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.

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