Sunday, 17 March 2019

I did but see her premiership window pass by

On a rare Casey Fields day where it wasn't 38 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, and without hurricane force gales blowing diagonally across the ground we still witnessed one of the great natural disasters of recent times.

It was foolish to celebrate the Bulldogs victory as if it set up a 'win and in' scenario without properly studying the percentage implications, but turns out we were never a chance of winning by one, let alone the required 27. Not the first time there's been a last round game involving Adelaide where our hope of making the finals rested on the margin, but definitely the first where we've been knocked out after registering a record low score.

Once the Crows comfortably beat GWS last week - obviously in second gear and saving their best stuff for us - we should have realised that the odds of rumbling the best attacking and defending team in the competition by five goals were astronomic. But after two years of narrowly missing out on finals you had to delude yourself that there was a chance of making the conference system look even worse with a win by somewhere near the required amount. It's bad enough being the fourth best team in the comp and missing out on a four team finals system (pending Carlton beating Footscray by around six goals and overtaking our shattered percentage), but to do it with a 5-2 record would have been vulgar.

Given the apocalypse that was about to unfold, I'm pleased to report we followed all applicable Melbourne AFLW stereotypes and registered a wasted inside 50 within the first few seconds. In a sign of things to come it crawled to about 45 metres, was pinged straight back out and the Crows were off to the races. Via the first of several thousand shocking turnovers we gifted them their first shot, and even before it missed I was willing to concede there was no earthly way that Adelaide were going to lose by five goals.

As a tactical imbecile I concede something might have been going on with zones, but hard to understand how in a game where we needed goals, goals and more goals our leading goalkicker was roaming the midfield trying to get a kick for what seemed like the first time ever. Our forward entries are ramshackle at the best of times, try doing it with your full forward perfecting her deer/headlight interface in an unfamiliar role up the ground. She got touches in the wrong spot, Zanker didn't get touches at all, and it looked at best like a comfortable loss before developing into a total wipeout.

From the early minutes it was clear that if any team was ever going to score zero in an AFLW game it was us, with the Crows quite content to stop us from scoring by stacking the backline. Problem was they couldn't help scoring at the same time, and to nobody's surprise the first time they went deep into their forward line (an area we'd fail to reach for about an hour) we copped a lame, low-speed goal from a defensive stoppage. A giant picture of Max GAWN should have dropped from the sky at this point, because we were finished. The team may as well have walked off and got straight into Mad Monday (courtesy of classic Casey Fields sponsor Lurline Liquor). In some ways it looked like they'd started pre-match, in the greatest MFC last round tradition.

It was going so badly that even when Channel 7 tried to talk to Bianca Jakobsson on the boundary line the audio failed. Which is a shame, because she looks like somebody who'd swear a lot, and even at that stage our predicament deserved multiple Ss, an F, and several dozen Cs. The third goal went in not long after, and everything had officially gone tits up. It was 0-21 at quarter time, none of our inside 50s looked even remotely like scoring, and I would have preferred to spend the rest of the day watching alternative angles of kids using the head of racist senators to crack their eggs.

We were unlikely to score 22 for the rest of the game, much less enough to challenge Adelaide's percentage. To keep people watching they talked up a mystery breeze allegedly blowing to our end, but you wouldn't know it from the Crows going straight back on the attack. Or from our score being 0.0.0 at the end of the quarter. Via a couple of thwarted chances to kick-start things with a score of any variety, we were so rattled that the ball went from the wing to the half-back line and Paxman was pinched for running too far with nobody in the vicinity. Oh well, at least it removed the prospect of a Spirit of '76 finals exit when the Freo/North game ended in a draw.

When Channel 7's commentary packed it in out of protest at the quality of our performance we enjoyed several minutes of crowd noise, sadly without audio of Mick Stinear expressing his displeasure at being a three-time bridesmaid floating through. Here's his brother Scott to explain our remaining hopes of making the finals:

The commentary came back just in time for Adelaide's fifth goal to no score, and this was rapidly entering female 186 territory. Putting Cunningham where she was supposed to be finally led to an inside 50 mark, but instead of just hammering away at the square in hope of it being rushed through for a point she tried a fancy pass, it was intercepted, and we hit half time on zero. It was the third time an AFLW team had made half time without a score, behind Carlton and Fremantle in 2018. If it's any consolation that could be this year's Grand Final.

Even our first score was shambolic, finally getting the ball to the square but still not looking like scoring, until Tyla Hanks did a handball that was either a panicked attempt at finding a teammate or was just trying to register a score in case we didn't get another. Getting your first point five minutes into the third quarter was unfortunate, but it was hard not to be impressed by the Crows playing out of their skin. Watching this you wondered how we'd beaten them in both the two previous seasons.

At some stage Adelaide had to pack all their best players away and let us get a few cheap ones (or as it turns out.. one), but they were taking their time. Obviously playing the second team in Conference B is expected to be even easier than squashing us, so they could afford to play this out until the last quarter and treat that like a training drill instead. The Crows' score crossed the half-century in appropriately shambolic fashion, with a play-on into traffic, followed by a handball that bamboozled a teammate in the square, but still sat up for her to toe-poke through from the line. The words farce and shambles came to mind.

In a limited market, the third quarter was the best viewing of the day. Mainly because we scored, though it still left us on 0.1.1 at the last break. It probably wouldn't have gone in anyway, but an extra ounce of piss was taken as one of our players burst onto the ball inside 50 with nobody ahead of her just as the siren went.

Three-quarter time was spent perusing the record books, and discovering that no AFLW team had ever gone goalless. Which is a surprise considering some of the low-scoring mismatches. This was our chance to make history. Nine sides, including us in that first ever game against Brisbane, have finished with one. The race was on to beat the Lions' 1.2.8 from earlier this year and avoid the lowest score in the history of the competition.

Jason Bennett is a tremendously underrated commentator, and should be elevated to their senior lineup immediately, but it was Dwayne-esque to open the last quarter suggesting we were "81 points away from a Preliminary Final, so that dream looks to be gone" without a hint of irony. You reckon? I was hoping we might realise the Crows had too many on the ground, call a headcount, win 1-0 and still miss the finals.

Ironically after sitting through 3.5 quarters of slurry I stepped out of the room just as we kicked our goal, alerted to come back only by 'thank christ for that' level cheers from the crowd. The wonders of being able to rewind live TV allowed me to see Chantel Emonson of all people get forward and do what the attacking players couldn't. It left us a point beneath the record low, and based on only having two set shots all day I wasn't confident of another.

About only the fight left came from Lily Mithen trying to start a scrap and get a Crows player suspended for the finals. They responded by bouncing away from the conflict to kick another goal and go 10 up. What a blow to the reputation of Conference A. It was a dead-set rooting, but we narrowly got to the equal worst score ever when an Adelaide defender kindly stepped back over the line to boost our score to a whopping 1.2.8. After all that we were only two points short of our previous low score, a 1.4.10 in that Brisbane game at Casey. Suffice to say we got more value from our one goal at Casey Fields in pissing rain that day, than we did from this unbelievable shit show.

2019 Daisy Pearce Medal
There's a lot of pressure in assigning votes that could shape the final destination of a medal on a game where we played the part of a small town wiped out by an erupting volcano. I take no responsibility for any changes to the leaderboard based on these votes.

5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Meg Downie
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Maddie Gay
1 - Karen Paxman

Insincere apologies to Cordner and Cunningham, who could have both got into the lower end of the votes even though nobody deserved any.

Final leaderboard
In the end, Paxman takes advantage of the Total of Eclipse of Lauren Pearce to repeat as champion. Congratulations on a second win in this prestigious award, as the hopes of ruck fans everywhere now switch to the men's competition in the hope that Max Gawn can break through.

20 - Karen Paxman
18 - Elise O'Dea, Lauren Pearce
10 - Lily Mithen
9 - Tegan Cunningham, Maddison/Maddie/Maddy Gay
4 - Harriet Cordner, Meg Downie, Aleisha Newman
3 - Bianca Jakobsson
2 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore, Eden Zanker

Final thoughts
Margin of massacre and the idiocy of conferences aside, the fact that we lost to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best teams in the competition suggests that if you don't beat the big teams then you'll pay the price at the end of the season. There's more margin for error in the men's game, but let it be a lesson to them as well.

With more new teams being introduced next season, and the inevitable player losses to them, the task of winning a flag becomes even harder. With Daisy coming back after a year (if she does), and multiple other important players not getting any younger I reckon the window has slammed shut with a vengeance. There are certainly some good players to build around, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up an extra level every season. Can't see us contending for a few years after this happening, but will still be watching with interest. Now, in the nicest possible way, on to the main event...

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