Thursday 1 December 2022

The funnest day in the history of Springfield

There was a dark time when all our flags were so grand and old (or in some cases stolen) that soon no living person would remember them happening. Then the 2020s came along, the greatest global health crisis in a century somehow worked in our favour, and the Melbourne Football Club has now won premierships across the entire spectrum of national league football. Today, more than ever, let me say what a time to be alive.

For those of us who celebrate all the meats of the MFC cultural stew, a seven season wait for AFLW glory wasn't anywhere near as traumatic as waiting a lifetime for the men, but that doesn't detract from how important it was to finally capture the cup. For years the women have inched their way to this point - initially denied by ludicrous finals systems, having a season cancelled mid-finals, losing a Prelim, then a Grand Final. 

Technically everything was advancing in the right direction, and even if we'd lost almost the exact same team would have been back for another go next year, but it left open the unpleasant possibility of other sides catching up quickly and leaving a golden generation going out empty-handed. If you can find one that's not rocking back and forth, ask a St Kilda fan what that's like. Our men avoided this issue by playing an average of one good season a decade before breaking through, but for years their counterparts have won the majority of their games without getting over the line.

The AFL's handling of the competition this year had truckloads of scorn poured on it, but the realignment of the calendar worked in our favour. It made sure Daisy went another year, it created threadbare expansion teams that important players refused to consider, and left the coach with something to do before he ran out of patience and started flicking through the men's coaching section of

Post-Adelaide redemption couldn't happen without making another Grand Final. We did that, via a season with only one loss and some of our all-time most savage wins. Then, in a weird outer suburban location, under strange atmospheric conditions, and a couple of hours after Delta Goodrem clambered atop her piano this happened: 

Which was nice.

The classic moment didn't come easily though. Unlike the hour of power during our last triumph, 27/11/22 required the grimmest struggle possible, with the result in doubt from midway through the second quarter until the final seconds. By then I was, in the words of David Lee Roth, crazy from the heat, having quite literally gone troppo under conditions unsuitable for a soft southern shite who's never done a day's outdoor work in his life, and might have been airlifted home in a straightjacket if we'd lost.

Men in white coats were on standby to carry me out, but were not required due to our team standing up under a hail of incoming bullets for three quarters and earning one of the grittiest wins you'll ever see. No club has ever deserved a flag, but given our run-up since 2017, and the recovery from a drastic position on this day, they were as worthy winners as you'll see. 'Brave' is usually said when patronising shit teams who've had had a go, but there's no better way to describe Melbourne AFLW on Sunday afternoon. Now the group has the reward its deserves, and by any means necessary I've seen Melbourne win a Grand Final in person. Everyone's a winner - unless you're involved with Brisbane. And in that case you've been here, so step aside and let us have our moment.

Also important, if you're a sicko like me, is that it may have completed the circle of winning every VFL/AFL (1897-) endorsed competition ever staged. Some are so frivolous that it's almost embarrassing to mention them, but I need this to make the point that we're the only side with such a collection. Your 126 year path to grand slam glory:
  • Men's flag - 1900
  • Seconds/Reserves - 1931
  • Third/Under 19s - 1947
  • Lightning Premiership - 1952
  • McLelland Trophy - 1955
  • Little League - 1967
  • Night Series - 1971
  • AFLX - 2018
  • Women's flag - 2022 Spring
(Warning: Don't try and claim annexed Sandringham or Casey modern VFL flags, because that will expose that 'we' never won the defunct VFL Development League, and haven't yet done the VFLW)

Appropriately, both our first and most recent senior premierships involve beating the Lions by four points. In 1900, Fitzroy arrived so sure of victory that carriages outside the ground were adorned with 'Premiers' decorations. This time they took us more seriously, almost everyone else was assuming victory on their behalf. Regrettably, that included me so I'm glad that years of underestimating our side came home to roost in the most delicious fashion. 

For once, you can't blame me for being nervous. The only side to beat us all year had just spent the second half of a prelim with their feet up, and had us playing in ripe (in more than one way) home conditions. You could picture a path to victory, but it seemed the major obstacles were a) running the game out in the heat, and b) scoring enough to win in the first place. Turns out neither are an issue if you hold the opposition goalless for three quarters. A valuable lesson for the next team who are forced to play late November games in Queensland.

Any venue in that state would have provided an equatorial experience, but with the Gabba and Carrara both booked we were off to the literally all-new Brighton Homes Arena (AKA 'Springfield' if you're the ABC or keen on Simpsons gags) for its inaugural event. Sure the turf had only been put down a month earlier, but what could possibly go wrong? Part of me was outraged at playing on a third choice construction site, but compared to the proposal of playing in Cairns it might as well have been the MCG.

I wondered if they couldn't play on cooler Saturday night game because the lights hadn't been plugged in yet, but now that we've won there's no point moaning about the venue. Like the men having to travel the country from east to west for a flag, sometimes things that don't seem ideal to the naked eye turn out ok. You don't know what would have happened on a temperate Melbourne afternoon, but you know they won in the sauna so embrace the oddity.

With legitimate questions about the surface holding up, a minority movement ironically campaigned for the game to be played at Death Valley Docklands. I was against this not only for reasons of fairness to Brisbane, but more importantly because it would have left me holding non-refundable flights and accommodation. Besides, the claim idea that 50,000 would have turned up in Melbourne doesn't compute with 43k less than that attending the only other AFLW decider held here. We'd certainly have got more than Springfield, but the showcase game would have been played in front of a near-empty stadium. If you want to know what that would have looked like, refer to the Brighton Homes Arena five minutes after the final siren as Brisbane fans evacuated like there'd been a bomb threat. 

The AFL took Brisbane's word that the ground would be fit to play on, so we had to go with it. Turns out they were right, but I still wasn't confident until we reached midweek without turf chaos. The only remaining issue was getting in. I didn't think that would be a problem while impulse booking to go, but came perilously close to disaster. Fortunately, I was in place at 5pm when tickets went on sale, because within a few minutes they were gone, only to return for a window of about 45 seconds later in the week. I don't doubt there was plenty of interest, but the rapid disappearance of tickets probably had a bit to do with letting people 10x per transaction, including freebies for kids. 

To the credit of the people snatching enormous handfuls of tickets in one go, if capacity really was 8000 then only about 500 didn't show. Maybe they turned up to discover the zaniest queue in the history of western civilisation and gave up. There's no way to adequately describe it if you weren't involved, but the thing had more bends than the Mississippi River, leaving you several hundred metres away, perilously close to standing on a road, with nobody official to be seen. As part of the Simpsons theme it left me thinking "if the line's this long it's got to be good" and expecting to get to the front and find I was queuing to sign up for Auskick.

The reason for the congestion was eventually revealed as an entry point where nobody had thought about a 'bag free' line, meaning anybody without one was stuck waiting for security guards to do half-arsed checks that wouldn't have found a loaded AK-47. But eventually I was inside a Grand Final venue hosting the Melbourne Football Club and ready to party like it was 2021. Yes, that night meant more than any other moment in the history of football, but it took place in my loungeroom with one smuggled family member who semi-cared, and two residents who were just humouring me. This was the chance to see premiership football alongside people who cared.

So, if I was looking for the aura of quality MFC people it makes no sense sitting in a spot that gradually filled with Brisbane fans until I was a one man red and blue enclave. It was partly because I'd mentally had enough, having got up at god knows what time, carted myself across two states after suffering a random fear of flying at the last minute, then foolishly walked around in the heat for a couple of hours before going to the ground. Now I just wanted a spot to take the game in and damn the consequences. Not surprisingly it didn't last.

My first thought on walking in was how good the controversial newborn turf looked, having expected to find something resembling the surface of the moon. "Wait until somebody turns left and does a knee" I thought, but it never even looked like happening. Given that everyone else associated with Brisbane got to do a speech at the end they should have had the groundskeeper up for a round of applause as well. The playing area had come up so well that the only questionable bit was the unprotected brick wall just over one bit of the boundary line. No doubt that will be fenced in before a nondescript reserves player is crippled after sliding into it.

The next key question was how the heat would affect players. Brisbane should have had the advantage, given that we haven't had a hot day in Melbourne for about nine months, but it turned out to be a non-factor. You couldn't know that at the time, and whoever put together the day's running order hadn't studied player welfare. After warming up, in all senses of the word, both sides were called to the middle for what would traditionally be the national anthem. Except in this case they stood there for about 45 seconds listening to a club mix of ABBA's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), then unnecessarily long sponsor chat, and an extended version welcome to country where the guy threw in ad libs as they came to mind. Looking for any excuse to expect defeat, I thought this extra energy-sapping, awkward standing around would cost us late. And if we'd a goal at the end you'd better believe that's precisely the line of whinging you'd be reading.

Our beating of the heat will be great for the resumes and future job interviews of conditioning staff, but there was an unexpected assist from nature. While it remained 32 degrees and stickier than the floor at the Crazyhorse Theatre throughout, the sun was obscured by cloud during the middle quarters. The weirdness continued with a thunderstorm warning. Luckily this came about 30 hours early because 7000 people would have had nowhere to go if it started pelting. Most would probably have bolted for home, but I was prepared to go down with the ship if that's what it took to see live flag.

It took four quarters of trench warfare (almost as long as the introduction to this post) but my tribute pilgrimage to seven seasons of joy from watching this team turned out pretty bloody well. What follows is an amalgamation of my live viewing and the replay, because I could barely make out what was happening at the other end. There was a video screen but it was so small that you could only make out the score and the elapsed time, and I know writers watched footy for 120 years in these conditions but they probably just made stuff up to compensate.

To pay off one of the great storylines of the season, starting Harris in the ruck made me nervous. With the fear of wilting in warm weather I wanted to get off to a good start, and even whe she does well in the middle it robs us of our only serious contested marking target forward. Her absence also reduces our chances of bringing the ball to ground or scattering packs like a bowling ball. Whether it was due to being painkillered to the gills or not she didn't show any obvious effects from the shoulder injury, and while Tayla wasn't disgraced in the ruck duels we couldn't win a clearance under any circumstances so I couldn't see (he says questioning a premiership coach) where the benefit was.

I'm not saying she'd have kicked eight if left forward, but you got an early example of what we lost without her as a target when Hore had to aim at centre half-forward Paxman. Of course she didn't mark, because it's not what she does, and the ball did work its way to Daisy for a missed snap, but we were all motion under pressure rather than having time to think about building attacks.

Speaking of Paxman, it was good to see her go with the pre-bandaged head one last time. And why not, when it's become so iconic somebody in the crowd had made their own replica. Sadly it wasn't unhygienically piffed into the audience at the end but was hopefully preserved with tongs for inclusion in any future MFC museum. In an unexpected post-match twist, the next time you see Paxman it might be in purple. Other sources suggest it's unlikely, but after seven sensational years I wouldn't begrudge her going. Presuming Daisy hangs up the boots, there doesn't need to be much more movement from the flag winning side but we've got to get McNamara back and start looking at the future so we'd go on.

Our more immediate issue was getting the ball out of defence. We couldn't clear from stoppages, and had no clear targets when exiting Brisbane's 50. What we did have was Tahlia Gillard tormenting the piss out of the league's top goalkicker. Multiple times in the opening minutes alone she stopped Wardlaw from taking clean possession, and continued to get us out of jail all afternoon. In the lowest moment for the 3-2-1 voting system since the umpire leaked Brownlow results to his mates, she didn't get a cracker in the BOG award. Not that I'm saying the expert panel were influenced by stats, but you won't be surprised to discover that the two players who finished a mile ahead of everyone else also had the most possessions.

Birch was pretty good, and Heath did a spectacular shutdown job on their best small forward, but Gillard did so much that doesn't get counted on a basic stats sheet that it's criminal that she didn't get more credit. From my restricted view she was best on ground. It wasn't just me, I heard somebody else say she was going to win the medal shortly before it was given to a Brisbane player who profited from having it kicked to her 15 times. The AFL's website report had Gillard fifth best, which was a bit more realistic, but they also had Hanks first and she didn't get a vote either so who are you supposed to trust?

Our midfield did their bit, especially West throwing herself into every confined space on the ground, but we didn't win without the backline standing up. The coaches would know, and for the rest of her life Tahlia will be able to review gamefootage to prove she was robbed. If she wants to launch a legal challenge on the result I'd be prepared to testify under oath for her. 

In a change from usual procedure, Brisbane's first shot was taken by two-time after the siren misser Greta Bodey. I was almostcertain that she'd finally go third time lucky on us here, and kept this firmly in my mind until the game was over. This time her kick landed in the square, we short-circuited about six attempts at a snap, and the panic continued. It didn't help that I was already considering throttling about 90% of the adults sitting within a five metre radius. 

As well as we did to stop the Lions scoring from close range, it was ridiculously difficult to get the ball away from their goal. We survived one hopeful kick being intercepted, before the second ended with a player standing on her own miles in the clear. As Brisbane fans whinge about the umpiring, feel free to note the absurd angle liberties taken by the player before this kick, but it's still our fault for not having somebody in the way. 

It was the third time from three this final series that we conceded the first goal, and it turned out alright the first couple of times so there was no need to stress out. "At least it gets the ball away from their end" I thought, only for them to fang straight out of the middle and into attack again. This time there was no titantic struggle for scoring, the umpire missed Birch headlocking one player, then made up for it by giving a soft as butter free straight after. Now we were two goals back and in a spot of deep, warm shit. 

To their credit (because we ended up winning) the coaches kept the faith with Harris in the ruck, but panic alarms were going off at full volume when the Lions broke out of the middle and went forward again. Guess which defender got in the way? Hint - her surname starts with 'Gill' and ends in 'ard'. I thought watching the replay would unlock the secrets of why she wasn't considered in the best players, and it only further convinced me she was robbed blind.

Our forward issues were demonstrated by Zanker marking, kicking to Daisy one-on-one, and still being the next closest Melbourne player to the ball when it hit the ground. It felt like if we were ever going to go four quarters without a goal this would be it. At 11 points down, strong defence was appreciated but no longer enough to win the game. My only consolation was that we'd have the use of a slight breeze in the second quarter. That should have also helped us in the last, but the bastard died off during the second half. 

We got to quarter time without any further damage, but not before another panic kick off the last line of defence nearly led to what might have been a death blow third goal. Top defensive performances by Gay and Chaplin (later a clear BOG in the early celebrations) saved us, finally setting up a gilt edged chance at the other end that we stuffed up in such farcical fashion that it made you want to catch the early plane. 

A series of handballs left Fitzsimon walking in an open goal, but unfortunately not being made aware that there was an opponent right behind her. From the other end it looked like she was too close to miss, so I shouted "That's more like it" a millisecond before the tackle mowed her down. The upside to being on grass, and with Brisbane fans a respectful distance away, was that I could flomp to the ground in frustration. On replay, I can see that if you were under oath at Footy Court you could argue that the ball hit her foot on the way down, rolling to Bannan on her own 10cm out, but morally you couldn't argue the free.

There was plenty of time to recover, but that blunder felt symptomatic of where the game was going. Brisbane had nicked goals out of nowhere, while we worked our arse off for one good chance then blew it in comical fashion. The ball stayed at our end but a Wacky Waving Inflatable Flailing Arm Tube Man would have been more chance of marking than anybody we had down there. You can win a game without forward 50 marks, it just puts a lot of reliance on goals plucked from the arse. And there we were, two goals down at quarter time of the Grand Final, being yelled at relentlessly by the world's cheeriest ground announcer while baking like rotissierie chicken and wondering if there was something better going on at the shopping centre over the road. 

As much as I'd prefer to either have a designated seat or somewhere Row MMish to stand, you could get away with playing Grand Finals at a grassy knoll if spectators had the remotest decency and sense of occasion. I wouldn't have minded being in enemy territory if you could confirm the enemy was Brisbane Lions and not Gilbert Sullivan, because the fans present were the biggest collection of theatregoers known to man.

The greatest crime perpetrated by these people was to stand in front of you and have a casual chat while the game was going on. Forget that there was a Grand Final happening, just hang around gasbagging like you're at a BBQ you peanuts. Which is a gasbagging and peanuts short of what I said to the two men in front of me when the second quarter was about to start. Interacting with fans is not my go, but nobody else seemed to care and without intervention they'd have stayed there forever. Then, of course, the siren went and nothing happened for about 30 seconds. You could see them considering whether to start saying things like "have you missed anything yet?", or "is this exciting enough for you?", at which point I'd have switched to low-blow personal sledging and probably been evicted.

I didn't understand at the time, and am no wiser having watched the replay, but somehow the best attack in the competition never kicked another goal. You'd never have guessed from the start of the second quarter, where we got what passed for a centre clearance in the circumstances only to be pinged holding the ball to gift them another chance. By now I was starting to get a bit nostalgic for playing the shit teams, and thinking how it good it was to sit at home and sulk in front of the TV.

After all the false starts, various Christmases came at once when a lovely tap-down from Paxman allowed Hanks to stuff the ball right onto Harris' chest 30 metres out directly in front. Much to the glee of the fans around me, who had decided to call a surprise Carnival of Hate, she missed. If my Plan B of kicking to marking forwards wasn't going to work I was flummoxed.

We didn't look any more likely to kick a goal, but the midfield were starting to break even, Brisbane's defence was starting to absord pressure, and we remained alive. Usually at this stage of a struggle to score I'd say 'when all else is lost call in a legend' and either Daisy or Paxy will kick a goal. This time it was 'call in the foreign legion', as cult figure Mackin unexpectedly cropped up. Bannan deserves credit for assisting it, putting in about four efforts before flipping the ball out to her running teammate and bingo, bango the margin was less than a straight kick.

I take it the women are included in the post-2021 pledge to automatically make all premiership players life members when their careers end. I don't think much of that idea no matter the gender, but am interested in the perversity of a player who first came to Australia in August leaving at the end of November with life membership in the bank.

This was the goal that changed everything, and was solid reward for improved performance. Now everything that happened in the first quarter was irrelevant, and it didn't hurt that their captain was injured in the same passage. Considering how much long we had the ball down there, one goal wasn't a fantastic reward but more importantly nothing went in at the other end. We did have to survive one scare in the dying seconds when old mate Wardlaw finally got a chance courtesy of Gillard doing Gillardish things up the ground but grassed the mark.

When the first hints of storm came at half time I thought everyone in the uncovered 99% of the ground would rush for the train station. It never went behind a few fat, menacing drops and the crowd was unmoved. I had to find somewhere to properly express myself in the event of a thrilling and/or controversial finish, and would like to thank the Demon Army for providing a safe space where I could leech onto their general presence and make sure somebody in the immediate area understood my feelings.

After my earlier outburst about people standing illegally I was left open to charges of hypocrisy when the President parked herself practically right in front of me before the third quarter bounce. I was pondering whether to risk excommunication by asking her to move when she avoided a diplomatic incident by moving voluntarily.

Further evidence against the zany, Trumpian idea that the umpires were helping us win came from West's early kick to Hanks in front of goal not being deemed 15 metres. Perhaps it was 14.86 but would have been paid anywhere else on the ground. It was part of more forward half dominance, until much to my "I told you so" satisfaction, Harris marked a kick that never went as far as West's. Then she tried to play on so ridiculously quickly that the player was still hanging off her from the contest and she could plausibly deny it. This time she kicked straight, and we were ahead. On a related note, I saw lots of people wearing a fugly, bootleg t-shirt of her that could only have been sold via Facebook ads. If you've ever wondered who falls for those crappy sponsored posts the answer is several Melbourne fans in the greater Ipswich area last Sunday.

After doing all the hard work to get, and stay, in front (including narrowly surviving a touched kick) nothing would have been more typical Melbourne Football Club than conceding right at the end of the quarter. Or in this case after it, as Brisbane's latest shot after the siren was the most realistic and gettable of them all. From 30 metres directly in front I was all but resigned to the result, but as the fairness and probity loving Brisbane fans behind sooked about the cheersquad waving a giant flag behind the kick, it missed. I'd like to think it was the flag that won it. Our lead survived, but spending the last couple of minutes under siege suggested to the nervous onlooker that we didn't have much left in the tank. False alarm, there was plenty to go around. 

Two goals in two quarters was a great result for long-term AFLW hatewatchers and once a year sooks alike, but they can jointly piss up the nearest rope. There's a difference between players missing set shots from the square then shanking the kickout on the full at right angles, and a grim pressure struggle where every goal is worth is weight in gold. You'll never convert the skeptical, but I look at it like Halloween - you're more than welcome not to enjoy it, just don't be the miserable kent who sets out to ruin the game for everyone else. I'd still like to commission research to determine crossover between the saddest of these gits and people who vote for political parties with 'Freedom' in their name.

These people could never understand, but I was STRESSED AS FUCK at three quarter time. We'd literally come too far to lose this in disappointing circumstances, and after dominating through the middle quarters any result short of victory would have sent me off the deep end. 

Cue the most knife-edge quarter imaginable. Maybe neutrals weren't invested enough to appreciate it, but I was hanging on every kick, and continually looking at the time ticking towards 15:00, safe in the knowledge that there would be stuff all time on. If anybody looked to be tiring in the conditions it was Brisbane, but the longer we went without putting the game away the longer they stayed a chance of throwing one lucky punch to nick it.

No moment seriously impacted the result under the last 30 seconds, but there was a moment of excitement after Mackin was caught in a failed dummy. The umpires got confused as to who was in charge, Bannan spotted one of them calling play-on and ran through the ball-carrier like a rocket launcher hitting a tank. In normal circumstances this would have been either 50 or holding the ball, but ended in the Brisbane player being sent back to take her kick like nothing had happened. I saw a post during the week about a fan being served at Rebel Sport by Bannan two days before the Grand Final, and if this was anything to go by she should ditch retail, join the police and start pummelling Victoria's crime rate.

An exclamation point winning goal would have been nice. Zanker had a set shot that she aimed perfectly but just didn't have enough leg to put through. If you know what to look for you can see me in the crowd ready to go absolutely apeshit if this went through, before slumping back down again as it was rushed through. Like everyone else in our side that didn't rack up bulk possessions, Zanker was ignored in best player calculations, but was really good. I don't know if there was something wrong with Lauren Pearce, but she spent a lot of time rucking, and also pulled in a lot of crucial touches around the ground.

I didn't know there were only two minutes left, but it was obvious that we were getting close to the end. It would have been a good time to lock the ball inside 50, but Brisbane quickly took off and reached the wing unimpeded. Thank god that a kick which might have unlocked their path to goal missed the target and bounced straight to Hore, who was caught high in a tackle. Her kick was picked off, but we lived to fight again. Possibly out of guilt at the Bannan missile tackle debacle, the umpires then completely ignored the ball being piffed over Goldrick's head after a free, leaving us still stuck on the defensive side of the ground.

At last, it was time to open the MFC White Pages, scroll to 'L' and dial a legend. After struggling one-on-one as a forward for most of the day, Daisy went big when it counted and plowed into a contest with zero regard for own safety, breaking up what would have been a certain mark and another forward thrust. Bannan and Gay both had half chances to seal it, but the second miss troublingly left Brisbane kicking in with what turned out to be 36 seconds left. A lucky bounce let them get a kick forward but Hore was parked behind the ball, Hanks worked her arse off to mark her kick and if I was watching on TV I'd have known we were safe.

Instead, despite somebody in the distance yelling about there being 30 seconds left, my ringpiece was clenched so tight it could have produced diamonds. I might have been immediately behind our cheersquad, but was still wedged between two families of wholesome Brisbane supporters so was trying not to be a complete bastard. By this point heat, humidity, and sporting tension had gotten to me so I probably wouldn't have been able to hold back the anti-social behaviour if we'd lost. 

I was so delirious that as a Fitzsimon snap bobbled towards goal I was too focused on it to notice that the siren had gone. The first realisation that we'd won was when Bannan let out a clenched fist, almighty roar in our general direction. They cut away before you saw where the kick went, but as it failed to score thank god she wasn't shooting to win it. 

Cue a little bit of carnage, and surprise interaction with strangers. I got so excited singing the song that when a Channel 7 bloke stuck his camera in my face I went with it instead of hiding. Thankfully they didn't show it, saving me from being permanently attached to a premiership moment looking like a dong. Later the party atmosphere got to me again, and as manners had been thrown out the window anyway I snuck my head into a group photo of the Demon Army and Daisy Pearce. No regrets, when else am I ever going to be in the same picture (even peripherally) as a legend?

Of course, it wouldn't be a Melbourne premiership without the presentations turning into a farce. The only difference here was the absence of Basil Zempilas, and a Brisbane captain going through the longest concession speech of all time. I don't envy the job of having to speak after losing a Grand Final but you'd think the instinct would be to congratulate the winners, thank the sponsors, promise to come back next year, and leave. Instead she may as well have thanked every Brisbane member from Aaronson to Zakowski.

Then it was time for the Ms. Norm, and while I was ready to howl in ecstasy when Gillard was rightfully announced I'd have accepted any of our lot. The Brisbane winner played well, but the announcement fell flatter than a plateful of piss because there were only about 103 home fans left in the ground. She briefly livened up proceedings by telling us she’d only just avoided having a Chris Mew, before picking up where the captain left off and mentioning every person who'd ever visited South East Queensland except Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Eventually the winning side was asked to be involved, and obviously respectful of her teammates itching to have a massive piss-on in the rooms she kept her remarks to the point. The big difference in winning Grand Finals was this time the coach got to speak, and also showed admirable brevity so that Brisbane didn't have to camp out for the night listening to us rub the result in. The weather didn't care for their feelings and exploding red and blue streamers wafted directly into the deject Lions group.

In case you thought proceedings had gotten back on track, the individual presentation of players was the biggest post-match Grand Final shambles since Peter Moore threw his loser medal to the crowd. Anyone who has ever watched one of these ceremonies knows how it works, which apparently didn't include the person who'd been hired to do it here. First she promised to read the names in 'chronological order' (?), then took off saying them in numerical order at world record pace. She was going so fast that it got to #7 Tayla Harris and #3 Maddie Gay hadn't yet completed her medal-hat handover with the kid. Somebody wisely chipped in to suggest slowing down, causing her to realise it was going tits up and make a self-deprecating comment. 

It was tremendously undignified, but she'd probably have read out I.P Freely if it was on the sheet. No doubt Channel 7 would have preferred Telstra Premiership Cup Ambassador (this was a real thing) Abbey Holmes to do it, if they could have stopped her wandering around confused as to why Adelaide hadn't won.

Finally, because they couldn't locate the recruiter for the Springfield Communist Party, the players were free to go nuts. During the raucous post-match I just stood up the back applauding like a bandwagon live attendee, watching our team interact with the cheersquad in a series of the most wholesome footy moments since the Casey player's dog ran on the field. The men appreciate the week in/week out, around the country support they get from these fans, but I can tell it meant the world to the women It's one thing to be there for the win, but this will also be a cherished memory.

After getting within sight range of a recently won AFL premiership cup at last, I had no more contribution to make. My voice was gone, my core temperature was above Fukushima reactor three, and the happy memories were in the bank. The added bonus to hanging around so long - single digit numbers of home fans on the train back. And that was it. The prospective storm didn’t drop for another 24 hours, I had a brief but fruitful session at the State Library the next day scanning for coverage of our first game against the Bears at Carrara, did some other limited tourist stuff and came home. As far as interstate Grand Final thrills and spills go it didn’t come close to sneaking into WA for live flag then spending three months in the clink, but for where I'm at right now it was perfect.

If there's anything to complain about, and there really isn't, it's that we did it in this weird year that will forever be referred to as 'Season 7'. It'll always be the 2022 Spring season to me. It won't make it any less ludicrous if they come back in a year with 'Season 8' as if they're naming Wrestlemanias rather than sports seasons. Here's to us winning a weirdly named cup that will baffle people in the future, before sanity is restored and the 2023 premiership is awarded. Preferably also to us.

What a day, what a team. I'm so happy for the originals who have been there from the start, but also the great players picked up on the way, all of who are doing this part-time. They might have had to go back to jobs on Monday, but every one of them has their place in history. Regardless of how long their careers last, each has the most important words in footy etched next to their name forever - 'premiership player'. And in a completely platonic and non-threatening way I love them all for it.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tahlia Gillard
4 - Eliza West
3 - Shelley Heath
2 - Eden Zanker
1 - Tyla Hanks

Apologies to Purcell, Gay, Birch, Chaplin, Hore and most everyone else.

Final leaderboard
In the most tricky finish to a Demonblog awards season yet, the result came down to a game where you could throw a blanket over a dozen players for the last vote. Sadly for Purcell she was just edged out by Hanks, leaving us with the first major award tie in the 17 year (!!!!!) history of this page. Congratulations to both on fine seasons, and to our other confirmed winner this week, Demonblog's own Tahlia Gillard, who ended up romping the Rising Star.

27 - Tyla Hanks, Olivia Purcell
23 - Karen Paxman
22 - Eliza West
20 - Lily Mithen
15 - Tayla Harris, Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
10 - Tahlia Gillard (WINNER: Rising Star Award)
7 - Eden Zanker
6 - Shelley Heath
5 - Sarah Lampard
4 - Maddie Gay 
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Considering the gravity of the event there's not much on offer here. Obviously, in the battle between running goal and set shot from the square, motion gets the nod, so Blaithin Mackin can add this honour to her premiership medal and TBC life membership. No change to the overall top three, meaning it's a Bannan quinella at the top. Congratulations to the excitement machine, who takes home the annual award of a lifetime supply of Jolt Cola.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Next week
This was my 50th post for 2022, so the first thing I'll be doing is not writing any for a few months. Apologies to anyone who is still interested in an End of Season Spectacular, it's just not going to happen. Please do expect some updates, starting with adding the words 'premiership player' to a lot of profiles, but also historical stuff. I'm currently doing the 1996 papers so get ready for a spot of merger chat. But not for a bit, let a tired old man rest.

Final Thoughts
Despite ending the day in a state of near total physical/mental collapse and losing my hotel key it was the best time I've had in Brisbane since Expo '88.

Sunday 20 November 2022

Once more with feeling

In the grand scheme of Australian sporting schedule cockups, you don't have to wait for all the good grounds in Queensland to be booked on Grand Final Day, just come to my place when the joyous occasion of a Prelim intersects with an equally important toddler related event, leaving my house full of people who had absolutely no interest in the composition of the AFLW Grand Final.

Of course this wasn't going to stop me from watching, and I absolutely turfed my dignity out the window by casually slipping the TV on at 3.09pm. The discreet option would have been to sneak into another room and watch on my phone but I thought it was time to be out and proud as somebody who would give equal weight to a footy game and a small child's milestone event. Deft management of the schedule ensured that all the really important stuff was out of the way by the first bounce, but I was still left trying to watch while interacting with normal people and not flagrantly yelling obscenities at the TV until after half time.

The third quarter was a great time to be able to fret via the medium of offensive language, because what turned out to be the greatest defensive performance since Rorke's Drift looked a lot like North pounding away with repeat inside 50s and threatening to blow the game to pieces at any moment. I nervously used all the seven words you can't say on television, but somehow we only conceded two behinds from 18 attacks and only conceded two behinds. This tough effort didn't win the game on its own, but it helped kill North off, setting the table for what happened in the last quarter.

Now, for the third time in 18 months a Melbourne team is playing a Grand Final. Make if four if you count our Putinesque annexation of Casey. 'What a time to be alive' was already achieved on 25/09/2021 but for those of us who celebrate AFLW this would be a delightful exclamation mark.

With our old friends Adelaide on the scrapheap, and a rematch with lone conquerors Brisbane awaiting, we may have started favourites but I wasn't taking anything for granted. It's easy to be confident once the win is in the bank, but I was shitting it about losing. Eighth placed teams shouldn't be scary for one that missed top spot by a literal point, but there was no doubt North was the fourth best side in the comp. NQR competition structure and fixturing buried them in eighth (just a casual 1.5 wins and 80 something percentage points ahead of ninth), but they'd have been worthy Grand Finalists if it had gone that way. But it didn't, so in the most respectful possible terms, bad luck.

Considering how short AFLW season is, it feels like a lifetime since we nearly lost to North in Round 2. Remember the controversy about making it a curtain raiser to the men's final, when they were still a flag chance but we still weren't convinced by the women. The M bombed out quickly, and the W went on to lose just one game and achieve the best defensive record in the history of the competition. It's insanity to compare AFLW and AFL stats, but if you were so inclined best of luck finding somebody at any point of the leagues's history that let in just 18.4 points per week. As an admirer of the defensive arts dating back to a brief fascination with Phil Gilbert, it won't surprise you to find out that I. Love. This. Shit.

After our dud start against Adelaide, I wasn't surprised to concede the first goal. That game gave me confidence that we could return serve against top opposition, if we could get the ball forward. There wasn't much of that early, as the ball stayed camped at North's end. We were turning them back effectively - something that would happen x18 the next time they kicked to right of screen - but struggled to get the ball clear. Our play-on tactics look good when they work, but it's harder to get acres of space to run into against good sides.

We were finding it hard to move the ball, with regular accumulators Purcell and West being jumped on before, during, and after getting it, so sneaking one at the other end felt like thievery. In what Jane Bunn would describe as 'blustery' conditions, Fitzsimon's set shot was pinpoint and we were back on level terms.

For all the scorn poured on Casey for being a wind tunnel, and suggestions that AFLW should be played at decent grounds more often, there was an absolute gale blowing through Princes Park. The cameras Channel 7 used for the play were stable, albeit with the usual issues of zooming in way to far on the ball so you didn't know what was happening two metres away, but their Celebrity Cam that perused the stands looking for well known figures was so shaky you couldn't focus for long without risking a spew. 

If that first goal felt like we'd been lucky because North couldn't convert, getting another was Ronald Biggs, the Great Bookie Robbery and Oceans 11 rolled into one. This time it was Mithen from a standing start, suggesting it was going to be one of those days where the goals come from unexpected sources. This is a good thing at any time, but especially in a competition where most games don't break a 50 point aggregate. It also helps when your actual forwards are hit and miss - Harris hasn't kicked a goal for weeks, Daisy had to roam up the ground to get involved, and all of Hore, Bannan and Zanker were in and out across the afternoon. Like Lampard getting two against Adelaide, anything unexpected is a bonus.

Speaking of Harris, things got more complicated when she did herself a shoulder mischief in a ruck contest. The contact looked innocuous, the reaction showed that the result was extremely painful, and she basically played with one arm for the rest of the day. You can't say I wasn't thinking about her, because my first thought was "well, at least she doesn't have to lose another Grand Final". After three in six seasons, a fourth might be too much. Rene Kink lost five so hopefully she's not on the phone to him for support on Monday morning.

For want of anywhere else to put it, Paxman Head Injury Watch can report that she had the bandage off during a midweek media appearance and the wound looks horrific. I'm not sure how it can be still be so bad weeks after the contact, unless she's headbutting lockers pre-match Goldberg style. If we win the cup they should wrap it in tape too. Off-season plastic surgery issues aside, Paxy was very good again here, but the long-term future is Tyla Hanks. She isn't quite at the Clayton Oliver sixth sense level in traffic or possession level, but looks so comfortable with the ball in traffic and chaos swirling around. She also had 12 tackles. What a legend.

After briefly going behind again, the cavalcade of unusual goalkickers continued with Casey Sherriff, and we were never headed again. Not without one of the most heroic defensive performances of all time. A goalless third quarter is gold for people who hatewatch AFLW/do reflex snarky replies whenever it's mentioned, but it was the equivalent of an exciting 0-0 in soccer. Yes, such thing does exist, when one or both teams have dozens of chances but can't break through. 

You don't need a blow-by-blow description of this quarter - just imagine North pounding the ball forward a million times, but not finding targets. We'd dash out of defence, break down somewhere between half-back and half-forward, rinse, repeat and do it all again. The rare times we did burst forward were for nowt, and usually didn't leave the ball down there long enough to put any pressure on North. There was one particularly rotten one where Bannan did all the running, had nobody to kick to, and so just punted it down the throat of a defender in her own postcode of free space. 

It didn't help that Zanker had to be sacrificed to the ruck after Harris' injury, but I felt like we were going to be trying to defend a lead of a couple of points until the final siren. This was no way to live, but getting to the last change three points ahead was practically a miracle under these circumstances. 

Hands up if you had any confidence from here. I thought we might win, but not without a death struggle that went down to the final siren. In the end, it was reasonably easy, aided by North failing to score again. Daisy missed one chance to kill them off with an irregular attempt at a close range snap that missed everything. It the end it proved a handy OOF. Hore's strong mark and goal gave us breathing space and set Pearce up for the in-game redemption story. She's just going at this point, but her winning goal was a thing of beauty, running away from an opponent, breaking a tackle, turning, and hoofing it through and snapping the shit out of it from 30.

Start your Simpsons gags, because we're off to Springfield. Quite literally in my case. As Daisy's goal cross the line I fist pumped my way through the living room, and went straight for the phone to see how much flights to Brisbane cost. By the siren I'd gotten over my all-consuming inner tightarse and booked. Stick your 'Move It To Marvel' campaign where it fits, I'm fully invested in self-interest now.

One game shy of seven complete seasons of being stitched up from attending games at every opportunity by family commitments, work, or the fact that Casey Fields may as well be in South America for its proximity to me, I've finally found a game I can go to. It'll cost several hundreds of dollars more than just getting in the car and driving to Cranbourne (although with petrol prices...) and probably take the same time, but the convenient meeting of last week of season and first week of holidays gives me the chance to go.

And, despite North fans sooking hard about umpiring, nobody can deny that we deserve a spot. There's only four good teams in the competition, but two of them have to miss out. Unlike most seasons the standouts will play for the cup, and I can't wait to have another massive crack at the Lions on a deck that looks like the fifth day of a test match in Lahore. Bring on next weekend ASAP.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Tahlia Gillard
1 - Shelley Heath

Apologies to Birch, Chaplin (minutes points for saying we 'verse' North in a post-match interview), Mackin and Zanker

What seemed off is now very much back on, with the last two survivors pocketing votes and the leader missing out. There are still multiple permutations that could land us this website's first triple dead heat. As long as we win I don't care if Coco the Clown gets five votes but it will keep things interesting. Congratulations to Libby Birch, now confirmed winner of the Defender of the Year award, and to her fellow defensive Tower of Power, Tahlia Gillard who can't do worse than a share of the Rising Star. I've got hopes of a heartwarming Mackin BOG that forces a draw but won't let that unduly influence proceedings.

27 - Olivia Purcell
--- Can still win ---
26 - Tyla Hanks
23 - Karen Paxman
--- Cannot still win ---
20 - Lily Mithen
18 - Eliza West
15 - Tayla Harris
13 - Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
5 - Tahlia Gillard (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Rising Star Award), Sarah Lampard, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay
3 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
For sentiment and context you can't beat Daisy. Nothing to trouble the Bannan heavy top three but vital in the context of our season. If this is the last goal she kicks for us - and by christ I hope it isn't because a couple will come in handy on Sunday - it was memorable.
1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Media Watch
Patrick Dangerfield's brand of Full Frontal level comedy usually shits me but on special comments he acted normally and was quite enjoyable. I look forward to a couple of years when he's promoted post-retirement to their main roster and is encouraged - usually by his fellow callers - to be as absurdly wacky as possible, give everyone the shits, and ends up hosting 'Roaming Danger' when Big Turd finally spontaneously combusts.

Next week
Much like winning the men's variety interstate due to a global pandemic, I didn't grow up expecting my first taste of live MFC Grand Final action to be through a women's team. And if you'd told me it would be the first game at a venue somewhere in the Brisbane suburbs, in late November, on a ground where the turf was laid a month ago, and where there are only 600 seats I'd have called you a dickhead. 

I'd have also called you a dickhead for running a league and failing to account for one of the best sides making. Understandably, the Gabba is out for cricket, but Carrara is also taken by something called Festival X. Lucky they're not holding it in a club. The good news is that every sniffer dog in the state of Queensland will be occupied so feel free to show up at our game carrying a trafficable quantity of gear.

Once absurd suggestions of moving the game to Cairns were ruled out, Brisbane's new training ground (and, to be fair, future home of AFLW and Reserves games) was confirmed as the venue. Of course, when I say 'confirmed', I'm expecting that several hundreds of dollars invested in flights and hotels will go up in smoke when the surface is declared unfit on Wednesday and the game is relocated to a region where there's more than two suitable grounds. Like Melbourne.

I've been laughing at the idea of 'venue subject to change' for years, but the joke will be on me if it winds up here. There's no way the league would refund you if that happened, but I note that while their ticketing FAQ says "the AFL reserves its right to change the AFL fixture at its discretion and without notice. The AFL will not be liable for changes made to the AFL fixture.", the actual terms and conditions linked to only say they won't be liable for changes made due to COVID border restrictions. I expect their response to that loophole would be to make you spend more on lawyers than you paid to go their in the first place. Maybe Peter Lawsuits will take up the case for fans instead of suing the club again?

I'll remain positive for now, but be on guard for a stitch up until about 2.39pm AEST on Sunday. Regardless of whether the ground holds up, what says Grand Final more than a ground where 7400 people will be standing. So far, so Casey Fields, but at least this joint has a train station and it won't be freezing cold. Instead, we'll stand outside with no shelter and die of heatstroke so swings and roundabouts.

Here's an artist's impression of how it's supposed to look. I'll be the guy awkwardly reacting as if he's standing the mark, you can be the lady in the background who looks like she's demanding holding the ball, and if any of us can effectively get food, drink, or take a slash with running water it will be a miracle.

Second to the Death Valley Docklands style turf chat is the small matter of playing a Grand Final against the only side to beat us all season. You'll recall that day we were without Tayla Harris, went three goals up, then fell in a crater.

Based on that, and predicted hot weather, Brisbane will certainly be expected to win. I'm quietly hopeful though (which is a few steps below quiet confidence). Harris might only have one arm but she hasn't kicked a goal for weeks and we've found alternative avenues. This statement may backfire when we lose the AFLW equivalent of the 1989 Grand Final, but we're in a good position because the better your defence the less you've got to score to win.

If Harris is fit and nobody else gets hurt midweek there won't be any changes. I maintain that if Duffy is alive she'd probably be a better forward on paper than Daisy at the moment, but even half-heartedly suggesting a switch would lead to somebody assassinating you in the street with a poison umbrella. And you'd deserve it. That would be like trying to turf Nathan Jones at the last minute if he'd made it back into the side in late 2021 - with the added bonus of her being the serving captain. She brings great aura, and as discovered on Saturday can still do some damage if given space, so form an orderly queue behind the legend and let's get the fairytale finish that Jones was denied.

Given my travelling schedule there may be an interim post on Sunday night, but the full enchilada won't be up until Wednesday at the earliest. If it arrives before that you'll know I've entirely run out of things to do in Brisbane (which doesn't seem very hard) and am trying to stave off the temptation to try autoerotic asphyxiation.

Final Thoughts
Regardless of what happens at the local park next week, we've had a wonderful season in an otherwise stagnant year for the competition. We may never get the opportunity to be this good again, so why not make it the nearest thing to a perfect season and win a shock flag? I fully expect the result will be decided by a fluky bounce off some lumpy turf, and will not complain in the slightest if it goes our way.

Sunday 6 November 2022

For a feud dollars more

One way or the other we've seen off every decent in the competition since 2017, except Adelaide. Even Brisbane, who could easily beat us to a flag in three weeks, were toppled in a final last year. But, until Friday night we'd never beaten the Crows in a seriously important game. Round 1 this season was good, the mid-2021 win even better, but they've had us on a leash when it counted. There was the humbling in the last round of 2019, the 2021 Prelim disaster, and a Grand Final where we escaped humiliation but never looked any reasonable chance of winning.

All this has left me with both fear towards, and hatred of Adelaide AFLW. Regardless of the fact that we could very well play them again in a Grand Final (and if we learnt anything from the men's season it was not to prematurely claim superiority over a side that hasn't been eliminated yet), it might be time to start treating them like everybody else. Coincidentally, the aura started to fade just as they had to start sharing players with Port Adelaide, and have gone from an unstoppable juggernaut to just one of the - admittedly minuscule - teams who deserve to be at the top of the ladder.

Beating them at our last start was irrelevant here. 10 weeks ago may as well be a lifetime, especially coming in off the back of the easiest finals lead-in of all time. Maybe somebody got to play Footscray, North and Hawthorn in consecutive weeks at the end of 1927 but I bet they didn't hold all of them + and one other side scoreless in both the first and last quarters. The dream run of the millenium saw us fall a point short of finishing top and left us vulnerable to the biggest non-drug related comedown in history. Now we've come back from the dead to win in heroic fashion, put ourselves on what appears to be the weaker side of the finals draw and the sun came up Saturday morning in red and blue.

It's easy to talk like this now, but cross to me halfway through the first quarter and I was having kittens. Starting favourites was understandable, but after thrashing Hidem, Foldem and Flee in glorified training runs, I didn't consider us dead certainties like the bookies. Sports betting is a cancer, and I'd never bet against my own side but still perked up at Adelaide paying $4.20 to win. If that's the scale they were grading on, West Coast must have been about 200-1 last week.

My discomfort with starting raging favourites against a defending premier who'd finished one spot below us on the ladder went into overdrive when we conceded the quickest goal in league history. Purcell won it from the bounce, but her handball was picked off, Adelaide pelted forward for the opener, and I swore in front of the kids.

Couldn't go forever with other teams failing to score in the opening quarter, but this was a bit ridiculous. It still left us with a good recent first quarter average, so no harm done as long as we didn't spend the next five minutes under peak defensive stress, eventually conceding a second goal and confirming that you can't actually play the shit teams every week.

Initially, it didn't look like we had any hope of escape. It was a lot like that 2021 Prelim, and consistent with Adelaide's status as a grown up, competent, side, they didn't allow the sort of freewheelin', piss takin' run as the dud sides, instantly burying anybody who touched the ball. It wasn't until we got running that things started going well, showing that the Crows had the right tactical idea but just couldn't drag it out across four quarters. For now, there was a bit of tits up about us. Even on the rare occasions we escaped their clutches and got forward, it looked unlikely that anyone would convert.

By the end we'd found a multi-pronged forward line - including from some random sources that nobody saw coming - but at first Harris and Pearce, D were miles off it. Harris has an excuse for going goalless a third week in a row because she ended up doing a lot of rucking after Pearce, L hurt her shoulder (and did a bloody good job of it), but hasn't looked her usual terrifying self inside 50 for weeks. With her goes about 99% of our contested marking power, so you can see why I had so little faith in overcoming an early deficit. This is also partly due to me being a massive, yellow streaked, coward. Which is why I was almost ready to scuttle the fleet and head for the lifeboats when their ruck shoved Pearce out of a ruck contest and snapped a third. 

At the time I was outraged, but in their defence the umpires did ignore LP doing the exact same thing later. Even with umpire whinging removed, it was an especially painful goal to concede because it put the brakes on our first decent patch of play all night. We'd just narrowly missed goals when an end-to-end move saw Zanker dispose of her opponent in the marking contest but drop the mark, and Mackin almost got to a bouncing ball in the square but ended up kneeing it through. She nearly killed a defender in the process, which might have come in handy.

These half chances were as good as it got, so thank god the backline held firm under pressure and stopped us letting any more in. Birch was incredible again, but while they'll be pushed out of the votes, a word please for Chaplin and Gillard who were also fantastic in helping stop the Crows early, and almost completely blanketing them after quarter time. Chaplin also got genuine laughs telling the joke in the huddle before the third quarter, so that's another win for her. Not bad for somebody who was delisted without playing a game nine months ago.

Already three goals down, it also looked like we'd lose Lily Mithen, seemingly knocked into oblivion in a collision. That's just what we needed, not only a player down for the night but probably next week as well. She might have kept her head wrapped and loaded the bandage with metal 1980s wrestling style, but turned out to be naturally made of iron, returning with no ill-effects to be one of our best players. After Paxman instantly bounced back from a head knock that still has her head bandaged several weeks later, you start to wonder if they're playing to a different concussion protocol in AFLW. Or do lighter bodies mean less damage in collisions? Ask Dr. McCrory.

Finally, deep into the quarter and with the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse roaring down Royal Parade, something finally went our way. The second movement of an otherwise innocuous tackle on Harris made contact with her back, giving us a cheap, nasty, and free chance to get on the board. If anyone in this league is going to effortlessly hammer through a goal from that distance it's Tayla, but perhaps put off by the big Carlton logo behind the goal, she kicked it like a bag of potatoes and barely registered a point. 

That was our absolute lowest point of the night, and where you could have been forgiven for throwing your hands up in the air and walking out of either Princes Park or your own house. 90% of the time you won't go wrong following that instinct, but to the credit of everyone involved the next three quarters couldn't have gone much better. 

We'd been overwhelmed, but the quality of game itself was an astronomical improvement on the dreck served up by half the competition. Makes you wonder what it would be like if these were the matchups you got in Division 1 every week why the rot played each other. The terminally miserable are never going to care, but you've got more hope of retaining open-minded viewers after this than some woeful slopfest featuring Carlton and Essendon.

Then, just when you thought all was lost and the women were heading into the previously male domain of straight set exits, we belatedly turned up and Adelaide couldn't cope. I'm not into claiming game-changing moments that don't lead to a score, but if there's ever been a team-lifting moment that ended in a turnover, this was it.

Bannan is like an electrical storm, she shows up at random but offers a spectacular visual effect. Six bounces in one run were just two short of the leading total for our male players across 24 games. I don't blame her for not making perfect decisions after having just charged down the ground like a juiced up racehorse, but it's still a shame that the kick found Hore stuck behind two opponents instead of the three players standing on their own. Even if she'd shanked it to one of them due to fatigue, there would have been enough doubt to declare it the greatest run since Cathy Freeman.

As well as the game went from here, it's fair to admit that a stroke of luck got us going. Purcell did well to walk out of traffic before her snap, but the kick only narrowly avoided a defender who should have rushed it through (and may very well have, thank god for the lack of video replay), and still had take the right bounce in the square. No complaints from me, the way we'd gone until then I'd have taken the cheapest, most administrative 50 in the history of the game to get us moving.

Now there was room to run that didn't exist in the first quarter, and Mackin increased the available space with some of the widest dummy sells in the history of the game. One of them saw her tilt so far to the side that a light breeze might have left her cartwheeling across the ground. It was genuinely thrilling stuff, and in conjunction with Goldrick fanging off half back at maximum speed, this is the greatest overseas combination we've had since Stynes and Wight.

Things were getting interesting in unexpected ways. The world's most underrated player Sarah Lampard previously had one goal in 50 games (and even that was a free hit against first expansion slurry West Coast), but wandered forward to thump one from distance. This was a fine time to try something new, bringing the margin back to under a goal and all but wiping out our dreadful start. If the plan had been to run Adelaide off their feet it was starting to work. With Daisy Pearce struggling to have an impact we still lacked firepower, but namesake Lauren had no such issues, doing a marginally less obvious shove from a ruck contest than the earlier one, and putting us in front.

It would be an understatement to say I didn't foresee the game flipping on its head like this. Instead of  holding a side scoreless in the opening term we did it in the second, but it's not like Adelaide didn't have chances, it's just that the backline was on fire. Birch is so good it's not funny, and at this stage I'd like to remind you that we effectively got her for pick 8, with about as many years left to play. That'll do nicely.

Considering where we'd started, it was an achievement to be ahead at half time. Without any sort of wind that might encourage the Crows to run up another big score to the left of screen, we escaped the first 15 seconds without conceding this time and things were looking up. Not that the game was won yet, far from it, but we had more run, looked more likely to score, and their attacks were being turned away with the greatest of ease. 

Enter greatest show on turf Bannan again, to kick her first (complete with an elite finger aloft celebration) and increase the margin to eight. It might have been RIP Adelaide if Hore hadn't missed a sitter from directly in front not long after. Alternatively, it might have prompted the Crows to kick nine unanswered goals and win in a canter so best consider it part of the plan and move on. I was NOT interested in this way of thinking when they flung straight down the other end and immediately kicked another.

Now our lead was four points at the last change, with no recent experience of a tough last quarter, West off the ground clutching her shin like Nancy Kerrigan, and the Adelaide coach declaring that he was confident his side was going to run the game out better. I was, quite frankly, shitting it. Like almost every scenario involving this side, it was premature panic. Our run of keeping sides scoreless in the last quarter ended, but only to the tune of one point, while down the other end we piled on three to win in what would have seemed like absurdly comfortable fashion an hour earlier.

In a completely random turn of events, Lampard got the party started with her second. I haven't seen such an unexpected goalkicking rush in a final since Sam Weideman, but at least he was expected to be a forward. Her set shot was so good that I'd encourage more forward excursions in the future. 

The final death blow was struck by one of the all-time zaniest AFLW goals. With 10 minutes left, and a 10 point lead, we were by now means safe. And when Bannan marked on the edge of her range I didn't hold out much hope, then she deviated to the right mid-run up, and sprinted just close enough to goal that she still had to kick over the outstretched hands of a second defender. It was absolutely glorious, but you can understand why that would make the opposition shut up shop and start thinking about the flight home. 

The last remaining interest from the Crows was to start niggling, as if they hadn't pissed away a match-winning lead by playing three quarters with the handbrake on, but we refused to show anything but the most token interest. Zanker chucked another one on for good measure, and against all odds we'd pissed it in. Not really payback for the 2002 Semi Final but it'll do for now.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Libby Birch
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to almost everyone, but especially Chaplin, Gillard and Mackin.

Now there's a maximum of two games to play, everyone outside the top three is gorn. Realistically, Purcell must win this from here. I would never have seen it coming pre-season, but accumulation is boss. 

27 - Olivia Purcell
--- Needs two more games ---
21 - Tyla Hanks
20 - Karen Paxman
--- Abandon at hope ye below here ---
18 - Eliza West
16 - Lily Mithen
15 - Tayla Harris
13 - Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Defender of the Year)
5 - Sarah Lampard, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay,
3 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Congratulations to Lampard for being apologised to in a different category this week. I loved to see her smash through the first like her leg was a baseball bat, but good luck beating the Bannan extravaganza.  
I liked it so much, that I'm promoting her to second place on the overall leaderboard. You can't beat the game winning supersnap against North, but this was tremendously enjoyable in its own way. The Princes Park ground crew is still trying to unscrew the player on the mark out of the turf.
1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Media Watch
There must have been somebody watching who thought commentator Alister Nicholson was the same guy who used to play full back for us. He was good, joining the list of Channel 7's perfectly sensible commentators who you'll never see during the men's season because they prefer blithering idiots with 'personality' over competent media professionals. 

Next week
Nothing. Have a well-deserved rest. Cheer for whoever you think we're a better chance of winning against...

... the following week
Now that we've lost our chance of finally playing Geelong, it's a Prelim against Richmond or North. We can beat Richmond but the Roos would be interesting. A little too interesting for my liking, so let's get rid of them ASAP. As long as West's leg didn't fall apart when the tape came off, I don't see any reason for changes. After demanding Duffy for the first half of the season she might have missed her chance now. If you were playing a video game and there was no element of sentiment involved, you'd probably say she was more likely to kick goals than Daisy at the moment, but the captain is the heart of this side so she stays no matter what.

We've had a good run with injuries, and have natural replacements available for each part of the ground. Duffy as the replacement forward, Ivey in the middle, Caris in the ruck, and Wilson or Brown in defence. Other than Duffy, none are nearly as good as what they'd replace but are good enough to play a role in the machine. What we've got on field is a 50/50 proposition if we end up playing Brisbane at the end, but for now it should take care of any of the other options.

Next question is where the Prelim will be played. Sorry to people who enjoy games played in Falkland Islands style conditions but Casey is out. With the Big Boring League a month away, I expect Docklands is also off, so back to Princes Park I suppose? Not ideal, but having won comfortably there twice this year there are worse places they could send us. This team has so much heart that I'm confident they could play in a minefield and it wouldn't affect them, so here's to avoiding shitting of bed in a fortnight and we just might get another look at a Grand Final.

Final Thoughts
Eight years of membership later, my daughter still couldn't give a rats for footy of any gender (and is still bitter that I wouldn't let her go to bed before the final siren on 25/09/21. Bad luck.) but has been around long enough to pick up the vibe. When I offered the view that the women might win the flag she said, "that wouldn't mean as much to you as the other one though". Which is true, but that's like being upset because your Powerball win is inferior to the GDP of the European Union. It would still mean a tremendous amount because I absolutely love this side. Unlike the men, I don't need a premiership to validate my own supporting life, I want it for the players and coaches who have done so much for this program since 2017. But also a lot for myself.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Taking advantage of the less fortunate

If you follow Melbourne long enough you'll keep finding things to surprise you. When I took this lifestyle on in 1989, I'd have scoffed at the idea of a women's team, with games broadcast live on an interconnected network of worldwide computers that also delivers on-demand viewing, gaming, and - let's be honest here - filth. Now, after 33 years of milestones being ticket off - including winning the original recipe competition flag I never thought would happen - we've reached the point where I felt a bit flat after a 79-1 win.

As far as last round percentage disappointments involving West Coast go, it had nothing on the two day fiasco at the end of 2017. That weekend we had a simple task, botched it, and were punished accordingly. This time every effort was expended, in unfavourable conditions but we narrowly ran out of time. Grabbing the minor premiership (and if you're calm enough to look that far ahead, Grand Final hosting rights) via the heist of the century would have been ace, but it still meant finishing with a 9-1 record, a double chance, home final, and perhaps a trip to [Venue TBC in Queensland] for the big one if things go as planned.

Brisbane's comfortable win on Friday night seemingly removed most of the drama from this game. We were left having to either keep West Coast to a humiliatingly low score, or score well over hundred. I wasn't confident in either option, between wind blowing so hard that our banner disintegrated, sodden turf after days of rain, and the expectation that the Eagles would try and escape their last game without looking silly, I never thought the magic margin would be threatened. After the visitors were subject to death by a thousand cuts, we ended up with about 90 seconds of drama and fell short by the loneliest number.

West Coast was on a hiding to nothing here. They knew we were playing the game, but we didn't need to play the game, because we'd already won the game. Give that Richmond finished fourth, their win over Brisbane doesn't even count as a colossal upset anymore, leaving about zero major surprises this season. If you were in an AFLW tipping comp you'd be ashamed at having an average of less than eight a week. To their credit, the Eagles tried to keep things from getting out of hand before eventually being swamped. I'd struggle to get out of bed for any sort of inevitable defeat, let alone one where you have to fly across the country, then drive 90 minutes to a suburb where the weather randomly changes every 20 minutes.

If they were wondering what the point was, so were Fox Sports. The host broadcaster correctly identified this game's limited appeal to viewers and put on the lowest budget coverage since ESPN Ocho did the Slippery Stairs. There was zoom in, and a zoom out that made it look like they were filming from Stony Point, but nothing in between. Usually their sideline interviews with players come with picture-in-picture, this just had them fliping frantically between dejected West Coast players and the play. They never spoke to any of our side, who had no time for gasbagging with commentators mid-match when there was important work to do.

West Coast's all-yellow long sleeves were a fashion disaster, but made them look appropriately like a PacMan ghost, existing only to be mown down on our way to a high score. Still, no matter how savage it got in the end, talking about racking up astronomical scores before the game was uncouth. I'm pretty sure coaches and players had discussed the idea though, because we spent the afternoon bamboozling clearly outmatched opposition by trying to play like the Harlem Globetrotters. It didn't always come off, and despite conceding plenty the Eagles' intercept defenders were probably their best players, but it was obvious from the first bounce that we weren't going to do something silly like losing.

Why wait until Round 10, I could have told you after the fixture was released that we wouldn't lose to a bottom four side in the most unbalanced competition since the late-1980s VFA. I can understand why a lot of people who are otherwise open to this sort of thing don't rush to watch their side being monstered at every start. We've all been through periods of total incompetence in the men's competition, but nobody's scored 0.1.1 for about 100 years. It's not an indictment on the long-term future of the league, but doesn't promise tremendously competitive seasons until good sides start losing their best players to retirement and can't replace them. Hopefully we prop ourselves up by constantly swiping promising players from other clubs. What more could a future superstar ask for than playing on a windswept tundra in the middle of a housing estate?

We had the best of the early minutes, but the egg didn't start to crack until a self-destructive panic kick from the last line landed with Paxman. Just when it looked like her campaign for another medal was over, Paxmania has taken off again recently. It's happened ever since she started pre-wrapping her head. I hope she keeps doing it even when no longer necessary until somebody throws it in the crowd like an unsanitary version of Bruce Doull's headband. 

Paxman mastered the extra head weight and the tricky wind to steer her shot through, then hit Hore with a delightful pass for another opportunity and it looked like the parade was going to begin early. She missed, and I switched back to thinking the bumper margin was going down the Casey Crapper. The Eagles looked as likely to kick a goal as I was from the couch, but that didn't matter unless the ball was going through middle post at our end. By the time we reached 1.4, neutrals would have been forgiven for checking in with Race 3 at Port Kembla. And they'd have missed the best part of the quarter. Hore - who also had five forward 50 tackles in the opening quarter alone - set Fitzsimon up with a delightful handball, then the Eagles backline lost Purcell for a third and things were looking up again.

If you just multiplied 23-0 by four we'd have easily covered the score required, but when has it ever worked like that? More good news - it was the fourth week in a row holding an opposition scoreless in the first quarter, and I'll be well and truly buggered if that's ever been achieved in high level competition before. We later doubled our fun with a fourth consecutive shutout last quarter. None of this is any good for the credibility of the competition, but has been tremendous fun for us. I hope there's no culture shock when we go back to playing half decent teams.

Their forwards may have stood little chance, and stuffed themselves up when given opportunities, but let that not detract from an unreal defensive game by Libby Birch. She was cutting off everything that came near, and is as responsible for keeping West Coast to a frighteningly low score as their own issues.

The victims found some respite by parking the ball at their end for the first five minutes of the second quarter. Sadly for anyone hoping to break the ultimate taboo and keep a side scoreless, they used this time to shamble through a point. Turns out that was it for them, but they did blow a few more chances around this time. The worst was the player standing on her own within scoring range and dropping a mark, which prompted us to belt down the other end, say "thanks for keeping things interesting, now get out of the way" and kick another. We were trying to move the game on as quickly as possible but Harris' handball from 15 metres out to Bannan nearly backfired, as she only barely got boot to it before being caught. They all count, but we won't be pulling off razzle dazzle moves like that against Adelaide or Brisbane.

There was never any doubt about us winning, but after Zanker took about nine bites of a mark before gently dropping her kick over the top of a square full of defenders a poleaxing was back on the cards. The inability to rush that through made them look foolish, but not as much as bursting from the next centre bounce and having a player smother her own teammate. It was hard to get excited watching the semi-professional equivalent of playing against a kid and refusing to go easy on them but I secretly loved it. The commentators did their best to make excuses for the Eagles, but all you need to know is that they have beaten Port and GWS, but lost to Freo, Hawthorn and Essendon so would probably be near the bottom of a second division as well.

The hapless visitors were back to defending like the Russians at Stalingrad, and their task was made more difficult by a half that started in lovely sunshine ending with pouring rain and gale force wind. This made it look less likely that we'd double our 38-1 advantage and get near the magic mark, but we nearly got there. West Coast had another five minutes of serenity after the restart before the procession recommenced. Hore got our sixth, but we were also piling up wasted chances. Zanker and D. Pearce missed gettable shots, and Harris bombed one wide from distance, before Mackin steamed into the wide open spaces of our forward line for her inaugural AFLW goal. Again, it was an assist to Kate Hore, who won't get a stat for disposing of her opponent in a marking contest, but morally deserves a slice of the action.

As tragic as this was getting, we were now only 15% behind Brisbane so there was suddenly a lot to play for. The minor premiership means more to me since Gawn in Geelong, but I still think it's presumptuous to worry about hosting a Grand Final before the important stuff has even started. I just wanted to do it for the achievement, to go into finals knowing we chased down a massive total.

If any West Coast fans were still watching they'd have briefly taken their head out of the oven for another near score late in the quarter. Sadly for them, the ball failed to break for a chasing player inside 50 and was quickly sent in reverse to safety. It was not a day for proving my theory that we didn't give Krstel Petrevski enough of a run as a small forward, but you could have put Gary Ablett Sr in that forward line and he would have struggled for a kick.

Restricted to just two goals for the quarter, we went into the last needing to pile on four and a bit to bugger all in the final term. We got the four, but fell agonisingly short on collecting even bits to reach correct weight. To prove that the chase was serious, Harris did a risky bump to a player with extremely large hair. Luckily her voluminous barnet absorbed the blow and Tayla escaped with a fine.

It got to 60-1 with eight minutes left after Harris, Hore and Hanks combined for a Triple H goal. Still doubted we'd get three more, but was quickly put back in my box by Hore and Zanker and the chase was well and truly on. Sadly, swathes of the last few minutes were lost to charity umpiring, letting the Eagles feel better about themselves by throwing the ball and/or walking into tackles unpunished, wasting valuable clobbering time.

Then an end-to-end move sent the unlikely Heath through, and when Lauren Pearce snatched one out of the ruck for a point we only needed another behind to jump in front of the Lions by 0.2%. It was not to be, and you can't blame players for not knowing what the obscure percentage calculations are while they're in the middle of a match, but if only Daisy had any sort of shot from the boundary instead of trying to centre we might have got the required score. Never mind, what would a Melbourne flag be if won the easy way? 

Narrow percentage disappointment aside there's nothing to complain about. Harris got away with the bump, nobody was injured, and the banana skin was not only avoided but lobbed into landfill and left to decompose. Now the real stuff begins.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Libby Birch
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Karen Paxman

Major apologies to West and Zanker

With a maximum of four to play the dreaded line appears. Farewell to anyone with fewer than five votes. At the top, Purcell will have to work hard to lose from here, and Birch all but wins the Defender of the Year.

25 - Olivia Purcell
20 - Karen Paxman
18 - Eliza West
17 - Tyla Hanks
15 - Tayla Harris
13 - Kate Hore
11 - Lily Mithen
9 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
5 - Eden Zanker
--- Gorn ---
4 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard
3 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
A few contenders this week, but with respect for the turbo runs by Mackin and Heath, I very much enjoyed Zanker swinging the kick over a bunch of defenders who had lost the will to live. 

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast
3rd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton

Next week
It's good when you take so long to write the post that not only the tribunal results are in, but so is the finals fixture. We knew it was Adelaide somewhere in Victoria, but in a blow for the Casey faithful we'll be playing at Princes Park. Theoretically, playing at a stadium with sides should provide a better standard of play, but if you're into arguing about this sort of thing it should be pointed out that Geelong and Collingwood both get to play finals on their home grounds.

Once I discovered that finishing top would have also given us the chance to go directly to a Prelim by tonking Richmond, there was some bitterness about not having got the percentage required. On the other hand, you win that, get a week off, then meet a much better side having not played a competitive game for months. Adelaide are not as they once were, but will still be a challenge. If we win then start booking your tickets for Queensland, if not I'm still confident that there's nobody from fourth to eigth that can beat us without somebody weird and wonderful happening.

Final Thoughts
I've gone from 0-100 and back again on our chances of winning the flag this year. Now I'm a 75% believer, but desire it 100%. Putting 'Season 7 premier' on your honour roll is so Mickey Mouse that the cup should be shaped like Disneyland, but I really, REALLY want to do it anyway. We can add a real one in 2023. Don't let the big D(emonblog) down.