Monday 25 February 2019

The Cardiac Club

On paper the world's greatest expansion team should have beaten us easily like they have everyone else so far, but I held some hope based on a) the ease of the Brisbane win last week and perhaps more hopefully b) Northern Tasmania not coping with warm conditions after barely ever playing on the mainland of Australia. For the second time this season we faced an interstate team at a warm, windy Casey Fields and fell agonisingly short of victory. This may be a familiar feeling to you, we've now lost seven games in three years and five of those have been by less than a goal.

In trying to slay what has been built up as an unbeatable machine I'd like to have got off to a hot start, and indeed like most weeks we attacked early for no reward. You did get the feeling we'd have scored against a lesser team, but North were set up well. Even when excitement machine Aleisha Newman grabbed a ball of the pack and had a quick shot around the corner there was a 'goalkeeper' in the square to stop it.

The early difference was with the quality of set shots by the forwards. Special K spokeswoman Mo Hope goalled from a free (this becomes quite the trend) with a 40 metre set shot, while down the other end we had a player standing roughly the same distance out with a light breeze in her face and she had to try a short pass that came to nothing. After our record setting marks inside 50 tally last week it was back to struggling to create set shot opportunities, and again most of the marks came too far out for anyone to do anything with them.

With marks inside 30 metres absent it fell to Cat Phillips to create her own opportunity by first smothering, then converting on the run for her first goal since the 2017 Freo avalanche. Despite this, and keeping them without another goal for the rest of the quarter, North always looked far more likely to score while we were back to making forward movements seem overly complicated. Getting away with a 6-7 quarter time deficit was welcome but didn't feel sustainable.

North looked more likely to score, while we reverted to our good opposition stance of making forward movements look overly complicated. Got away with a 6-7 quarter time deficit, but it didn't look sustainable. There wasn't much in the way of loose footy inside 50, Zanker did a great job as a second ruck but couldn't get the ball in her hand forward. Neither did Cunningham at first, though she came good later in both kicking goals and punching opponents in the guts.

The second quarter started with Lauren Pearce's latest Max Gawn (or if you prefer, the next big thing Braydon Preuss) impersonation in the middle, but we lost the centre clearance and the female Kent Kingsley, Mo Hope inadvertently set up a goal with an ambitious shot that fell short into the arms of a giraffe like forward thrilling wearing #60. She got two in a row, and when we blew a golden chance at a goal by stuffing up a snap from the top of the square I gave up all hope and started to work on the Ms. Bradbury Plan.

Googling AFLW ladder brought up a page that implied the conference system had been abolished,

But sadly no, sanity has not prevailed and the real thing was elsewhere, confirming that we're still going to miss out with a record that would probably win Group B.

Also from the AFLW website, the birth of children described in terms of how exciting it will be for supporters. Presumably Daisy and Mr Daisy are very happy with this development as well.

I was already piecing the plan together when Cunningham turned up to take a couple of inside 50 grabs and kick a goal that cut the gap to five. She celebrated with a casual jab to an opponent on the ground that the match review panel/individual will definitely go her for out of spite at their suspension from last week being overturned.

That glory didn't last for long, a series of bullshit frees marched North to the square for their reply. A margin of 10 at half time wasn't insurmountable if we got a run on, but you felt (rightly as it turned out) they had enough to keep us at bay - including one defender who was getting in the way of everything we tried. Our control of the ball was good until it got to the half-forward line, then it was all out guesswork and hoping for the best.

We finally had to make a goal of nothing, with Newman on the end of some silky ball movement to fly through the middle of the ground and roll it through an unguarded square. Next thing you knew Tyla Hanks kicked one off the outside of her boot, we were in front, and my half time investigation of the fixture to see how we might fall into second place seemed premature. Then straight out of the middle Mo Kingsley wound up with another set shot, now has more than 25% of her career AFLW goals against us and the advantage was lost.

The last quarter was watched with a significantly high degree of difficulty, on a moving train full of nuffies going to an Eminem concert. I avoided being held up for my phone by a man in a yellow tracksuit long enough to see us half stuff up and half be rorted by a serious of mystifying decisions. It started well enough with Newman's second goal, but we failed to put them away.

After 3.5 quarters of thumping each other both teams were flagging when Paxman gave away an unnecessary 50 with the ball in our forward line, and next thing it was down the other end with #60 getting one of the all time great BULLSHIT in the back frees for the go ahead goal. The only explanation I have is that something happened off the ball but the callers didn't notice because Kate Sheahan was talking the greatest degree of special comments bollocks since Malcolm Blight and Leigh Montagna was constantly correcting himself from saying "ruckman" like he was going to be frogmarched from the stadium for lacking gender awareness. If his peripheral involvement in one of the most prominent footy sex scandals of the century isn't enough to DQ him from calling women's games I don't think grappling with preferred terminology is going to get him the sack.

The goal left us with three minutes to find a response, which was about as likely as the Reverend Fred Nile leading the Mardi Gras. We were partially responsible for our doom, but not helped by a series of bullshit free kicks in North's half of the ground. Ironically our chance at going forward was kept alive despite the ball with ball in hand stepping so far over the boundary line that she was nearly at Cranbourne Station.

It came to nothing, we lost, and it's not only all or nothing for our remaining three games but we're into the familiar role of having to hope for other teams to fall over in front of us. Strange as it may seem, before this year we'd actually won more games by less than a goal than we'd lost.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
Despite almost beating the top team it was a pretty flat performance for voting purposes. For instance it was nowhere near Paxman's best game but still hard to leave her out of the top two because of a lack of other convincing options. Your views may vary, start your own blog.

5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Tegan Cunningham
1 - Aleisha Newman

The plot thickens at the top, as Pearce puts some space in front of the surprisingly flat O'Dea but concedes one off her lead on Paxman.

17 - Lauren Pearce
13 - Karen Paxman
9 - Elise O'Dea
7 - Lily Mithen
4 - Harriet Cordner, Aleisha Newman

2 - Tegan Cunningham, Tyla Hanks, Eden Zanker

Ms. Bradbury Plan
Our last three games are GWS (win), Bulldogs (win?) and Adelaide (win??), and any losses will consign this plan straight to the tip but assuming we keep our destiny at least partially in our own hands by winning we want:

North to win every week and finish top unbeaten, starting with Adelaide next week. If the Crows win then shut the gate. Would be nice - but unlikely - for Adelaide to lose against GWS as well.

Equally unlikely is the Bulldogs beating Freo next week. If they do that then lose to us they're probably out of the race anyway, but losing to Carlton in the final round would make sure they were dead and buried. If the Dockers win against Footscray then they must lose to both Geelong and North. The latter I can see, but they would start favourites against Geelong.

As long as North beat the Crows I can see it coming down to the last game again. And we all know what's going to happen there...

Crowd Watch
I know they're in Cranbourne, but I'm sure a kid in the background of that kick was drinking Woodstock. Turns out not far from the truth:
Next Week
GWS should be nothing more than a speed bump, but I'm still not over that shambles of a defeat in the first season when they were 100% no good. Now they're at least competitive so anything could happen. Should win, must win.

Final thoughts
It's becoming increasingly obvious that this team is destined to fall heartbreakingly short at every opportunity, until the point where there's a full compliment of 18 teams in the league and winning a flag becomes as difficult as the men's competition. At least North's success means they'll neuter the four 2020 expansion sides to make sure they're not too good too soon, but the premiership window is still shrinking. Time to turn to any sort of unhanded and potentially illegal tactic short of injecting the players with Mexican greyhound racing drugs.

Saturday 23 February 2019

One win down, 27 to go.

Welcome to our 15th year of covering senior men's Australian Rules football as played by - or in some years around - the Melbourne Football Club. When this blog started Olympic Park was still being used for school athletics carnivals, now it's a public access venue where you can let your dog drop a steamer in the goalsquare and play largely tension free pre-season scratch matches. Year 15 begins like Year 1, with a win in a throwaway low profile match.

In the club's much anticipated return to games in the Olympic Park precinct for the first time since 1932 we won and nobody dislocated their spine, so while like bowling a strike in the first frame I can't confirm it's a pointer to future success I'll take the zero points and run.

When the club played its first game at the fancifully named Motordrome in '32 there was an early outbreak of matchday experience when they had commentators calling the game over loudspeakers. At least for a few minutes until fans and players alike complained and it was stopped. Fittingly in our return to the same piece of land nearly 77 years later somebody pulled the plug on this coverage too. This time inadvertently:

At first I felt like a traitor for not going, but the shenanigans of the broadcast made it all worthwhile. The kicked cable was just the main event of a cavalcade of technical mishaps that elevated the viewing experience beyond just live streaming of a scratch match and into something to be fondly remembered. Footy wasn't bad either. Last time I went to this ground was for a corporate AFL 9s tournament where I nearly kicked through the wrong posts running into an open goal and was comprehensively battered by a team of Collingwood assistant coaches/hangers on where Simon Prestigiacomo of all people persecuted us at full forward with about nine goals.

We should have known something exciting was on the way when shortly before the coverage started you heard somebody on a live mic say "this happens every time". The 'this' they were referring to obviously wasn't all the microphones working, because we then got about five minutes of pre-match chat with Nathan Jones where you couldn't hear a word he was saying. Eventually somebody off-camera let them know, so he removed his headset and talked into a handheld microphone that didn't work either. After 15 awkward minutes the co-host roped in from the Herald Sun was ejected so Jones could use his microphone. He got to talk for about 30 seconds before the game started and he was moved on.

The first bounce was a case of starting as you mean to go on, with the umpires pinging Gawn for allegedly jumping into his opponent at the bounce. Looked like a regulation contest to me, but the Administrative Free League is nothing without baffling decisions that even the players involved don't understand. To cap off a great first two minutes for anti-umpire sentiment, Collingwood's first goal came from another randomly plucked free.

This is where the lights went out on Olympic Boulevard. Jones was called back on mic to give his thoughts, and the effort taken to find him a working microphone caused the feed to shut down. As far as major sponsors went it was OUT: Zurich, IN: Baghdad. I was hoping that the umpire had been standing in the middle waiting for the 'all clear' light from the host broadcaster the whole time. Alas no, and we recovered vision after about 10 minutes just after American History X lookalike Braydon Preuss had kicked his first and was running around throwing high fives to all and sundry.

The power was back, but the strain on the commentary team had taken its toll and they were unheard for a few minutes, replaced by the pleasant background noise of the crowd, before somebody said "we'll start calling again" and all the audio dropped out. At least this time the pictures survived, allowing us to salivate over a towering Weideman mark in the square for a second goal that tied it at 13.

Watching in silence was better than not watching at all, or with Dwayne involved, but it was still unnerving. If they'd switched to black and white - and by this stage you couldn't rule anything out - it would have looked like one of those unearthed films of the 1912 Grand Final discovered under somebody's floorboards. Even on an enforced mute you knew it was pre-season because a) a player was stretching out during the first quarter, b) the Man with a Van truck stopped in traffic directly behind the play, and c) there was a one-two goalkicking punch of Billy Stretch and Jay Kennedy-Harris that put us two goals up at quarter time. At which point the feed spiralled into death again and somebody tried to reboot the computer.

From the half a quarter I could see our ball movement looked good, and when it comes to pre-season games you assume anything that works will also go well in the real stuff while anything that goes wrong is instantly dismissed as meaningless.

After scaring the bejesus out of anyone listening on headphones with the sound of a plane nearly plowing into the ground, the second quarter resumed with pictures, crowd noise from people standing next to the commentary area, somebody saying a loud and clear "TESTING MIC THREE!" then shitloads of static like mic three had been dropped into a bucket of water. Forget going to see the game live, I was having 300% more fun with the non-stop thrill ride of waiting to see what would happen to the live stream next. Amidst this carnage they were so moved by a Joel Smith screamer that a replay ran, risking putting the coverage off the air for good.

Smith's massive grab was welcome, but not as much as Preuss dismissing his opponent at a forward 50 ball up with the greatest of ease and turning to snap a goal. There were plenty of times last year where we didn't take advantage of stoppages inside 50 due to McSizzle battling manfully to break even so this could be a game (CLICHE) changer. With no Brodie Grundy the opposition ruckman could have been from the Leeward Islands for all I know, but our ruck combination looked hotter than the sun.

Preuss' goal inspired the commentary to return again, with one bloke presumably using mic three who could be heard properly, and another who briefly sounded like he was on the phone from the bottom of a tin mine in Chad, then dropped out entirely again.

We dominated on the scoreboard in the second quarter, but the Pies certainly had their chances. They just kicked for goal like a dose of leprosy had run through the squad until sneaking a cheap one right at the end. Being let off the hook occasionally didn't cause me too much heartache, add Lever and May to the defence, Sizzle and Milkshake to the forwards and Oliver/Viney into the midfield and start counting dollars.

If I've got anything to be concerned about - other than a shithouse early draw - it's that our forward line is too tall. They looked really good here but crumb was in short supply. Garlett didn't do much until the last quarter so Melksham, Petracca and the midfield will have to chip in. The goal will have to be to exploit this 6-6-6 positioning nonsense to get quick kicks from the middle straight to the marking talls and never let the ball hit the ground. Corey Wagner of all people stuffed one through from a goalmouth scramble late in the quarter but I'm not pinning my hopes on that happening every week.

After walking out of the room for a second I returned to hear what sounded like Robert Walls being interviewed. Turned out to be Gary Pert, exercising the CEO's option to a working mic. Later they had Josh Mahoney on, and for all the weird stuff that was going on I appreciated their light entertainment presentation rather than trying to call every bit of the action. Ok in the pre-season, likely to provoke murder if Basil Zempilas returns to do it from Round 1.

It was a solid first half, and the third started flawlessly via quick ball movements setting up Tim Smith to run onto a loose ball in the square and boot it through. The Collingwood defender was convinced it had already crossed the line, but stiff shit if you're hoping for a goal review in a practice match. If that was questionable then the second free of the quarter was even worse, with Weid getting a soft as butter free that he missed from close range.

If the latest set of off-season rule changes were supposed to encourage scoring then we might be on the end of another few before Round 1. Stand by for a couple of high scoring games in the first few weeks that cause spectacle-chasing journos to declare the game is BACK (when it was never went anywhere in the first place), before coaches twig and put the screws on, leaving the same reporters banging the door down to try and get the rules changed to create 150-149 thrillers.

The scoring might not have gone off the charts, but we still did our bit for entertainment. It took 15 minutes for the second goal of the quarter, but it came via a moment of rare beauty. Petracca delivered a lightning handball off the deck, which Harmes expertly collected and finished without breaking stride. That is the sort of stuff that will make 30 mystery free kicks and 50s for going north/south instead of east/west worthwhile.

We'd seen enough in the first three quarters that flubbing a 25 point three quarter time lead wouldn't matter that much, but I still instinctively tensed up when they got the first goal of the final term. The gene that always has me on high alert for a shambles is going to take a generation to be evolved out of the species. Fortunately Garlett quickly bobbed up for almost the first time all day to pluck the ball off a marking contest and roll through an open goal to calm whatever misplaced nerves I had.

Garbage trucks were seen going down Punt Road midway through the quarter as junk time was declared. Nobody wanted to be the player to make all the fears about AFLX injuries look silly by necking themselves in a real game on the same day. Almost everyone complied, except the real nutters like Aaron vandenBerg who only have one setting. I clambered onto the vandWagon for 2019 when he split a Pies player in two with a ball-tearer of a tackle that directly led to Anal-Bullet drilling the sealer. Midfield vandenBerg is best vandenBerg, and this was a classic mismatch of a player who was happy to get to the siren unscathed meeting somebody who is genetically predisposed to thumping people.

Nothing is certain in this competition, but it was as good a hitout as you were going to get against a 75% strength opposition who were also missing a swathe of their best players. I'm nowhere near as convinced as most that these are two automatically top four teams, but I can see us sticking around the same spot as them for the next few years. Now that we've beaten them in women's football and bruise free football (with apologies to AVB) time to get back to doing it in the real stuff.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-season performance
Votes are always subjective, more so when you don't see half the first quarter. I feel the integrity of the Plate (former winners include Lumumba, Watts, Howe and Hogan) is in question if I award, so I just went by the bests on the club website. This was risky considering the same article suggested Tim Smith was battling Spargo and Garlett for a small forward position (pardon?) but reasonably well aligned to my views.

5 - Max Gawn
4 - Braydon Preuss
3 - James Harmes
2 - Christian Salem
1 - Angus Brayshaw

I also liked Hore, who would have walked into our Round 1 back when our defence was solid as Iraq but will now need to wait until the other defenders suffer their inevitable injuries.

Banner Watch
The Demon Army are good, but even I don't expect them to do something for a half-arsed match. Instead, here's a classic of the genre:
I managed to retain some of my principles by refusing to participate in AFLX, but congratulations to Bayley Fritsch for lifting his second premiership and instantly becoming the greatest player in the history of the sport. Thanks to the millions of international viewers foaming at the mouth to get involved he'll never have to buy a drink in Shanghai again

AFLW coverage from Casey. I'll be reviewing off the TV, so if you want to have a bash at guest reporting (either live or from the not-Cranbourne security of your couch) please get in touch via the usual channels. In case you missed it, but mostly because I really like the headline, here's the post from last week.

Next Week
Richmond at Shepparton, in a fixture that in past years I'd have dropped everything to attend. Now because I'm dealing with a midlife crisis I'll be going off the grid while at work and watching late Sunday night. Here's to a respectable performance against Richmond providing us further signs of a safe, top eight at least life.

Final Thoughts
I don't really think we're going to win the flag (though a lot of that is self-preservation so I don't get sad if it goes wrong), but what I took out of this is that we're not going to be shit. In many years that was all that we could ask for in the first game of the season, now let us get to the task of piledriving everybody in sight.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Venue: Hickey, Opposition: Sucked

After the defence-free Round 1 loss to Fremantle, last week's victory over the proven putrid Collingwood was as least convincing as you're ever likely to get while holding a team goalless until the last four minutes. That - and the fact that we've been drawn in the good team 'conference' (spew) instead of Jabroni Alley - made this the rubber match to decide whether we stayed alive or started calling Daisy's obstetrician to see if she'll be right to return next season. Speaking of rubber, the game was played at Hickey Park, which sounds like a Makeout Creek style colloquial name for somewhere teenagers go to have it off.

A tune up game against another pox Conference B team would have been preferable to away against two time grand finalists, until we treated them with contempt (both spiritually, and in Tegan Cunningham's case physically) on the way to the second biggest win in club history. Didn't say that coming, and neither did the Brisbane players going by the looks on their faces as we chipped it around and didn't let them get a kick. Makes my moaning after the first game - especially now that the Dockers are good - seem even more NQR.

Those of you who are into omens, sorcery and the dark arts would have been bleeding when our gigantic curtained banner neatly tore asunder on the breeze just as the players approached. I suspect it went out in grief at seeing Brisbane's perfectly normal curtainless crepe banner, which had a clever mid-riff design that meant the players could just run underneath it without the prospect of being coathangered.

The standard for banners in women's football remains:
Based on continued ruck titancy of Lauren Pearce, I was convinced we were the better team within the first couple of minutes but as always the concern was converting enough chances to insure us against the other sides kicking a couple of arsey goals and winning by three points. The first chance came from Pearce hitting a leading Eden Zanker with a perfect pass. The only issue is that at this stage of the AFLW's life there's no point taking set shots from 40 metres out, and when nobody could mark her kick to the square the first of what originally promised to be a million missed chances went begging.

Speaking of Zankers, the bloke commentating was a bit of an Eden. I'm all for new people having a go, but this bloke clearly thinks that the route straight to the top of his chosen profession is Triple M style buffoonery. The crumbtastic Aleisha Newman was referred to as Paul (we think because of the actor and not the MFC 2004 rookie), and Tyla Hanks was said to have a "Green Mile ahead of her" (because, you see her name is Hanks and... no wait, that's the extent of it), ignoring that the titular mile was the walk to the electric chair. Nor had the callers been briefed beyond the most basic of fun facts, leading us to the "Brad Green at Manchester United" style anecdotes around Harriet Cordner's family and Cat Phillips being a frisbee guru.

In a backline that was almost unbeaten, Cordner was a revelation on the usually dangerous Sabrina Frederick-Traub. In two previous starts she'd had less disposals against us than any other team in the competition but still kicked four of 15 career goals. It's a half-Kingsley, where the player doesn't play particularly well but still stitches you up. Not this time, the delivery forward was awful and every time she went near it Cordner et al jumped on her. Result - two kicks and not even the remotest threat of a match-winning performance.

Down the other end, our flawless ball movement set up Newman to trot through their forward 50 on her own to pop through an open goal. It was as well set up a goal as you'll see in any grade, and worthy of a spot on the end of season highlights laser disc/VHS/DVD/Blueray/digital download or YouTube compilation. Presumably it will get shunted off for a flashier goal featuring somebody kicking over their head, or as in the case of the reigning Goal of the Year winner's second, a player expertly crumbing off a pack and plowing through the opposition defence like a freight train obliterating a flock of sheep.

Even with Zanker missing the lot from the forward pocket our attack looks plenty more potent than last week against (arguably) better opposition. She might have missed, but the idea that we've got a player who can take overhead grabs in the general vicinity of the square is thrilling. The fancy banana kicks from the pocket or running out to improve the angle will come later, she will be a star after another couple of seasons of VFL and AFL games.

As Newman's second went through the prospect of a thrashing came into play, but that was it for us in the first quarter. Brisbane even got one back, threatening to waste all our good work in the traditional manner. It fell to the thrillingly named Jesse Tawhiow-Wardlaw, with the commentators steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the first half of her surname as if it was a) a taboo subject, or b) nobody had told them how to pronounce it. Ever Jasper McMillan-Pittard got the courtesy of them saying his full surname before he snubbed the McMillan wing of the family by ejecting them from his professional life.

That goal led to one of Brisbane's few threatening patches, but endless panic bombing towards Frederick-Traub (who got the reverse Tawhiow-Wardlaw treatment and was just referred to as 'Serena') came to nowt and they were left on one goal at the first change. It's not for me to tell them how to conduct their business, but it can't have helped having a player getting around in long sleeves. Either somebody had packed the wrong jumper, she has a genetic disorder which stops her from feeling heat, or I'm stereotyping Brisbane weather as tropical and she was just a bit chilly.

Like most of the quarters in the history of this fledgling organisation, the second started with us poised to put them out of their misery but we couldn't land a killer blow. Another perfect pass out of the middle by Pearce came marginally too far out for a goal, and Brisbane narrowly avoided paying full price from the resulting a kick-in disaster. Somehow from a near total stranglehold on the game we nearly conceded the opening goal of the second, with only a last ditch tackle from Emonson stopping them from walking into goal unchallenged.

Like most quarters in the history of the AFLW club, the second opened with us poised to put them away but lacking the killer blow. Another killer pass to a lead by Pearce came marginally too far out, and Brisbane only narrowly avoided conceding full points from the resulting kick-in disaster. Almost still conceded the first goal, with a last ditch tackle from Emonson the only thing between us and a counter-attack trot through an open goal.

As our forwards were having trouble putting the biscuit in the basket it was left to Cat Smith to wander forward and unexpectedly snap one off a pack. This meant Fox Footy had to halt their replay of Tegan Cunningham assassinating an opponent behind the play. It didn't help her cause as she was immediately reported anyway. There wasn't much in it but she'll probably get suspended anyway because they don't want parents to shit themselves and stop their daughters playing the game.

Of course there was a high probability that if you'd just let the Brisbane player run around unchallenged long enough she'd have blown her ACL, but that lacks the outrage points of a forearm to the back behind the play. Somebody must have lagged her to the umpire, because if he was going to report her anyway how come there wasn't a free kick in the first place?

With at least one Brisbane player trying to regain her equilibrium the next chance flowed closely behind, another entrant in the Festival of Kicking To A Lead. Somebody's gone back and watched all the tapes, because for possibly the first time ever the player (Zanker again) marked 40 metres out and didn't just try to kick the cover of it. She spotted Paxman in acres of space and hit her with a perfect pass instead and the floodgates sprung open. Zanker got her reward for setting up the last goal with another snapped around the body, before going into the ruck and winning a centre clearance that indirectly led to Newman's throwing another log on the bonfire with her third. The discount commentators spruiked a 32 point lead, it was actually 34 but Brisbane were not going to recover from either.

Things were going so well that we could afford the comical scenario of Zanker running onto a loose ball with no opponent within the same area code, then taking a half shot/half pass to a loose player in the square that did neither and rolled across the face of goal for nothing. She is the new Jakovich, capable of doing remarkable things one minute then stuffing up the blindingly obvious the next. It didn't matter, as Fox Footy's countdown clock failed for the second consecutive week, Bianca Jakobsson ran into an open goal and the landslide was on.

After half time our transition kicking remained top shelf, but for the first time all day Brisbane looked half-threatening going forward. Freewheeling, rampant Melbourne quarters are usually followed by ones where we're lucky to get one goal, and in this case that came in the last 10 seconds when a lolkick across the face of Brisbane's goal landed with Jakobsson for another. Unlike most times this season the wind helped us, holding her kick just inside the left post and getting us out of an average quarter (compared to the second anyway) at one goal each.

Until that kick - reminiscent of Jack Viney in that pre-season game against a fill-in laden Essendon - the highlight of the quarter was Cunningham clattering into the same player for a second time, running into her so hard she wasn't just seeing stars but constellations. Lucky she didn't got back for a third because it was veering into Muhammad Ali "I'll hit him so hard his ancestors will feel it" territory and a head-start on WNBL pre-season training.

With victory guaranteed, the last quarter was basically just Brisbane trying to avoid losing by 100. They stacked the backline, and late in the quarter had 2% time in their forward half. It made scoring difficult - and in the future of 6-6-6 positions being introduced everywhere I suppose they'd just be expected to get thrashed - but we still should have had the first. That woman Zanker set up Newman to run into an empty goal, but high on equally Richelle Cranston's record for three goals in a game the livewire forward tried the trick shot off the ground instead of just waltzing into an open goal. Nevertheless it helped confirm Brisbane weren't going to threaten.

The coup de grace came via the dangerous Cunningham marking, banging through her set shot and resisting the urge to go and knock that same Brisbane player over in celebration. It was one of 11 marks inside 50, which must be up there for the most ever in an AFLW game.

Brisbane's lack of interest in forward play saw them only register two inside 50s for the quarter. One where one of their players was closely pursued by three of ours, with nil but Demons downfield. That didn't end well. Her with long sleeves got a token one after the siren, which wouldn't seem to be too much of a problem except that we're in an absolute snakepit of a group that will probably be decided by such marginal percentage that the lost six points here will keep us out, while on the other side the top team has a 3-4 record.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Lauren Pearce
4 - Harriet Cordner
3 - Aleisha Newman
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Elise O'Dea

Major apologies to Zanker, Phillips and Jakobsson.

There's a boilover brewing. I don't profess to know enough to set a betting market for the Daisy but you'd have got reasonable odds at Pearce winning. It's not over by any stretch of the imagination, but if Max Gawn isn't the first ruckman to win a top award on this page he might drop his everyman persona and punch on. 

14 - Lauren Pearce
9 - Elise O'Dea, Karen Paxman
4 - Harriet Cordner
3 - Aleisha Newman
2 - Tyla Hanks, Lily Mithen, Eden Zanker

Next week
I thought this was a test, but at the unusual time of 4.05pm next Sunday we return to Casey Fields for a season defining clash one way or another. If Fremantle beat Adelaide in Darwin the night before (what is it, a bronze medal match for teams our men thrashed in the NT last season?) then a loss against the Roos will leave us in more trouble than the early settlers with three games to play.

No doubt Casey will serve up another bullshit game where there's a 400km/h breeze favouring the pockets, which might come in handy for us because we could probably do with necking the score against a team averaging over seven goals a game. Or for those of who with more courage than me, we could just try to beat them in a shootout. Either way I'm not keen on our chances, but it will be the first good team North has played so here's to them shitting the first time Pearce clambers over their ruckman and delivers a fearsome tap.

Final thoughts
I'm back on the bandwagon. Mick Stinear, please address abusive mail to PO Box 9994 in your capital city.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Unsack everyone

Funny old game, last week in wind-affected conditions we conceded a near record score, now in similar bluster the opposition go within four minutes of being held goalless.

It was back to Victoria Park for any sort of premiership points for the first time since Jako kicked seven in 1992. A time when, amongst other since discredited political views, most of the crowd would have probably spewed up over the prospect of a women's team occupying the turf. Now over 7000 people turn up to see them play. The venue nostalgia seen at other suburban grounds (at least the ones people liked in the 80s, not Casey) suggests that's the peak of what they're going to get but it's still an achievement.

For about the fifth time in the life of AFLW, this was supposed to be my first live game. Not playing at Princes Park means this is the most accessible ground for me, so after convincing Junior to come along on the promise that it didn't go for as long as a "boy's game" (hello AFLX, I've found your target market) nothing could stop me. Except sideways pissing rain early in the afternoon and a deep suspicion that we'd barely get past half time before having to leave. In the end I left the decision up to her and she preferred to stay home and watch the My Little Pony movie.

Of course if I'd taken the gamble we'd have turned up just in time for it to be sunny for the first time all year (albeit with a firm breeze up the clackbag) but better to be safe than under the pump from a feisty four year old. Had the Pies actually gone goalless I'd have been kicking myself at missing out on history, but had to settle for a level of live coverage that the people of 1992 would have been flabbergasted by. 15 years ago you'd still get dickheads hosting the replay and ruining the first three quarters by hinting at a thriller, now I could watch a semi-professional women's league streaming through a computer because my TV was occupied with kid shows.

I might have been a touch hysterical in going off after last week, but memories of turning a 14 point lead into being thrashed against the Pies last year concerned me, for an 0-2 start would be all but fatal. I still think we'll need to pull off a string of upsets - starting next week - to make it. This is not life or death stuff to me like the men, but the idea of having any Melbourne FC season end after Round 2 is something I'd like to leave back in 2013.

My concerns about another screwjob were not helped by the wind. Like Casey it was blowing to one end, meaning one botched quarter while using it could have been fatal. In this case it was not only blowing to one end by seemingly diagonally across the ground. For all the excessive excitement about playing games at these allegedly much beloved suburban grounds I put it to you that the last thing a competition developing the skills of a generation of players needs is a tornado randomly whisking the ball across the ground. Fortunately for fans of grounds that were no good even in their heyday, there are scant options for playing anywhere that neutralises the conditions. It might work in the women's favour, like being forced by the conditions into taking a gigantic evolutionary leap.

Those who didn't see the game won't be at all surprised to discover that we had all the play early. Even against the wind we looked far more likely to score for almost all of the quarter. And score we did, just not goals. For some reason the commentator had prepared a fun fact about Karen Paxman's first kick being the 298th of her career, then never provided any updates. Fans at home were forced to do their own maths to discover that her 299th, 300th and 301st were all points.

Naturally the ball being held up on the breeze made forward play difficult, but I can't help contrast the way we often move the ball down the ground via a series of solid marks only to find bugger all grabs inside 50. I'm down for Tegan Cunningham, and celebrations of her goal from an obscure angle last week were cruelly forgotten in my post, but no bloody good being that tall if you can't take an overhead mark. The best thing to an overhead mark - and probably preferable in these conditions - was to one down low, and that Cunningham did. In the conditions she was well too far out and set up Paxman for her second miss.

Owning the game into the wind but not taking advantage against opposition unable to escape from 50 was either going to lead to a flood of goals or quarter time scoreline gold for AFLW sceptics. We got the flood (of sorts) a quarter later, and I became a streaming sports sceptic when my coverage buffered for 20 seconds just as the Pies finally got the ball forward for a point. Admittedly it was the only time all day it dropped out, but imagine that happens in the dying seconds of a big game and I end up self-immolating outside Kayo Sports HQ.

It could have buffered for 30 minutes and I wouldn't have missed any goals. Our best chance fell to Aleisha Newman after a holding the ball free, but like all great crumbing forwards set shots aren't her go and the ball wafted out on the full from 20 metres. She should have handballed it into the ground, backheeled it over the woman on the mark, thrown two dummies then sunk a banana kick from the pocket.

The last few minutes of the quarter left open the possibility of the Pies being hemmed in on their own line for 15 minutes then stealing a late one. Even our nice link up kicks from earlier were out the door, replaced with hopeful hoof to nobody. They tried, they failed, and we held on to the decidedly unattractive scoreline of 3-2 at the break. Unless you were a Pies fan, the game was fine in every aspect other than our ability to turn a winning midfield - including the female Max Gawn, Lauren Pearce - into goals.

Step 1 in my guide to AFLW going through the roof is tall forwards taking overhead grabs, but right behind that is nifty crumbers who can grab the ball off the deck and make a goal out of nothing. Defences do enough - and ours was much improved based on last week, with much enjoyable intercept marking - and there is no problem with midfielders but give us marking bigs and crafty smalls then tell the medium sized forwards to go stand on a flank.

The return to Victoria Park was a sound reminder that people's views about how good the past was aren't always reliable. Take for instance Clive Palmer, who has a new ad featuring some paid ringers trying to rope in the female audience with a list of his achievements the last time around. Good idea to remind everyone about them, because all anyone remembers is the bloke buying the best position for a minor party in our history then fucking it up by running the joint like a Turkish bordello. I suspect it had about as much impact to the heavily female skewed audience as would Sam Newman popping up in blackface to tell them to get back to the kitchen.

If last week taught me anything, other than how you're not a real football team until some internet nuffy has tried to sack everyone after a Round 1 loss, it's that we are capable of doing damage with the wind in our favour. So I put the feet up and waited for the inevitable hailstorm of goals that wiped Victoria Park off the map once and for all. And I kept waiting. Pearce was practically unbeatable in the ruck, O'Dea and Paxman were mopping up possessions like they were going out of fashion, but even with the ball carrying miles on shots we had chuff all crumb so unless somebody took a mark we could only hope for a point at best.

Scoring is not everything. The people who fall over themselves to compare scores now to the 1898 VFL as if there's a relevance are almost as bad as the ones who bury entire savage, injury laden ground-ball contests based on the aggregate total but even as an unashamed supporter and defender of AFLW I was starting to lose interest. I had to reconsider my thinking. Either I didn't want to watch and I was free to turn over to professional caber tossing on Eurosport, or I did and could treat it like a soccer game and increase the value of any potential goals to near mythical levels.

The Karen Paxman Points Experience got out to 0.4 with another speculative long shot, before at last the mighty O'Dea put full points on the board. She grabbed the ball off the pack after a bounce and snapped over her shoulder, watching the ball evade everyone on its way into the goal. It was just the sort of instinctive, out of nowhere goal we needed after swinging and missing so many times on textbook attempts to score.

With less than 90 seconds left we got a helping hand from a Collingwood midfielder who was so shocked to get the ball against our razor gang midfield that she turned the wrong way and punted inside of 50. It rolled out of bounds, but even without tripping the mysterious rule where sometimes kicking the ball over the boundary leads to a free and sometimes it doesn't (fair enough too, you'd be the shittest umpire of all time to pin somebody for that) it led directly to a rapid fire second goal. The impressive Tyla Hanks gathered on the boundary and hit a fantastic pass to the leading Pearce on an obscure angle just outside the square. The angle + a ruck + the wind didn't give me much confidence but she popped it through and in the space of a minute we'd bought insurance against Collingwood doing anything with the advantage after half time.

If Collingwood was ever going to launch another Alice Springs style comeback from two goals down it had to happen in the third quarter. And didn't. There was no change to policy as we carried on like the first quarter into the wind, effectively transferring the ball with the greatest of ease until time came to find a forward. The only time we went close to scoring was a perfect Jesse Hogan-like (remember him?) dismissal of a defender before marking by Kate Hore. For the second time to that end a kick from 20 metres out directly in front swung well right, only just sneaking through for a point. With the Pies scoreless for the second straight quarter it was a great opportunity for guys who were definitely never going to watch AFLW again to put a foot through their TV.

With a 15 point buffer at the last break and the wind it was going to take a tremendous cock-up to lose, but if anybody is capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory it's us. Fortunately not, they got their token goal late but we'd already finished it off via Hanks.

It was as comprehensive a victory as you'd want everywhere but the scoreboard, plenty more disposals, a 31-12 inside 50 count (although that's an even more useless stat in AFLW than the men's game). However, as good as things look after a victory the fact remains that the Pies have been bobbins since Day 1 of this competition and I'm not at all convinced this will translate to playing against better sides.

Nevertheless, shut off access to and don't try and trade all our players to one of the 13 new sides coming in next season. All is temporarily well.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
In the first two seasons the big three were Paxman, O'Dea and Pearce. They still are.

5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Lily Mithen

Major apologies to Emonson, who was excellent in defence.

9 - Lauren Pearce
8 - Elise O'Dea
7 - Karen Paxman
2 - Tyla Hanks, Lily Mithen, Eden Zanker

Crowd Watch
The odd people with a Cat Phillips "fans not friends" banner were back. Must be some sort of obscure Ultimate Frisbee gag.

Next Week
Brisbane Lions at Hickey Park, which sounds like where 80s teenagers would pash on. It's somewhere in the State of Queensland, and given that it's February in the tropics you can be almost sure it will fair piss down at some stage. Even allowing for that great win at Casey Fields where we sent the Lions player off the deep end, they'll go in as favourites here. Not much use winning this game against somebody in another conference (*spit*) if we lose again against teams from our own. I reckon we'll lose. So sue me.

Final Thoughts
Where there's life there's hope.

Sunday 3 February 2019

What to expect when you're expecting

You'd be lucky to know about it considering the league's minimal promotion, but AFLW season three has arrived. In an unusual twist that still feels like a tremendously Melbourne way to end Round 1 we registered a score that would have beaten every team in the competition except the one we played and still ended up lower on the ladder than a team that kicked 1.11.

If it wasn't for following the relevant social media accounts I might not have known this game happened until Monday morning. If nothing else I'd have felt a disturbance in the force from all the men proving their status as MEN by going well out of their way to tell you how terrible the women's game is and how they certainly won't be watching. The same people usually come back later to tell you it was as bad as they thought it would be, proving they sat down to hatewatch the whole thing.

It's fine not to be interested, or to engage in a nuanced debate about the issues, but don't be the guy who says "what's next, a men's NETBALL league?!" as if that's the killer blow in the argument. As a solid Twitterist with a protected account sagely pointed out during the week there is a strong correlation between men falling over themselves to speak out against coverage of women's footy and those with a fixation about having something rammed down their throat.

Ironically most of us act exactly the same way as these questing, macho individuals when it comes to the coverage of AFLX, which can of course continue to piss up a short rope. If there's any difference - and to avoid looking like a hypocrite I'll pretend there is - it's that AFLX came out as a shameless corporate wankfest right from the gate, while AFLW is at least two seasons from disappearing up its own arse.

Anyway, for those of you not so butch that watching and/or reading about women playing football will convert you into a flaming homosexual overnight, it was off to Casey Fields. Metaphorically speaking anyway, Demonblog Towers will soon be shifting yet again but I'll still be 90 minutes and no chance away from ever attending a game there in person again.

My hopes for this season are not high, not before the game, and not even after kicking an almost unprecedented in this competition eight goals. Other than Daisy Pearce: OUT - Preggers none of the departures to expansion teams really cut me up, but I don't see where enough was added in the other direction to make up for the sum of the experience lost.

The introduction of conferences (ahem) and a four team finals system means one loss isn't as nigh on fatal as it was the first two seasons, but given that we've got Collingwood (not bad), Brisbane (quite good), North Melbourne (apparently very good) to come + games against the Bulldogs and Adelaide but no guaranteed win against Carlton best of luck to all involved. Even with a win here I'd have been willing to bet against making the finals, now I'm sure of it. Prove me wrong ladies, prove me wrong. Even just the token heartbreaking finals near miss will do.

My lack of confidence was narrowly proven correct, but my radar was out on the root of the problem by about 170 metres. Here I was expecting another season where we'd waste dozens of inside 50s by making attacking look more difficult than performing brain surgery, only to discover a defence who look like they'd been blindfolded, spun around and asked to jump over a broomstick. Since the first season of the competition I've been convinced that the secret to unlocking AFLW is to find a tall forward who can take overhead contested marks, and we went closer than ever to that today only to fall to bits at the other end and concede nine goals. This coming after losing a practice match 34-56. This may be a problem.

When I still thought we were going to live and die on wasted attacking opportunities (and does anyone doubt we'll go out and lose 21-20 next week now?), Freo at Casey felt like a good way to start the year. Ignore that FIASCO last year when we held them to zero inside 50s for the first quarter and still lost, and instead reminiscence about how they turned up demoralised for the last round of 2017 and were mercilessly curb-stomped. It's not too early to be nostalgic about previous eras. Apparently we were #1 for marks inside 50 last season, which must have meant also being #1 for comically botched attempts at scoring.

The problem with hoping for another outbreak of ruthless aggression was that a) they were high on life for Round 1 instead of losing the will to live on the way from Tullamarine to Cranbourne, and b) it was 38 degrees, with Casey's usual polar breezes the likes of which killed Scott of the Antarctic replaced with the likelihood of a roaring bushfire ripping through the district. And some lunatics wanted to plonk an A-League team (albeit temporarily) at the ground. Not only would any sensible people have stayed away, it would have led to goalkeeping howlers like this:

In 1986 I'd have got used to it, but I despise games with a wind blowing strongly to one end of the ground. The Western Oval can retrospectively get stuffed, give me gentle effects of the breeze through the MCG stands, or even more attractively a big bloody roof over the joint. But a hot Hurricane Bertha it was, and fat lot of good that did us for three quarters.

At first there was a touch of the Round 7, 2017 about it. We pinged it straight out of the middle into attack where Aliesha Newman discovered that the antidote to our forward woes was to stuff the marks and just nick one off a pack to run into an open goal instead. Crumb is always welcome, as was Kate Hore following it with a strong overhead mark right in front of goal. I'd seen these spray before, and with her hair flinging from side-to-side with the breeze thought that it was our turn to start kicking for goal like Adelaide. But no, straight through it went and we had two goals to a couple of cute, fluffy and insignificant inside 50s.

Such was the dominance of the midfield at centre bounces that we almost got another goal immediately, with a long kick carrying on the breeze and beating everyone to roll through for a point. With that chance to really stitch them up lost we went to sleep and discovered that when they went forward there was a high probability of things going teat up. One goal into the wind should have become two straight away, if not for two missed shots in a row from close range. The good times were over - at least for the next 30 minutes - we could win the ball out of the middle after goals, but extracting it from their defensive 50 was practically impossible.

Based on seeing the second halves of the Geelong/Collingwood and North/Carlton games we didn’t have nearly the quick hands around the pack as those teams (with the exception of Carlton who are pus) so if you’re not moving the ball quickly out of packs what hope do you have? Credit to Freo for putting the pressure on that didn't allow us to do any razzle dazzle. The rest of the league go "ah, there's an idea" and we never get a metre of free space again for the rest of the season.

It's dangerous to base anything on one quarter into the wind, but by half time I was convinced we were finished. Eden Zanker - your new favourite rhyming slang for an unpleasant person - took a strong mark for our only goal of the quarter, but the nightmare that is Melbourne AFLW trying to attack was best demonstrated when ex-dairy farmer Shelley Scott took a perfect leading mark at centre-half forward, then lobbed a Hail Mary inside 50 in the hope that somebody would be on the end of it. They weren't. They rarely are.

Never thought we’d be much chop this season, convinced by the end of the quarter that we were going to finish last. Sure they were kicking with the wind in the second quarter, but any sort of decent lead was going to put us away. The problem with us 2017-2019 was demonstrated when a free out of the middle at the end was met with a strong leading mark in space from ex-dairy farmer Shelley Scott at CHF, who then just hoofed it forward Hail Mary style. Eden Zanker – your new favourite rhyming slang for an unpleasant person –  took a decent mark earlier for our only goal of the quarter but that was one-on-one, not busting through packs like Jonathan Brown. It made me long for the tap-ins through an empty square.

An interlude at this point to complain about the farcical coverage of this competition on the AFL website. To say they've given up would be cruel, but they're certainly relying on people to only have the most casual interest. After the game I can watch the replay (no thanks) and the highlights, but can't even get the quarter by quarter scores in the alleged match centre let alone player statistics.

There hasn't been this little care taken of a football program since Melbourne 2009. So I thought the AFL mobile app might have it, only to be directed to download a separate AFLW app that finally a dozen clicks/presses/whatever later gave me the team lists. So you've got the data, why not just put it on the freaking website? If it is there it's buried somewhere beneath a story about Jack Watts burying his head in a set of bristols at Oktoberfest.

By the time both sides had a go with the wind we were 20 points down. The last goal should never been allowed to happen. The number of coast-to-coast goals in AFLW history must be in single figures, yet somehow we allowed them to go from deep in our attack to a forward taking a mark 'out the back' (cliche) within the final 30 seconds. Could have done us a favour and missed, but didn't and alarm bells were going off like there'd been a bank heist.

Not for the first time while watching our women's team I was just about to launch a SACK EVERYBODY campaign when the side came out after half time and went nuts. Not only was the half time deficit reduced, we opened a 14 point lead that we were a realistic hope of defending into the wind. This was the good shit. Crumbed goals by a retired primary producer, a quality snap by Zanker after a ropey handball from a former frisbee champion, and another from the ex-star of the WNBL. The more it stayed at our end the better, I in no way fancied us holding them back if they trapped the ball in our defensive 50.

The enjoyment factor in watching us sink like a stone during the last quarter was further reduced by the continual interjections of the guy telling me how terrible the women's game was and how he can't watch it but also that he "thought the standard would be better" which means he obviously has watched it. I took the same tone as Richie Benaud when confronted with the anti-cricket views of Theo Fuckanopolous in Still The 12th Man and explained that I actually find the game interesting and furthermore could he please piss off.

Sadly for my The End Is Nigh narrative, I have to report that we could have sealed it in the opening minutes of the last quarter. Hore had a snap that just bent too far. Had we conceded it the ball wouldn't have emerged for three minutes, but they went down the other end, stuffed up an open goal and then graciously cashed out with just a seven point play. Then they got two more and we were stuffed. Lucky the men are (I think) good.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
There's 100% less Daisy in the field this season, but let's keep it in the family anyway:

5 - Lauren Pearce
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Elise O'Dea
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Lily Mithen

Crowd Watch
Only 1800 people there, but who wants to go to Casey at the best of times let alone in ripping heat?

Next Week
Collingwood at Victoria Park. I've said this about eight times in the last two years, but this might be my first game in person. I wish to relive memories of the only other game I've seen at the ground, a 1999 practice match where Dockers supremo and now Senator Damian Drum was heard from the coaches' box yelling about one of his players being an f'ing c f'er. Apparently only 499 others turned up. That night I kicked a footy onto the court after a NBL game in an attempt to put it through the hoop, because I was 18 and a dickhead.

Based on the scores of the respective games we should win, but they got the ball forward a hell of a lot without converting in the second half against Geelong. Find a way to get it out of the defensive 50 and belt them.

Final Thoughts
Seeing a Melbourne side lose in any grade above the Little League gives me the shits.