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.

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