Sunday 27 February 2022

Animosity International

People who want to play the AFLW season at the same time as the men, spare a thought for those of us who foolishly committed to doing match reviews of every game. Even this brief crossover between both competitions is cooking me. That's after just three games in seven days, imagine how I'd go trying to keep up a schedule of twice a week posts all season? 

Besides, for the first time since we played the day after Phillip Walsh was killed, current events had flattened me to the point where watching footy seemed frivolous. I'm sure you'd have to go back to about 3000BC to find a time before one civilisation was terrorising another, and insert list below of all the other rotten things that happen around the world every day but the situation in Ukraine has flattened me.

I lived through the televisual spectaculars of Gulf Wars I and II, but for the first time the side I'm going for will probably lose. Not without the heroic battle of a lifetime, which was bad news for all the softcock governments waiting them to tip over in 24 hours so everyone could get back in bed with Putin (who, let's be honest, looks like the sort of guy that would rub himself on public transport) ASAP. Anyway, this isn't but all that somewhat explains where I'm at. Bit of a step down from only slightly guiltily cheering Russian helicopters being blown to bits, to going for second spot on the ladder. So, I know nobody's particularly clamouring for these posts, but please keep my perilous condition in mind while reading the half-arsed content that follows.

Not that I wasn't up for a spot of Saturday night footy, risking our lengthy winning streak at the world's worst venue in a genuine top of the table clash. We're not the best technical side in the competition, but you can never fault the effort. Occasionally (e.g. against Adelaide) that's not enough, but it did us well here. In fact, as far as weekend night games go it ranks right alongside the Saturday Night Special against the Crows last year, and suggested that perhaps if Jupiter aligns with Mars we could be in with a shot of winning the flag. Mind you, if it comes to a finals rematch against North we'd want to do a bit better than last year's prelim debacle. 

It was a marquee match, in a marquee timeslot, and via liberal distribution of free tickets by the City of Casey, our best home crowd of the year. Shame that the venue itself is still a dog. Wouldn't you know it, there was a bit of wind about. With no other option available I'll roll with the propaganda about thousands of migrants being enticed into following us (even if there's as much evidence of that as AFLX exciting overseas markets) but I bet a few turned up on a freebie this week and wondered if the council couldn't just put up a bloody wall or two. God knows how Melbourne Storm played there the other week, every pass would have carried forward or gone 20 metres in the wrong direction. Probably impolite to complain about wacky weather when you're called the Storm.

If there has to be a violent wind to one end of the ground that all but cancels the prospect of a good game, best to kick with it first. Via a kid enthusiastically lobbing the coin into the air, we had first use of it. The toss was so irregular that some club presidents would probably have charged the centre circle carrying an injunction against the match going ahead. But Hawthorn aren't in the competition yet.

At first, it seemed like we'd waste our first go with the advantage and be left hanging on by our fingertips for the next three quarters. The one dimension of our forward line is bloody ace, but Harris couldn't get near it early and we were left booting the ball inside 50 and seeing it fly straight back. We did get some benefit at the other end, with what should have been a certain North goal unable to break through the gale and holding up enough to be rushed through on the line. 

If the AFL cared anything about this competition beyond their public image they'd refuse to sanction games at this place, we might win there a lot but playing there is the death penalty for spectacle. At one point Bannan snapped from beside the point post, the ball carried a couple of metres towards the square, then floated back to where she'd kicked it in the first place. It was the equivalent of when the wind plays havoc with goalkeepers, except that happens once every 20 years and this happens several times a fortnight. 

Enter Kate Hore, who couldn't. have given less of a shit about the variable, often diagonal winds and booted the opener from a set shot. Mind you, she's usually a bit wonky under those circumstances so maybe the raging breeze helped drag it back on target?   

We might not have had full benefit without the administrative 50 that gifted Paxman our second. Soon after North were cheated by weather again, with another close range shot holding up as if it was battling against Hurricane Katrina. It didn't bode well for us kicking anything into it, especially in a year where we've almost entirely replaced crumb with set shots. In complimentary conditions (e.g. at almost any other ground) this is a good thing, especially with a full forward who has been pulling down marks like pre-knee Ox, but seemed destined to fail here.

In circumstances like this, arsey goals should count double, and of course after a quarter of being denied obvious ones, North celebrated their turn kicking to left of screen by plonking through their from a bizarre angle.

It was about this time when I reached peak depression about world events, and though I kept watching not much was registering. It was good how got a second goal from a 50, especially under the ludicrous circumstances of a player thinking it was going her way and throwing the ball to a teammate. Despite what we'd seen in the first quarter I had faith in Harris' booming leg to break the wind barrier. Her goal sense continued to be spot on, starting the ball in *consults local map* Tooradin and watching it violently swing back for a valuable one before half time.

When Harris got her second in the opening minute of the third quarter, via one of the softest marking contest frees ever (which is ironic considering how often she gets away with trying to bulldoze defenders in the same circumstances), it looked like we were on the way to a lead that would defy even the zaniest of winds in the last quarter. And then we didn't kick another goal for the rest of the night. There was a moment of high drama when Zanker temporarily looked like she'd busted something in her leg, but she seems to have survived to put on another random BOG performance in about three weeks.

The last quarter was non-stop siege, and we held out for five minutes before they kicked another arsey one from the boundary. All credit to our defence, who stood up under barrage for the rest of the night, not just keeping them goalless but without any further score. 

At 10 points the difference, the old two quick goals trick remained a possibility, but by never letting the first in we didn't have to test ourselves against a second. With 75 seconds left, Goldrick accidentally kicked the ball over the line but the North player tried so hard to get the quick goal that she fell short and got nothing, much to the delight of the guy standing next to the effects mic who thought every tackle was worth holding the ball.

In the words of that old Wogs Out Of Work ad (young people, do not cancel me, this was a real thing), "It was really good". Unlike this post, which should be put on a raft and floated out to sea.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Lauren Pearce
1 - Tyla Hanks

Apologies to anyone who has read this far.

It is, to a degree, back on at the top. 2022 Paxman is not 2017-2021 Paxman, but she's still capable of - as the kids probably say - cutting a bitch. Advantage to the Bunnings spokesperson for now, but things are interesting again.

21 - Tyla Hanks
17 - Karen Paxman
11 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
10 - Lauren Pearce, Eden Zanker
9 - Tayla Harris
7 - Eliza McNamara, Lily Mithen, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
5 - Sinead Goldrick
3 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Shelley Heath, Kate Hore, Daisy Pearce

Goal of the Week
They were literally all set shots, so it's hard to go past the one where Harris mastered the elements into the wind.

Next Week
It doesn't get any easier, running the Border Security: Australia's Front Line gauntlet into the Republic of Western Australia to play Freo. No doubt players will only be allowed fresh air three minutes before the bounce and will be forced to wear hazmat suits. I think we'll lose but am open to raiding the points and getting out before secession kicks in.

Final thoughts
I barely had initial thoughts.

Friday 25 February 2022

A long haul into the unknown

All you work from home people must have been thrilled by the idea of a midweek practice match. Set your Netflix viewing schedule back a couple of hours, move the mouse cursor enough so you stay 'online', and kick back for the first outing of the reigning premier. Alternatively, after continuing to cart my arse hither and yon since April 2020, I finally ran out of scheduling luck and had to watch a tepid midweek scratch match on delay.

This shouldn't be an issue, after all these took place behind effectively closed doors for years and we were satisfied reading 200 word summaries in the paper, treating best player lists like gospel when Staff Writers probably made it up from the nearest pub. I still don't know why anybody goes to the trouble of broadcasting these games, but I'm eternally grateful that they do. It doesn't matter that the coverage is cheap and cheerful (with a clock that started counting up, then counted down at a different rate to the one on the scoreboard, ), some sort of Melbourne FC win was committed to tape, so that post-nuclear survivors can watch it on crackly, hand-powered televisions while not toiling the fields.

Speaking of the end of civilisation, I went offline all day to protect myself from the score and missed the outbreak of World War III. When 9/11 happened I was waiting for Sports Tonight to come on (still waiting), this time I was sequestered away trying to block out the result of the most frivolous, throwaway practice match known to man. Now that's progress. Maybe if the bomb drops we can get out of our contract with Casey and upgrade to a nice crater closer to the city. And if things don't turn out that well... at least we'll be the last team to win an AFL premiership.

In the age of rampant technology and people having to give you their opinion on everything, it's scarcely believable that I got through the day without knowing the score. Maybe everyone was too busy focusing (incorrectly) on Putin rather than Petracca, or more likely because the wider public couldn't give a rats about the pre-pre-season, but I managed to watch the first quarter and a half on 40 minutes delay, and the rest on 10 hours delay without having the final result or margin blown.

I couldn't explain to a neutral why watching without knowing the result was so important to me it just was. Even in the early stages, when North were on top, we were set to claim practice matches were valueless and their fans were betting the house on a top four finish, I was just happy to be watching Melbourne again. It's not just because they're the *swoon* reigning premiers (still hard to believe), but it just seems right. Any half-thoughts about scaling back my emotional commitment post-flag went out the window. My days of going to every game are gone, I'll be lucky to get to five games in person this year, and am busy working out how to balance the requirement to see our flag raised in person with the reality of having to get up at 2.20am the following morning, but the buzz is alive and well, even in a game where the commentator had Ron Manager-esque love for the word 'aplomb'.

Given that we had to come back from four goals down to beat North at their lowest ebb last year, I didn't expect to open the season with an Optus Stadium style scoring rampage. Teams in the pre-season rarely do, Hawthorn plundered us for 100 point wins two times this century, but most teams are happy just to get to the end without losing half the team to crippling injury. You can't just roll into town and beat the Alberton League by 214 points anymore, and we've only cracked the pre-season ton against an AFL team once. This was literally as close as we've gotten since. Doesn't confirm that we'll win anything when the real stuff starts, but it was nice to wake from the off-season and discover everything is still pointing in the right direction.

Didn't hurt that we were fielding a near first choice side, which was a far cry from the day where our goalkickers included Zomer, Weetra and Meesen. Absentees included Petty, Lever, Viney and Fritsch, but you've got to leave the people wanting more. The only one we're guaranteed to be without in Round 1 is Petty, so it's a good thing that Adam Tomlinson has made a well ahead of schedule from his burst knee. I've been so lax on off-season news that I had no idea he was fit, and watching on phone in a parking lot (this is my life now) there was a moment of "is that?...." before instant happiness when I realised it was. If I had to pick one, I'm going to back a premiership player over pretty much everyone right through to Nelson Mandela, but this gives Tomlinson a great chance to reverse the 2021 scenario and establish himself in the side while the other guy is injured. As he warmed up for three quarters, poor old Sam Weideman must be wondering when somebody will stack it ahead of him.

The early stages were pure pre-season blah. We were reminded that the umpires are in practice mode too when North got a free courtesy of the forward respectfully bowing down to Hibberd and burrowing his head into him. Our answer was McSizzle channelling his rage about lockdowns into a huge grab in the square, but there was a touch of going through the motions about it. 

I wasn't upset that we approached the end of the first quarter on one goal, we were moving the ball well and defending superbly (aided by the Roos punting the ball out of bounds about eight times in the first 20 minutes), our attack just wasn't connecting. But surely we've come to expect that by now, long periods of struggling to score as if Paul Roos was back in charge, before whipping out a flamethrower and burning the opposition to a crisp within 45 seconds.

Just as I was researching Employee Assistance Programs for Jake Bowey in case he finally played in a loss, the game's most entertaining side (since September 2021) proved that they could also do it on a humid Thursday morning in Cranbourne. After 15 minutes where North threw everything at our backline and were all but laughed at, the breakthrough came from Charleston Spargo kicking a goal that would be an early 'of the season' contender if the camera had been a bit closed than the Rialto. He ran onto a bobbling ball in the pocket and toe-poked it through from an obscure angle, causing me to get over-excited and nearly throw my phone into the car roof.

It came from the same pocket as Petracca in the Grand Final (albeit on the other side of the continent), and kicked off a similar Mad Minute. From the next bounce, Oliver plowed out of the middle with the greatest of ease to sat the ball on Ben Brown's head, the Sparrow set up consummate February specialist Kade Chandler for the third, and in the blink of an eye we'd gone from pottering around like the occasion was beneath us, to draping our enormous, premiership cup sized bollocks over North's eyes Arabian Goggles style. If there were enough cameras, one might have cut to a frustrated David Noble angrily tearing up his quarter time notes. I feel his pain, we've all briefly threatened a world class team before going tits up.

North barely fired another shot, but our second quarter was more measured, stretching from siren to siren instead of stuffing all the action in at the end when the opposition lost interest. Other than Oliver going off clutching his hand, a brief scare before he returned to being best on ground, things couldn't have gone any better. On a rare day where conditions at Casey didn't obviously affect the quality of play, Chandler felt the spirit of the ground's traditional owners (gusty winds) and thumped a goal through from behind the centre circle. 

I hope some of this translates to the real staff, especially for Chandler, who will probably spend the whole season wearing a tracksuit as unused sub again, but it was still good clean fun. The goals were good, but like last year the best viewing for sickos like me was at the other end, where our backline ate forward entries for breakfast. You're always going to concede goals somewhere, but never before have we had a defence that seems less likely to leak. Sometimes you're happy that the ball has gone down there because they sweep it away so majestically.     

By half time the margin was out to 40, and I was reasonably comfortable that we couldn't lose. And if we did, who cares? Well, me for sure. I'm still referencing 2008 pre-season losses, you'd best believe that throwing away a big lead in a nothing game would still be mentioned 15 years later. It was obvious that there would be no comeback when North burst out of the first bounce of the third quarter and kicked it straight to a completely unmarked Hibberd. Seconds later we're down the other end with Brown having a shot, and Brayshaw is trying to one-up Spargo by thumping goals out of mid-air. Neither went through, but it showed that foot was still firmly on throat.

When Brown converted on his third chance for the quarter it was as good a time as ever to bench the probables and give the possibles a go. Maybe they were going to but were interrupted by another goal to Harmes, wearing a haircut that looked more like he was playing against the Viet Congeroos.  

After 10 goals in a row, it finally took Rivers flubbing a handball in front of goal to let them in. These things happen, but it did take away from Oliver ghosting through North's forward line a few seconds earlier. In a Reject Shop version of the Mad Minute they got a second straight after, with a bloke who looked like Brad Johnson's illegitimate offspring taking advantage of a dropped mark. This one took the focus off a beautiful piece of individual play too, with Jackson leaping like an Atlantic Salmon to tap the centre bounce over his head. As long as he resists the dump truck of West Coast's money it is PISS FUNNY how we recruited him just in time to learn from and ultimately replace Gawn. And unlike some other cowards over the years, if he does piss off he helped us win a flag so will still be a good bloke to me.

On the topic of piss, Joel Smith seems to have streaked some through his hair, but like the rest of our defence he was very good. He wouldn't be in my first choice side, but is a handy backup. I was also mad for Hibberd, who I've wrongly written enough times in the past that I wouldn't dare now. If Melksham comes alive again this year it will scientifically prove that Essendon injected them with quality gear.

We only added a goal to the half time margin, but the Chris Sullivan line had been breached so there was no need to worry. It took me until 11.45pm to finally watch the last quarter, but our defenders were so on top that North could have played until Wednesday and not overtaken us. Maximum casually whomping through a goal from the boundary line made it even safer, and I was having such a good time that instead of enjoying it I wondered why he was going back in the middle and not to the safety of the bench. 

North were so far into 'valuable learning opportunity' territory that even Brown was able to crumb a goal. He ended on five, and while that was a bit short of Fred Fanning's 18 against the Ballarat League it was good enough by modern standards. While he and McDonald kicked eight between them, the piss continued to be taken out of Weideman, left endlessly warming up without being brought on. Then he finally got a chance and had to play in the ruck. Which, surprisingly, paid immediate dividends, as a hitout straight into Oliver's path allowed Clayts to wander through a gap the size of Tasmania for our 18th.  

It was so low key (and nothing says 'unofficial' practice match like match reports ignoring quarter scores, goalkickers and best players) that I barely noticed the margin reaching 93 points. One more goal would have been nice, setting up the coveted 99 Red and Blue Balloons headline that's been in the tank for years. Alas no, and after Salem was carted off injured, they got a charity goal despite Hunt being suplexed into the turf. It was the lowest key thrashing we've ever delivered, but you're not going to give it back.

It was all good stuff but you've got to adjust for quality of opposition. Now that I've finally seen a side chockers with stars I know North are nowhere near it. They'll improve this year, but like any competitive lowly side their very good players and promising kids are just marking time until 15 space-filling battlers can be slowly replaced. Best of luck to them, I'll be busy concentrating on the shit hottest list this club has had since the 1950s.

2022 Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Christian Salem
3 - Ben Brown
2 - Ed Langdon
1 - Christian Petracca

Apologies to practically everyone.

Next Week
Stiff shit anyone who wants to warm up for the regular season against the best available opposition, because we're playing Carlton. It'll be a fond reunion with the coaching of Michael Voss, last seen losing a pair of crucial games to us in 2010. I'll be watching on delay again, and won't be liking it. Here's to us sending out a couple of random, bottom of the list players just for laughs.

Final Thoughts
Ultimately this means as much as beating them in a game of Australian Rules Football on the Nintendo, but it's still lovely fun to win. Who knows if we'll get the coveted home soil premiership, but early signs suggest there's not much of a drop off from last year. Good.

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Faking your own death

You can't always get everything right. On its launch I said the iPad would be a failure, thought Malcolm Turnbull would have a good run as PM, and you can refer to match reviews from rounds 1-21 2021 for highly inaccurate predictions about Melbourne's premiership chances. But as the fly in/fly out side 0-22 behind in a hastily rescheduled interstate mid-season game I wouldn't have had five Hungarian pengos on us coming back to win on Monday night. But here we are.

Were Chris Scott was in charge of Brisbane he'd have already gone for the excuse of playing twice in four days... and so, apparently, would their real coach. I say you've only got yourself to blame for trying to run up the score against a hapless Gold Coast instead of conserving energy by kicking the ball around in circles for the last 20 minutes. Surprised they didn't also go on about having to drive down to Carrara.

Tight scheduling or not, the simple fact is that they incinerated half a dozen chances to put us away, may be have been rorted out of a goal that would have put them back in front, and still had the chance to nick it after the siren. They didn't, we re-established ourselves as a fringe premiership contender, and the pisswreck style staggering towards finals continued.

The stroke of fixturing luck that landed them with another game right before playing us wasn't enough to convince me we'd win. Even though we've beaten everybody except Adelaide in the last year, I've decided that Melbourne AFLW are no good against top sides.

If fatigue was going to be an issue (and was our nine day break really decisive, given that we had a squad of semi-professional players carting themselves halfway up the country, probably thinking about having to get home at god knows what o'clock then front up for work on Tuesday morning), it made sense to get off to a hot start. 

Nobody likes to concede goals, especially when the opening minutes suggest you're not going to kick any, but if we had to let anyone score I'm glad it was to Zimmorlei Farquharson. Not since we briefly flirted with drafting Freddie Clutterbuck has a name set the AFL scene alight like this. Maybe it's because anything with the 'fark' sound in it is inherently funny, but if you took her name and the hair of the Geelong lady with a 1989 perm, you'd have my ultimate cult hero. It reminded me of Krusty holding up funny place names at Clown College.

Also reminiscent of Clown College, all attempts to get the ball down our end during the first quarter. It was stuck to the right of screen for about 97% of the time, and despite heroic efforts by Tayla Harris to provide a target, we couldn't get it near her enough for that to (initially) make a difference. When we hit quarter time on nothing.nothing.nothing I was worried about finally going four quarters without a goal. We've gone close a few times and just got away with it, usually against the Crows, but there's a special humiliation in having to work as hard for it as GWS did last week. Even after the Giants followed their one goal with none their 0.5 still made them look like an attacking juggernaut compared to St Kilda, whose final score against mid-table strugglers Carlton was two. That's one way to make sure your list isn't ransacked by unnecessary expansion teams.

It took us a good 15 minutes to finally get moving down the ground, and thanks entirely to Harris taking the first of her record-equally seven contested marks, the ball ended up in the arms of Eliza West in acres of space 40 metres out. It was a delightful kick to find her, but the problem was Tayla 1 didn't have a Tayla 2 on the other end, because it was well beyond Eliza's range and we failed to get anything out of it. Perhaps the Tay Tay theory is off the mark, she took another lovely mark in roughly the same spot later in the quarter and we didn't score from that either. Now I know how Giants fans felt last week, and we wish all seven of them well.

Somehow we were only nine points down at quarter time. For once this was no thanks to the backline, who are usually rock solid but were playing like they'd flown in on Aeroflot. Good thing that the Brisbane forwards were so spoilt for riches that they blew chance after chance to punish us. Which left us with a great opportunity to come out after quarter time and celebrate our second life by stomping them to the bejesus belt. Or alternatively, to keep making scoring look impossible before conceding two goals in a minute.

I was in struggletown watching this, thinking that it's a waste of emotions getting my hopes up about this team for the next few weeks when they simply couldn't beat the best sides. If I was a coward/had anything better to do in my life I might have switched off and been surprised by the final score.

Still on with two minutes left in the first half, and with barely a single decent scoring chance, it was starting to get a bit humiliating. No idea how many neutrals were watching at 8pm on a Monday night, but I could sense big laughs at our expense. 

Against all odds, the fun started with a goal so against the run of play that it was comparable to the Brits sailing back to Dunkirk and winning World War II in the opening quarter. It also had an element of luck to it, with Bannan correctly deducing that she'd marked too far out and running away from her opponent to bounce the ball through. Like Zanker, Bannan is hit and miss but the good stuff is lovely to watch.

Given the gravity of the situation she didn't do any zany celebrations, and from my ye of no faith perspective there were no thoughts of winning, I was just happy to have got on the scoreboard. We do like to put on a burst, so you couldn't entirely rule it out but it seemed highly unlikely. Turns out it was the greatest comeback in an AFLW game yet, which is further proof that the luck of our club as a whole has swung 180 degrees in the last few years. It also gives us a handy reference for the future, if we ever get four goals up history says we should win. Mind you, if there's any organisation that can do something memorably bizarre...

Later passive-aggressive references to fixture congestion don't tally with the fact that our comeback started from the first bounce after the long break. For the second time it went Harris - West inside 50 rather than the other way around, and though she was well within range this time Eliza tried a tricky handball that failed to come off. It was a waste of another brilliant grab up the ground, now Tayla had proven she owned anyone they put on her it was time for somebody else to come to the party and start feeding her kicks within range.

West's kicks could go in any direction (see what we did there?), but she is fantastic at getting the ball, and pretty bloody good at disposing by hand. The second goal came from her bumping an opponent out of the way, then giving a lightning handball to Paxman, who bombed a kick to the top of the square for Bannan to mark. Brisbane are a good side, but their inability to deal with marking forwards left them (after we'd won) in "can we play you every week?" territory. It's about time we absolutely walloped a lowly team by about 87 points to nil, and you can see if happening if we get a pair of marking forwards going. Certainly helps with the accusations (mostly by me) that it's a one dimensional attack.

That goal made the margin 10 and now things were getting tasty. I might have had a few loose pengos on us now. We got there eventually, but not before conceding an absolutely farcical goal where one of their forwards had a fortnight to run around in space before finding a target to handball, who then ran what could politely be described as "her full measure" to kick it from the line.

With Daisy exiled into defence to try and calm things down, it took your hero and mine Harris to refloat the boat with her first. It's lazy to go on about Harris all the time, especially when I mistakenly worried whether she'd be any good based entirely off her stats from last year, but she was so good it defies description. Respect to the tall forwards who came before her, but she is such a quantum leap as a target and goalkicker that we have absolutely ransacked Carlton in this trade. It's even better than the five minutes where Gysberts for McLean looked like a win, and when they gave us Jeff (still never 'Jeffy') Garlett for peanuts then went on to kick about nine goals for the season.

There was more Harris content when, at the third attempt, her wildcard partnership with West finally paid off. This time it wasn't from a pass, but with some solid gold crumb after a marking contest. Now things were getting interesting. And guess who pulled down another big mark in front of goal to open the last quarter? I take back any concerns, hand me a #7 jumper and her a contract for life. Harris' second also saw her go past Kate Hore for most goals in a Melbourne AFLW season, with plenty of time to pile on a couple of dozen more.

It all got a bit trench warfare after this, and Harris could have all but sealed it after taking another thumping contested mark in front of goal. She just snuck it in for a point, but no hard feelings considering everything she'd done to that point. The kick to her came from Purcell, who was very good on debut after a year out with injury. I was also right into Tahlia Gillard, who has only taken one game to rocket past Maggie Caris into my favourite back-up ruck. 

That miss was our last serious chance at kicking the sealer, and the last few minutes were spent grimly holding on in the spirit of Stalingrad while Brisbane chucked everything at us. For much of the last quarter it was OUT: Brisbane Lions, IN: British and Irish Lions, as they just chucked the ball to each other with impunity. 

It was not pretty, but it was exciting, and the longer we went on with a lead of under seven points, the more I expected to be denied in heartbreaking circumstances. Instead we almost got dudded in the most traditional way possible, by an umpire. With literally seconds to play there was a scrap inside Brisbane's forward 50, and after waiting such a long time that you suspect he might have been hoping to be saved by the siren, the umpire pulled out a holding the ball free. 

Back to inherently funny words, I'd have gotten something for the headline if Svarc had Svarced us but in a ludicrous scenario the ball landed with the exact same player who'd kicked for goal after the siren against us last year. She missed then, and missed again here, but not by much. As ball met boot I let out a large expletive because it was right on target, but while it had Gawn style precision her kicked lacked Harrisian power and dropped short in the square. We had just gotten away with it against them again and it is - unpredictable change of heart alert - game on for 2022.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal for Player of the Year
5 - Tayla Harris
4 - Karen Paxman
3 - Eliza McNamara
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to D. Pearce, Goldrick, Heath, Mithen, Purcell and West.

20 - Tyla Hanks
12 - Karen Paxman
11 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
10 - Eden Zanker
9 - Tayla Harris
8 - Lauren Pearce
7 - Eliza McNamara, Lily Mithen, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
5 - Sinead Goldrick
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Shelley Heath, Kate Hore, Daisy Pearce

Goal of the Week
It's got to be Bannan. In the moment when she played on I let out a silent "noooooooo" but on replay it was obviously the right thing to do. More of that in the future please.

Next Week
It's back to dear old Casey Fields (xoxo) on Saturday night, where a night game ensures that if nothing else the game won't be ruined by heat. Instead, the potential marquee game against North - a battle of two teams who have offered plenty without delivering - will probably be slaughtered by gale force winds blowing the ball south to god knows where, directly across the ground and onto the half forward flank. If the wind could just piss off for one night it should be an absolute blockbuster, and if we win you'd best believe I'm clambering back on top of the bandwagon and pretending I was never off. 

Final Thoughts
With three rounds left we're 2.5 games and 75 percentage points clear inside the top six. I could get used to this.

Saturday 12 February 2022

That will do

It's a weird and wonderful world if you follow Melbourne AFLW. We beat ordinary sides without ever looking particularly dangerous, can't be beaten on a ground that's worse for Australian rules than the Russians are for international peace, and went within touching distance of holding a side scoreless for the first time in 125 years of senior AFL games, and I'm still not convinced we're any good.

There were slight concerns over the Giants springing a surprise here. They're a marginally mid-table side, the game was going to be played in warm conditions, you never know sort of effect the Casey wind is going to have, and we're due to play our annual shocker when starting as red-hot favourites. Like last week, we got away with it. Another four points in the bank, further confirmation that despite a tough run over the next three weeks we should easily make finals, and what can be considered a string of valuable learning opportunities before we run into the other contenders.

The opposition was a veritable 'who's that' of original recipe Melbourne players, lining up with three of our 2017 list. Jasmine Grierson kicked our first ever goal - on, you will not be shocked to remember, a day of rotten weather at Casey - now via a stint at North Melbourne she was part of a side doing everything they could to avoid scoring. Plenty of teams have struggled for attacking power in this league, but I've never seen anyone go so close to scoring so many times and come out with nothing. The more they blew chances to at least rush through a point, the funnier it got that they were still on 0.0. It couldn't last, but it did much longer than expected.

In another throwback to 2017 (and 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021) Melbourne AFLW, we were also butchering chances at a rapid rate. To be fair, there were a couple of weeks at the start of last year when we were kicking them from everywhere - this was followed by kicking 3.20 over the next fortnight. You can hang shit on Casey Open Fields all you like, and believe me I will, but we've kicked more goals than behinds there every year except 2018 so the Cranbourne paddock is not entirely to blame. Let's see if there's any difference over the next two games, at Carrara and Fremantle Oval, and I'll work out just how much I can lay the boots into the place.

Paxman failed to master the conditions first. Shame she missed, because the set up was wonderful. Daisy gathered and wandered around in acres of space waiting for somebody to run past. She got Paxy, sans opponent, but the kick missed. Then Harris sprayed one from directly in front and it was becoming harder to lay all the blame on insufficient protection against wind. 

Though the Giants didn't look much like scoring from anything but a fluky counter-attack, we still needed to get a score on the board. If there's any part of our team I'm confident about it's the backline, but you've still got to score to win. Tough times call for the stars to get involved, and it was your hero and mine Daisy who got us going, winning a free in front of goal and converting. She doesn't get many touches a game these days, but is proving to be super important in an otherwise 1D forward structure.

Opening goal or not, we were still vulnerable without goals, and the Giants were negligent in not kicking a quick reply. Colvin pulled off a brilliant tackle to stop it, with an assist from the Giants player wandering into goal like she was having a lovely walk in the country. We got away with it a second time when Colvin's kick was turned over, then the ball bounced off the chest of a forward who'd put on an otherwise perfect lead.

For the second week in a row the opposition was kept to zilch in the opening quarter, and we were doing everything but delivering a pre-quarter time fatality. The greatest missed opportunity was not just for a goal, but for the women's Goal of the Century. Alyssa Bannan took five bounces along the wing before over-thinking what 90s wrestling celebration she was going to do and rolling the kick wide. She is still young and flashes in and out of games, but our strategy circa 2024 should involve giving her the ball wide at every opportunity because it will create highlights out the yin yang.

Bannan missed, but her transition of the ball from the other end ultimately led to Mithen setting Hore up for the second, and we had what looked like a comfortable lead. But what if the Giants took full advantage of the wind in the second quarter? Alternatively, what if they didn't kick a jot with it. This with Ali Brown having been roped in as a late replacement for Lampard after playing a full VFL game earlier.

I miss the romantic days when players could be called up after a full game in the seconds, and understand that there's no place for carryover emergencies in a competition with such limited development opportunities, but it did feel a bit village. Not starting the seconds competition until halfway through the season probably shows how seriously AFL HQ is taking this competition. They're happy to get a pat on the back for running top level women's sport, and it's ace that you can watch every game live, but I don't know how much they're really into it.

There's rarely ideal weather to play during the day in Summer. Even this game was shifted from tomorrow afternoon to avoid even worse conditions - which will come as a surprise to St Kilda and Brisbane who are playing at 1pm - but that's where they're at. I disagree with the idea of playing it alongside the men's season, which would simultaneously be hooray for equality and ensure that the games are treated as an afterthought, but what about an October-December season? 

My first choice would be to play all games at night (and not at Casey), but that's not going to work when expansion is out of control and there's soon going to be nine games a week. Starting shortly after the men's Grand Final isn't going to rule out hot weather but it will minimise it, and you could back it off the state league seasons so draftees could have a season of development at the lower league before being thrown into the real stuff. Instead you've got a secondary competition that starts halfway through, and ends in May. Apparently there's a lot of trouble sharing grounds with the cricket but the AFL must have enough money left over that they can buy exclusive use of a couple of grounds in each city. They go out of their way to screw over every other sport in Australia, may as well annoy everybody.

The Giants could have played in conditions ranging from Vladivostok to the Gobi Desert and they wouldn't have looked like a decent attacking threat. They reached halftime on zero, offering the very real prospect of being the first team to score nil since the Little League. I haven't got records on opposition scores, but the worst we've done in a game is 0.2 in 1899. I'm sure the forums were going wild that night. The end result did beat our previous senior record for lowest score conceded, 1903's 1.2.8 by Carlton.

Tenuous links between games played by different genders 120 years apart notwithstanding, the Giants were dreadful in attack. Even after marking 30 meters out they blew it by trying the worst set play in history, putting the kick to the advantage of the only leading player Karen Paxman. Not sure I've ever seen somebody in defence lead so beautifully to a kick inside 50. Don't know what they were trying to do but Samuel Morse would have risen to applaud how well it was telegraphed. He was also more likely to kick a goal than anyone in the Giants side for the first three quarters despite being dead since 1872. As Samuel himself would have put it, ... ..- -.-. -.-       ... .... .. -       --. .. .- -. - ...

The ground doesn't help, but you've got to admit that we're a bit boring to watch. Scoring is by no means everything, but by the end of the quarter when there'd been the grand total of one behind, Tayla Harris walloping the boundary umpire in the head with a kick off the ground, sending his whistle flying was a much appreciated wakeup call. I'm right up for a spot of AFLW but surely neutrals aren't flocking to watch us. May as well win while nobody's watching then surprise everyone in the finals. At the moment I don't believe that possible, but remain willing to be proven horrifically wrong.

For all our domination the margin was only 15 points, leaving me wondering how long a team has been kept to nil and ended up winning. We should have made certain of things in the opening minutes, Fitzsimon got the sort of administrative in the back free that would make you kick the virtual cat if it went the other way. She missed from sitter range, and the door remained ever so slightly ajar. Finally, after six behinds in a row Shelley Scott placed ball between big posts on the siren and set up a lead that - wind or no wind - we couldn't give up without suffering a series of memorable calamities.

Now that we were almost certainly going to win, my focus became keeping them to zero. Even with the game long won, I was freaking out whenever they got near goal. It was like that Carlton 2018 game where we got 100 points in front and I was prepared to go home a bit sooky if we only won by 98.

We weren't going to put up that sort of scoring bonanza, but things were going so well that when Hore did the worst kick at goal since Jake Spencer vs North 2011 it dropped right into Scott's arms. She joined in the fun by booting it out on the full, maybe in an attempt to keep the ball down there and run the clock down before the Giants could score. Hore then crumbed a nice goal, but I was secretly a bit upset because it meant we risked them getting it out of the middle for score.

The dreaded goal came eventually, and having comically blown a dozen chances to get something on the board they finally did it with a goal. A point followed closely behind, but considering how hard they battled for 1.1.7, ask yourself how an 11-man Geelong West Under 19s team got two goals while conceding 110.27.687 at the other end. The only possible answer is charity.

It was game over, but that didn't stop Harris running through an opponent in a contest, leaving her carted off by two trainers who were trying to decide which of her kidneys were still working. The MRP will decide if it was UFC, but I don't know about the morality. It's not like you could convince her to play any other way, she's going to attack packs like landing on a beach in Normandy, but it risks an unnecessary suspension to our best/only tall forward. 

And that was that. It was a better performance than the Gold Coast game, albeit aided by some outrageously bad attacking play down the other end, and we get another week closer to finals. Would be nice to properly club somebody though...

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Eliza West
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Daisy Pearce

Apologies to Hore, L. Pearce, Harris, Zanker, Goldrick and Bannan

18 - Tyla Hanks
11 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
10 - Eden Zanker
8 - Karen Paxman
7 - Lily Mithen, Lauren Pearce, Eliza West (LEADER: Rookie of the Year)
5 - Sinead Goldrick
4 - Tayla Harris, Eliza McNamara,
3 - Sarah Lampard,
2 - Casey Sherriff
1 - Shelley Heath, Kate Hore, Daisy Pearce

Goal of the Week
Shame that Bannan's kick after the big run missed because that would have been the greatest goal any woman has ever kicked in our colours. In its place came a cavalcade of set shots, welcome but the furthest thing from sexy football. Enter Kate Hore in the last quarter, crumbing and kicking one off the outside of the boot. Doesn't matter that GWS had lost the will to live by that point, it still looked good.

Next Week
We're currently scheduled to play Brisbane on Monday night, four days after their last game. I will run from the premiership bandwagon like it's been rigged to explode if we can't beat them on five extra days break. Here's to the Suns showing the sort of spirit Gold Coast area teams are renowned for (?) and belting the suitcase out of them. Anything to get the advantage over a side around our level. 

Assuming Maddy Gay is still crocked, Lampard and Sherriff are the only obvious returns. I'll be interested if we make any changes to the forward line based on the Casey game. We're kicking decent scores, but a lot of that is down to having the best marking forward ever - not to mention quality of opposition. I'm right into the Tay Tay experience, but if the opposition cut her out or she gets a 10 week ban for kneeing somebody in the head we might be in trouble. Insert weekly lament for the return of Petrevski. She didn't kick any goals in the curtain raiser, but was described as "super busy" so that will do for me. 

Final thoughts  
Suffocating crap teams is fun, but I still can't see how this translates to beating good contenders. Maybe, like the men, we need to kick the living bejesus out of a rubbish side to get the bloodlust up.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Bridge Over The River Quiet

In every year since I started watching footy, I'd have bitten your hand off for a 4-1 start. Mainly because, as we discovered between August and last week winning is more fun than losing, but because it's a decent deposit on finals berth. The wins are worth even more in a 10 week season, which makes me feel bad for finishing the night full of dread about how the season will finish.

My theory that it's a defacto three division competition is supported by the ladder. You've got Freo, Adelaide, us, North, Collingwood and Brisbane at the top, a Gold Coast, GWS, Richmond, Carlton, Footscray mid-table mediocrity community, with Geelong/West Coast/St Kilda wading through more shit than that fellow from The Shawshank Redemption. In the remaining five weeks we play three of the top sides, two in the middle, and none of the slurry, so wherever we finish in the six it'll be a fair representation of our season.

It's not to say we can't beat any team in the league on our day, go back a year to when I entirely lost faith only for us to knock over good sides for several weeks in a row en route to a prelim, but the combination of our struggles to score against Adelaide, and now doing just enough to beat the Suns has me nervous tugging at my collar and wondering when it's all going to go wrong.

Gold Coast are not as bad as they used to be, but that's like saying Chernobyl is less radioactive than 1986. Our list should clobber their list every time, and here they were half a chance of snatching a draw with 90 seconds left. It was not befitting a premiership contender, and I'll keep hammering that point until we are, at which point I'll pretend there was nothing to worry about.

I don't want to be proven right, now that flags are a real thing I'll take them in any format down to AFLX, the Lightning Premiership, or a rebooted Little League. It's just that I can't see any realistic way we're going to do it this year. Which is fine, because our core of good young players should have us contending for years to come, but I want day one legends like Daisy, Paxman and Shelley Scott to be there when we do it. Otherwise they'll have to attend counselling sessions with Nathan Jones and Neville Jetta.

So, that's a dark and gloomy way to start the discussion about a good honest win. I suppose they can't all be corkers. Circumstances gave the Suns their best chance yet to beat us, Maddie Gay departed with shoulder trouble, and Tyla Hanks was DQ'ed under our old friend the health and safety protocols, leaving us two key players short but unexpectedly pumping some life into an otherwise drama-free player of the year competition.

With the world's most inhospitable home ground (and our 10 game winning streak there is the only reason it's not being called the world's worst) blowing the game in all senses of the word, this was not a night for football purists. In fact, even against the second rate Olympics and a laughably low key soccer cup final I wouldn't be surprised if it rated below infomercials on Spree TV. The viewing audience was probably down to a handful of our fans, family and friends of Gold Coast players who didn't have anything better on, and the sort of sad men who watch AFLW just to complain when the 1989 Grand Final fails to break out.

The latter group would have had a field day here, ignoring the teams trying to stack each other into the turf at every step with malice aforethought and concentrating instead on a quarter time score of two behinds to bugger all. This was certainly not the best AFLW game ever played, it might be outside the top 100, but I'm prepared to blame the venue. As somebody completely independent from the management of the Melbourne Football Club (in case you hadn't noticed), I can say that this desolate, windy place slightly to the left of a long jump pit is just no good.

Contractual obligations or not, if only there was a more central option. Punt Road, the Western Oval, Arden Street (and how fast would we have swiped that land if North had gone to the Gold Coast?) and Princes Park are occupied, while Coburg, Preston and Prahran are all occupied by cricket. Meanwhile St Kilda, who have taken our spot at the foot of the Laughing Stock League can play at Moorabbin, Frankston and probably Sandringham in an emergency.

If we have to play at Casey, at least put up some sort of wall to dampen the impact of wind. Somebody's probably pointing an accusing finger at their screen and screaming about footy being an outdoor game since 1858, but just because they put up with this sort of nonsense in the past doesn't mean it's acceptable now. In the 80s you could carry a slab, piss down the leg of the person next to you and hurl racial abuse with impunity too. For years we've seen AFL, AFLW and VFL games at the ground slaughtered by the conditions. It can't be good for development (yes, I am aware of our current status in the men's game, no I don't think playing inside Cyclone Tracy helped), and surely nobody seriously likes going there unless they live next door.

We'll get to the game eventually, but I've got so little to say about it that I may as well fill space with some more whinging. For *reasons* I watch a lot of muted TV with subtitles, and am regularly offended on behalf of the deaf community. Some shows don't have them, and some drop out for several minutes at a time, as if the person typing them has gone out for a milkshake. Either way, unless there's some secret channel that people who actually need the captions can access it seems like a massive extraction of piss.

Given that they can't get taped stuff right, I accept that converting sports commentary into text would be a nightmare (whoever has to interpret BT's level buffoonery should be added to the Logies Hall of Fame), but they had a tremendous cock-up with our team list. Somebody must have seen #33 Jordan Zanchetta on our list, not realised she was a ring-in whose entire contribution so far has been to have her name listed as an emergency in a week where everyone had the 'cron, decided one 'Z' player was as good as the other, and showed her name every time Eden Zanker was mentioned during the half.

By the third or fourth time it came up I wondered if we'd had an ultra-late team change, or if she'd been drafted into the Gold Coast side as a last minute top up. The good news for her is that Zanker was racking up touches left, right and centre, improving Jordan's profile with the deaf and televisually muted communities.

Sadly, coaches are beyond the days of motivating players by sticking articles up on the wall, but I'd like to think that last week's SOS to Round 1 Eden Zanker did some mysterious cosmic shit and influenced her return to form. There are no excessive expectations on such a young player, but once you've seen her running riot from one end to the other you get a taste for it. Here, against outmatched opposition that were only good for a red hot bash, Zanker was in her element. In five years time, if not stripped away to provide a marquee signing for the Fitzroy/University expansion sides, she will wreck teams from top to bottom and it will be marvellous. For now, enjoy the spectacle no matter how often it comes around.

We did everything to win the game in the first quarter except score. That old chestnut. The ball was stuck at the left of screen for most of it, but we were going through a conveyor belt of flubbed opportunities. I suppose keeping the game in our territory was a sign that on our day we could kick scores that will topple big sides, but I wouldn't bet your house on it. 

After all this fruitless attack, the Suns would occasionally go forward and you'd start to panic that we were going to waste all those chances then concede an arsey one of the break. And you'd have been right, it just took a bit longer to happen.

For now, and for most of the night, our backline was in control. The welcome return of 2020 Libby Birch continues, the only thing close to a brick wall at that ground. I'm in about an eight way tie for favourite player but she's up there. Keeping them to nowt in the opening term would have been received better if we'd converted just one of our chances. The wind didn't help (does it ever?) but nor did rancid kicking. I was in no way surprised when we did concede the first goal. The only shock was cancelling it out so quickly that Channel 7 had barely stopped showing the replay. Then Gold Coast suffered one of the great Melbourne #fistedforever era stitch-ups, battling to the ends of the earth to kick a goal then conceding two in a row, leaving you wishing the first attempt had missed.

You can talk up pressure all you like, and there were literally more tackles in this game than any other in AFLW history, but it worries me that we had to get into this game with a mid-table at best side. It worked - just - in the end, but seems the rest of the league has rumbled our free and easy ball movement that caused Footscray so much trouble. Get ready for two months of tough slog that will, at times, make you want to scoop your eyeballs out with a spoon.

The quickfire double set up a 10 point half time lead, with whatever benefit the bullshit zany wind offered us in the third quarter. As much as I struggled to get excited, and you certainly lose something watching without noise, there was also a sense that the Suns weren't good enough to overhaul us. And they were not. The margin extended to 19 at the last change, leaving them with shitloads of work to do if they wanted to hunt us down. 

When Harris mastered the wind to for the opening goal everything was looking up. Then we had a red-hot go at making it interesting, failing to kill them off and letting in a pair of goals that the margin to 12 with time left. I was confident enough that our backline was too good to let in two more, and we successfully ran the clock down long enough to make sure of victory. Which was nice.

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Libby Birch
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Shelley Heath

Apologies to Lampard, McNamara, Harris, Fitzsimon, Paxman and Scott

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

Goal of the Week
Daisy's one that Channel 7 nearly missed while playing Sportsbet ads.

Next Week
It's another banana skin fixture against a mid-level side, as we stay at Mt. Variable Weather to play the Giants. Due to their Corona-related week off this will be the return of the player who didn't want to wear the pride jumper, so no doubt somebody on or off-field will cover themselves in glory with a controversial sledge. Like this week we should win, and I think we will after a monumental struggle featuring a variety of terrifying near-misses. I'd still pick Petrevski, otherwise the list is so thin that there doesn't seem any point making changes. 

Final Thoughts
Four points good, no points bad. This has been the lowest effort match review since about 2005, staff and management of (incorporating and Brunton Avenue Publishing) would like to apologise. Refunds are available at the Bay 6 Administration Office, ground floor Olympic Stand.