Sunday 28 August 2022

We shall overcome

Whoever the move to mid-year AFLW is meant to benefit, it didn't take into account the emotional conflict for those of us who have still got neck-deep interest in the men's game too. Sad, middle-aged types like me probably aren't their focus market, but there must be a lot of people who will struggle to focus until their side is knocked out of the original recipe competition. Then TV coverage that could have only been more South Australia focused if Anne Wills interviewed Don Dunstan at half time fired me up to the point where I realised that if you put a Melbourne jumper on my TV I'll lose the plot. Can't guarantee my thoughts will be with the women during the week, but while the games are on it's still real to me.

With respect to the players who have previously had to slog through heat, humidity and, in some cases tropical thunderstorms, I think pitting the early weeks of this league against a finals that will suck the oxygen out of everything around it is nigh on suicidal. Great for people like me who don't want to be involved in finals if their team's isn't involved, but good luck engaging as many people as before. 

Maybe the AFL is happy that they've ticked the box of having 18 teams, can claim the women's sports moral highground, and enthusiasts can enjoy themselves. Unless you're a North enthusiast and your next game has just been rescheduled to before a men's final, offering you the chance to pay through the nose for a ticket to Melbourne/Sydney or stay home. Curtain raisers are already vastly overrated in an era where many people can barely to get to the ground for one game, but to do it before a final is putrid. I'm not complaining about us playing more games on the MCG, but it's a bit contemptuous of the idea of a standalone women's competition.

The season wasn't perfect where it was, and the tight turnaround probably landed us one last season of Daisy Pearce before retirement, but it got several weeks of clear air before running into the pre-season. Now you've got 50% of the home and away season playing second fiddle to a different brand of the same sport and it just seems a bit contemptuous of the idea of a standalone competition. But what do I know? I'll still sit firmly in the centre ground of viewers between the sad men who go out of their way to tell you how much they hate watching, and the people who treat every game like the equivalent to Hannah Gadsby's Nannette.

If you're going to give a competition one week in the sun before treating it like a minor league, I can see why you'd put a Grand Final rematch in the first marquee timeslot. The bad news is that every Melbourne vs Adelaide game is guaranteed to be a massive struggle. Often it's us struggling to kick a goal. Even our only recent win against the Crows came via one of our all-time great defensive efforts, so it was never going to be a free-wheeling shootout. 

If you're bothering to read this you're probably appreciative of players spending four quarters tackling each other into dust, many would not have been. It didn't rate inside the top 20 shows on free to air, and pay TV numbers were lower than Round 1 last year. Neither is a catastrophic figure, but they've not exactly got the comp flying out of the gates. I'm more concerned that the worst game show in history Tipping Point gets 255,000 viewers mid-afternoon. Where do they gather these figures from, mental asylums?

Unless you had a vested interest in the teams involved, I can understand how the South Australian Footy Show coverage might have turned you off. Port Adelaide's introduction got more coverage in the pre-match than we did, and once it started Abbey Holmes had the most fun since she won a flag with the Crows every time they went near goal. Later the mask slipped entirely and she referred to Ash Woodland as "our leading goalkicker".

One aspect of AFLW that everyone can appreciate is the playing at novelty grounds. In this case the originally scheduled Norwood Oval's surface was damper than a Vietnamese rice paddy so the whole operation was shifted *consults Google maps* south to Glenelg. The last minute switch, and as far as I can tell the first time any MFC side has played at the ground, meant they didn't have time to properly cover non-AFL compliant sponsors. They got away with a Holden billboard being covered by a white panel, but gave the game away by failing to adapt to a circular IGA logo on a black background.

Considering the game had been moved because Norwood was damp, it was ironic that Glenelg featured a rock hard surface that all but guaranteed death for anybody caught in a sling tackle. This ended in the ball bouncing like a golf ball down a cart path, adding an extra level of slapstick to proceedings.

Both teams have a raft of new players from the Grand Final (and we must have set some kind of record by delisting Maeve Chaplin, then taking her back with our first draft pick), but the early stages suggested a repeat of the usual formula where Adelaide would squeeze the life out of us, then win it by pinching a couple of goals in the opposite direction. Certainly looked that way when they got the opening goal. 

The backline did a very good job under pressure throughout the night, to the point where you think we could keep one of the rotten teams goalless, but this was a cockup. Birch had the sit for an intercept mark only for Gillard to spoil right into the hands of an Crows forward. Considering how Abbey laughed at Crows goals like she was in the studio audience of Seinfeld, Ash Woodland's four game/zero goal stint with us didn't get a mention. 

After this Gillard was very good. It's a nice luxury to be able to plonk a player inside 50 that most opponents can't get within 10 centimetres of. Once she gets past youthful enthusiasm and learns when to defer to somebody in a better position she may destroy all known records for intercept possessions.

Despite the departure of Shelley Scott, our forward line didn't look much different to last year. Harris was pushing further up the ground, and god knows what Bannan was doing, but otherwise note a great deal of change. Certainly no crumbers, which is where we went as wrong as you could last year while still making a Grand Final. In lieu, enter Kate Hore and the lunar surface to finish what had been our best end-to-end ball movement of the night. 

Don't be distracted by the fact that she was actually trying to square the ball straight to a Crows player, or that said player probably touched it as the ball did the zany bounce over her head. In a competition where goals are at a premium take them however they come. As payback for her good luck here, she kicked three further behinds, including a couple of dead-set sitters from right in front. Still didn't qualify for Miss of the Night, but more on that later.

This set off a decent period for us, and with West, Purcell and Paxman racking up midfield possessions like the Finnish Prime Minister racks up [Deleted on receipt of the test results - international affairs editor] we were matching them more convincingly that any recent meeting. To be fair, West and Purcell's kicking efficiency was about 9% combined but they were working in phonebooth spaces so I'm willing to focus on the positives. Like keeping them to one scoring shot for the quarter. 

Considering some of the bloodbaths they've unleashed on us, a slender lead was worth celebrating. Especially with some of our big hitters - Bannan, D. Pearce, Zanker etc... barely seen. It can't be underestimated how important it was to get off to a good start, the world's second shonkiest competition structure (you'll never beat the VFL having 21 teams play 18 games) has given us a cow of a draw. Of the four expansion teams the only one we play is Essendon, who will be the best of the four, and it's another year missing out on the bye against Geelong. Instead we've got good sides up and down the fixture. Everything changes with extra teams, but a loss wouldn't have killed our finals chances. Last year a 6-4 side made it, but it wouldn't have left much room for error in playing for the top four.

It says it all that the highlights of the second quarter on the AFL site are just people being tackled. Adelaide got one point, and we would have done similar if not for a horror turnover that landed in Harris' hands to hammer through from 40 metres with a minute left. 

Things got going early in the third when the Crows kicked two in a row to take the lead. Meanwhile we were making scoring look impossible, having kicked goals via a) fluky bounce, and b) shizen defending, and completely stuffing up every proper chance created. Their second need not have happened if the umpires, who'd been adjudicating holding the ball at random all night, pinged her for spinning to avoid a tackle, straight into another that couldn't have been anything but ball. If there's a women's game in [insert regional South Australian town] next week they'll be at it.

The way things were going I've got faith Adelaide would have missed the set shot instead of creating a goal from the stoppage, instead our literal old friend Woodland sped past Gillard's tall attempt at a tackle and it looked like they'd sorted us out, until Hanks kicked a rolling goal from the pocket. Then came one of the greatest moments in goalkicking history. 

Lauren Pearce marked at the top of the square, then did one of the worst set shots ever, not even booting it straight into the mark from the top of the square but barely catching her right hand as it veered away at minimum speed, unlikely to make the distance. The Adelaide players might have been distracted by how funny it was and failed to notice Daisy swooping in to pay off anybody who had ANY PEARCE on their next goalkicker ticket. This came to the absolute disgust of the defenders who were convinced somebody had touched it. And by the reaction I'd say one of them did, but the goal umpire wasn't interested so bad luck. This is the sort of exciting situation you used to get before everything was ruined by video replays.

Now, against all sensible odds, we were 11 points in front at the last change. Which, no matter what gender's involved, is a one point loss waiting to happen. Symbolically, the final term started with Pearce, L being clobbered into the granite centre square. Then Adelaide got lucky via their own temporarily dead player. She was on the ground looking DOA, and if anyone had been able to take a mark in the next 20 seconds the umpire would probably have stopped the game to check vital signs. Instead she popped back up like The Undertaker for a goal and it was - sadly - game on again.

I'll never have confidence that a Melbourne side will kick the next goal in these circumstances, but what do you know we held on without conceding another. It ended with Zanker turning up for the first time to mark unopposed at the top of the square. She was set up by Hore, who marked on the boundary line but wisely deduced that based on her earlier set efforts a set shot would have skewed off the boot and killed somebody over the fence. Incidentally, if you need proof that AFLW attracts a more genteel audience, not one person was seen hanging over the fence screaming abuse at her.

Adelaide's last chance went south with what will surely qualify as the funniest free kick of the season. Hore did multiple sidesteps towards an opponent who wasn't having any of her deception efforts, eventually walked into the tackle, and somehow came out of it with a high contact free. Then she went from lying on the ground looking like she'd endured a traumatic brain injury to completely unscathed the moment the free was paid. Very enjoyable stuff, stiff shit locals. Paxy added another, we won be relatively lots, and all was right with the world of women's footy.

Based on that alone I'm not ready to declare us a premiership threat, but it was as good a start as we were going to get. As much as you'd love to rip a lowly team to shreds in the opener it's probably better to get a tough win out of the way and build up some momentum. I'd like to see more of it.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Eliza West
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Maddie Gay

Apologies to Gillard, Heath, Lampard and L. Pearce

Goal of the Week
As much as I loved Daisy's crumb or Hore's novelty bounce it has to go to Hanks from the pocket. Consider those your starting leaderboard for the season.

1st - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide
2nd - Daisy Pearce vs Adelaide
3rd - Kate Hore vs Adelaide

Next Week
Stiff shit North fans, we'll be at the home of football and you'll be trying to get Kayo to work without buffering and/or unexpectedly switching to Korfball. Despite their reputation the Roos have never done anything of note, and I'd like to help them get off to as bad a start as possible. They're also probably the only side in the competition that doesn't have one of our ex-players. The closest we can get is Jake Bowey's sister, who hopefully doesn't offer her new side the same talismanic luck that he did.

Final Thoughts
It doesn't take away the Prelim or Grand Final losses (and framed premiership merch would have formed a lovely double act with the men's equivalent), but it's a start. The Crows may never be the same again now that they've got to share their state, and after winning three flags while we toiled just to make finals I hope this was the official toppling of the first domino in their demise. Not that I'm bitter at all.

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