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 zero.zero.zero 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.

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