Saturday, 6 February 2021

I've got a Tiger by the tail

Video included purely to showcase some of the greatest costumes ever worn:

Considering you can bet on everything else AFL related I assume the gambling market has embraced AFLW with open arms. They'd have been staying well away from this one, the team representing one of the flakiest organisations known to man (NB: since 2019 Richmond no longer qualifies) as short-priced favourites against one that has lost all seven games in its short history. Nobody putting serious amounts of money up was going to trust us or take a punt on the Tigers finally coming good, no matter how many times our men and women have both lost in comical fashion.

Despite this long, proud history of losing as living certainties, I fully expected to win here. The Gold Coast win wasn't our best ever, but it felt like enough to take care of this level of opposition. At the bounce one of the commentators suggested Richmond was a chance, causing me to scoff heartily, shortly before they cannoned straight out of the middle for a goal. Sure it was assisted by the first of many NQR holding the ball decisions (and an almost sarcastic 50 when the woman from SAS Australia was standing at the top of the square anyway), but still caused uncomfortable flashbacks to the early stages of last week when the defence were all operating in different area codes.

Unlike last week we didn't enhance the degree of difficulty by letting a second in straight after, but once again the early flurry was the only time the opposition looked even remotely likely to win. Even better, Richmond didn't get another goal until deep in the last quarter. Not that they didn't have an endless string of chances that varied from missing by a sliver to landing closer to the Casey Fields ice cream van than the goal.

Considering it's what got Norm Smith sued, ultimately led to his sacking, and 60 something years of being run like a Turkish bordello, you would never suggest umpires show subconscious bias towards the underdog, but Richmond certainly got breaks in the early going that Kurtis Blow would have barred up over. The quota was holding the ball was used on the rubbish one that lead to their first goal, because they spent the next few minutes flicking the ball when tackled like the Brisbane Broncos without penalty. 

We didn't do ourselves any favours by rewarding Tegan Cunningham for her best game in two years by starting her on the bench. This opened the door for Harriet Cordner to remind us of how much she's improved since 2017 by taking several relieving marks from aimless, target free hoofs into the 50. Lo and behold when they sent Cunningham on she provided more than a presence, almost instantly leading to a contested mark and well-taken set shot goal. 

It was her only kick of the day but I've not seen a better value four possession performance since 2009 Mark Jamar. She was in everything after that, crashing packs, tackling, and doing practically everything possible without getting a touch. You wouldn't get away with many players like that but against an inexperienced team her presence was immense.

Cunningham's rebirth was a big help for Zanker, who shows plenty of promise but is not a #1 forward yet. Nor, going by a fiasco in the second quarter when she attempted a fend-off and was crushed in a tackle, is she a defender. If she'd had an arm free to fling it out like Alfie Langer they'd probably have called play on.

Next Big Thing Alyssa Bannan also benefited from the T-Rex Tower of Power. Also from an opponent slipping on her arse in the square and letting Bannan mark uncontested for a goal to open the second quarter. She got her second immediately after, and this time it didn't need a slapstick pratfall to come off. Dairy expert Shelley Scott hit her with a wonderful kick in a mile of space and we were away. It's just the sort of thing I expected to see Ben Brown on the end of this year, until his knee fell to bits again. At least unlike Clark (foot), Lumumba (concussion), Lever (knee) and May (everything), he arrived with the injury so there's no heat on us for ruining his career.  

Conceding two quick goals should have convinced the Tigers to give up, but they're nowhere near as bad as they were last year, and we may not be as good as the second quarter against Gold Coast suggested. For the last few minutes of the second quarter they camped the ball in front of goal and god only knows how they didn't get their second out of it. A near miss featuring a snap hitting the post left us just 11 points in front at the half, a nice buffer but not nearly enough to be comfortable.  

With the wind doing what it always does at Casey, there was almost no point Richmond turning up for the last quarter if they weren't in front. I know they were playing Melbourne, and yes I do remember North in Hobart 2017, but what are the odds of that sort of fiasco happening twice in a lifetime? (answer from sometime in the future - absolutely bloody certain)

Instead, with the chance to put the game away we spent the first few minutes threatening to score. Eventually, the decisive goal came from a joint piece of Key Forward Ingenuity and Small Forward Magic. Stuck hard on the boundary line, Zanker did a perfect palm-down to Hore who rushed past and snapped the goal. Stick that in your highlight reel.

Despite my bitterness at the Richmond men becoming a powerhouse while we're stuck in mid-table mediocrity (or worse), I'm disposed to like their AFLW team because it's coached by former MFC trade week conscientious objector Ryan Ferguson. They refused to go away, and I suspect they'll roll a few lowly teams in the next seven weeks.

Our dominance, on field if not yet scoreboard, was impressive considering Paxman was being reasonably well held (though she got going strongly as the Tigers physically and mentally faded), and Daisy barely had a kick. I suppose that's what happens when you play behind the ball against a team that barely got the ball down their end, and if they did it stayed in front of goal for minutes. If you want to pad your stats as a rebound defender role pray for a team whose attacks constantly breaks down across half-back. Or as they're known to 17 men's teams... Melbourne. 

There were few dangers to our lead. Krstel Petrevski blowing her hammy like she'd stepped on a landmine was more of a personal shame - just as I was about to declare her the new, improved Aleisha Newman - than a factor likely to cost us the game. The extra rotation would have been nice, but considering the opposition and relatively mild temperature one player down wasn't going to open the door to a classic run-down performance by a team that had one goal in three quarters.

Now that there's any excuse to give a free in front of goal and protect the head, we got the killer blow courtesy of the two coming together. Kate Hore was tackled and her head hit the ground but not sure what more the Richmond player could have done to avoid out under that grow a third hand, gently cradle the bonce on the way down and give away a free for high contact instead. If they're going to pay those all year in both competitions SEN may enjoy the most profitable season in its history.

In theory, a 23 point lead at three quarter time with the use of the wind to follow, should have guaranteed victory but I've seen some Melbourne sides do things into the breeze than the International Criminal Court should investigate so wasn't prepared to bet my house on a win at any odds. After wobbling through the last quarter against Gold Coast once the job was already done, I wasn't surprised to see Richmond have all the early chances. Considering they needed 5x more goals than they'd got in the first quarters, wasting five minutes trying to blunder through another score was good enough to make sure we'd win.

Much to the disappointment of one vocal Richmond nutter in the crowd, the final nail in the coffin came from another free directly in front, this time to Shelley Scott. If only he'd yelled out "you fight like a dairy farmer" and she'd responded in the traditional manner. By now the Tigers had come to accept the futility of it all, and allowed Karen Paxman of all people to stand in an acre of space at a stoppage in front of goal. She kicked the goal, the margin was approaching 30 points, we were going to start the year 2-0 with a healthy percentage and everything was ok in the world of women's football. Mind you, we won the first two in 2018 and missed the finals on percentage. If there's a novelty way to cock-up a finals appearance somebody at Melbourne has done it.

Not much was going right for Richmond. One of their forwards flew blindly into a pack for a mark at the top of the square, only to have the kick deemed not far enough. Then the perma-scowling Libby Birch absolutely clobbered her in mid-air for good measure. An umpire with a heart would have realised the game was done and that he'd been a bit harsh on the distance and given a free for the your friend and mine front-on contact. Stiff shit in this case. She'll think better of doing anything brave next time. Especially when Libby is around.

Our habit of not conceding goals, outside the first couple of minutes anyway, doesn't help Birch's campaign for individual honours but it's good to know she's there. Her resting psycho face is one of the AFLW's underrated attractions. I'm sure she's kind to all people and creatures the other six days a week, during games she looks like a supporter of homicide.

Because we're a highly diplomatic outfit, Lily Mithen made up for the cruel refusal to gift them the earlier goal by giving away a blatant free in front of goal just before the end. With the allegation of a sling tackle there was a brief outbreak of jostling before common sense prevailed, we let them kick the goal, and they celebrated like Jordan McMahon kicking a winner after the siren. No harm done, until we miss the finals by 0.00001%. 

There's no way to put a negative spin on starting a season 2-0, especially when there's only seven games left, and while nothing suggests an Essendon 2000 style golden season, if we can prove ourselves against a finals contender soon a spot somewhere in the top six beckons. Collingwood are also 2-0, and lets see how Adelaide, Brisbane, Freo and North fare this round, but it's looking like there's going to be a huge glut of teams around sixth (and around 14th if some of the dross put out this season is anything to go by).

The spanner in the works is whether the season will even finish. With quarantine hotel-related people randomly catching the big one all around Australia and the WA Premier not mucking around with his chances of winning an election next month, travel restrictions are going to play havoc with the rest of the season. They shuffled the deck to do West Coast/Freo this round, they'll have to come up with more special moves if borders aren't reopened next week.

Apologies to Westralians, but the only option may be to go on without you. I can understand cutting the finals short last year as Freo were locked up when red-hot flag favourites, but there's only so much you can muck around with the fixture of a semi-professional competition. If you don't like it go and camp outside Mark McWhatshisname's electoral office, some of us have got a first legitimate competition to win (no, not AFLX) since the 1993 Reserves.

At this stage I think a serious ping at the flag may be beyond us, but I look forward to seeing how close we get over the next seven (plus?) weeks. Now, as punishment for trying excise Western Australia from the Commonwealth watch us miss the finals by losing to the winless West Coast by a point after the siren in Round 9.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Tegan Cunningham
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Alyssa Bannan

Apologies to Hore, Pearce, Birch, Emonson and Sherriff, 

9 - Karen Paxman
7 - Lily Mithen
6 - Tegan Cunningham
4 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Eliza McNamara (JOINT LEADERS: Whatever It Ends Up Being Called Award for AFLW Rising Star)

Crowd Watch
I take it the 'Marry Me #22' placard in the crowd wasn't a serious offer. If it was a bloke holding it the Richmond player referenced may wish to involve the police.

Next Week
In a rare, COVID influenced scenario we're playing TBD at TBD with time and date TBD. The original fixture was St Kilda at Moorabbin, scene of a total disaster last year, so I don't see any reason to change that. Any chance of relocating some of these games to the Corona-free northern suburbs so I can go without having to set aside a day to go on an Oregon Trail style journey to Cranbourne?

With Petrevski a certain out I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of wobbly wins against recent expansion sides leads to more changes. One of our other Irish players has to get a game eventually, you can't drag them halfway across the world mid-pandemic, lock them in hotels for 14 days, then leave them out all year. Problem is we're about to start playing good teams, which is not a great time for learning on the job.

I'm still not qualified to have an opinion on team changes but I would very much like to select Mietta to open the door for dozens of dated 1990s restaurant references.

Final Thoughts
In these tough times, it's good to know there's still one aspect of the sport where we can treat Richmond with contempt.

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