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.

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