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.

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