Monday 5 September 2022

Growing pains

If you're looking for coverage of the Friday men's game, go here. I wouldn't bother.

Refer to last week's post for in-depth whinging about starting the AFLW season at the same time as the men's finals, but there's something extra suspect about playing a home and away game in the sport's top flight women's competition as a curtain raiser three hours before a men's match. They get to claim a crowd of 17,851, about a quarter of who were in the ground at the first bounce, at the expense of making the whole thing feel minor league like every other curtain raiser in the history of Australian rules football. 

It's good that players got to perform on the game's most famous ground (though the commentator who called the MCG the 'birthplace of football' was taking a bit of historical licence), and I acknowledge that the original plan of playing at North Port Oval from 5pm wasn't much better, but like most of 'Season 7' it made the game feel like an afterthought. Anybody could have told them that starting at this time of the year would dampen the buzz, but the league has got metaphorical blood on their hands for bringing in way too many teams too quickly at the expense of the game. They'll point to getting the Geelong power mullet in a NAB ad as a sign of progress but realistically games are no better than six years ago. At the risk of being cancelled, in the case of a team scoring 0.1 they're worse.

On an individual level there are a lot of very good players, but they're balanced out by strugglers who are filling numbers until development pathways can fill lists. Even our side, competitive from day one, now regular finalists, is fielding players that have no place in a national competition. For comparison to the men's game, imagine taking four or five of the fringe strugglers from our 2012/2013 nightmares and sticking them alongside Oliver, Gawn, Petracca etc... The stars are going to keep doing starish things on their own and amongst each other, but a lot of the games this year have looked more like a contest of who can hide their weak links better than a battle between premium players.

Having 18 places for players to go should eventually be good for development, but Christ on a bike things will be rough for a while. I'm convinced that as often as we see the footage of Gil McLachlan announcing a sell out of the first game, that the AFL doesn't really care how things look as long as they're happening. I said it last year, and it remains as valid now, if there was ever a time for an AFL sponsored competition to have two divisions with promotion and relegation this was it. Anyone who suggests it for the men should be boiled in oil, but the move to 18 AFLW teams was the right time. It allows shit sides to develop by playing amongst themselves, and nobody's going to put their head in the oven if their team drops into the second division. Will never happen now but I stand by the idea.

The window into the league's soul is the AFLW website, which remains one of the biggest technological fiascos known to man. I'd be the last person to suggest that is a good example of how to do a league site, but if you're going for a degree of equality between the male and female branches of the league (except the bit where facilities are so bad that players have to walk across the ground in their undercrackers to shower) wouldn't you have the same experience regardless of which gender competition you want info on? Instead they've got unsortable stats columns with patronising 'footy for beginners' tooltips like "Kicks - a legal disposal of the ball by foot", and match report buttons on the pages for individual matches that redirect to a one size fits all preview of nine completed games. The only way to get a real match report is to go to the news section and scroll until you find one. It's a farce, and the league should stop patting themselves on the back for what they did seven years ago and start being embarrassed about the service to players and fans now.

Anyway, Melbourne's 2-0 so that's a good thing. And as close as we went to disaster, the win was built off a defensive display so solid that you can imagine us going one better and holding a side to 0.0. The only issue is that for everything the defence did, the forwards may as well have turned up at Casey Fields for all the impact they had. We got plenty of the ball but made finding targets and helping them to put the ball through the middle posts look nearly impossible. Even with scoring at 1908 levels you've still got to kick goals to win.

If you just looked at the score against the Crows you'd think this was an aberration, but when you consider how many goals in that game came from zany bounces on a concrete surface, speculative snaps and interceptions, it left room for improvement. Relying on the backline to save us is risky business, as we discovered the literal one time they got through us in the first half. Beat Gillard on a lead for the first goal was their only score for the half. This was smart play, she's very good in the air (it helps to be 190cm tall), but is still green as grass so why not isolate her as far away from intercept queen Libby Birch as possible and kick to a lead. They didn't do it again, focusing on punting it down the throats of our defenders for the next three quarters instead. Cheers for that.

Their refusal to take advantage of us was one thing, but we still ended the first quarter goalless. I don't get the point of playing Tayla Harris higher up the ground when we've done nothing to replace her as a marking target inside 50. It's one thing if you go out and recruit another big goalkicker and have to change the mix, but we haven't so it's wonderful if Tayla gets the ball 60 metres out but who's she supposed to aim at? I'm not keen on any of the other players to kick 5+ goals last year (Daisy, Hore, Bannan) pulling down contested grabs, and we still seem to be refusing to participate in crumb. Mark my words, it will end badly, probably with us kicking 1.2 in a final.

I know this was a dud recruiting season due to the short turnaround but did we take Georgia Campbell last year just for the lols of everyone incorrectly thinking her dad is Tony? You can't trust a draft profile, but quoth this page: "Campbell moves well around the ground in the ruck and is a strong marking target inside 50". That'll do me, get her out of the emergencies and into the side. If you have to play Harris at CHF then at least there's somebody to boot the ball at.

The key irritation of the first quarter was that we were getting so much of the ball it should have translated into more scoring. Between Paxman, Purcell, West and Hanks, we'll match any side in the competition for accumulation but the problem is creating avenues to goal. The ball worked its way towards the good end plenty of times but lacked the connection (copyright - S. Goodwin) to finish. In a competition where the top sides will be relatively even and the bottom sides will be the female equivalent of Fitzroy 1996, this may still be enough to win a flag. I'd like to kick a few big scores just so we know it can be done.

When all else fails just get out of the way and let a legend do her thing. On the final lap of her career, Daisy Pearce ripped out two quick goals to get us going at the start of the second quarter. You liked to think that was going to encourage a huge win, especially in front of a heavily partisan crowd. But no, it was back to toil and struggle for the rest of the term, and once Pearce was blanketed after half time we didn't seem to have anyone who'd kick another goal. And for one freak snap nobody would have.

This was all fine if North continued to see every forward thrust picked off with the greatest of ease, but when they got the only goal of the third quarter we seemed to be wandering into a trap. Dud teams are going to let us walk goals in by the dozen but I'm concerned that this isn't going to stack up in [whatever month finals are this season]. I can't wait to get Sinead Goldrick back, at least she'll provide some extra dash out of defence, which might help catch sides out on the counter. 

Yet again I had a golden chance to get to a game live, and for the sixth and a bit consecutive season was thwarted by everything going wrong. My only option was to watch the first half at home, then go into a media ban until I got to the station, then finish watching on the way to the only game on Friday that the Melbourne Football Club failed to win. Knowing that the margin was likely to be razor-thin either way I expected to be stitched up by somebody nearby reacting to a final score but got away without knowing what happened until the end. This was made more difficult by Kayo acting like an absolute bastard for the entire delayed viewing of the last quarter - buffering, pausing, stopping, halting and everything in between as I tried to blank out any of the inane conversation around me that might give a hint about the result.

Despite the game being scheduled like the Under 19s I was still deeply invested in this result, to the point where I had to stop myself from openly cracking the shits mid-journey as North kicked two goals to take the lead. Good on them for being 100% efficient with their scoring shots but it still felt like we were about to be THIEVED out of a win. We couldn't even blame the umpires, even the one who took so long to whistle that you'd think the most obvious frees in history weren't going to be paid.

Enter - at the fullest pelt - Alyssa Bannan. She's done next to nothing in the opening weeks, but proved an MCG specialist in last year's Prelim, and delivered again here. When Goal of the Year is handed out she must call Eliza West onto the stage with her, because without her this didn't happen. West got on the end of a chain of handballs in the middle, kick forward to a contest, then kept running and snatched the ball off the pack Pickett vs GWS style, before booting the ball over Bannan's head for her to run on to. Luck played a part via the bounce of a lifetime, right back into her hands, but the finish was superb, a right foot snap around the corner while running towards the boundary with an opponent right on her hammer. She finished with one of her elite celebrations before falling to the ground dead from the exertion.

This was good, and I let out a little yelp that startled the crusty old grannies next to me on the train, but there were still four minutes left for North to fix us up. Then nobody scored again. It took a bit of grim defence on our behalf, but you can tell how reasonably easy it was from the 'mini match' on the world's worst website (which you can find by clicking 'watch replay', then scrolling past an unrelated article, then choosing it from a list of videos that doesn't include a replay) skipping from one defensive effort at three minutes to the last five seconds when we had it won.

I'm certainly not arguing a 2-0 start against the first and fourth best sides last season, but there may never have been a premiership contender more vulnerable to injuries. None of the recycled players have shown anything yet, and we've got the thinnest of stocks in reserve, so please face Casey Fields and pray for the health and well-being of our stars. The competition itself may be all over the shop but I'm dying to see how our season turns out.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Eliza West
2 - Libby Birch
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to Hanks, D. Pearce, L. Pearce, and Heath

Not that it's all about midfielders or anything, but I think for the first time in the hundreds of reviews I've done since 2005, the same players got top billing in the same order. In a shortened season that should ensure that one of them wins. 

Libby Birch jumps in front in the defender award, while the Rising Star remains open. Due to the limited games on offer, I'm going to set the qualification mark as two career games before the start of the year - that means eligible players are Georgia Campbell, Maeve Chaplin, Georgia Gall, Blaithin Mackin and Ella Little. Other than Chaplin they'll all need to get a game before trying to win an award.

10 - Karen Paxman
8 - Olivia Purcell
6 - Eliza West
2 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Kate Hore
1 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard

Goal of the Week
Not much to choose from, and for the second week in a row Daisy is relegated to the apologies. It must be Bannan, and it is. She moves into pole position for the annual award.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne
2nd - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide
3rd - Daisy Pearce vs Adelaide

Next Week
We've got St Kilda on Sunday afternoon, and as you can probably tell from the quality of this post it's time for me to take a break. If the Friday night semi goes badly you might need to fish me out of the river. The good news is that a TBA guest reporter will be taking up the challenge of continuing our in-depth (!?) AFLW coverage.

Our list is so paper thin that until Goldrick comes back (currently listed at 1-2 weeks) the only other obvious inclusion is Sabreena Duffy. Is she still around? We pinched her gratis from the Dockers, she had a fitness scare in a half-arse pre-season game, but isn't shown on the injury lists and hasn't been talked about since. Would be handy in the forward line.

On paper the Saints have had a good start, sitting second on the ladder with a 2-0 record. I don't know how seriously you can take a ladder with Geelong on top, and St Kilda's position has clearly been boosted by playing two expansion clubs. So you'd think we'd remind them of their place in the AFLW hierarchy fairly comfortably, but they've upset us before so don't take anything for granted.

Final Thoughts
More crumb please.

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