Wednesday 21 September 2022

One on the Clapometer

Hello, I'm back again, crawling out from under the digital rock to get on with my footballing life post-straight sets. At least the men are still defending premier, at the time of writing, for another five days. Thanks again to guest reporter Olivia for stepping in last week while I had a breakdown. As much as I wanted to ignore footy for the rest of 2022, I can't help myself from getting involved in anything with Melbourne written on it. Even when Narrm is temporarily plastered over the top. And just like the men, we discovered that you never go full Narrm. It always starts with a win in the first week, then a loss.

Speaking of teams that have rebranded, my curtain raiser was the Casey Demons (nee Springvale Scorpions) winning a flag in the worst weather since Paul Peos was pelted from a great height at Waverley. I was very happy for all involved, especially the non-AFL players who really care but was still watching an adopted kid win. I want more premierships from real deal Melbourne Football Club teams, so the pressure is on the women to complete the set.

In a competition that has more sub-divisions than the House of Representatives, starting the season with wins against Adelaide and North was a good start. If we beat another genuine premiership contender my numerous doubts about our flag credentials would have disappeared for a bit. In the spirit of all teams called Melbourne in 2022, everything looked good early then plummeted like Evil Knievel jumping Snake River. 

If there's ever going to be a ground subject to deadly cricket ball style hail it'll be Casey, but given that I live at the other end of the Melbourne metropolitan area and we'd been battered with a storm 20 minutes before the bounce it looked like the first time the Cranbourne rain belt would ever provide a superior weather experience. Then the banner went within 0.1% stretch of falling apart due to wind, and ominous looking skies suggested players would be ankle deep in slush by quarter time. 

Sadly, we never got to find out if the world's most cheerful boundary rider could maintain enthusiasm for the full four quarters as my weather predictions proved spot on. The dark clouds were there - for now in the sky rather than on-field - but were travelling away from Casey, delivering the big piss to everyone east of Cranbourne but leaving the playing area untouched.

In the event of heavy rain, a start would be important. Shame it didn't come, because we jumped to a three goal lead and temporarily looked irresistable. It stayed dry, Brisbane eventually turned up and we slide slowly to our doom across the next two and a half quarters. You'd never guess how bad we'd be at scoring in the last three quarters when you saw Zanker swipe the ball and stuff through the opener. The problem, as we discovered throughout the afternoon, is that it's one thing to have players who can kick for distance but you have to get the ball down there to start with. 

For now it looked as big a landslide as the one that tore St Kilda apart before quarter time last week. Daisy didn't do much because the ball didn't go down her end often, but put on a perfect block at a ball up for Hore to run in from a range she couldn't miss from. Our all time greatest/notoriously wonky goalkicker then snapped a ripper out of the pocket and looked set for a massive day. And then we kicked one more goal for the rest of the game.

Conditions didn't deteriorate - and consider that we'd just seen a brave patron at the VFL pull his hoodie up and keep necking a can while Hurricane Katrina dropped on him - but it was still a day for crumb. Including Brisbane toepoking their first from the square. Fans of the men's game will recognise the same sort of non-existent defence that allowed the Lions to beat Richmond and ultimately stitch us up a week later. You'll also have noticed the similarities between sides called Melbourne fanging to an early lead at maximum speed then hitting the brakes and letting the other side back in. 

Perhaps if we'd got the ball down our end something would have happened, instead Brisbane forced us into full defensive mode for several minutes. It did more to ruin the game as a spectacle than over-expansion, and making players compete under infantile rules (smaller balls, less players, shorter quarters etc...) combined, but stopped us from running away with the game.

Brisbane had obviously done their research, because for once West and Purcell weren't allowed to rack up a thousand possessions combined. This didn't seem to affect us greatly, even with a first gamer from Northern Ireland/Ireland/United Kingdom (delete as applicable, I'm not getting involved in political scandal) who arrived in the country a month ago. Mackin could have done with a game against a shit side to get her feet, but improved as the game went on. She's also a quick learner, with a strong Acting Football League line in pretending you're trying to handball when tackled. 

In the absence of our early season stars, it was welcome back to celebrity Bunnings spokesperson Tyla Hanks, who reminded us of why she looked set to go supernova last year. I'd prefer she was the one getting bulk possessions over the other two, but once the Lions got on top it would have been good if anyone could get the ball and find a target further up the ground than the defensive 50 arc.

Tayla Harris would have come in handy, but was suspended due to finally achieving her dream of walloping somebody. This opened the door for the most novelty father/anybody selection of all time, as Georgia Campbell carried on the legacy of her dad's... err... two game stint in 1994. I bet plenty of people still think her dad is Tony. Campbell was also eligible for Footscray but apparently chose us because she lives closer to Cranbourne than the Western Oval, which might make it the first time anyone has ever considered Casey the lesser of two evils. She also appears to have Birch-esque white line fever, giving away one downfield free, then pushing an opponent over as they crossed the line. The actual getting of ball was a bit harder, restricted to one possession and never got into the game.

The prospect of another hot start going up in smoke became real when Brisbane spent the first five minutes of the second quarter camped inside 50. It eventually ended in a goal when Libby Birch was left grappling with an opponent while the rest of the defence had ducked off for a milkshake, allowing another player to waltz in under minimal pressure. Midway through the quarter we hadn't been inside 50 and I don't think the ball had gone into our side of the ground. Even when it did happen there was no reward. All the miracle goals were gone and we weren't much chance of creating one the old fashioned way. There was one bit where a fluke kick hit Paxman after travelling a distance that 9/10 umpires would probably pay. I reckon he'd already decided it was play on as initial kick was shanked and couldn't readjust in time.

Like [deleted on legal advice] in Perth, we were on the rack. The Lions blew multiple chances as we struggled to get the ball away from our end. Enter - again - Tyla Hanks, who can both tell you which aisle to buy a whippersnipper in AND kick vital goals. She also demonstrated magician style sleight of hand at one point, getting away with the biggest throw of all time directly in front of an umpire.

That goal shifted some of the momentum. Now we got the ball down our end and wouldn't let the Lions out. The difference being that the Lions didn't just keep us out, they eventually executed a golden coast-to-coast for a goal against the run of play. It looked like the player initially dropped the ball while being tackled before soccering through anyway. I'll assume they decided it hit her boot on the way between hand and ground the first time. Good luck getting a critical analysis on commentary, they didn't even know who half the players were.

A four point margin at the last change set the stage for our old friend Greta Bodey to have her third attempt after beating us with a goal after a siren. There was no need, the game was dead and buried by the final stages. Why wait for somebody to kick a set shot when opposition defenders punch the ball off a pack and directly to a player running into goal. I don't blame the backline, they'd been under siege all day so it's understandable that cracks would appear eventually. 

While we're on the subject of crumb, you'll never believe how they got their next one. Meanwhile we continued to rely on the same combination of set shots and freak snaps that carried us to the giddy heights of being thrashed in a Grand Final. Losing Harris didn't help, she played her best game of the year against Brisbane last year and was sorely missed here. Even in her questionable new role playing further up the ground, a few relieving marks would have helped.

Down we went without a trace, even Hanks was rumbled holding the ball (on a day where you had to be 101% guilty for it to be paid), and when the free kick fell short it landed straight in the hands of a player in the pocket. That only ended in a point, before our death sentence was pronounced by an intercepted handball and goal. Keep the ball down there long enough and something good will happen. We did get it straight out of the middle, but with the chance to get it back under two goals Hore spun out of traffic, faced an open goal and missed. 

In case you're counting at home, that's nine goals in the last two first quarters and one in the other six combined. Seems like an issue. Scoring is all that's holding us back at the moment, it's one thing to build on a solid defensive base but in a low scoring competition you're asking for trouble going 3/4 of a game without a goal. Good thing St Kilda were putrid at the start last week or they'd have made things interesting too.

I say it every year and we find a way to contend but this isn't a premiership team. We'll beat some of the rubbish teams into dust, but this will fall over well before the Grand Final unless they sort out the forward line. Feels like I've been saying that for seven seasons and they continually find a way to pluck victories, but surely we've learnt by now that near enough isn't good enough.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks 
--- a fair old distance ---
4 - Lily Mithen
--- an equally lengthy gap ---
3 - Maddie Gay
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Paxman, Purcell, Lampard (who will get to run through a banner for 50 apologies soon) and Zanker

I left with the big three pocketing top votes every week, I come back to all of them missing out. Keeps things interesting. They've still got a commanding lead at the head of the pack.

13 - Karen Paxman
10 - Eliza West, Olivia Purcell
5 - Tyla Hanks, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Lily Mithen
2 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Kate Hore
1 - Tayla Harris, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Hard to go past Hore in the first quarter - where all the action is - and indeed I think it was good enough to jump her back into the top three. Let's have some of these in the second, third or fourth quarters next week?

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Kate Hore vs Brisbane
3rd - Tyla Hanks vs Adelaide 

Next Week 
While everyone else gets to lay the boots into an expansion team, we get to play the W's ultimate mid-table mediocrity side Carlton. Considering how close they came to beating us last year I wouldn't take for granted that we'll return to the winners' circle. Could be a good opportunity for Harris to belt one of her old teammates, and she comes back in for Campbell at the warpest warp speed.

The good news for Sabreena Duffy fanatics is that she is alive and well, named as a emergency this week. Drop whoever you like but pick her instantly. Otherwise, unless Goldrick is ready, I don't see the need for changes outside the forward 50. Mackin came in for the much more experience Ivey but arguably showed more in one game against a top side than Ivey has done in three weeks. And if you're going to cart somebody halfway around the world to play a foreign sport you may as well get experience into them ASAP.

We beat the Blues 86-16 in a pre-season game but they must have been playing the reserves, because there's no way the margin will get anything like that under regular conditions. I think we'll win via an excessively difficult struggle.

Final Thoughts
The way this wacky league goes we'll either score 100 points or seven next week.

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