Sunday, 21 February 2021

Can't buy a thrill

For those of us with an interest in this sort of thing, the annual fixture against the Dogs offers warm and fuzzy feelings about our contribution to the women's game. And even if you don't give a rats - and I can't see why you'd be reading this - it's nice to know something we did in 2013 had a long-term positive impact. Other than sacking the coach.

Hard to believe it will be nine years in June since the game against the Bulldogs that helped fast-track a women's competition. It also encouraged me avoid the ground floor of the Olympic Stand (former home of the iconic Bay 6 Administration Office) for the rest of my days after finding a dead mouse under my seat. And if there's ever a Melbourne/Footscray game where that mouse is not referenced I'm not doing my job right.

After a surprise loss to St Kilda in the opening round, the Bulldogs have played well, which flagged this as a danger game from miles off. Conversely, we'd won all three but not been impressive from start to finish in any of them. Last week's second quarter was off the charts but the rest were middling at best. You can't get away with that every week. And we didn't.

The Dogs' chances of springing the minor upset were helped by the absence of Goldrick - concussed - and Kate Hore - ill. Never a good sign when two of the best players in a win are absent the next week. Turns out we've got the depth of [insert your most hated opposition political party here] and didn't go anywhere near covering them. 

Missing players - no matter how key - isn't an excuse for losing, we still created dozens of opportunities that we couldn't capitalise on. It was the 2017 GWS and 2020 St. Kilda debacles all over again. For the first three quarters the Dogs were hemmed in and forced to counter-attack, before realising we didn't have it in us to kick a winning score and cantering away to an easy victory.

Like Casey Fields, the Western Oval offers the sort of variable breezes that make the playing and watching of Australian Rules Football frustrating. As the game wore on I very much started to doubt the power of the breeze being endlessly talked up by the commentators, but it looked like it had an immediate impact on Eden Zanker. She spent the first five minutes creating opportunities like Gary Ablett Sr. and converting them like Ray Parker Jr.

When she missed her first - but by no means last - from a gettable range I was a bit nervy about this alleged wind. Considering how badly we've run out games this season I didn't fancy having to spend the fourth quarter defending a slender lead into it. Not, as it turns out, an issue.

Within a couple of minutes Zanker followed that miss with two other legs of the forwards' Grand Slam - - adding a set shot that failed to make the distance, then thumping one out on the full. When she lined up for a fourth go it was surely going to be the quickest anybody has ever achieved the four pillars of the slam in league history. Until she kicked another point. Wasn't just her fault, this was classic old-school 2017-2020 Melbourne AFLW, all of the attack, none of the goals. The tradition continued when we gave up a goal the first time Footscray went inside 50. 

If you want something done right go straight to a legend, and after half a dozen painful attempts at placing ball between middle posts, Karen Paxman snapped the reply out of nowhere. If I'd known we were only going to get one more I may have stopped watching on the spot.

For those who believed the wind was real and not just a narrative device for the commentators - and I was considering joining a Facebook group that labelled it a conspiracy - a lead of four points was a failure on our behalf. We did have a late opportunity to make it a more palatable nine, Shelley Scott burst through a pack like a tank and lobbed a hopeful kick to the square that Bannan pulled in just before the line. She rushed a kick around the corner and missed. On this occasion, it was the team thing to do.

After winning three in a row, this quarter was a tremendous letdown. For all our domination the forward line was looking paper-thin. Didn't mean we wouldn't find alternative avenues to goal, and it's not like we've played four quarters in a win since West Coast last year so it wasn't out of the question that we'd catch fire at some point. Not at this point anyway. I expect the brigade may be needed when Mick Stinear reviews his forward line strategy with Kate Hore and sets fire to it.

Those who still believed the wind theory could point to us immediately pouring on another half dozen inside 50s to start the second quarter. Despite Footscray's industrial - but turns up super effective - defence working hard to give away as many free kicks as possible (much to the ongoing disgust of one nuffy in the crowd) we didn't even register token scores from them this time. No Kate Hore = No Entertainers. Alternatively, would have been a nice day to have Petrevski nibbling around the packs. As it was we had very little in the air and even less on the ground.

It took six minutes of our fruitless, laboured attacking to score. And you won't be surprised to learn it was a point. Cunningham tried hard but was only allowed a handful of chances and botched the lot. This was probably the best, finding herself in space and with an eon to size up the goals before moving. Like Zanker 20 minutes earlier, Tegan had the chance to immediately redeem herself with another shot on goal. It came from the sort of free that I'd have cracked the shits about if it went against us, where the forward practically begs the umpire before it's paid. From nigh on right in front she missed too. Six extra misses left us a goal ahead. This was not a sustainable way to go about things.

From the 'well bugger me' file, the Dogs nearly got their second goal from their second inside 50. We narrowly avoided that disappointment, only to concede from the third, prompting the Western Oval to hit play on some dreadful 100% Hits Volume 223 pop tune. It was loud enough through the television, must have been an ear-bursting experience at the ground. If you've paid to go to a game does it add anything whatsoever to your enjoyment? Would kids go home and cry if they didn't get to hear (fashionable modern act) after every goal? Bollocks they would.

Anyway, I'm not here to whinge about matchday experience, today we're doing missed shots on goal. Our 21st inside 50 ended in another shot. Gay tried to do what the forwards couldn't, delivering a textbook holding the ball tackle that even that bloke in the crowd couldn't complain about. She proceeded to kick it out on the full from 30 metres out as good as directly in front. If you believed in the wind - and by now I was so sceptical of it that I was ready to hold a protest in Fawkner Park - being just the one point down at the half wasn't bad.

Things were already starting to head south though, our last period of dominance had ended when they got their second goal and we'd be on the back foot most of the time since. Having said that, there were elements of our side playing very well. Hanks and Paxman were running riot in the middle, and their attacks were regularly being turned away on the half-back line, but the difference in kicking efficiency around the ground was almost as stark as the rotten goalkicking.

The half-time reset gave us the chance to do something different, like immediately conceding an inside 50 from the bounce. For once the Dogs didn't score, and we successfully moved the ball to the other end before another attack was turned back, this time without even looking like ending in a score. Courtesy of an unnecessary late-bump downfield free - when as far as I could tell without a replay the ball was going to bounce out of bounds anyway - the Bulldogs responded with their third goal. We were not in an impossible position yet but it was hard to imagine kicking a winning score from here. Never before had a team dominated the attack so much and still deserved to lose.

The answer, again, came from the veterans. This time Scott ripped the ball off a pack and snapped a textbook example of crumb. Had the umpire spotted Tyla Hanks being pulled back at the centre bounce like she was on the end of a lasso we might have gone forward again. 

We got down there in the end, for what that was worth, when a holding the ball in Footscray's forward line became a free in our favour when Mithen's head was jammed into the ground. This was followed by a 50 after the Bulldog defender illegally vented her displeasure to the umpire. We got a point out of it. Of course we did. By now the existence of the wind was completely discredited, playing absolutely no role in the game. Which was great news considering we were allegedly kicking into it into the last quarter. Not so great when the Dogs burst down the other end and found a forward line so open that they'd have been able to craft a goal into a force 10 gale. 

Given the number of clear holding the ball frees that had been ignored during the quarter, it was a bit comical that McEvoy got one in the dying seconds which wouldn't have rated amongst the top 20 incorrect disposals since half time. She missed, naturally, because that's just what we were doing today. If nothing else it achieved 'handy point' status, bringing the margin back under a goal.

The idea of winning still seemed ridiculous, though we were within one accurate kick. Or more likely half a dozen inaccurate ones. At this stage I had to pause and watch the rest on a 10 minute delay, which is rubbish because you're always waiting for Kayo to fritz and fast forward back to live play. On the other hand, you can also rage fast forward through the ads when the other team kicks a goal so swings and roundabouts.

My first opportunity to regain 30 seconds nearly came from the bounce. I might have regained 15 minutes if their lightning centre clearance and immediate attack had ended in a goal. We got away with another odd free deep in defence, one of those ones where none of the players know who committed the crime until the umpire points. Sometimes, for extra chaos value, they point the wrong way.

Our strategy was obviously to win through the kicking of bulk points, beginning with Cunningham's third of the day. Shame she didn't get it, and I doubt it would have ultimately helped, but the strong contested mark that created the opportunity deserved better. Problem was this was happening 40 metres out from goal, not right in front where we could be assured (as best possible) of converting.

The Bulldogs had no such concerns. A long kick found Birch and Blackburn on their own, our woman (and their former woman) went for a despairing punch that left her on the ground and their woman (who in the exhibition games, was our woman) rolled it through an empty square. Now we needed 11 consecutive behinds to win. Not out of the question considering the opening quarter.

Birch was in everything, and not in a good way. She missed a mark that offered the Dogs another opportunity. This must have been solid gold to the ex-teammates she fell out with for undisclosed reasons. I think we of all fans can appreciate the level of excitement generated by somebody who left under dubious circumstances having a shocker.

The clock was very much against us now. After tempting fate by looking up our highest scores more than once this year, I was now interested in seeing where 2.10.22 landed us. Only equal fifth as it turns out. We managed to get as far as sixth worst by the siren, but landed on exactly two goals for the first time ever. Which would be worse if we hadn't kicked one a few times. Also, I was surprised that it was only the second time we'd had more than 10 behinds, considering how many horrendously inaccurate performances we've put on since 2017.

By now there was more chance of Queen Elizabeth II kicking a goal than any of our side. Zanker had barely done anything in the forward 50 since her 3/4 Grand Slam, while Bannan and Parry were missing in action. Cunningham and Scott were trying but the forward line was all at sea. We could have kept going until Tuesday and not got the third goal. In the spirit of harking back to things that happened in the past, it ended with another Zanker behind, her third, our 12th. 

Usually when a team kicks that many points in an AFLW game it's because they've won in a landslide and players are queuing up to have shots. This was just flat as a tack footy. I don't blame the inclusions, because their more famous teammates didn't do much either, but Tarrant did nothing as Hore's replacement and Magee played footy like I used to, lots of running around, no idea how to get the ball. What separates us is that she's an elite athlete in another sport and I've done nothing since finishing Enduro Racer on the Sega Master System in 1989.

This was not an unexpected defeat, but it continues the trend of losing as favourites at least once every season. We're probably still better off than I expected us to be at this stage - two games against recent expansion sides notwithstanding - but once you get a taste of winning you want more. As long as our shock losses are to sides of the same calibre as the Dogs (but not often mind you) and we treat the lowly sides with contempt I think we'll still be ok. Alternatively, the name 'Melbourne' is involved so brace for something farcical to happen.  

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Casey Sherriff

Apologies to Pearces big and small, Mithen, Zanker and Heath.

14 - Karen Paxman
10 - Tyla Hanks
7 - Lily Mithen
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Sinead Goldrick,
4 - Kate Hore, Lauren Pearce
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADERS: Whatever It Ends Up Being Called Award for AFLW Rising Star), Casey Sherriff

Next Week
It's Collingwood at Victoria Park, which is good for purists but a shame for those of us hoping to get back into form by crucifying one of the rubbish teams. This has got to be the last week of the COVID pyramid scheme fixture, they've got to run out of interstate teams to play each other eventually. Surely Victoria is off the pariah state register by now. I understand the Western Australian Premier isn't going to do anything to stuff up the election he's projected to win by a million percent, but that leaves three other states for our sides to go to. Personally I'd rather play Geelong, who appear to have no idea.

The Pies, on the other hand, seem to be very good this year. Which is never a phrase you want to read. That could be rotten news for our chances of playing finals. 3-2 will be nowhere near fatal but expect that some of Freo, Adelaide or Brisbane are going to be on the agenda in the last month of the season, while other finals contenders will be merrily racking up wins against the slop. Makes this a genuine blockbuster. Also makes me worried.

Media Street
In 1998 you'd have been chased down the street with pitchforks if you tried to get people interested in women's footy. Which is strange, because around the same time otherwise sane people used to think that it was a good omen if we won the Little League. 

Which is all a semi-topical way of introducing you to my appearance on the Australian Football Video Film Festival podcast, discussing the excessively lengthy and unquestionably great season highlights video Hotter Than Hell. We never confirmed what was on Todd Viney's kitchen bench or why Marcus Seecamp walloped Brad Pearce at Princes Park, but unless you're just here for the AFLW content and stuff the men (fair enough) there'll be something on it for you.

Final Thoughts
Bad kicking is bad football. As are bad handballing and bad defending. Let's see how many of the three we've expelled from our system before next week.

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