS players holds no fear for me, I was there when The Big Setant kicked five.

Our dominance of the inside 50s came to nothing, with nobody able to take a mark, and a collection of easy chances inside 20 metres missed. It may have been the wind (we would shortly find out it wasn't), or the midweek loss of 2017 leading goalkicker Alyssa Mifsud to concussion, or more likely GWS had studied the voodoo hex North Melbourne's got on our men's team and were trying to became the female equivalent. After the first quarter there were significant nerves about flubbing another game against them, and they were exacerbated 90 seconds into the second when Bianca Jakobsson was pinged after forgetting that in the Acting Football League you have to pretend you're trying to get rid of the ball until the umpire is satisfied at the quality of your performance.

Finally, Aleisha Newman, who was very good in the last few weeks of 2017, became the first player to take a decent mark. The problem was she was 40 metres out and no chance of making the distance. With nobody offering a lead she tried to kick the cover off it, and it rolled out in the left forward pocket for a Giants free. So, you get a point for only just sneaking the ball through the scoring area, but two foot to the left and it's a free? Get to buggery.

The key highlight of the second quarter was Emma Humphries winning a free kick for holding the ball, only for Lily Mithen to bulldoze her with the player who'd just conceded and try to take it herself. The ball was returned to its rightful owner, but yet again it came to nothing as we continued doing our bit to get new Giants coach Alan McConnell a maiden AFL win 7825 days after his last game in charge of Fitzroy. Which is also roughly how long it's been since we've beaten North.

With few marks forthcoming inside 50, we had to rely on free kicks. When debutante Kate Hore got one 20 metres out it should have been the second goal, but she got excited and thumped it into the mark instead. Imagine a Melbourne side going into a game as a red-hot favourite and shitting the bed? In this case they're premiership favourites, which makes it even worse. It wasn't all self-inflicted, though I'm not sure how that premiership favourite status is holding up, we let the Giants off the hook with a few horrendous shots at goal, but overall they were tremendously well organised without having to try and ruin the contest just to stay close.

Last year it took until late in the season to find medium-sized forwards, and they were on strike again in the first half here. Having a fit Paxman would have helped in the overall scheme of things, but it's not like we weren't making enough opportunities up front. In Mifsud's absence, first gamer Tegan Cunningham was practically unsighted in the first half at full forward and nobody else looked likely to conjure up a goal from anything more than a mad scramble either. Cunningham finally got her chance, running into an open goal after a perfect set-up from Elise O'Dea, and from there she got her confidence up and looked far more likely. O'Dea was great throughout, she wasn't the match-winner but an excellent four quarter contributor nonetheless.

That goal quickly begat another, with Skim Milk Scott intelligently laying a kick to the square for Cranston to put us in front. The lead almost disappeared immediately, with the last touch fiasco handing the Giants a shot on goal from the pocket as Mel Hickey's entirely serious attempt at gathering the ball was thwarted by it bouncing off her toe. The rule says 'last disposal', so it shouldn't have been paid anyway - but what does that say about making the umpires come up with another snap decision on a player's intent like they're bloody mind readers?

The Giants put the resulting free out on the full, but how in god's name is a player giving away a shot on goal by fumbling the ball off her foot while trying to do the right thing and pick it up good for the game? Don't give me any soccer or basketball references, in neither sport do you get a shot on goal directly from the out of bounds free (thank you Martin Tyler, I know you can score directly from a corner. But how often does it happen?). It will take a lot to drive me away from live attendance, but if they reduce the length of games and introduce this as a rule into the men's season I can justify staying home and watching on TV.

Missing a silver platter chance like that had disastrous consequences for the Giants, the Casey Fields 10 shotgun salute (well, they do play in Cranbourne) was off and running again when Kate Hore ran into an open goal and dinked it through with such a lack of force that she'd have been accused of sarcasm if it had been intentional. I was hoping that finally extending the margin beyond a goal would be all the Giants needed to call it a day, but they replied quickly via a free where our defender was pinged for holding the ball by an unsighted umpire who just guessed she hadn't handballed. At the following centre bounce Lauren Pearce stuck her boot through the midsection of her opponent like she was playing Mortal Kombat and an umpire looking straight at it didn't give a shit.

By three quarter time we were behind again, a ridiculous short kick-in routine failed spectacularly and allowed GWS to put together the famous seven-point play. Short kick-ins towards the boundary line were a nutty idea in this format, even before the new rules. If you can't find a target on her own at least 30 metres out just thump it long and hope for the best.

At three quarter time it was looking a bit ropey, before Cranston plowed through the forward 50 and restored the lead early in the last. This would have been a wonderful time to reassert our natural superiority, break their spirit and extend McConnell's wait for at least one more week. The concern was that if we left the margin within a goal the Giants were certain to exploit our defensive structures going to water at some point and get a cheap one out the back.

CranstonMania continued when she set up Scott's second, using her strength to bust through a tackle just long enough to get boot to ball and force it to the top of the square. Once more that should have been it, before the next thing you knew the Irish lady who couldn't drop punt tried one from long distance and nearly got all of it. The margin was back to a point, and with eight minutes left I could smell a rat. We could go forward a dozen times, but if we didn't score the Giants were dangerous exiting 50. Can we hold a combined summit of all our male and female players and teach them how not to get ransacked on the rebound?

Scores were tied with six minutes left when The League's First International Recruit took about 30 steps running around in circles, then fell over into one of our player's arm and was given a free. This is where the club has gone wrong for so long, recruiting top rated rookies instead of half-stacking the side with internationals and enjoying the umpiring sympathy vote.

Everyone knows Rocky IV is the best of the lot, but this time it was Rocky III that did the business. If we even conceded a point I didn't fancy our chances of getting to the other end and kicking a goal, before sweet, delightful crumb got us out of jail. Cranston turned up again to power through a number of Giants would-be tacklers and snap her third. That left the margin an even goal, still enough for us to stuff up with another outrageous kick-in blunder. The Giants had a last chance at going forward, before we were saved by a great contested defensive mark by Saint Daisy. Pearce was well held in the first half, before breaking free in the second but this was her finest moment.

In the interest of calming the nerves, the ball was down the right end when the siren went. It was significantly more difficult than it needed to be, but we got there in the end.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
And here we are, with the ludicrous scenario of a player in contention to win her own award. Let's be honest, it was going to named after her when she retires anyway, so let's just get straight to it.

5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Richelle Cranston
3 - Shelley Scott
2 - Daisy Pearce
1 - Erin Hoare

Apologies to Hickey and Downie, with special consideration for Karen Paxman being well on the way to five votes before injury.

Banner Watch
Not for the first time GWS had serious transparency issues, this time with crepe paper so thin you couldn't properly read what was on either side. On the other hand we rolled out one straight from a industrial printing press, which is not in the spirit of Banner Watch but still shat on what the Giants were bringing to the contest. Dees 1-0 for the season.

Meanwhile, I would like to submit an idea for a Secret of Monkey Island inspired Shelley Scott banner:

Crowd Watch
You couldn't expect GWS to wear an alternative strip because they were clashing with our major sponsor, but still... Secondly, what the fuck does "it takes a team to make a groundbreaker" mean?
Uniform Watch
Why were the 1's on Duryea's jumper so comically far apart?

Next Week
Back to Casey for a crucial game against Adelaide. With five left after that beating them wouldn't guarantee anything, but it would leave them 0-2 and their premiership defence in more trouble than the early settlers. There's a suggestion Paxman might be right to play, which would help. Meanwhile, I'm in no way qualified to suggest ins and outs, but it will be interesting to see if Mifsud is rushed straight back in.

Final Thoughts
As we discovered last year, the margin of error in this competition is razor-thin and a loss here would have drastically reduced our chances of making the Grand Final. Put your Sack Stinear campaign on ice, now we can reluctantly wear a loss next week (if we have to) and still be alive in top two calculations. Melbourne wins, there should be more of them.