Sunday 14 March 2021

From woe to go

Since the closure of Waverley Park, no football venue in this state has said 'pissing down raining' like Casey Fields. Which is why, after a day of mid-winter style misery, expectations for the quality of a night game there were at rock bottom. In the biggest upset since the 2008 Grand Final, not only did the participating sides rise above the damp to put on a solid contest but the one called Melbourne mastered the tricky conditions and won easily. I did not, in any way, see this coming.

The prospects of avoiding a 6-4 final score were helped by the rain lifting shortly before the bounce, leaving the going merely soggy, not like a Civil War battlefield as expected. Equally surprising was the total absence of wind, which made me wonder if they were playing a completely different venue and Channel 7 were using technology to simulate Casey Fields in the background. 

Despite the alleged lack of a breeze, during the second quarter the sound of what was either wind or a train was clearly coming through the microphones. Given that - famously - no train runs anywhere near the place I have no idea where it was coming from. Once the result was beyond doubt, the effects mic was instead turned up to capture somebody who'd be on the cans shouting various thoughts about the umpiring. Late in the game he greeted a free by screaming "No way Jose... NO! WAY! JOSE!" I wouldn't blame him for being Schindlers, I'd have to sink two slabs to be convinced to go to Casey in that weather with the game live on TV.

Before realising that we were going to deliver a savage pressure performance that scared the bejesus out of the opposition, the first reference point for AFLW games in the wet as this venue remained that first match against Brisbane. There we set the trend for the next five years by going inside 50 many dozens of times but struggling to kick 1.4. To be fair the conditions were so bad that day that the players had to go off for lightning, but given that we kicked one goal again a fortnight ago (and once against Adelaide on the same ground) another horrendously low score wasn't out of the question.

For all their struggles in attack, the Crows went within inches of kicking the first goal, and who knows what weird and wonderful avenues the game would have gone down if that happened. Just a week after being discussed as a forgotten Melbourne AFLW player, it was 2019 four-gamer Ashleigh Woodland who had the chance to stick two fingers up at me for not knowing that she now plays for Adelaide. She had, it turns out, kicked six goals in six starts for them this season, but an attempt to soccer through an open goal bobbled on Lake Casey and rolled wide for the first score. This was no [insert your favourite ex-player runs riot story here. Like Brent Grgic playing his best games for Geelong against us], she only had two more kicks, and was as well held as the rest of Adelaide's forward line.

A near miss like that didn't bode well, but we had an even gilter (?) edged chance at the other end shortly after, with Maddy Gay throwing her boot at the ball a metre out from an unguarded goal, only for it to slowly roll away and into the post. At the time I was still expecting to lose by six goals so was just happy to create any attacking chance.

It seemed like a good night for brute force goals, and Adelaide's first was a classic of the genre, with another hopeful toepoke this time rolling through a crowd of defenders and over the line. It may have been touched, though the appeals were barely half-hearted, but in this video evidence free competition there was no way to be sure. Based on evidence from the men's game, even having the video referee is no guarantee of quality. If this was a line-ball decision that you can accept when it goes against you, there was a blunder later that had me hurling an unnecessary level of abuse at my screen.

We were lucky not to concede another goal 30 seconds later, via a free close to goal that would have left us a chasm to climb out of. Given that the Crows didn't end up getting their second until the game was completely shot, who knows if the end-to-end defensive spectacle that won us the game so comfortably would have been able to overcome that start against quality opposition.

Our response came from the unlikely set-shot boot of Eden Zanker, who like a female Earl Spalding has done everything right this year except kick straight in front of goal. Then a golden Paxman pass set her up in a Fritsch-esque boundary line spot, and with all the pressure off she couldn't have finished it better. Scientists call this the Travis Cloke manoeuvre, kick the long distance and obscure ones, miss from 20 metres out. Hopefully Eden also wins a flag on the way, preferably not ending her career going through the motions at Footscray.

The shock of accurate goalkicking proved inspirational, and in the last minute we narrowly grabbed the lead. Goldrick had the chance to add another in the dying seconds, but well beyond her limit she ended up practically punting the ball straight up in the air. She may not be the female Tony Lockett but she is a dead-set ball magnet. Having barely played 10 games of the sport you can forgive her the odd blunder but there's no doubt she has a natural instinct for where to go and how to get it. There's your template for international recruiting. Find somebody a decade younger with the same instincts and reap the benefits.

I still expected Adelaide to come out of the break and wipe the floor with us, so breakout star Tyla Hanks swiping a handball from mid-air to snap the opening goal of the second quarter had me flummoxed. It's dangerous to relax when you follow Melbourne, especially when they're only seven points up, but now I was starting to believe that we could survive the draw from hell and make the finals. That the Crows never again looked threatening is a credit to players and coaches alike.

There was still time for the feelgood factor to evaporate, and for a few minutes the Crows trapped the ball inside their 50 and wouldn't let us get it across halfway. They did everything but kick the goal, until we finally broke free. Stout defence kept them at bay until an ill-advised play-on ended with Casey Sherriff doing a tackle so good it ripped her opponent's boot off. 

The festival of fierce tackles continued with Gay flattening a player who was about to bolt inside 50, then Scott winning another one in the midfield. This was where the game was won, and even though Bannan missed after a free 30 metres in front, Adelaide were now the ones with no idea how to get the ball out of their backline. The difference was that we made it count. 

Lily Mithen did her own superclamp tackle (mind you, how many times out of 10 would they call the exact same thing a push in the back?), and put up what looked like a ludicrous kick to the top of the square, only for it to revealed as BLOODY GENIUS when Lauren Pearce stormed in from left of screen to mark dead in front and extend the gap to 13. And that it stayed until the half, with some more desperate defence stopping the visitors from cancelling out Pearce's goal in the dying seconds.

I've seen Melbourne men and women alike lose to worse teams from better positions, so when Adelaide narrowly missed at the start of the third quarter I thought "here we go". Of course, if the umpire had seen the rugby league style method of disposal that set up the shot they wouldn't have even had one point from it. As it was we went down the other end and kicked a point of our own, cancelling out the big fling.

Speaking of umpiring disasters, here's where the lack of a video umpire cost us, with Tyla Hanks potentially being ripped off out of a Goal of the Year contender where she stepped around half of Adelaide's defence and kicked what seemed like a goal. The only possible reason it wouldn't have been was the slightest touch of the post, but given the goal umpire didn't signal as the reason for giving a point we can only assume he suffered a momentary loss of sight and incorrectly thought it went left of post. Didn't matter in the end, but she should petition to have one goal added to her career tally.

That outrage against decency and common sense was part of a run where we did everything right in the forward line except kick a goal. Players were queuing up to have a ping that didn't make the distance, before Kate Hore bounced back from being flattened in a tackle a few seconds earlier, brought the ball to ground in a marking contest, grabbed it off the deck and kicked the goal. It was a great finish from a quality player, and suddenly we were an unexpectedly long way in front. I could almost have done with seeing a live ladder.

There was still scope to be nervous, Adelaide were playing well enough that they could have banged on a few quick goals if we'd let our guard down. It was crucial to get to three quarter time no worse off, instead we further extended the margin. Mithen started it again, after another free on a night where Adelaide players targeted her like a war criminal, bring back the chip kick scam from the second quarter. It didn't drop right into a teammate's hands this time, but when it hit the ground somebody landed on Hore's back, she kicked another goal and the margin was 27 up against a team who'd scored nine points in three quarters, leaving me pondering the record for teams multiplying their score in the last term to win.

When asked what his side needed to do to win the game, the Adelaide coach was polite enough not just say "kick more goals" and walk off. But that was the truth, and with shorter quarters he'd have needed us to collapse in spectacular fashion to let that happen. For that reason any time run off the clock would be gold, especially if it involved the ball being kept as far away from Adelaide's goal as possible. Instead we kicked the sealer, Hore winning another free, kicking her third (equalling the eclectic collection of Mifsud, Newman and Cunningham x2 for most in a Melbourne AFLW game) and making sure of it.

In the end, all we got out of that goal was wasting two minutes of Adelaide's comeback time, for the Crows immediately went down the other end and plucked a second goal directly from their arse. I was still confident, unusually for me, that we weren't going to concede five goals in 10 minutes. Had they burst straight out of the middle for another I may have nervously adjusted my collar, but the challenge never came. The situation got one of the Crows players down to the point where she lost the will to live and tried to fight Cunningham and Birch at the same time.

Zanker's accuracy streak ended at one, after a double grab mark she had the chance to officially banish the yips but barely snuck her kick in for a point. Don't let inaccurate goalkicking detract from your overall appreciation of her performance. For the purpose of scoring votes she was unlucky that it was one the best team performances we've ever put on. There was barely a bad player, and much to my enjoyment Magee went from looking like she'd never played before on debut (which is no surprise considering she hadn't...), to doing some nice things against good players. Israel Folau at GWS aside, I guess being a natural athlete helps you pick up a new sport quickly. Even old Harmeichal didn't completely embarrass himself at Gold Coast.

Not only did Adelaide fall short of the five goals required to win, they didn't even reach three for the game. There was one enormously flubbed opportunity at the end but it was too late to change the result anyway. They didn't play at all badly, they just ran into what might have been the best team performance we've ever put on. There was not a bad player amongst them, against a high standard opposition. It's one thing to clobber an expansion team, this was a forensic dissection of a 5-1 side with a percentage over 200. It was very good. Short of the few times we've slaughtered hapless opposition, I'm not sure I've ever enjoyed an AFLW game more.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal votes

5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Casey Sherriff

Apologies to Lampard, McNamara, Zanker, L. Pearce, Goldrick and pretty much everybody.

With a minimum of two to play, it's on at the top here. Master vs Apprentice.

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

Crowd Watch
Do you think this is a paid sponsorship, or did they just want a free plug in front of a national audience, safe in the knowledge that no security guard at this game would care enough to make tear it down? Now you've been on Channel 7, please enjoy a complimentary plug to my single figure readership. 

P.S - unless you're on a battlefield (insert Cranbourne gag here) why not just say 'doctor'?

Next Week (featuring the Ms. Bradbury Plan)
After we tormented them, the Crows can do us a solid by rumbling Footscray at home next Sunday. Despite what happened here I'm still assuming we lose to Fremantle later that afternoon, but given that we've got a win and 30% on the Dogs, a Crows win will keep alive the prospect of losing the last two and still Bradburying in. 

Remember, Footscray has an almost guaranteed win against Richmond in the last round, so if they beat Adelaide then we'll likely need to topple Brisbane in the final game to make it. However, last night's result introduces a Plan B(radbury) - Adelaide has 56% on us (roughly 80 points in total, which is not how percentage works but near enough...) but play Collingwood in the last two games. If they get thrashed by enough in their last two games and we restrict our losing margins to as little as possible we could slip in front of them. Not bloody likely, so let's try and find another win. Play another game like this and anything is possible - including more final round heartbreak.

Final Thoughts
Confidence is high again. I wonder how far into next week that will stretch.

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