Monday 22 March 2021

Flying high again

If you're looking for the Round 1 men's report go here.

To paraphrase the pre-scandal Eddie McGuire, it's been a big week in beating Freo. First, the men to get their season going, then the women do them over to confirm a finals berth with a round to play. As they sing in England, "can we play you every week?" 

I saw the former as it happened, but after spending far too much time writing a review that simultaneously spun out of control and didn't go anywhere I needed a break before contemplating any more footy. So, after loading the live stream on Kayo and clicking pause I went about my business for an hour before finally sitting down to have a crack at what I expected to be a guaranteed loss. 

Just when you thought it was safe to watch sports again an endless stream of interruptions left me using the pause button more frequently than any time since the VHS release of Basic Instinct. By the time I finally got around to it, making up as much time as possible by skipping the pre-game and all the quarter breaks, I'd missed the historically significant news that Mick Stinear was absent due impending childbirth, and that Jane Lange would replace him, making her our first female head coach. And, as it stands, the only person to remain unbeaten while in charge of a Melbourne senior side. I'd retire on the spot and make sure nobody could ever take that away from me.

A few weeks ago being asked to coach us against the Dockers in Perth would have been akin to hazing. We'd just been steamrolled by Collingwood and were sliding out of the six at terminal velocity. Freo, on the other hand, had lost one game in two seasons so could reasonably be expected to take care of us. Of the three games in the nightmare end to our fixture, this looked the least likely to end in a win. Then strange things happened on both sides of the continent. Last week we conjured up arguably our best ever performance, while the Dockers had to play the miracle finish card to fall over the line against Carlton.

Then, to show they weren't harbouring any hard feelings from being dismantled, the Crows did us a solid by kicking seven shades of shit out of the Dogs on Saturday. This ruined Footscray's percentage, meaning that a win here would confirm a finals spot. Even a loss would have still required the Dogs to make up a shedload of ground next week. Given we're playing Brisbane (good) and they're playing Richmond (not very good) you wouldn't rule it out. And as this club is committed to both men and women alike getting their chance to miss finals in the last round it was best to make sure of it ASAP.

After last week I might have fancied our chances at Casey, but was less confident about springing a surprise in Perth. Couldn't have too many complaints about having to play there, despite two teams being based in the city this was our first visit for three years. And what a day that was at the ground that helpfully reminds you 'John Hughes in Victoria Park is your car buying destination' and has a siren that sounds like it's warning of an impending Scud missile attack. There we achieved the near-impossible task of stopping a side going inside 50 at all in the first quarter and still losing.

In another Bermuda Triangle style contest, this time the Dockers went goalless for nearly three quarters and are still entitled to be upset about not winning. To fight back from four goals down, then lose to a set shot from a side that kicked 3.20 over a not too distant fortnight. Under the same circumstances I'd have shamelessly cracked the shits.

It was important to get off to a good start. Given the warm conditions, I didn't favour having to run down any sort of margin in the last quarter. The players were on the same wavelength, going for the jugular right off the bat. When Maddie Gay marked inside 50 she wisely realised that based on her recent goalkicking record she'd probably land it on Rottnest Island (this becomes important later), and passed to Hore, who had been left in acres of space. 

The official record shows that she kicked it, not that we know for sure due to the cameraman seemingly suffering a stroke at the crucial moment and failing to pan left to show the ball crossing the line. Kate loved it and our score went up by six so we just have to assume it went through. After that Atari 2600 broadcasting moment, a replay sponsored by Playstation 5 also failed to show the ball crossing the line. Not quite as bad as Foxtel missing an A-League goal then replaying it courtesy of a fan's mobile phone footage, but close.

The irony of missing a Kate Hore goal while watching on Kayo is that she's just been elevated to superstar status in their new ad, sharing screen time with Dustin Martin and A. Random from the Melbourne Storm. Her inclusion is an important moment in media diversity. Nothing to do with being a woman, but as a representative of clubs that never win anything. There are dozens of us. No doubt that the league will find some way to shift Hore to Richmond in the next couple of years, reasoning that they'll get more publicity value from her playing out of Punt Road.

Already a one-time All-Australian, Hore's campaign for back-to-back honours was given a boost by her second goal. She finished it, but it was born of a Shelley Scott free. When she was forced off under the most low-key blood rule of all time, due to split webbing of the hand, Tegan Cunningham was about to take it before the umpire decided to give Hore a go instead. That was about as close as our all-time leading goalkicker came to connecting ball and boot all day. Her contest was good and she did a few handballs, but that's not much help when your job is to kick goals.

Now we had two goals on the board without reply, and the locals were being dismissed unexpectedly easily. This must have been the threat from the eastern states that their premier was so worried about. Things were going so well that even got a free for their runner legging it through play. What more could you possibly ask for? How about multimedia superstar Hore switching from kicking goals to creating them, fanging into the forward line and landing a perfect pass with Daisy. If she keeps playing like this you can forget Kayo ads, she'll be hosting the Channel 9 news. The captain's new life as a forward has been an unqualified success, and her high-risk pass to McNamara was executed perfectly. Original AFLW star, meet the future generation.

If the Dockers - and bloody hell I'm sick of writing about them after this weekend - hadn't just come from the clouds to win I'd have almost been confident. By now, my late start and the first 97 interruptions had me an hour behind and I was tempted to sneak forward for a look at how it was going. Those blasphemous thoughts were stopped by Freo almost kicking their first, only denied by the first blatant throw that's been spotted in one of our games all year. The local umpire might have had active Fling Vision but weren't as successful with distances, allowing Bannan to run about 45 metres before disposing.

If future Logies host Hore's quick snap at a third hadn't been touched I'd have burst with excitement. Regardless, a 20-1 first quarter was still a great start. Like last week, the opposition weren't playing badly so you could easily imagine a comeback, but any sort of buffer was appreciated. 

It almost got better a minute into the second quarter when Paxman used her god knows how manyth possession to flash another shot wide. She played another fantastic game, taking her spot at the top of the table back, turning back the recent Tyla Hanks challenge for title of best player. While she missed, our other Hall of Fame Legend had better luck, with Daisy rolling the fourth goal through from a pack.

This prompted Freo to finally have a proper bash, putting the brakes on our scoring but wasting chances at an even more rapid rate than their men. Even after Shelley Scott burst through the middle of the ground, then air-handballed straight to an opposition player they only turned it into their fifth point. Nevertheless, with early 90s nostalgia fired by a player called Cuthbertson, the Dockers were storming back into it. 

There was a brief stoppage as Colvin's head bounced off an opponent's knee and was split like a ripe watermelon. At this time I discovered, five years late, that in this competition the clock keeps running while a player goes off under the blood rule. Here's to some extreme shithousery when a player chows down on a blood capsule in the dying seconds of a thriller. 

Freo took advantage of Colvin going off to have her eye-socket reattached to miss another set shot. As this rate we were going to lose 4.4.24 to 0.25.25. After several minutes of either defending or watching the other side needlessly booting points, we nearly delivered a rope-a-dope knockout blow right at the end. Hore had another chance on the run but narrowly missed, keeping Freo alive after the break. The margin was still only 23, and never before have I been more worried about losing to a side that hadn't kicked a goal to half time

The third quarter was our turn to do all the attacking without converting goals, and theirs to nearly hit us on the counter. Only the unluckiest set shot of all time cost them, doing a dramatic fade to hit the post at the last moment. We'd been riding our luck for over a quarter now, and there was deep suspicion that once they got their first goal that five more would follow closely behind.

The pressure was momentarily relieved by the umpires. There could be no complaints from the frustrated Freo player who slapped Birch after a mark and gave away a 50, but Scott's free for what seemed like a perfectly normal tackle was a less clear cut. It prompted special comments rookie Will Schofield to complain about the decision in a way that will probably stop him ever being invited to another AFL broadcast. Never mind that he was right, that's not what they're looking for.

They finally got the long-awaited, floodgate provoking goal at the eighth attempt. We might have got to three quarter time without further damage, if not for Tarrant's comically bad kick across the defensive 50. With 20 seconds left she just needed to hit a target, instead rolling it past Birch's ankles and into the path of a Docker forward, who kicked a goal and crucially decided to hang shit on the combustible Birch instead of the player who'd actually stuffed up, guaranteeing some ill-feelings.

Those goals left all the momentum with Freo going into the last quarter. The warm conditions were not going to be our friend, and if there's ever been an AFLW quarter where a side needed to waste as much time as humanely possible this was it. Sinead Goldrick's hammy tried to do its part by exploding, not realising that the clock would stop while she hobbled off. This was not only bad news or our prospects of winning, it was shithouse luck for a player who deserves to play finals.

At this stage, we still weren't guaranteed to be playing finals and were genuinely rattled, only holding out for four minutes before the margin was reduced to a kick. This time the charismatically named Roxy Roux declined to start a fight with Birch. You're not allowed to endorse violence, even if both parties are into it, but I reckon they'd both go well in a Ramsgate style brawl.

Considering Freo's last start miracle comeback, I had little faith that we could keep them out, and lo they went ahead with eight minutes left. It would have been bad enough losing under these circumstances, without the added insult of going down to a forward with one of the worst neck tatts ever. 

For all the shit we hang on umpires, most of it justified, they got us out of jail again. When a Freo player failed to run past the mark at the correct latitude, a 50 metre penalty carried Gay to within set shot range. Range has not been her problem this year, more that the goals aren't 40 metres wide. The idea that she'd convert now, with the season all but on her boot was like announcing you're about to become a millionaire when buying a Powerball ticket. The million to one scenario finally came off and she put us in front. I felt a great deal of solidarity with the fan behind the goals who looked traumatised as it went through. No matter who you follow nothing will give you the shits more than launching a miracle comeback, getting in front, then losing.

But Freo remained alive, and our five point lead was nothing more than a one point loss waiting to happen. When the ball pinged straight into Freo's forward 50 I was almost certain that they were going to beat us via a frivolous free. We had some reserves of luck left to draw on, and with seemingly no other avenue of escape, a loose ball bobbled perfectly into Sherrif's hands to hoof it as far away from goal as possible. 

That helped waste another minute, but with two minutes to play it was back down our end. Cue 120 seconds of Freo doing everything but kicking the winning goal. You don't want to be too harsh on semi-professional players, but another ROTTEN kick by Tarrant nearly cost us again. Somehow we kept them bay, and I'm still not sure how. When the siren went the ball was going into the 50 at speed again but Freo was narrowly thwarted and we were in the finals. Hooray for teams called Melbourne. Hooray for Jane Lange's perfect record and piss off to the AFL for trying to stooge us with the world's worst draw.

As far as finals-clinching wins in Perth it wasn't nearly as heart-attack inducing as West Coast 2018, but I did still throw my arms up in celebration at the siren.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Birch and Gay

The legend is back. We've got at least two games to play so the gauntlet has been thrown down for Hanks to run her down. Good luck with that.  

26 - Karen Paxman
23 - Tyla Hanks
16 - Lauren Pearce
14 - Lily Mithen
10 - Kate Hore
6 - Tegan Cunningham,
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Maddie Gay, Eliza McNamara (LEADER: Rising Star Award),
2 - Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott, Casey Sherriff, Eden Zanker
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Sarah Lampard, 

Next Week
A game against Brisbane that was going to be crucial to our finals hopes is now practically a dead rubber. They're playing for a top two spot, while we'd need something tremendously NQR to happen to finish that high. The key question is whether we'll have to go back to Perth to play Freo again in two weeks. That would be a bit shit. It will depend on what happens in North vs Freo and Collingwood vs Adelaide, but the best result would be staying in Victoria. That may end us risking another dismemberment against the Pies but I'm willing to have a go.

We'll know more by the time our game starts because North/Freo is being played first. On this note, if it's your lifelong dream to write a Demonblog report I'd like to offer you the chance to do the Brisbane game. Whether live at the ground or off the TV, the floor could be yours. With the men's game straight after I'm going to go postal if I have to remember what to write for both. If you're interested in taking up the challenge, handing out the votes and making obscure cultural references for your own amusement contact me via Twitter or email First in wins, unless you appear to be a loony.

Media Watch
Adam Papaglia is the Western Standard Time version of Jason Bennett. A perfectly competent and capable caller who gets the job done with a minimum of unnecessary waffle. Like Bennett, this is why he'll never get a regular gig doing prime time AFL games.

Final thoughts
When they came up with that rancid draw I just wanted to swap one of the good sides out for West Coast or Geelong. Now that we've qualified the noble way I'll admit the Ms. Bradbury Plan was a cowardly way to look at it. Unless there's a morale shattering fiasco next week we can go into the finals with our heads held high. I still don't think we win the flag, but we have now officially exceeded pre-season expectations. And how often can you say that about a Melbourne side? 

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