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.

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