Sunday 7 March 2021

Pearce them off

Following Melbourne AFLW is stressful in a completely different way to the well-established struggles of the men. This is a side that missed the finals on percentage in 2017 (thanks to giving the wooden spooners their only win), again in 2018 and in the last game of the season in 2019, before finding stumbling in last year when the league fast-forwarded to the end of the year due COVID and winning a thrilling final only to have the competition shut down without a winner. We have never been bad - though it's hard to be considering the rate they've added new teams - but have always been just that little bit not good enough compared to the top teams.

The last two weeks have been final proof, as if you needed it, that this is the ultimate mid-table mediocrity side. If the finals were reduced to a top one we'd finish second, if the competition was expanded to 50 sides we'd end up 26th.

Given that, it was almost inevitable that after two weeks which threatened to finish off a promising season, the AFL would fuck us right over with the fixture for the last three weeks. You've got to play the good teams eventually, and unfortunately if they all treat us with the same contempt as Collingwood, but making us finish the year against three of the top four is a touch rude. That made a game against the decidedly average St. Kilda absolutely crucial. 

All available evidence in 2021 suggests that we'll be lucky to beat any of the top sides, so a loss here would have been cause to flick the lights off and send out any remaining kids as lambs to the slaughter. What better opposition to play after kicking about 3.65 in the last fortnight? The team we lost our only start against by kicking 1.8. If that happened again I was likely to drop punt an internet-connected device over the fence.

In the end, no hoofing of inanimate object was required, though it did look a bit 2020 when we wasted a string of chances in the opening minutes. It started with the ball flinging straight out of the middle and to Hore in the pocket. Out of respect to our embarrassing recent record in front of goal she chose not to register a point, instead booting it high in the air so we scored nothing.

The honour of kicking the first behind of the night instead went to Parry, who looked like the next big thing the last time we played at Casey but has barely had a touch since. When Zanker became the next cab off the ranker for a miss, memories of that Moorabbin debacle were starting to loom large.

All season our best chance of getting out of trouble has been for everyone to stand back and let one of the superstars do it. Much to the joy of this kid:


A surprise forward cameo by Daisy Pearce paid dividends. After an uneventful year to date they tried something different and it was a big hit. If Nathan Jones isn't going to provide my 'much-loved player runs out career kicking goals' fantasies, this will do as a replacement. Who knows if it will work against teams that are good, but it certainly came off against a side that isn't. Her lead, mark and finish were all good, the kick from Gay that set it up was even better.

St. Kilda didn't look much chop, but nor did they last year when we dominated, only to blow it all due to numpty kicking. There were no such concerns here, with the Gay/Pearce alliance setting up Bannan (who I may stop typing as 'Banana' by the end of her career) to thump through a second from distance. Who knows how players are going to develop in a semi-professional system that plays nine top flight games a year but she looks like she'll be very good in the next few seasons. And if she's not, well what do you expect from a top Melbourne draft pick?

It was as dominant a performance as you're going to see without a side kicking a truckload of goals. The Saints were defending for almost the entire quarter, never going close to score, and only once moving the ball to the outskirts of the forward 50 before it was turned back. One of their players was even forced into the indignity of climbing over the fence and collecting the ball. You can see why their life force eventually ran out. 

For now, they were stubbornly refusing to concede and we didn't have the firepower to blow them away. Opportunities for a third goal were spurned via a Daisy set shot and a quick Zanker snap, taking us to quarter time two goals ahead but without the four points firmly in hand. It was good to be back playing the ordinary teams but we've lost from better positions before. Remember Freo 2018? Maybe not, but I certainly do.

I hoped that the second quarter would start with the ball going straight down our end as well, because St Kilda would have had no hope of getting it out for another 15 minutes, hopefully leading to the first recorded zero inside 50 half. Instead, they immediately went forward, and we were only saved by the umpire's generosity in letting Heath run about 30 metres without bouncing to clear it. 

That was about all the resistance St. Kilda could summon, and necked themselves by giving away a goal from a ludicrously unnecessary free. A Hanks kick towards a player standing on her own in front of goal missed, but she was unnecessarily clobbered by ex-Demon Whitfort, gifting Shelley Scott an unmissable shot from the top of the square. Whitfort partially made up for it with a goal in junk time but the damage was well and truly done by then.

Other than lengthy periods where they couldn't extract the ball from defence, St. Kilda were not entirely awful. Eventually a tremendous defensive cockup gifted them their first, and at three goals to one there was the smallest window for us to get the wobbles and let them back into the game. Thanks then to the Saints ruck who shit herself in a contest with Cunningham, giving away a shepherding free kick in front of goal. 

Given that both our goals for the quarter had come from foolishly conceded frees I could have done with kicking a real one somewhere, but had to settle for a 19 point lead. It was nowhere near reward for holding them at arm's length for most of the game, but fair when you considered how bad some of our kicking was during the second term. We got away with it here but it doesn't bode well for the nightmare run home. 

Absolutely charitable under the circumstances, just as it looked we were likely to throw a hot start away Freo ’18 (?). Would have been more comfortable if we’d kicked another before half time but had to settle for a 19 point lead. It was in no way reward for the first quarter, but a fair margin when you consider how wonky we looked in the second, only kicking goals courtesy of silly frees. It does not bode well for the nightmare run home.

If the Saints came back for the second half with an updated plan it was soon discredited, like the first quarter the ball cannoned down our end and stayed there. Lauren Pearce was thrashing anyone who came near her, and nearly added a goal to the equation after getting rid of her opponent at a boundary throw in and firing off a quick snap. This soon begat a lovely goal, where Zanker spun through a tackle, handballed to herself, then landed a kick in a perfect spot for Daisy of the square, continuing her shit hot night as a forward. 

That heralded the opening of the floodgates. Shortly after Bannan soccered her second, then Parry got on the board and the Saints were in disarray. Given that percentage could become important by the end of the year (stay tuned for the Ms. Bradbury Plan) this was a good thing. The game was so far won that even Gay storming the open goal then passing to a player guarding the line didn't cause too much damage.

From 39 points in front, and St. Kilda could have played for the next week without scoring that, there was no chance of losing. However, given how rancid our fourth quarters had been all season it would have been nice to pile a bit more misery on them. Eight scoring shots suggests that the effort was there, but finishing the quarter on two goals each was a touch disappointing. As disappointing as you can get when winning by this margin anyway.

About the only thing Lauren Pearce hadn't done was kick a goal, and though she was unlucky not to mark right in front of girl, her contest allowed the ball to roll straight to McNamara for her first. We went a bit far into party mode after this. After a defender held onto Daisy's jumper like somebody clutching a curtain to avoid falling out of a window, she could have kicked her third but tried to set Zanker up for a morale-boosting goal. Alas, she missed again, but don't let the wonky goalkicking detract from an otherwise excellent performance.

It was now a race between toppling our highest ever AFLW score - 70 against Fremantle in 2017 - and breaking the league record for most behinds in a game. Kate Hore did her bit for the former, snapping a goal that extended the margin beyond 50, and left us within one kick of that Freo total. Sadly, St. Kilda wasted everybody's time by kicking a goal, and time expired without us scoring again.

Again, I'm not sure we go anywhere near winning any of the remaining three games but if our season ebbs away from here at least we got to wallop somebody on the way out.

2021 Daisy Pearce Medal

5 – Lauren Pearce
4 – Tyla Hanks
3 – Daisy Pearce
2 – Eden Zanker
1 – Karen Paxman

Apologies to Mithen, Hore, Gay, Lampard and McNamara.


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

Ms. Bradbury Plan
The dual fiascos against Footscray and Collingwood and a ridiculously two-speed competition mean that even a 4-2 start in a nine game season might not be good enough to guarantee a top six spot. The following plan assumes that Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood and Freo are all going to make it, leaving us fighting for one of the last two spots.

That means our key enemies are North and Footscray. Just behind them, depending how many hundreds of points they beat Geelong by, will be Carlton. The bottom six - none of who we play in the last three games - are all shot to buggery. My thinking about the rest of the season is as follows, also assuming we need to win at least one more game.

Round 6
Collingwood d. Footscray
Geelong d. Carlton (fat fucking chance)

Round 7
North vs Bulldogs - undecided. If the Dogs somehow beat Collingwood I'll almost be willing to concede that they'll make it given their free win in the last round and concentrate on finishing ahead of North.
Freo d. Carlton (which will eliminate the Blues from calculations)

Round 8
Gold Coast d. Carlton 
Brisbane d. North
Adelaide d. Footscray

Round 9
Richmond d. Footscray. Which is no chance of happening, so we'll either need to have it done by this point or potentially win an in/out game against the Lions.

I expect to miss out in a thriller, which will be almost as big a stitch-up as going 5-2 in the inaugural AFLW season and missing out on the top two.

Administrative update
No, not discussion of the latest AFL rule change, but something for stats fans. I've added the history of the award currently known as the Daisy Pearce Medal to the Jakovich spreadsheet (refer the AFLW tab at the bottom). Though only 27 women scored votes in the first four years of the award I still had to work out who Erin Hoare, one vote in 2018, was. Having watched all but one of our AFLW games I thought I'd have remembered everyone who'd participated but apparently not. Turns out she only played four games, then went to Geelong and retired/was retired. I'm sure in years to come we'll remember her as fondly as Elise Hogan and Ashleigh Woodland.

Next Week
It's Adelaide at Casey on Saturday night. A 5-1 records confirms they can be beaten, the fact that loss came against Freo suggests we won't be repeating the dose. We live in hope that they might get depressed about the drive to Cranbourne taking longer than the flight from Adelaide.

Final Thoughts
I enjoyed it far more than I will the next three weeks. Prove me wrong ladies, prove me wrong.

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