Sunday 30 January 2022

End of an Era

In years to come, historians will speak in hushed tones of an era where all you had to do to win at Australian Rules football was play under the name 'Melbourne'. From 1 August, 2021 to 29 January, 2022 this once putrid organisation was unstoppable. Then we went three quarters without kicking a goal. Hell of a way to end the greatest run of our lives.

It would have been a more classic Melbourne way to end a glory era if we hadn't piled on three last quarter consolations, but they did boost our score from 'embarrassing' to merely 'not good enough'. In fact, the final scores make it look like a downright competitive fixture. I don't know how many reports will be written on this game, but future researchers please take my word that it was not. We had a go, the other lot had a go about 10x better and should have won by plenty more.

For all the unbelievable good that we've seen in the last year, our recently record against Adelaide away has been so bad that they may as well still play at Football Park. First there was last year's AFLW Prelim (one goal, Eliza McNamara clobbered), the umpiring fiasco that ended the men's winning streak, now this. Best forget it even happened and base all your memories of the city on the 2021 men's Qualifying Final.

You could tell this was going to turn sour in the first couple of minutes. The Crows went forward so much that there was ample time for the commentators to discuss their favourite topic, Adelaide players who had never kicked a career goal. As they lined up to get involved, the 5AA-esque trotted out their life stories, pausing only to read fun facts about Melbourne players off a script and still get their name wrong.

For the first time this year we had a side entirely free from health and safety protocols, while the Crows had lost multiple players to the 'cron. It still seemed an uphill battle, Footscray's form this week proved that we'd beaten nobody yet. The heat was no concern, the quality of the opposition was. If this season's AFLW ladder contains three unofficial divisions we're going to play the role of Spurs, hanging on the coattails of the leaders without any serious chance of winning the lot.

Yes, it's that easy to turn me off after a 3-0 start. Last year we had the wobbles before charging into the finals on the back of a wonderful run but ultimately couldn't carry it past the big sides. I suspect this year will be the same. The bursts we've randomly plucked from parts unknown might get us over the line in a big game but you can't rely on winning that way. We've got plenty of good players, but it's one thing finishing high on the ladder and snatching an early final, it's another to get through Sept... err March intact. Compare, for instance, the men in 2018 to 2021 - good enough to overcome mid-season wobbles and play two great finals, not good enough to get within 10 goals of a Prelim.

That's why I expect plenty more exciting footy this year but am almost certain it won't end in a flag. Here's to being proven wrong, and to Daisy Pearce driving past my house to throw a brick as punishment for lacking faith, but you can only play so many malfunctioning expansion sides. Unless it's Geelong, then we can't play them ever.

I could handle conceding early goals against the duds because you knew we were the better side. This time we tried to play a very good team like they were strugglers and were hunted down accordingly. Whatever the world record was for being caught holding the ball in an AFLW game it must have been shattered on Saturday afternoon. I'm not upset with the Crows, they saw us coming a mile off and acted accordingly, shutting down most of our best players.

On the positive side, Lauren Pearce was fantastic in the ruck, and the backline saved us on multiple occasions, but we were all at sea trying to move the ball. Paxmania was under all sorts of stress, Kate Hore may not have actually been out there, and otherwise sensible, solid players like Sherriff were pressured into playing like they'd just taken the game up. Ironically, Goldrick has only played a handful of games in her life but got us out of jail numerous times dashes out of defence. The ball usually flew back over her head about 20 seconds later, as it seemed like we were playing about four short.

There were more players missing than deserved votes. I'd still rather see Eliza West play Docklands than Kanye, but that topical reference is the only reason she's getting a mention in this post. It's a bit rude singling out somebody for disappearing after a breakthrough game just to get a gag over so it should be pointed out that Zanker looked like taking the league by storm in Round 1 but hasn't, and Bannan has been absent since calling for a Diamond Cutter at Punt Road.

The only thing worse than getting ourselves into a two goal quarter time hole at quarter time was the way they got them. Nobody would argue that their neverending run of inside 50s didn't deserve some reward, but our defence was holding up well enough that you could almost imagine holding them goalless until the first change if not for one overhead snap and an insultingly arsey dribble that missed deflecting off three different players on the line. We're sorely missing that sort of crumb, when Harris was shut down our scoring power went with her. Sinking goals at will against Flotsam and Jetsam is appreciated, but we need alternatives when opportunities are limited.

Daisy can always be relied on to have a dip, and got two goals by the end, but Scott and Parry aren't doing it for me this year. Small lists mean reduced options, leaving us having to stick with the same players and hope for the best. Reminds me of fortuitously running out of players in 2020 just in time to wheel old mate Tex Perkins in for the business end of the season. After her afternoon totalled one kick, I'd rotate Bannan back down there and pick Petrevski to try and add some zip at ground level. I'm not pretending to be an expert on these things, but scoring 40-50 against the throwaway sides will only get you so far if you go to pieces against the league's best defence.

Channel South Australia suggested that the Crows had been kicking with a breeze, so that gave us something to think about. The fact that they hadn't mentioned it any point during the quarter didn't bode well, and we only got a solitary point from it. You knew it wasn't going to be our day when Harris did a perfect lead only for the ball to bounce off her like it had hit a trampoline. The Crows didn't get any but it wasn't for want of trying. Credit again to the backline, who dampened down what should have been a thumping loss.

At half time I paused, put my phone on do not disturb and went to the supermarket. This is a risky move but I've done it enough to have the process down to a fine art. Due to lack of practice over summer I botched it this time, and accidentally jumped ahead to the end of the third quarter. Because the Kayo search bar covered the bottom of the screen I couldn't see our score, but knew that Adelaide only kicked one goal for the term. I suppose there was a chance we could have piled on seven in response. 20 minutes later I found out that we actually scored 0.0, leaving us on two behinds at the last change.

This gave us 15 minutes to score one more point and avoid equalling the all-time AFLW low. I could see that happening, but didn't have much faith in reaching double figures. Just when our first goalless game threatened, a Daisy toepoke found Harris on her own inside 50. The way we were going I expected her to run into an open goal then have a medical episode before ball reached boot. 

When Pearce followed with one of her own, 'Sodas' made the outrageous claim that we 'might be in range at 20 points'. Maybe if they added a fifth quarter, but pretending we could win in normal time was like when Kerry Packer berated cricket commentators for not pretending a tedious one dayer was still alive. With 1.44 left he said "A goal here would make things interesting". Takes your hand of it Sodastream, there are women about. 

Whether Adelaide just switched off because the game was won is up to the coaches to work out, but keeping them goalless in the last quarter is as close as we were getting to a positive. We shouldn't need a minor psychological boost against our next opposition, but it's something to think about if we run into the Crows again in the finals. Things should get that far, but for now I'm climbing off the 2022 bandwagon and sheltering in place.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Libby Birch
2 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Tyla Hanks

Apologies to D. Pearce, Gay and Lampard

14 - Tyla Hanks
7 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
6 - Karen Paxman
5 - Sinead Goldrick, Eden Zanker
4 - Tayla Harris, Eliza McNamara, Lauren Pearce, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Kate Hore, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week
Not much to choose from here. Let's go for Daisy's second, even though it will be forgotten by 9am Monday morning.

Next Week
It's back into the also-rans, with the Suns coming to Cranbourne, which is often regarded as Victoria's equivalent to the Gold Coast. I'm wary of tempting fate, but if we don't win this convincingly the rest of the season is just the warmup for an early finals exit. We should win. It would be appropriately comical if we didn't. 

Final thoughts
I suppose we had to lose eventually, but I still reserve the right to take it badly. It comforts me to think that the Crows list is going to be decimated when Port come into the competition. Finally, one positive from excessive expansion. Now, watch them steal all our players instead.

Thursday 27 January 2022

Demonbracket: Premiership Edition - your full voting guide

Preliminary Round
James Jordon d. Daniel Turner 154-16
Kade Chandler d. Luke Dunstan 105-50
Bailey Laurie d. Andy Moniz-Wakefield 114-43
Jake Bowey d. Taj Woewodin 118-10
Majak Daw d. Jacob van Rooyen 65-60
Joel Smith d. Oskar Baker 67-57
Toby Bedford d. Blake Howes 114-43 
Adam Tomlinson d. Fraser Rosman and Mitch Brown 117-14-13
Ben Brown d. Judd McVee and Deakyn Smith 159-4-4 

Round 1
1. Christian Petracca d. Trent Rivers 204-26
James Harmes d. Toby Bedford 167-10
Jayden Hunt d. James Jordon 102-56
8. Alex Neal-Bullen d. Tom McDonald 100-48

4. Christian Salem d. Jack Viney 133-36
Michael Hibberd d. Kade Chandler 143-29
Adam Tomlinson d. Sam Weideman 96-61
5. Jake Lever d. Charlie Spargo 119-41

2. Clayton Oliver vs Ben Brown
Harrison Petty d. Jake Melksham 122-9
Luke Jackson d. Angus Brayshaw 92-38
7. Steven May d. Kysaiah Pickett 142-98

6. Ed Langdon d. Jake Bowey 142-18
Tom Sparrow d. Joel Smith 153-9
Majak Daw d. Bayley Laurie 102-78
3. Max Gawn d. Bayley Fritsch 105-25

Round 2
1. Christian Petracca d. James Harmes
8. Alex Neal-Bullen d. Jayden Hunt
4. Christian Salem d. Michael Hibberd
5. Jake Lever d. Adam Tomlinson 

2. Clayton Oliver vs Harrison Petty
Luke Jackson d. 7. Steven May 118-104
6. Ed Langdon d. Tom Sparrow
3. Max Gawn d. Majak Daw

Quarter Final
1. Christian Petracca d. 8. Alex Neal-Bullen
4. Christian Salem d. 5. Jake Lever
2. Clayton Oliver d. Luke Jackson
3. Max Gawn d. 6. Ed Langdon 

Semi Final
1. Christian Petracca d. 4. Christian Salem
2. Clayton Oliver d. 3. Max Gawn 144-94

Third Place Playoff
4. Christian Salem vs 3. Max Gawn

1. Christian Petracca vs 2. Clayton Oliver 

Demonbracket Champions League
Frawley/T. McDonald/Jones/Viney/Gawn/Jetta/Oliver + Petracca if qualified, in a two day all time championship before we wrap this competition up for good.

Sunday 23 January 2022

Wobbling towards glory

Finally, Melbourne came back to Casey Fields. At three quarter time, things looked more Maurie Fields, as the Great Australian Joke loomed over fans who have grown accustomed to winning every game from now until the end of time. 

Scores were level and we were about to kick with a strong breeze, but I was still bracing for disaster. History suggests you'll win far more often than not in those circumstances, but kicking 1.8 in losing to expansion St Kilda in 2020 is the AFLW game that haunts me so you can understand queasy feelings. It was easy to imagine us taking the ball to the left of screen for 10 minutes, missing five shots in a row, then losing to a fluky goal on the break. 

Like Jack Darling, I should have trusted science. Not only did the big wind help us over the line, it scattered St. Kilda's life force across the greater Cranbourne district. Not before an 0-2 side without their best players had a tremendous bash. In a competition that is already defacto played in two divisions, it was as good a performance as you could expect against an alleged premiership favourite. Just a pity they couldn't save it for one of the other top teams and collapse from the first bounce instead of waiting until halfway through the last quarter.

The fun started from the first bounce, as we quickly turned a free kick for into a goal against while my internet connection glitched like I was using Netscape Navigator in 1999. Their express transition of the ball into the forward line was assisted by the wind, there was no explanation for the arsey snap. Last week demonstrated that letting in the very early goal doesn't have to be fatal, but in a competition where scoring is still in short supply you're playing with fire doing it two weeks in a row.

We almost had our best side available, other than latest protocol victim Lily Mithen, and a recent history of overcoming unfavourable wind, but the atmosphere was far from the uncontested footy masterclass against the Dogs. It was like Richmond throwing everything they had us while we hung on gamely like Ali in Zaire. Thank you for your service to the Saints player who legged it into an open goal and missed, providing the chance for Harris to goal from our first inside 50 of the afternoon.

That was about St Kilda's entire lot with the wind, our old frisbee enthusiast friend Cat Phillips had a long kick touched through on the line by Birch, but they were under control now. Christ knows why you'd pick this of all weeks to drop last year's leading goalkicker. Sure she had zero goals, no behinds in the opening two rounds, but if a team will ever play you back into form they start with Mel and end in Bourne.

St Kilda didn't go close again for the rest of the quarter, but neither did we, as the game devolved into a trench warfare slog. They'd turn the ball over to us, we'd give it back, somebody would get to the edge of 50, rinse and repeat. Harris' goal was our only score of the quarter, but by conveniently ignoring the dual near-misses at the other end you could say we did well to contain them into the breeze. I'm down with that, especially knowing what happened at the end, but it would be nice to pile on seven goals in a first quarter one day.

Our first go with the wind wasn't anywhere near as exciting as the second, but at this point the Saints hadn't been squeezed into submission. Like us, they couldn't handle attacking into the usual bullshit Casey winds (goes alright as a training venue if you don't live in Craigieburn, but let's admit that it's a dreadful place to play), but we couldn't capitalise on chances with a forward line that looked tremendously one dimensional. Fortunately, that dimension is in hot form, and Harris got her second after pulling in the sort of belting contested mark we could have done with at any time in the last five years. Everything was coming up Tayla, losing another chance right in front after shoving her opponent out of the way, then missing from a free after being clotheslined. It was all very exciting, but you couldn't help wish for a spot of crumb.

Naturally, the best thing to do after attacking all quarter was to concede just after the wind strengthened in our favour. It made no sense, but that's Melbourne for you. A late snap by Eliza West (still got plenty of the ball, disposed of it as if heavily sedated) missed and with a few seconds left you'd think that was the end of the action. As did the Saints defender who merrily trotted out of defence, oblivious to both the time running out and Kate Hore looming behind her. After much confusion about how far she was allowed to run around after the siren, Hore kicked the ball like a bag of sand for another point and it was all left to play for after the break.

We are the most contrary team in the league, so naturally after doing all the attacking until the last two minutes, we conceded a goal just as the wind strengthened in our favour. It makes no sense, but that's Melbourne for you. A late snap for Eliza West went awry, and you thought that was the end of it. Then one of their defenders lost her mind and decided the run the clock down with a casual trot out of the square. Hore ran her down, but after much confusion about how far she could run around, kicked it like a bag of sand for another point, leaving us an unconvincing two points ahead. 

If I'd been sucked in by the reputations of the sides the game would have been surprisingly close, but this is just what we do. At least, for now, it ends in wins. It had all the hallmarks of a Melbourne AFLW game, much contested ball, some quality ball movement, and the occasional well-crafted goal but not much that screamed RED HOT PREMIERSHIP CONTENDER. The most important thing after half time was to neutralise the wind again, gust or no gust, I didn't fancy having to run down a lead in the last quarter.

The goal that (seemingly) got us going was a joint affair. Daisy won a free with a cracking tackle, St Kilda's defence stood around watching Hore mark right in front of goal, and she converted to give us breathing room. That was until we conceded late again, leaving scores level at three quarter time. It wasn't quite breathing into a paper bag stuff but there were still a few nerves about. It's not like we were playing that well, with plenty of important players who were just going. If you're generally scared by sports you could see a situation where we botched it. But we didn't, so all smiles, happy day.

Harris continued to be our main avenue to goal, missing another, before being blocked miles from a contest then mastering the shithouse wind for a vital goal. It's wonderful that she terrifies defenders so much they'll unnecessarily clatter into her (and after last week can you blame them for being worried?), but eventually other teams will realise we've only got one target and jump on her five at a time like poor old Sam Weideman in the second half of 2020 - and look what that did for his career. Her third offered admission to the least exclusive club in women's football, the shared record for Melbourne goals in a game, becoming the ninth member.

Now that we had a lead, albeit not much of one, winning the following centre bounce and getting the ball down our end was vital. But not as vital or exciting as Lauren Pearce swiping the ball out of the ruck, spinning around and kicking a goal from 40 metres. The sensible part of me thought they'd never come back from that, but there was still the nagging "what if?" Enter the world's most famous Bunnings employee Tyla Hanks to obliterate St Kilda's collective will to live.

Other than the avalanche at the end it was not a classic performance. Did the job, but without much fanfare. So much that I couldn't for the life of me come up with a convincing set of votes. Everyone had a crack and did their bit, nobody particularly excelled. With respect to all our former tall forwards, Harris has been a killer inclusion, and our better players have plenty more to give. Famous last words but I think we're a cert to play finals, the only question is how much further than that it goes. What happens next week will give us a hint. For about six days before we do the opposite in our next game and I swing back towards glee/despair.

Now it really was over, and Daisy added an exclamation mark so good that Bianca Jakobsson forgot she was playing against us and cracked a broad smile. As you would. The Queen then set up Fitzsimon's first career goal, and seconds later Hanks plowed through the middle to make the margin seven goals on the siren. Things had gone a bit end of third quarter 25/09/2021, ending with our fourth highest score and win of all time. What had I been so worried about? Answer - everything.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Sarah Lampard
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Birch, Heath, Hore, McNamara, Sherriff, D. Pearce and Goldrick amongst others.

13 - Tyla Hanks
6 - Karen Paxman
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Tayla Harris, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Eliza McNamara, Casey Sherriff
1 - Kate Hore, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week
It loses something when you consider that the opposition was mentally on the bus, but enjoy the fun and frivolity of Daisy hunting her hapless opponent down, then snapping around the corner.

Next Week
Enough of the toilers and strugglers, it's a Preliminary Final rematch against the last side to beat us. I suspect they'll beat us easily, but that's what it looked like in the middle of last year and we put on one of the all-time great performances to rumble them. As with every other week in this competition, much will defend on how many players are DQed due to the 'cron. Given how much more of it there is around here than SA, the odds are heavily in favour of us being affected more.

Regardless of what team we field, unless the entire squad is wiped out and they have to postpone all our games a'la Footscray, this is the best test yet. I'm worried about putting up a decent score, they've held two of their three opponents this year to nine points (and yes, West Coast are rancid, but we only got one goal against them last time), and I can't our relative high scoring seriously until we've played some decent sides. Will certainly be better viewing on a Saturday afternoon than whatever nonsense I've have been doing otherwise.

Final Thoughts
Give me all the wins via any method. The more the merrier. We may as well buy Essendon's old eSports team and get into that while we're at it. Things are going so well at the moment that we could successfully run a sporting franchise on the Gold Coast.

Friday 21 January 2022

Demonbracket: Premiership Edition preview

Usually I'm fanging for footy by mid-December and have all the advance work on this competition done a month out. This year, in all the excitement of being the best team in the world at our chosen sport, I completely forgot it existed until less than a week before the traditional starting date.

This could be the most competitive tournament yet, and since the introduction of voting exclusively via Twitter polls I no longer fear the admin so have resolved to enjoy the ride. The draw will be conducted live on @Demonblog from 6pm on Wednesday 26 January, offering a handy excuse to wrap up your political arguments on Facebook and do something useful. It will be posted on the blog shortly after.

Up to four matches a day will be held each day from Thursday 27 January (including weekends), with the final schedule for Friday 12 February - unless interrupted by the Demonbracket health and safety protocols (e.g. if I catch the 'cron).

The rules
  • Each contest will run 24hrs from time of posting. Some reminders will be issued but check @Demonblog for the latest matches.

  • You are not expected to vote for the 'better' player, it is simply which player you prefer for whatever reason. If you want to base it on footy skill you can, but novelty reasons or spite voting are just as valid.
  • We can't force you to vote for every game but you should. There's got to be some way you can split the competing players. 
  • Players are more than welcome to use social media, real media or paid advertising to promote themselves. Outright bribery is not permitted.

  • In the event of a tie, both players will advance to the next round, except in the case of the Grand Final where a replay will be held the following day.
  • If a match features three or more players and two or more tie for the most votes they will advance with all other players eliminated.

  • Any player on the list as of 26 January is eligible to compete.

  • The decision of the Demonbracket Organising Committee is final. Unless somebody takes us to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lucerne.
Honour Roll
2012 - James Frawley d. Nathan Jones
2013 - Tom McDonald d. Mitch Clark
2014 - Nathan Jones d. Jack Watts
2015 - Nathan Jones [2] d. Dom Tyson
2016 - Jack Viney d. Nathan Jones
2017 - Max Gawn d. Jack Viney
2018 - Neville Jetta d. Clayton Oliver 
2019 - Clayton Oliver d. Neville Jetta
2020 - Max Gawn [2] d. Clayton Oliver
2021 - Christian Petracca d. Max Gawn

2021 competitors

Seeds (start at Round 1)
1. Christian Petracca (reigning champion)
2. Clayton Oliver (best and fairest)
3. Max Gawn (captain)
4. Christian Salem
5. Jake Lever
6. Ed Langdon
7. Steven May
8. Alex Neal-Bullen

Other players entering at Round 1 (next 14 most experienced MFC players)
9. Tom McDonald
10. Jack Viney
11. James Harmes
12. Angus Brayshaw
13. Jayden Hunt
14. Michael Hibberd
15. Bayley Fritsch
16. Jake Melksham
17. Charlie Spargo
18. Sam Weideman
19. Kysaiah Pickett
20. Trent Rivers
21. Luke Jackson
22. Harrison Petty
23. Tom Sparrow

Preliminary Round (new draftees, trades, and next lowest games total)
24. James Jordon
25. Joel Smith
26. Adam Tomlinson
27. Oskar Baker
28. Ben Brown
29. Jake Bowey
30. Mitch Brown
31. Kade Chandler
32. Toby Bedford
Majak Daw
34. Bailey Laurie
35. Fraser Rosman
36. Deakyn Smith
37. Daniel Turner
38. Luke Dunstan
39. Jacob van Rooyen
40. Blake Howes
41. Taj Woewodin
42. Judd McVee
43. Andy Moniz-Wakefield

Get amongst it!

Saturday 15 January 2022

Who's next?

Once a soccer fan laughed heartily at my suggestion that the AFL would start a summer competition just to try and screw over the A-League. That's about the only thing I predicted correctly, I'd never have considered playing women coached by Ryan Ferguson, in hot, humid conditions, at a rebranded Punt Road in the middle/tail end/early stages (delete as applicable in the future) stages of a global pandemic. 

It was my first game back on Foxtel's coverage since Round 22 against Adelaide, and it was clear we were in for a huge night when the first thing I heard on commentary was a claim that Richmond's men had played their "first game of Australian Football" against us in 1908. Quite generous of the VFL to admit a team that had never tried the sport before. A while back mad people were trying to have VFA premierships included in their tallies, now the year a side turned up is being treated like Year Zero. It was not the last weird thing said on the call, which didn't even have the Brereton/McGuire style zany tangents factor to recommend it.

I could have done with extending the pre-match commentary improv when we conceded a goal after 20 seconds. Don't think our AFLW team has ever let one in that quickly. It came from a hefty clearance inside 50, then through by a basketballer who was only there because her game had been wiped out by COVID. We could sympathise with 'cron related team chaos, having lost the handy collection of Gay, Heath, Lampard, Scott and Sherriff to the wonderfully corporate 'AFL health and safety protocols'. The commentators kept referring to them as such throughout the game, long after everyone was clear that it was the league's 'protocol', not that of any government or the Federal Court.

The flip-side of losing a quintet (!) of key players was that we got back everyone who had been mysteriously absent (for the same reason as it turns out) last week. At first Goldrick, Magee and McNamara played like they had the Omicron, Delta and Ebola strains at the same time, racking up about 10 clangers between them in the first 10 minutes, but when they settled they were very good. McNamara was especially fantastic. You could cut her some slack for being hesitant at first when her last appearance on national television saw her bumped into oblivion during last year's Prelim.

Our very good friend the protocols hit the backline especially hard. Lampard is underrated, and Sherriff is always bobbing up down there before going on Langdonesque trots down the ground. This wouldn't have been so bad if we could keep the ball away - or god forbid score ourselves - but they were well up for it at the start. We turned back a few attacks but couldn't get anything going out way, barely squeaking a metre inside 50 on our first alleged attack. Things were going so badly that even when Harris did a tremendous spoil to win what had originally been a five-on-one contest, we didn't even get a point out of the subsequent mark in the pocket. Parry was a touch unlucky to be called play on when she moved about 4 millimetres off her line (especially considering how much wandering about there was on the mark throughout the night), but it looked like we'd struggle to reach double figures.

Enter Tayla Harris again, finally getting us on the board with a screaming pack mark. That's precisely the sort of goal we'd been missing the last couple of years. Not that there hadn't been 2500 efforts to set one up, just nobody capable of bringing them down regularly. Afterwards, Foxtel put up a graphic suggesting the goal had been kicked by McNamara, which is an easy mistake if you've never heard of or seen the most well-known player in the competition.

Considering the rancid first 10 minutes, a seven point quarter time deficit was positively generous. Last week we made our domination count first before doing bugger all. Richmond failed to do likewise. They might be no better than a fringe finals side but we've lost to worse.

The folly of not taking your chances (and with apologies to the guy in the Coles ad, getting a point for "just having a crack" only carries you so far) came back to haunt Richmond when Kate Hore arrived. She opened the quarter with a missed snap, then got another chance via Harris' second attempt to murder an opponent in a marking contest and levelled scores. Now things were getting interesting. Her second goal came from another set shot, which was nice but nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as Bannan belting through the middle, taking two bounces and running her opponent into the ground before converting. She backed up for a second straight after, and christ on a bike the margin was 19. The next started with Pearce, Lauren in the ruck and ended in Pearce, Daisy getting a delightfully soft free. Still had to kick it though, which has not always been our forte, but through it went for six in a row and a big lead.

The party wound up there, but it was a delightful turnaround from those rough early minutes. Eliza West was particularly impressive in the comeback, playing so far inside that Donnie Brasco would have approved. Declaring anybody The Next [insert great player here] is fraught with danger, but she might go alright in the heart of our midfield after a few years at the Karen Paxman Finishing School. She's a second gamer off the rookie list, the recruiting hits just keep on coming. Piss off expansion sides, they're all ours.

Just when you thought Richmond's spirit had been broken and they might call it a night, we discovered that all the scoring was happening to the left of screen. They got two quick ones to start the second half, while our forward line had gone into full retreat again. About the only interesting event down our end was Harris nearly killing somebody else in a marking contest. It was a bit unnecessary in a semi-pro competition but you tell her to settle down. If she gets through the season without suspension it will be a miracle. 

Tayla's flirtation with an early holiday was as exciting as it got until the last minute, when the Hall of Fame combination of Daisy and Paxy combined for a steadier. We shambled our way forward for Zanker to have another shot after the siren that might have finished them off. It just fell short, but we'd done well to lose less than a goal off the lead. 

Richmond wouldn't reel in a four goal deficit unless we contributed with self-destruction, but when they kicked a freaky opener I did get a bit nervous. Hooray then for the 50 we got for the super administrative reason of the ball being put on the ground after a free. Even when they forgot to set up a mark and let Hore dash towards goal it shouldn't have been fatal, except when they failed to kill the ball, allowing it to be slapped into Harris' path to toe-poke home from the line.

Our COVID ravaged backline couldn't keep them out all night, and they made it ever so slightly interesting by reducing the margin to 17 with three minutes left. They had another kick soon after, but did their bit by wasting half a minute before missing anyway. Don't know why the clock kept going after that free and not the next one but it helped run the clock down until we were safe. 

It was not a perfect night, but considering the challenges we've already had with team selection a 2-0 start will do. We had to play the 'get out of upset jail free' card halfway through the first quarter, but the banana skin has been avoided. Get the COVID five back in the side and let's start doing some real damage..

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Eliza West
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eliza McNamara
1 - Kate Hore

Apologies to Birch, Goldrick, Harris, L. Pearce and Bannan.

8 - Tyla Hanks
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch, Eliza West
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Eliza McNamara, Casey Sherriff
1 - Kate Hore, Sarah Lampard

Goal of the Week
You couldn't go beyond the Bannon run. It was even better when she celebrated with a Diamond Dallas Page impersonation. That means nothing to 76% of readers, the rest are nodding sagely, remembering that magic evening when DDP dressed as La Parka to fool Randy Savage.

Crowd Watch
With the crowd capped, you could understand people watching from outside the fence. Especially when it means you can neck a Slurpee at the same time.

Also, have you ever considered how attending an AFLW game may be your best chance to be caught on camera coming out of a grimy portaloo. That way you'll be a part of the national game's broadcasting history. Try to make it a more exciting game than this so there's a chance somebody will watch it again in the future.

Next Week
In theory, it's St Kilda on Saturday afternoon. Who knows how many first-choice players either side will have after the old 'health and safety protocols' wreak havoc with team selection. This week we had so few players left one of the two emergencies wasn't even a listed player so anything could happen. If all last week's outs are in, and most of this week's ins recovered from a rocky start to be very good indeed, god knows where that leaves us. Which is just the level of in-depth analysis I know you're coming here for.

As for playing the Saints, I'm still scarred by that loss to them in the first season but surely not. Ok, if we lost 12 players to the big one and have to field players plucked from local parks there's a chance but with all we know now about clubs called Melbourne being good we're surely not going to fall over against strugglers like this. Worried anyway. 

Final Thoughts
I've forgotten what it feels like to lose.

Monday 10 January 2022

You can win 'em all

On Saturday 29 June, 2013 we kicked off top-level women's football, our men won their second and last game of the season. Now the Melbourne Football Club may never lose another match. That's what I call progress.

You may have heard that our men's team did something absolutely bloody spectacular about four months ago. Scientists are still trying to work out what happened that night, and how close I was to dying at half time, but knowing the immeasurable joy that came from the last time we watched Melbourne play, I wasn't sure if I'd ever watch football in the same way again. There's previous form for going out on top, my peak years following Formula 1 were the lead-up to Jordan finally winning a race (the mere thought of Damon Hill at Spa still makes me misty-eyed), and several years of being right into the NRL effectively ended the moment I saw Wests Tigers win the flag in 2005. It's still the only time I've ever seen a team I follow win a major competition live, but for the first time since it seems feasible that it might happen in the AFL too. 

But no team affects me mentally, spiritually, and sometimes physically like the Dees. The only other club that goes within a million miles is Wimbledon, and even all the promotions (and in latter years, great escapes from relegation) together can't match what I felt on September 25, 2021 - a day that will truly live in famy. 

You may recall that halfway through the last quarter of the Grand Final, I bawled my eyes out like a baby. There were serious doubts that I could ever take footy seriously again, whether played by men, women or other. I'm pleased to report that when Lauren Pearce beat her opponent all ends up at the first bounce and tapped the ball straight to a teammate I got a rush that suggested everything's going to be ok. Maybe I'll re-evaluate after we've won both competitions several times in a row, until then I'm still prepared to get a bit silly about Australian rules football.

There are no guarantees this AFLW season will even finish, but our chances of making finals (again a top six, though they change the rules in this competition so often that it could end up as 12 finalists plus two wildcards) were greatly enhanced by beating one of the better teams. Or at least that's what I perceived them to be, in reality they've been 1-5, 2-5 and eighth over the last three years. Forget the bit where we lost to them in 2021, Footscray may actually be shite. That would remove a little of the shine from running them around like a training drill for the first 20 minutes here, so let's go with the fantasy about them still being serious contenders.

It was, like so many of our other AFLW games over the previous five years, a one quarter win. Everything after the opening term was good enough, and plenty of players contributed siren to siren, but the win was entirely set up at the beginning. When we lost the toss and had to kick into the wind I had my first "here we go" moment of the season, expecting to let in three unanswered goals, fail to take advantage of our turn with the breeze, then heroically battle back into it after half time before kicking 0.8 in the last and losing by a point. Old psychological habits die hard. 

Instead, we flicked two fingers at the conditions and spent the first quarter gleefully kicking around the Dogs like they weren't there. There was a mention in the commentary about how much Footscray coach Nathan Bourke hates possession football and is all about exciting spectacle. I don't think he meant it to come via his team struggling to get a touch but I was certainly entertained.

Even when they did shamble forward, our backline was immense. Libby Birch was just there last year, doing a job without ever looking dominant. Maybe it was the motivation of playing against her old side, but she was back in All Australian form here. They might want to edit the nomination tape to remove the bit where she gathered the ball on the line and flubbed a five metre kick straight to an opponent. Things were going so well that we even got away with that. All of this was achieved with a negligible contribution from Karen Paxman. I've got no doubt she'll be back, but maybe it's a Jack Viney style scenario where so many good players have turned up that she doesn't need to carry the rest of the team on her back anymore.

At first, there was a sense that our lovely linking play out of defence was going to run aground on a lack of attacking power. It wouldn't be the first time. Tayla Harris took a couple of strong marks up the ground, but still felt like we were lacking the killer touch inside 50. Then again, other than when teams play the competition's Flotsam and Jetsam, does anyone have the sort of firepower I've been longing for since 2017? And now that I've seen the twice-in-a-lifetime avalanches in finals Preliminary and Grand nothing's ever going to compare, so I may as well just take what I'm offered. 

In the absence of a star goalkicker we'll just have to keep sharing the goals around. It's strange how we've had nine players kick three in a game (including Alyssa Mifsud, who can be assured that if she ever Googles herself and finds this that I'm still thinking about how good she was in season one before disappearing off the face of the earth), but nobody's ever got four. One of the equal record holders is Richelle Cranston, who randomly turned up in Footscray's backline after her stint at Geelong. This competition has an A-League style fetish for recycling players. I thought one of the Dogs players looked familiar, turns out she played two seasons for us, achieving the rare feat of being traded in and out of the same club.

Contrary to the opinions of the former AFLW player paid to spruik odds during the breaks, betting on an honest, entertaining, but still semi-professional competition is a bit weird. However, if you'd asked me to back our first goalkicker I'd have chosen - in order - Hore, Harris, D. Pearce, Zanker, and about nine other players before Casey Sherriff. That's no reflection on her ability, she has been very good over the last couple of years, but I didn't expect a defender to wander forward and kick the sort of set shot our forwards have been missing since day one.

A second goal immediately after suggested some very good times in our future. The commentators were generous to Bulldogs fans by not mentioning what had happened the last time their team was on Channel 7, but by the time Zanker kicked a third I was noting that our run against the entire Footscray Football Club (trading as Western Bulldogs) from midway through the third quarter in Perth was up to 118-8.

A three goal lead into the breeze was a good platform to build on. Alas, even after winning many more games than we've lost over the years, this side has rarely played two great quarters in a row. Logic suggested that having done that against the wind we should have piled on goals in the second. Then classic Melbourne AFLW turned up and put on 1.6. That they only got 1.0 was credit to a backline that picked off aimless kicks inside 50 with the greatest of ease. The only problem was that they'd wised up to our hardly revolutionary tactic of kicking to a free player and started to put pressure on. We'd extended the gap by a goal at half time but I was hoping for a quarter of depravity that would make every other player in the competition's liver quiver. Unless they play for Geelong, who we don't need to worry about because we're destined never to play them for premiership points.

Not many AFLW sides would have blown a 23 point halftime lead, but we spent much of the third quarter giving it a red hot go. The margin got within two kicks before Harris forcibly removed her opponent and kicked a steadier. I was unnecessarily suss about recruiting a spearhead who averaged less than a goal a game, but I'm on board for more of this:

Minor scare aside, if we weren't going to lose from 23 points in front at half time, it would have been nigh on impossible for Footscray to overhaul a five goal deficit at the end. The wind had died down, but while that could have been expected to hurt us, it also didn't do anything to help them score. Indeed they did not, adding no goals nothing by the siren. We only kicked 1.2 of our own, but with nine (plus?) weeks to play there was clearly a spot of "that'll do for now" amongst the players. 

You can understand the reluctance to go full bore when the result was beyond doubt, when there had already been a raft of injuries. It was a big night for the weird subsection of hate-watching men who ring talkback radio and pretend they're concerned for the welfare of female players. They'd have been having a fit watching players go down like nine-pins here. The worst was the Bulldogs player who blew her ACL to the bejesus belt, but at various times we had Lauren Pearce, Lily Mithen, Karen Paxman and Ali Brown on the bench for treatment. All survived in such good shape that the match report on the AFL site denies that we had any injuries at all, but when the Dogs temporarily looked like mowing us down I was bricking it.

Hore added the exclamation mark with her second, going past Tegan Cunningham to become our all-time top AFLW goalkicker. There's plenty more where that came from if we're not forced to give her away to some shitbox expansion team. There's no doubt that the rush to add four new teams to an already stretched thin talent pool is going to cause chaos next year, and no chance the league will risk Hawthorn or Essendon being as putrid as Geelong, so watch for them to be given every advantage under the sun. I'll chain myself to objects to keep a lot of our players, but Hore and Zanker are a must. Witness the bit where Eden did a video game style spin-move through traffic and took off up the ground unchallenged. It was ace, and she's pictured doing that while wearing brown in 2023 I'll go the big vom.

And on that bombshell, it was a welcome return to watching footy. No matter what happens with the pandemic I suspect I'll be doing a lot of it from home this year so may as well get used to it.  

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch
3 - Tyla Hanks
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Hore, L. Pearce, Gay and Mithen

Goal of the Week
Harris was solid most of the night, but her goal in the third quarter was a delightful hint of things to come. Here's to more opposition defenders being shoved around like shop mannequins before the year is done.

Uniform Watch
Why were our numbers so comically small? The Jaguar logo is way too high, causing them to have to squeeze in digits that look like they're off early 90s Auskick jumpers. These are the sort of things you complain about when you've got nothing serious left to worry you. 

Next Week
Unless there's widespread COVID chaos and we lose 15 players to the 'cron, it's back to our rightful place in primetime, against Richmond on Friday night. Their thumping win over St Kilda has got a question mark over it due to the Saints seemingly being shit, but there would be nothing more Melbourne AFLW than following a good win by kicking 2.11 in losing to a midtable side. In fact it would make perfect sense if we fell over here, but I don't think we will. 

The good news is that there are players to come back. Presumably, our Irish players aren't locked up in a hotel with Novak Djokovic so I'd be keen to see Goldrick back as soon as possible. Magee went from NFI to very handy at warp speed last year so she's welcome to have another go too. I searched Twitter to see if Goldrick was injured and all I found were tweets referring to how good she is at Gaelic Football, which is ace but I'm more interested in seeing her pissbolting out of our backline at speed.

Elsewhere, attempts to keep the competition afloat start with Freo and West Coast relocating here for a few weeks and playing the wackiest double header of all time at the Western Oval against the Suns and Giants.

Final Thoughts
Things can never be the same again after 25/09/2021 but I still reserve the right to go off my nut over any footy team that starts in 'Mel' and ends in 'Bourne'.