Sunday, 28 February 2021

Dead end street

The original plan was to see this game on a lengthy delay due to other commitments, and gee wasn't I glad to have rearranged the afternoon to watch live? It would have been better if I'd sat down to watch at 10pm, accidentally discovered that we'd kicked 1.8 and gone back to my Wesley Snipes Film Festival (15 movies down, 35 to go). He was Blade, half of this side would get the chop if there was anybody to replace them. There might be a passenger 5.7 reference if we could kick five goals.

Yes, for once pre-season predictions have come true. The second quarter against North is looking like the biggest outlier since Footscray's premiership, we are officially only good against expansion sides. Not that I expected to beat the undefeated Collingwood, but did expect some sort of a fight. It looked more like a junior team playing older opposition, able to keep up for a while but ultimately no chance of winning.

Any chance we had of springing the upset was boosted by the returns of Hore and Goldrick, then the latter was injured about 20 seconds into the first quarter. She returned, but not before missing most of a first quarter where the Pies only had themselves to blame for not being about seven goals in front. You shudder to think how we'd have gone without them.

If Goldrick had avoided injury then she'd have had plenty more opportunities given that the ball was stuck inside their 50 for most of the quarter. On the rare occasions we broke free the ball usually didn't even get to the forward line before flinging back at the speed of light. Later we discovered that even if the forwards had got near it they wouldn't have made an impact anyway. We haven't looked so unlikely to score since Adelaide tortured us in the last round of 2019.

Everything you needed to know about our likelihood of scoring was when Hore and Cunningham sprinted from half back Baileyball style, only for a hurried kick to land amongst a nest of defenders without a Melbourne jumper in sight. Under the circumstances, I'm surprised we had the opportunity to kick eight behinds. Which is, in a way, a positive.

Now that Collingwood has become a friendly, inclusive club, they did everything they could to keep things interesting, including clanging a chance at the second goal into the post from close range. There were plenty more opportunities to come, every time our overworked defence made the ball somebody else's problem it came back to them moments later. 

If we had 20% of the time in forward half during the quarter it was only because they decided to toy with us by chipping it to and from across the backline. For a bit it looked like the adults vs children spectacle of the Geelong men doing similar last year, but eventually backfired when an out of bounds kick led to Gay winning a free and a first decent shot on goal. It would have been criminal if we'd got to within a point after 10 minutes of playing as if blindfolded. Subconsciously she must have recognised that and kicked accordingly. If nothing else it was a score, which was more than it looked like we were going to get.

Against all logic that meant the quarter time margin was only six. Which was ridiculous, but offered a chance to alter the plan (as much as a Melbourne side ever does) and launch a rescue mission. Maybe a repeat of the time we stopped Freo having any inside 50s for a quarter and still lost? Apparently not. Things carried on in a similar vein, except we missed a shitload of opportunities and saw our percentage plummet like a faulty elevator.

The coach will probably be under the pump if the season goes sour, but Norm Smith would have had a hard time putting up with some of the zany moments on offer. For instance, Tyla Hanks winning the first touch of the second quarter then almost missing the ball with her hand, teeing it straight up for a Pies to play to storm through and launch another forward attack. Otherwise, Hanks was our best player by a mile. Some of her moves in traffic were top shelf. The problem is that for the handful of excellent players in this side there's a lot of strugglers. Now that the VFLW has started there's somewhere for the fringe players to develop - never mind that the national season is halfway over - but I'm not sure that's going to help. 

Speaking of generosity, we did everything possible to make sure they got their second goal. The final, silver platter offering was Daisy flubbing a kick straight into the path of an opponent, who merrily trotted in and kicked it. Had one of our players been gifted in the same circumstances she'd have stood frozen for a second in amazement (except Goldrick, who instantly plays on every time. Which is both thrilling and terrifying), then rushed a snap that fell short and was punched over the line. 

It was as disastrous a performance as you'll ever see from an original recipe AFLW team. I can't believe this is the same side that was kicking goals for fun a few weeks ago. We created an opportunity via the well-credentialed trio of Paxman, Hore and Scott but missed that as well. Still, it was a rare opportunity created by stringing more than two kicks together without a turnover. Down the other end, Collingwood was kicking fluky goals out of their arse so you could be fairly sure how this game was going to go without watching the second half. I haven't seen a situation involving Collingwood and women sliding downwards end this badly since Eddie McGuire and Caroline Wilson. 

There was more chance of peace in the Middle East than us overcoming the 25 point half time deficit but I couldn't bring myself to stop watching. If you gave up on every lost cause following Melbourne there wouldn't be much left. Strangely enough, we actually won the third quarter, kicking 1.4 to a point. Just when our first goalless game was becoming a live possibility, Lauren Pearce of all people was gifted a goal from a turnover in defence, leaving the outsidest (?) possibility of a stirring comeback.

That lasted about three minutes into the last quarter, which was how long we held out before Collingwood kicked the sealer. In fact, that was our only goal for the day, leaving us on a total of 3.20 over the last two weeks. You can imagine the media carnage if the men put in a similar fortnight, the AFL360 sad montage producer would get RSI. 

Sadly we didn't get the goal that would have boosted that tally to 4.20, opening the door to the obvious reference about them playing as if stoned. The best chance came through Bannan, who torched Cunningham like an arsonist while standing on her own in the square and missed. Remember when this team was kicking them from everywhere a few weeks ago? To be fair, you probably get a bit more time and space against Gold Coast and Richmond.

The general atmosphere of farce was topped off by an Emonson kick-in that landed at Paxman's feet, scooted past her and into the hands of a Collingwood player for another goal. The game was lost but we were doing our best to drive percentage down to the point where it might cost us a spot in the finals. As it is we've already got to fight our way back in from seventh. How about swapping next week's opponent for Geelong so we can either a) register a morale boosting thumping or, b) have the sort of Sydney '92 style humiliating loss that makes the club pull up stumps on the women's program and invest in eSports.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal Votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Scott, Sherriff, Hore, and McNamara.

It's getting interesting at the top, with Paxmania having to fend off serious competition from former Bunnings spokesperson Hanks. Alas, Daisy remains empty-handed in her own award. 

17 - Karen Paxman
15 - Tyla Hanks
9 - Lily Mithen
8 - Lauren Pearce
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott
1 - Alyssa Bannan (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Sarah Lampard, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Casey Sherriff

Next Week
If there's ever been a time for our season to hit the skids it's as the already shaky integrity of the AFLW fixture totally collapses. Due to the ongoing circus of border restrictions, interstate teams are about to face each other for a second time, while we won't have played Carlton or Geelong. For that reason here's hoping the borders stay closed, I'd rather either of them in the last few weeks than risk being drawn against Adelaide, Brisbane, and Fremantle in quick succession.

None of that will be an issue if we lose to St. Kilda, at which point they may as well schedule a game against Chinkapook Ladies for all the good it will do our flag hopes. Even if the 3-0 start turns out to be a mirage finals are not entirely out of the question, via a Ms. Bradbury Plan, but it would take a miracle for this side to beat any of the current top four. 

Memories of the upset loss to the Saints last year loom large. Surely not again, especially when the season effectively on the line. At the same time, after two weeks where players who thought everything was going well have discovered it isn't, there's every possible chance of allowing them in via a mental lapse. If there's any hope left for this season we'll beat them comfortably, playing a minimum of two good quarters. Could happen. More likely we wobble over the line, simultaneously re-entering the race and confirming that we won't make it past an Elimination Final. 

Final thoughts
The only other time we've lost two in a row the second game was also a battering from Collingwood. Which earned us the right to miss the Grand Final on percentage. Even with the top six in place I sense a repeat about this time next month. Thank god the men are back, there's a team that has never let us down.

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