Monday, 7 March 2022

Purple people eaters

Sun Tzu said: "If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by". I say if you watch Melbourne long enough something crazy will happen. In this case, turning a top of the table blockbuster into an unprecedented massacre, claiming both the highest score and biggest win in AFLW history. For the first time since 1899, a team called Melbourne owns the most dominant performance in a top flight Australian rules football competition. I believe we were also involved in big margins in 1979 and 2011 but am unable to locate further details at this time.

As good as it was to finally treat a side with absolute contempt, the excitement has to be tempered by Freo losing three players to COVID an hour before the bounce and another to injury before quarter time. Years of gags about people playing like they've only just met their teammates finally paid off when they were forced to call up an unlisted player who hadn't been at the club since pre-season and apparently only arrived a few minutes before the game started. Hardly an ideal preparation but she's in the history books now. It was the semi-professional equivalent of having to invite a random into your indoor soccer side when the dickhead keeper forgets to show up.

Despite all these handicaps, I still think Freo had a better team on paper than the expansion St Kilda side that beat us on that dark Friday evening in 2020. Which is what you tell yourself when you really want to enjoy kicking a bumper score instead of concentrating on why they were such an easy kill. Instead, consider the irony of a team from behind the WA iron curtain being decimated by the 'cron while representatives of a disease-ridden pariah state were running around without a rogue antibody in sight. Double your irony if half our side catch the 'rona in Perth, but it doesn't bubble up for another week and leaves us fielding a b-side in the finals.

Even without the dismemberment, it was a joy to watch this team play in a proper stadium. Forget that it looked as if there were 250 people there, even empty seats are a quantum leap from people nearly being blown out of deckchairs onto dirt. The night peaked when Daisy broke our goalkicking record and Jason Bennett made veiled comments about how much better it is watching in real grounds. Even the AFL match report dared to whisper that games are better when played somewhere with walls. Good to see more people coming around to my position, it's not the Bear Grylls Outdoor Survival League.

On another night where Bennett called a game featuring our captain running riot at Perth Stadium, we remember all those years where Melbourne was as likely to win a game on the north face of Mt. Everest as Western Australia. Now, if you ignore the disastrous 2018 Prelim it is practically holy ground for us. The win that broke our finals drought, the lightning strike fiasco game last year, those finals, and now a record-breaking performance for the women on their first visit.

You can't blame Freo for their misfortune, and they put up a decent fight for the first few minutes. When the ball fortuitously fell to a crumber in the middle of six Demons for their first goal I thought "oh god, we couldn't possibly lose this could we?" Certainly not. Even players wearing colours that have run in every state and territory of Australia couldn't help but take advantage of this opposition. In classic Perth Stadium fashion we got about 12 goals in a row before they had another go.

Much of the fun came via Daisy Pearce, doing her best Max Gawn impersonation with five glorious goals. For years I've watched three goal performances and waited for somebody to go a step further. If you knew the record was not only going to beaten but thrashed this year all the smart money would have been on Tayla Harris, but she played a supporting role while the captain went nuts.

The first goal was the best, with Daisy both setting up and finishing it. She flew in late for a spoil, got the ball back from Harris, and snapped through with minimal effort. For a few minutes it was nothing more than a nice settler, while we held them out and moved the ball well but couldn't get anything going inside 50. Enter your friend and mine Tay Tay with another of her trademark running pack marks. This goal waved on the bulldozer that proceeded to squash anyone in purple like ripe grapes.

Our luck extended beyond the suspect immune systems of the opposition, with Hore bobbling a snap through from 40 almost immediately after, and while the Dockers got to quarter time without any further damage it was clear that we were going to have to do something incredibly stupid to lose. Mind you, they once beat us after we'd kept them without an inside 50 for the entire first term so it wasn't out of the question.

The good fortune continued when Shelley Scott was in the right spot for an otherwise hopeful snap to land in her arms, then probably had the ball touched off the boot. Even the captain was about to tell her teammates to stay in position before realising it had been paid and doing the best "got away with that" expression since Uncle Leo found Morty Seinfeld's wallet in a bin. Forget coaching the Cats, Daisy may as well play for them after this performance. If nothing else, it would probably bring their average age down.

At five goals to one just before half time, this was as good as over. Then Bannan crumbed the bejesus out of a contest and it was officially done. Now that Freo had fired all available shots the only question was how brutal we would be. At some places we'd probably have had to deal with a force 10 diagonal gale and would have finished on 8.21. Instead, we unloaded the biggest landslide in the (admittedly short) history of the league, kicking 7.1 to nil and smashing past our previous highest score - also against Freo - by three quarter time.

To their credit, Freo held out for about four minutes, but were in full survival mode. Didn't help that Bannan ran about 30 metres without bouncing before setting up Daisy's fourth, but they were just having that sort of day. For the last time we say goodbye to the previous joint record holders of three in a game - farewell to the eclectic nine, Mifsud, Cranston, O'Dea, Cunningham, Newman, Parry, Hore, Scott and Harris, and hello to the new outright individual record holder. I'm going to come down with RSI doing all the Demonwiki updates to reflect this blessed event.

While the Dockers were now offering little more than target practice, we looked like the greatest women's side ever put together. I'm struggling to know how seriously to take it, but the ball movement was absolutely delightful. Things were going so well that when Casey Sherriff got bored in defence, we chucked her forward and immediately got two goals. Players were queuing up to get involved, and even Paxman ticked off an unlikely square on her otherwise chockers Footy Bingo card with multiple goals, before setting up Daisy's fifth.

You couldn't expect to finish with a similar flourish, but at 78 points ahead with 15 minutes left we were a live chance of becoming the first AFLW team to win by the ton. We didn't quite get there, but did eclipse the league record score Brisbane set just last week. Two Harris goals in a row extended our score beyond 100, and temporarily had the margin at 93 before they got the most consolation of goals in the last minute. Another week, another missed opportunity to do the 93 Red and Blue Balloons headline.

It was quite the performance, especially when compared to a Geelong/St Kilda game earlier in the day that was reportedly the worst spectacle since University was in the league. For lovers of spectacle, it's a shame that one side went into the contest mortally wounded, for those of us who love to see Melbourne sides fill their boots it was glorious. I'm still deeply suspicious of our premiership credentials, and we won't get protocol lucky like this every week but it'll do for now. Here's to it unleashing a bloodlust that carries us through the next few weeks and to a flag. Any chance of relocating this Grand Final to Perth as well?

2022 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
I think this is the first time the naming rights sponsor has pocketed full votes since the award was named after her. Well deserved.

5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Karen Paxman

Tremendous apologies to Gay, Harris, Hore, McNamara, Purcell and West.

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

Goal of the Week
There are so many options, but with apologies to Hore rolling one through from miles out I'm going for Daisy's first. She made it with the spoil, and the finish was delightful. Hardly Goal of the Year stuff but enough for me.

Next Week
If you enjoy Libby Birch vs Footscray grudge matches, strap yourself in for the big Tayla Harris vs Carlton rumble on Friday night. Having avoided suspension so far, calming down on attempted assassinations in the marking contest as the season has gone on, this is not the time to settle old scores. The Blues are ordinary (and I did say that about their men shortly before they beat us), but things will be a lot tighter here so the best revenge is to kick a metric shitload of goals.

Sadly, after a week in a real stadium it's back to Casey. The good news is that all we need to do for a week off and direct entry to the Prelim is to win, and recent history suggests we can overcome any conditions to do that. Then, assuming we don't kick a big enough score to beat whatever cruelty Adelaide will inflict on St Kilda, it would be the winner of 3rd vs 6th (likely Brisbane/Collingwood) for a spot in the Grand Final. If we cock it up and Brisbane beat the Dogs, we'll be the third place team in that knockout game. Best avoided.

Final Thoughts
I haven't seen Dockers mistreated like this since John Howard was PM.

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