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.

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