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.

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