Sunday 22 March 2020

Miracles in an emergency

Before we start talking remarkable finishes and heroic victories, let's admit that in most ways this has been our worst AFLW season yet. We peaked at five wins in season one, and at 39.85 points a game last year. This season it was 4-2 and 34 points with a potential strangulation by an unbeaten side to follow. It's good to know some things never change though, losing last week left us perfectly poised to miss the finals by a slender margin again.

Enter the Coronavirus. You may have heard of it. With the league needing a sacrificial lamb to pretend they're taking public health seriously and not just playing the men's game to protect broadcasting rights, AFLW season was curtailed with two games to play.

Rumours of going straight to the Grand Final were unfounded, and instead they ambitiously decided to try and get three more weeks out of the competition. In classic AFL fashion that announcement was a cock up, suggesting that only the top two teams would qualify. This seemed feasible under the circumstances, before a few minutes later they had to clarify that it was actually going to be an eight team series - in a 14 team competition. This was a bit excessive, but I think we're clear that the AFL has decided to use this worldwide crisis to test all the nuffy shit they've been dying to do for years.

Though playing the last two would have likely seen us fall to fourth, we weren't an entirely fraudulent finals side. We were in the top three anyway, and while I doubt that would have survived playing the Dockers this week we were in the right place at the right time when everything that didn't have A, F and L in it ground to a halt.

Given that Collingwood was only behind us on percentage and had nearly beaten Freo a few weeks earlier. Adding them meant you had to find an eighth side (though did you? Couldn't just give the Dockers a bye?), which was good news for Gold Coast. Teams that have lost more times than they've won playing finals - welcome to the AFL's dreams. They played the part of space fillers to perfection, losing to Freo by 70. We'll handle the fairytale finishes in this round thanks.

So, after three years of last gasp misses than ranked somewhere between heartbreaking (2018) and brutally inevitable (2019) the sweetest words of all were de/fault. The general effect on the global pandemic has been extremely poor but if it's worked for anyone it was the mid-table mediocrities of AFLW. We were well on our way to demonstrating that they should have just picked the top two on either side before some deadset bonkers shit went down.

Realistically, it would have been hard to get properly upset if we lost. In a season where knees have been popping like bubble wrap, we also lost both the Irish players to the fair enough idea of getting home while they still can. This meant picking a first gamer who was a mile off the pace, a ruck who was in no way 100% match fit, and a handful of others who wouldn't be getting a game on form under normal circumstances.

Alas, there's no connection between realism and being a footy fan, so as we were sliding to our doom in the last quarter I was becoming annoyed as if there isn't much worse to worry about at the moment. If we'd just flat out lost it would have been easier to take, but we were rising above all the handicaps to play so well in many parts of the game that it was frustrating to see it break down so often while going forward.

Libby Birch was safe as houses in defence, the star midfielders were doing what the star midfielders do, and the return of Lauren Pearce in the middle was much appreciated, but whenever the ball got near our forward 50 we went to shite. It wasn't even the usual hopeful long bombs and endless stoppages in front of goal, just rubbish that broke down before it even got there.

The Giants weren't much better, contributing to a quarter time score of 2-1. This was great news for people who like to hang shit on AFLW, but you'd have been hard-pressed to try and spin it as anything approaching a watchable quarter. I say this as somebody who's seen all but one premiership game this club has played, but there's no way I'd have come back after quarter time as a neutral.

Imagine how much more depth these teams would have if they hadn't added six teams in two seasons? I love the way semi-professional players go about the business, but the standard of play is no better than four years ago, and arguably worse. There are as many excellent players as the first season, but a whole lot more who have no reason to be in a top grade competition.

It's a long term project, so nothing to pull the shutters down over but they'd be mad to add the remaining AFL teams anytime soon. Let Port, Sydney, Essendon and Hawthorn play a post-pandemic, off-Broadway series at the same time as the next AFLW season, but adding any of them (and Kennett will whinge until they add the Hawks) to the main comp would be suicidal.

I don't know if there was a wind, certainly nobody mentioned one, but as much as the Giants had dominated general play in the first quarter (including keeping six of our players without a disposal) it was now our chance to return to traditional values and trap the ball down there for little reward. In case there were any neutrals left watching, we did our bit for entertainment value by finally kicking the first goal. After four seasons and a razor-thin near miss against the Eagles, Lily Mithen got the first of her career from a set shot. Keep that in mind, it'll become important again later.

Would have been a good opportunity to kick away, but after keeping the Giants goalless for almost the whole first half Ms. DemonTime arrived, and in the last minute they swept from one end to the other and kicked a goal right at the end. Of course they did. Even in a game where the scoring is the subject of unkind comparisons to the world game we can't help ourselves.

The scoring end came into play again in the third when we couldn't score. Not a cracker. Not even the traditional botched set shot or a long kick that slides through for a point. The forward line was basically non-existent until the last eight minutes, and for the first few minutes of the final term both teams were still unable to introduce oval ball to middle posts. This just made me more upset, the Giants were there for the taking but our inability to convert was going to neck us.

Enter one of the more remarkable MFC related finishes you'll ever see. The Giants went into full lockdown mode a few days early and unsuccessfully tried to ride out the last few minutes. Despite what happened this was the sensible thing to do. After the way we've attacked all year how were they supposed to know that we'd pull off the million to one shot of kicking three in a row - much less all from set shots.

After a day of not even being able to get it into the hands of forwards so they could spray their shots, we finally started to consult experts. First dairy extraction specialist Shelley Scott, then Tex Perkins. Tex barely had a touch in the first three quarters but when required she smacked through the sort of set shot that we've been missing for four years. She also deserves credit for battling hard in the ruck duels while the ball was trapped in our forward line.

That goal, from 40 metres out on a shithouse angle, cut the margin to less than a goal with three minutes left. Plenty of time for us win it, then lose it again. Enter the returning Lauren Pearce winning a ruck contest, and the well-held Kate Hore thumping a kick forward in hope, only for all nothing of Lily Mithen to take a huge contested mark. Semi-contested anyway, the defender clearly had NFI where the ball was going to drop and got caught behind.

Melbourne Supporter Depression Syndrome suggested that having stormed back into the game, and because she'd converted from a similar spot earlier in the day that this would slide across the face and land in the pocket for no score. Amongst the feelgood video of the men watching there was some criticism of the bloke who said she wouldn't make the distance - to me that demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the way this team has kicked for goal since 2017.

In this case though, she was ice cold, sinking the shot then doing a celebration that resembled an Irish jig. It was a terrific end to a terrible game, making it memorable for at least one reason. Nothing that happened suggests we'd beat a good team but I was happy to take this and run with it in this time of grave national crisis. There was 30 seconds left for us to cock it up, but against all odds we survived.

I'm not concerned for GWS fans, because you'd need the world's most powerful microscope to find them, but you had to feel for the players who'd been swept away like that. Other than not trying to get it out of our forward line and the marking contest for the winning goal they didn't do much wrong. You'd say we thieved it if all the winning goals hadn't been so well taken.

Apart from Giants players, the most disappointed person was Demonblog Jr. She'd parked herself in front of the Megawall midway through the last quarter and declared the Giants were her favourite team. Must have seemed a good bet at the time, before the family tradition of being bad at picking sports teams came back to haunt her.

Mind you, there was a heavy element of trolling at the Towers this afternoon, at three quarter time I'd been presented with a card which I thought was a nice gesture until I opened it to read...

Yes, that's indicating NO DAD. Didn't quite capture my hair but a decent effort nonetheless. I'd have been more triumphant at the siren but it's best to remain diplomatic towards your family when you could be locked inside with them for two weeks at any moment.

2020 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Libby Birch
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Scott, L. Pearce, Hanks, Cordner, Gay and Sherriff.

31 - Karen Paxman (WINNER: 2020 Daisy Pearce Medal)
20 - Libby Birch
13 - Kate Hore
7 - Eden Zanker
6 - Elise O'Dea, Daisy Pearce, Shelley Scott
5 - Maddie Gay
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Harriet Cordner, Sinead Goldrick

Next Week
Theoretically it's Fremantle in Perth, but there's fuck all and no chance of that happening. Either the season is delayed or they just call it off with four sides left. Maybe Western Australia will secede? Nothing would surprise me now.

Let's just say it goes ahead - Freo has won all seven games this year, and if we don't find an avenue to goal they will kick our brains in. Unless they have a total meltdown we're not going to beat them by scoring 28 points. If it was the Pakistani AFLW you'd be some chance of them throwing it as part of a betting rort, but in this case our slender hopes rest on putting up a minimum score of 40.

I guess when you've got replacement players on the list that you can't play them in preference to the originals, but given the option I'd drop Cunningham and use Tex, Scott and Zanker as the talls. Perkins is not racking up massive possesion numbers but when she gets the ball she's doing good stuff with it, is a competent forward 50 ruck, and most importantly a better set shot than anyone else on our list. They're off chops if they don't draft her to play full forward next season, she's never going to do a Kate Hore style turbo running goal but it adds much needed power and accurate kicking to our otherwise toothless forward line.

Final Thoughts
If it's got 'Melbourne' written on it, and I can watch I'll go bonkers for winning under those circumstances. Twice more for the women please. And somewhere near 20 times for the men.

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