Monday 24 October 2022

Business as usual

If there's any reason to feel slighted while following a team neck deep in premiership contention, it's been watching every other established side in the competition rip an arm, leg, or both, off one of the expansion clubs while we missed out. Sure, there was the consolation of unleashing a dollop of wallop on failed foundation teams Carlton, Footscray, Freo and GWS, but I wanted some of that sweet Adelaide 63 d. Port 3 action. 

Then, after waiting until the second last round for our turn on the dismembering machine, we get the only half decent expansion side around. This failed to satisfy my bloodthirsty lust for carnage, but will probably leave us in better shape for the finals than teeing off on the tired, poor and huddled masses of Sydney or Hawthorn. We got something more than a glorified training session, against a side that had a fair physical bash, with freelance niggle to keep things interesting. And still won easily, so let the good times roll.

Other than the usual background tension about doing a Melbourne, I didn't think we were a serious chance of losing. There was still a worryingly strong smell of farce in the air - Essendon turned up wearing a clash jumper that clashed with our jumper, and the traditional Casey Fields wind was blowing across the ground, guaranteeing the boundary umpire about 45 touches. Then the banner that the players had helped the cheersquad make all but burst just before they ran through it. 

Going down to the biggest upset loss since good old St Kilda 2020 would have rounded things off nicely, but we did the right thing and erased any tension about a mystery loss by quarter time, briefly threatened to win by lots, before coasting home with nothing to worry about. We'd all love to win in savage fashion but sometimes you've just got to bank the expected points and move look to the future. Try telling that to the commentators, who kept going on about how much we needed to win by to overtake Brisbane at the top of the ladder. This was a bit disrespectful to the opposition, but ultimately correct in identifying them as cannon fodder.

Not only are we operating a confirmed double chance, probably top two, side, but are also leading the way in footy fashion. While Lauren Pearce returned unscathed from her concussion break, her collision mate Paxman has still got a taped up head two weeks later. I like to think she never took it off, flying back from the Gold Coast and going about her business during the week looking like she'd just been trepanned. It was such a bold fashion statement that Lily Mithen joined in too, and if Paxman is (spoiler) best on ground again next week I expect the entire team to pre-tape their heads for finals.

The opening minutes were a replay of the Footscray game, where the ball was stuck down our end and the other side had no idea how to extract it. Even when they did get forward, with me having kittens about giving them a psychological boost by letting a goal through on the break, it was instantly fired back the other way and almost cost them a goal. 

Bannan's turbo run down the wing looked good, but it never happened without Gillard absolutely pouncing on the ball in defence and bursting away at a speed not befitting somebody of that height. She's already done more for me than Julia, but even allowing for dealing with dud forward entries, this was her best game, deservedly ending in a Rising Star nomination. If I didn't still think the league will force good teams to give players to the duds (like I was last year when it... didn't happen), I'd say she and Birch are your AFLW version of the Jurassic Pack for several years to come.

It was a shame that this crisp end-to-end play died with Daisy missing a shot from right in front, but it was a reminder that conditions were going to slaughter set shots all day, and not to get too excited by marks close to goal. Or, as it turns out, too worried about Essendon having shots from anywhere outside 20 metres.

There was still the outside chance of a rebound goal and zero reward for our early domination when elite celebrator Bannan hit the turbo button NBA Jam style and ran through a Grand Canyon style gap in Essendon's defence. Soon after the Fox Sports director had so little confidence in the Bombers stopping us that when a kick was heading in Alyssa's general direction they cut straight to her in anticipation of a mark, ignoring the defender standing in the way.

Speaking of the host broadcaster, some people go over the top hanging shit on Kelli Underwood but referring to foundation Melbourne player Cat Phillips as a 'former Saints player' suggests a lack of fun facts research and/or feel for the occasion. Conversely, Robert Harvey risked not being invited back on special comments by pointing out shit umpiring decisions.

This was the last two weeks all over again, wearing the opposition defence out with non-stop bombardment and waiting for them to lose hope before pouncing. Hore did her bit, albeit with an assist from the umpire who ignored a defender being blatantly infringed against in a marking contest, selling a dummy in confined spaces K. Pickett style for our second.

The gap between these sides will close over the years, but for now it was ridiculously one sided. At one point they were finally moving forward at speed before a player nearly missed her hand trying to give the ball off under no pressure. The knockout blow hadn't yet been thrown, but our third straight week of keeping the other side to nil at quarter time was a reasonable start. Stats fans will note that it was also the third week in a row where the other side finished on 1.3. If those two aren't a combined record I'll eat Titus O'Reilly's gimmick hat.

Anyone who expected Essendon to sink without a trace would have been thrilled to discover that Essendon's coach was Natalie Wood. The Hollywood theme continued with a Six Sense handball by West over her head for Paxman to run on to for a goal. Describing it as a 'blind' handball would do it a disservice, she knew exactly where it was going and it was glorious.

Now it was reasonably clear that we'd win, and my fantasies switched to holding them scoreless. This seemingly went out the window when their first half decent kick inside 50 found a forward 30 metres out directly in front. God knows why, but with the wind at her back she tried a pass to the pocket the ball was being pulled to and they came out of it with nothing. These ring-in teams have got some excuse for failure but you can't help a self-inflicted wound. Never mind, soon after St Kilda legend Phillips walked around Goldrick to kick their first and last goal.

I hadn't gone in with the goal of building a monster percentage, keeping the race for top spot competitive into the last round was enough for me, but there was a brief moment where things looked like they could get too close for comfort. Essendon had a string of chances before an ambitious/loopy kick across goal from Birch and a rotten turnover from Wilson nearly cost us another. No doubt she was still sad about me narrowly missing winning her pride jumper in the midweek auction. It was a tremendous blunder not to include the emergencies, I'd have spent a fortune trying to get the #35 of my surnamesake.

There was nothing to worry about, they weren't capable of crafting a goal in the conditions (and may not have done much better under a roof), and we went down the other end where a bobbling ball cost Purcell her chance at goal of the year. On a day where she was reasonably well held, this was nearly the consolation prize but it rolled from a tight angle then nearly stopped dead on the goal line. Zanker did her best to let it roll through before eventually conceding and soccering through from the line.

We were still offering chances, Heath and Goldrick did a combined Rock Bottom on an opponent but they missed again. And after Gillard shanked a kick-in out of bounds, she made up for it by touching the return kick through. This was already developing signs of slopfest, even with a margin of 'just' 15 at half time. As far as Essendon was concerned that may as well have been 115, and was probably going to be enough no matter what happened, but we made sure of it when the ball was taken in front of our goal and kept there again. 

The defender who blew the a promising escape via shambolic disposal was probably happy when Hore turned it into a goal, because it gave her 60 seconds of respite before the next onslaught. And that was about all she got, because Bannan cannoned through the middle for another, and they hadn't even got through a sideline interview with an Essendon player before Hore lobbed another one through from the pocket. I don't even think the interviewee realised her team had just shipped another goal. I'd have preferred the commentators speak to the Essendon fan who was, consistent with every other game played by the Bombers since 1896, yelling out nonsense. You won't be surprised to discover that he thought they were getting the rough end of the umpiring. 

With the team that couldn't convert if their lives depended on it kicking with a wind they weren't equipped to use, any remaining neutrals probably switched over to whatever Vatican City vs Tonga T20 World Cup game was on. Suckers and enthusiasts like me stayed and were rewarded with not much more than some good old fashioned niggle between Mithen and some outmatched Essendonians. Heath sprinted inside 50 and missed, and Harris blew one from the top of the square much to the joy of Annoying Essendon Fan (who you can be almost certain was online whinging about her getting a statue before acquiring an interest in the league), who had delivered a barely comprehensible spray during the run-up.

Down the other end they nearly got to double figures via a charity free after a player fell over under Birch, but the kick fell short and they went scoreless in three of four quarters. That can't have happened very often.

And so, another roadbump was safely negotiated on our way to the finals. Nothing that took place suggested mauling a premiership contender at the first opportunity but it was good enough. You can't romp to victory every week, and I've got perhaps misplaced faith that we can beat any of the main contenders on our day. Now, watch us going out at the hands of some jabronis who finished six with about four fewer wins.  

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Kate Hore
3 - Tahlia Gillard
2 - Eliza West
1 - Alyssa Bannan

Major apologies to Heath, Purcell, Birch and Mithen.

With a minimum of three, maximum of five left to play it's still advantage Purcell, but Paxmania is starting to build, and any of West, Hanks, or Harris could still win. I haven't seen a wild finish like this since the Viney vs Vince vs McSizzle superclash that went down to the last round of 2015. The big news is that we have a leader in the Rising Star - it's a bit cynical to adopt the same rules as the men to a season that's not even half as long, but bad luck I'm doing it. As Gillard started the year on three games she qualifies and leads. Take it up with the committee.

23 - Olivia Purcell
19 - Karen Paxman
18 - Eliza West
17 - Tyla Hanks
15 - Tayla Harris
8 - Kate Hore, Lily Mithen
5 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Sarah Lampard
3 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Consistent with a week where set shots were death, we had a few good contenders on the run. Hore's snaps were delightful, and Purcell deserves partial credit for doing everything but getting the ball to cross the line, but for sheer enjoyment on both sides of the fence you can't beat a Bannan. I liked the first one best, bolting into nothingness to get us started. Nothing to change the overall leaderboard though.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast
3rd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton

Amendment to Be (featuring Constitution Corner)
I was going to do a full breaking news post on the Deemocracy deebate, but don't have the required time or mental capacity so you'll have to settle for highlights. For those who've got better things to do, the unnecessary public biff involves the group (?) going to the Supreme Court to get member details so that they may promote their case against the board's proposed constitutional amendments.

So far, so tedious, and as neither side is suggesting we permanently rebrand as Narrm and play out of Phillip Island it's hardly the sporting version of Roe vs Wade, but at the point where lawyers are being paid a fortune to argue, and the unofficial side is waving around a rival constitution (NB: posted as if it's an official document, without 'draft' watermarks or anything to explain that it's a fantasy document) it's worth talking about.

First, let me tip you off on where I stand by pointing out that I've got nothing to do with the board. Would be nice (HINT) if they sponsored Demonwiki, but for there's no connection. And in that spirit, I'm not saying you should vote for the amendments unless you've done your research and are happy, but would like to be clear what voting against means beyond putting the boots to the board for whatever reason they've annoyed you. 

Contrary to what some people think, it's not a referendum on who's got better ideas and which document will be adopted. If 25.01% of the electorate vote against the amendments then they fail, nothing changes (including the requirement to spend shitloads of money by conducting all elections ballots via post), and the cosmic wankfest goes on. I've got no issues with my details being shared with these people, as a customer of Optus and AHM everyone else on the internet has already got them, but I'm not keen on the minority torpedoing important changes for the real life equivalent of a Facebook argument.

The fact that it's all being led by a member who has lost two bids to join the board also makes me uncomfortable. The morality of incumbents going out of their way to wreck the chances of a challenging candidate is an entirely different matter, it didn't need to end in undignified jostling that - at a point where we've finally got money and stability - makes us look like we're being run by Essendon.   

It's true that like most boards ours is a racket that ensures outsiders are practically no chance of being elected. In isolation this seems unfair, but anyone who has ever voted in a council election will know what it's like to make a decision between two dozen candidates (some not even pretending to be sane) on the basis of 300 word campaign statements. The end result is usually the biggest collection of mismatched people since Gilligan's Island punching on for three years - in the case of my area until the government sacks them.

The switch to electronic voting, sensibly supported by both sides (though the club might want to invest in a better platform than Typeform) removes the ability to scare potential candidates off by telling them how much a postal votes is going to cost the club, increasing the odds of contested elections in the future. Next thing you've got factions sniping at each other, leaking through the process, and getting nothing done. I prefer the Singapore model where they pretend to have a democracy but it's really a one party state and everyone goes on happily with their lives.

If we've got to go that way I can cop more contested elections, but for the same reason I've got no problem with the club's proposal for candidates to be nominated by 20 voting members instead of the existing two. Don't be melodramatic, if you can't find that many people who are interested in your candidacy then you're not trying very hard.

Other factors turn me off this group too, like wanting to include motherhood statements about how we aim to win premierships (you reckon?), and nakedly trying to out-progressive the board by claiming we 'pioneered women's football' (which will come as a shock to the people who plugged away in the suburbs for years while nobody in VFL or AFL cared). But more than anything I'm offended by the lame promotional materials. I used to be in marketing before metaphorically taking Bill Hicks' advice, and if I'd proposed something like this my boss would have deefenestrated me. 
Unlike some, I'm not offended enough to write back and tell Pete to Far Cough, but while the officially proposed changes aren't perfect they're better than the alternative of standing still and doing all this again in six months. And we all know it's going to keep being played out in the future so cutting off nose to spite face now is pointless. The proposed constitution could be the biggest hit since the Magna Carta, the current board will never put it up for a vote and the challengers can barely get 25% of people to vote against so they're hardly going to find 75% in favour. You'd be forgiven for missing the bit where we're in a better position on and off-field than any time since Norm Smith was around.

Next week (incorporating the Ms. Bradbury Plan)
We've got West Coast and should win easily, but interestingly Brisbane have to beat Collingwood to stay ahead of us. The Pies are the most boring good team in the competition so here's to them putting the Lions to sleep and letting us slide into first place. This could end in playing them in the first week, depending on whether Richmond (somehow fourth) beat North Melbourne and hold their spot. 

More likely we finish second and probably play Adelaide in the Qualifying Final. They're level on wins with the sides below them but have 20% on Richmond, 30% on the Pies, and play St Kilda who are shite so I'd almost have the house on them there.

Other than Maddie Gay, there's nobody out of this team who's likely to come back now so I expect we'll go with much the same lineup. Wilson probably makes way for her and we go in search of a win that's comfortable and injury free but - as Collingwood/Brisbane will have already happened - doesn't need to be a million point massacre. Then we hold our breath and test the system against the best sides in the competition. I wanted the 2021/2022 flag to go alongside the men, I'll take the 2022B version as a consolation prize.

Final Thoughts
I tempted fate and checked the date of the Grand Final to make sure I could attend. So anything bad that happens from here is my fault.

Sunday 16 October 2022

Golden casket

Fans of Melbourne 1954-1964, Adelaide 1991-2019, and Geelong in general already know it, but following a side that wins almost every week is tremendously satisfying. It might not end in a flag (and for several years didn't even guarantee making the finals), but there's something calming about knowing you're objectively better than almost every team in the competition.

However, if we were going to do something silly and lose to a mid-table struggler for the first time since Footscray 2021, this was the week. With Goldrick, L. Pearce and Sherriff missing from last week, and Gay still injured, Gold Coast caught us wrist-deep in our reserve stocks, with two players making their first appearance of the season, and a pair of Casey ring-ins (including one with a decidedly upper class surname - and who is still, apparently the #904 tennis player in the world) as emergencies.

Considering everyone expected the Suns to lose anyway, this would have been a good opportunity for them to come out firing and hope we collapsed under the weight of expectation. Instead they waved the white flag by parking a player behind the ball from the first bounce. Not the first time there's been a surrender in a Melbourne/Gold Coast game, but at least this guy waited until the last quarter.

The early result of this anti-spectacle cowardice was that we got plenty of the ball but struggled to convert that into scores. Which was fine from a Suns perspective, if they were going for a nil-all draw. Eventually, they were reduced to panic bombing the ball straight to our defenders, and ended the evening with one goal. And that was all they deserved for trying to sandbag their percentage before being thrashed anyway. If the Bulldogs do as expected and beat St Kilda on Sunday they'll be a game behind anyway, what's another 5% to have a serious crack at winning? I'd have - as they say in Sydney - blown up deluxe and tried to sack everyone if we'd been done the same in their position. Instead, we remain firmly in top four calculations with two (keep it quiet) easy games to end the season. 

This was not only a night for overcoming a team trying to bore their way to a narrow loss, but for demonstrating how well we've done recruiting from other clubs. Between them, Libby Birch, Tayla Harris and Olivia Purcell cost the equivalent of pick 8, 15, 17 and Chantel Emonson. I wish Emonson well at Geelong, and hope whoever was drafted in those spots is having a lovely career, but all three imports must be in All-Australian contention. When I foolishly declared us a spent force a few years ago it failed to take into account the piratical ransacking of other teams to improve our lot.

It's easy to be frothy after keeping the opposition to a single measly goal for the third time in four weeks, but our inability to break through for more than a point in the opening minutes left the door ajar for them to sneak one on the rebound. Then, much to the surprise of commentators who acted as if beating Sydney was an achievement, the Suns discovered that you can't play teams with a percentage of 30 every week. Once things got rolling we may have had our best ever game for finding targets by foot, and after conceding three goals in the last few minutes of the quarter the Suns were never coming back. I don't think I've ever been as confident in such a slender lead

The usual stars did starrish things, but this was one of our more across the board performances. I very much enjoyed Maggie Caris tackling everything that came near her. She's been on the outs all year due to L. Pearce/Harris but was very good, and should probably send the tape around to all the clubs that need rucks if the alternative is to be stuck in the queue behind a pair of All-Australians for years to come.

Given how much better we were at moving the ball in our direction, it was nice to finally get some reward when Daisy pulled down a contested mark in the square and did the high-risk Russell Robertson play on from a metre out. In her 50th game, and probably the last time she'll ever be the sole representative of the Pearce dynasty in our side, she looked as dangerous forward as any time since taking a baseball bat to the Freo reserves. It didn't last the four quarters but helped get us off to a positive start.

That encouraged the locals to switch off and allow us to turn one of the cleanest centre clearances you'll ever see in this competition into another goal. Caris put it straight into West's path, she did a lovely handball to Purcell, and the AFLW equivalent of Clayton Oliver hit a leading Hore with a delightful kick. I've never thought about the best seven seconds in our AFLW history but this would have to be up there. A miss would have detracted from the moment, but while she's occasionally wonky from close range Hore showed that she's probably distantly related to Travis Cloke with a perfect shot from distance. It helped to come a mile off the line and all but run around the player on the mark but they all count.

By this stage I was almost satisfied that we'd broken them, but no matter how well you've done in one quarter, calling it over at 13-0 would have been a bit optimistic. Turns out we wouldn't have needed to score again to win. The third made all the difference, allowing me to figuratively put my feet up and light a cigar. Maybe it was the pisstake nature of it, with Mithen about to bomb a kick to the square when she was called to play on and handballing backwards to Harris instead, who stepped around an opponent and lamped it through from the exact spot Mithen had started in.

We have a list for everything, so I can exclusively confirm that keeping the opposition scoreless in the opening term two weeks row isn't anything new. In 2018 we did it three times straight and somehow still lost twice, so this was definitely an improvement. The damage was mostly done by now, and the second quarter lacked fireworks. For the first few minutes it also lacked scores, until another golden kick to a lead found Harris running through the middle of two defenders. Everything about it was delightful, and if all the other sides could give her this much space it would be most appreciated. This, temporarily or not, put her back ahead of Darcy Vescio as the all-time leading league goalkicker, and even if we've only got a 1/3 share of her career total I'm just happy to see a Melbourne player holding a major record.

Gold Coast's innovative 'lose by as little as possible' theory was heading for disaster, but that goal prompted them to temporarily put the brakes on. They even got their lone goal of the evening, for what that's worth. The value was determined at about 90 seconds of relaxation before Zanker dispatched a defender to take a contested mark and drill another set shot.

That was our lot for the half. Sadly we were denied a tremendous highlight from my new favourite player Mackin, who gathered a bouncing ball inside 50 at about 100km/h like she's been playing the game all her life and was about to kick a cracking goal when she started going too fast and fell over. Her goals will come, and I'm confident she's not going out of the side any time soon.

Whether percentage comes into the final ladder or not, it would have been nice to emerge from half time with flamethrower in hand and burn the Suns to a crisp, but they had all the play early. This was good news for everyone except the player who was left on Planet Koozebane after coming off second best in an aerial dual with Birch. Silly to get involved in the first place. The Suns will be advocating for 15-a-side games, because even with one of their players on the ground they turned this calamity into a rare shot on goal.

Given my hatred of inside 50s as a stat, I spend a lot of time discussing them, but a 45-9 tally was outrageous. We could even afford Bannan failing to get a boot on ball from centimetres out and only ending up with a point. It looked like we were set to take the win and get on with our lives, but the home side had other ideas. After keeping us goalless until the last minute, a clumsy clothesline to Fitzsimon got her on the board, before Zanker did something quite outrageous with a second left, ripping the ball out of the ruck and hoofing it through from 30 metres out. 

Regretfully I didn't see this goal until later, watching on an hour delay I was trying to get through the breaks as quickly as possibly so when there was a ball up with four seconds left I decided to get a head start on the last quarter. We were winning so comfortably the extra bump in our score didn't even register, and I only discovered it happened from watching the highlights. Oops.

Considering the margin, the early minutes of the last quarter featured a surprising number of Suns players being assassinated off the ball. None of it was worth the tribunal getting involved, but you could have been forgiven for thinking the sides had serious bad blood between them. In reality, no matter the genders involved Gold Coast are so irrelevant that even Brisbane has to work hard to pretend there's a rivalry.

The game was already long dead five minutes in when Hore won a free burying her opponent in a tackle. As Harris swept through to play on and kick her third the commentator got his words mixed up and said something that sounded like "Kate Hore got her pissed". And given that they're two of the great goalkickers, why not. Hore got one of her own not long after, via another series of beautiful passes that started with Paxman (perhaps the first player to turn up with her head bandaged due to injuries suffered a week earlier), before West found her standing in a postcode of space 25 metres out directly in front. 

From the average start, we were now in our third straight week of free scoring fun. Alas that was as good as it got. Duffy missed a shot after the siren but nobody was worried, another mid-table mediocrity had been pushed out of the road on our way to glory. Congratulations to the Suns on knowing their role, and if they've stuffed the salary cap as badly as the men and need to dump a couple of good players on us we'll be happy to show them a good time.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Olivia Purcell
4 - Eliza West
3 - Libby Birch
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Tayla Harris

Major apologies to Hore and Mithen. Other apologies to near on everyone, but mainly Hanks, Hore, Lampard, Paxman, Pearce and Zanker.

Racking up of bulk possessions is always a reliable indicator of votes, and with Hanks missing out this week the award is Purcell's to lose. I certainly did not see this coming in pre-season but she has been excellent. In the minor awards, there's nothing for the rookie of the year yet but Birch captures the lead in the backline award from the world's most apologised to player.

23 - Olivia Purcell
17 - Tyla Hanks
16 - Eliza West
15 - Tayla Harris
14 - Karen Paxman
8 - Lily Mithen
5 - Libby Birch (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Kate Hore, Sarah Lampard
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
I was intending to give this to Harris from the first quarter, then I discovered that the Zanker goal had happened. She might have been saved by the timekeeper's finger slipping off the button but it was a quality finish. So good that I'm promoting it to second for the season. Congratulations all.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast
3rd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton

Social issues corner
It's not hard to improve a Gold Coast jumper that looks like the local Maccas franchise, but we still won the battle of pride jumpers. Usually, I'd confine my analysis to fashion (I like to be comfy and current) due to a) being outside the target market for these jumpers, and b) mortal fear of cancellation, but Gold Coast's inclusion of a 'straight ally' flag got me involved on a technicality. I'm all for the intimately involved communities flying flags, but trying to get one from long distance for showing a basic level of human decency is a bit rich. Otherwise, hooray for everything.

Next week (incorporating the Ms. Bradbury Plan)
It's Essendon next Sunday, and I've been caught out expecting big wins against very average Bomber sides before so let's not get ahead of ourselves. But if you take a dispassionate, neutral view we should win in a canter. All four of the key injured players could be back for our second consecutive game against a side that's just had a training run against Sydney. Essendon are clearly the best of the expansion sides but have also had a reasonably soft run, so really shouldn't give us much trouble here. Which makes it almost certain that they will, and I'll come out of this looking like an absolute cockhead. In more important matters, Essendon have fielded three players this year with 'Van' surnames, which must be a record.

The good news, if you're keen on not jinxing the process, is that percentage probably won't come into the race for the top two. It could decide whether we or Brisbane win the minor premiership, but unless we do something silly and lose to either Essendon or West Coast, while Collingwood beat North, Brisbane and close a 50% gap on us, then it should be a simple case of winning and heading back to Fortress Casey. I don't mind playing the Lions or Crows in a Qualifying Final but would rather it happen at Mt. Variable Weather than at their grounds.

Assuming everything goes to plan I don't see us passing Brisbane, who will run up their percentage piledriving Hawthorn, before the more touch-and-go fixture against the Pies in Round 10. Given that you get stuff all for finishing top, other than the perceived easier fixture game against fourth place I'll cop it (UPDATE - I was in full VicBias mode and forgot that finishing top also gives you choice of Grand Final venue. Not confident enough in the finals to claim we're a certainty to make it, but I guess finishing on top will help) . It's been so long since we played Collingwood that I'd almost rather take the challenge of finally winning a final against the Crows.  

Final Thoughts
I still think the season is in the wrong place, but there is something to be said for enjoying wins in mid-October. Let's revisit this in January when, for the first time since 2017, I'll be left with no team to follow in any sport played in the southern hemisphere. Happy to be consoled with a flag.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Cruelty to animals

If you're going to play in a competition with only three good teams, best to be inside the tent looking out. A lot has been said, not much of it complimentary, about how bad the expansion teams are but it must be hard for fans of foundation clubs like Carlton and GWS (come on, be polite) to be watching dripping, rancid slop after seven seasons. It's not like they've been rubbish in the meantime, both have made finals, and via one of the worst competition structures ever devised the Blues even made a Grand Final. Now both are shite, but I didn't expect the Bulldogs to join the party with such relish.

Unlike the last time we pummelled a team called Footscray, it's unclear if there was any angst over a song that never made the Australian top 40. What we got instead was a pre-match address from Dogs coach Nathan Bourke that rivalled Adelaide's power stance for summoning up mystical spirits, standing in a circle of players holding hands and saying Melbourne "don't deserve to break this bond" or similar. This is probably the sort of nonsense all coaches do, but it's high risk letting the cameras film it in case the results goes tits up. See, for example, Mark Neeld's address that inspired us to keep the margin against Essendon to just 148.

To be fair to Bourke and his players, the bond took a while to stretch beyond breaking point and explode all over the south eastern suburbs. Given that they were kicking into the wind, (at Casey of all places...), a scoreless first quarter where the ball was permanently camped down our end isn't as bad as it sounds when you consider how many opportunities we failed to capitalise on. The dam wall burst eventually, but not before a few scary moments where it looked like we were going to leave in the game for as long as possible.

Judged purely on territory occupied, we were so dominant that the United Nations should have been invited to mediate. Which might have been a moral victory, but did nothing when our best scoring chance was Harris and a defender co-marking the ball. Apparently the same defender then disappeared into outer space, because the next thing you knew Paxman was heaving a handball to Tayla on her own at the top of the square. Consistent with her regular approach, she kicked the absolute buggery out of the ball, to the point where the goal umpire's life probably flashed before his eyes.

On the subject of Carlton not being any good all these years later, how good was it to get her on the cheap in the original multi-team MegaDealand land possession accumulation machine Purcell at the same time? I don't care what sort of controversy was going on behind the scenes, she was very good last year, and other than the week off via unnecessary suspension has been better this time. 

All at our end for nothing better than Harris and a defender co-marking the ball. That defender apparently then disappeared into outer space because the next thing you know Paxman was lobbing a handball to Tayla standing on her own at the top of the square. Consistent with her regular approach, Harris kicked buggery out of the ball, to the point where it might have killed anyone who'd been standing in the way. Given that Harris seems to have been around forever, you may also have missed the bit where she's only 25. Several years more of this sort of thing please.

If nothing else, we now had six points on the board. There's been a lot of games this year where that score would have won the game, but I spent the first two and a half quarters waiting for a Bulldog response that never came. While you were waiting in vain for them to turn up, or for our ruthless streak to kick in, most of the fun was in what could be heard in the effects mic. When a kid (?) was caught screaming "SHE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE IT!!!" I was desperately hoping that somebody would be caught saying something offensive. Sadly not, or Channel 7 realised and lowered the sensitivity of the microphone before losing their licence.

When we gently chipped around an absent backline to set Harris up 40 metres out, with the wind, and without much angle, I had glorious visions of her kicking double figures, but this time the kicking of cover from ball went wrong, landing it out on the full. And that was as close as we got to another, on the rare occasions the Dogs got the ball to the right of screen it was instantly turned away, but we toiled away for just one more scoring shot. Inside 50s are the worst stat of all time, unless they help support your point, and 12-1 for a seven point lead was a bit wasteful. As always, it brought back memories of the time we get Freo to none in the first quarter and still lost.

In a win for the people who hatewatch AFLW for political reasons, AAMI are apparently donating $10 for every clanger this season. Their Chief Financial Officer would have winced every (admittedly rare) time Footscray got the ball from here, because they had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Ellie Blackburn should be on the phone to Nathan Jones for advice on how to deal with a sore back from carrying an entire team. Alternatively, having had her fun with the Dogs and winning a flag she should come home to where it all began. 

Concerns that we'd wasted what kept being talked up as a savage wind (but didn't look like one on TV) were heightened when the Dogs were having a shot 25 seconds into the second quarter. Long term viewers of any gender of Melbourne weren't surprised that the player who'd previously kicked one goal in 23 games landed it. "Oh shit" I thought, the Bulldogs said "that'll do us" and didn't get another for the rest of the day. 

From here, almost every highlight involves us slowly tormenting the Dogs until they collectively lost the will to live. For one good thing that didn't lead to a goal, let me reiterate how much fun I'm having watching Blaithin Mackin. At one point she ran down the wing taking bounces like Travis Johnstone, then set up Harris to pull down a tremendous one handed mark. Alas, this time Tayla's 100kmh style failed, with a quick play on and long bomb missing. 

Who knows if she played on because the wind would affect the set shot, or if she would have gone at that speed under any conditions, but I was still nervous about a comeback. Especially because we'd started pinging away madly at the allegedly wind-affected end of the ground. Finally the umpires did their bit to get us going, blatantly ignoring Zanker fiercely shoving an opponent out of the contest, ultimately leading to Hanks giving off to Bannan running into an open goal.

That was all the fragile visitors could stand, the next thing you know West's mowdown tackle was advanced to point blank range by a 50 and the wind could officially rack off. The ball went straight back down our end and we piled on an endless supply of behinds from every possible angle. Things were going so strongly in our favour that even when Hore didn't make the distance from 30 metres it still found Daisy in the pocket. She opened the angle more than any player in the history of the game but sliced it in off the post, leaving the door arguably ajar for us to be run down after half time. Remember, at this time it wasn't entirely clear how badly we were going to tonk them off the park.

The captain's miss unexpectedly led to carnage for her teammates, setting up the loose ball that Pearce (L) and Paxman clobbered heads over. Tellingly they were able to do this because there was no opponent within the same local government area. Paxman was left dripping blood like she'd just been run through a woodchipper, and my nerves about a collapse were not helped by the prospect of playing two short for the second. Had it come to that I'd have grudgingly had to accept that it was better that the game was being played in spring and not a 38 degrees summer afternoon. 

I'm not one to question the decision of qualified doctors but I've got no idea how Paxman was cleared to come back. Having to wear so much tape around the head that you look like something found in King Tut's tomb was one thing, but it's a miracle if she passed the concussion tests. Pearce did too, but in her case we opted to play safe an leave her on the bench for the second half. At the time both of them could have had fractured skulls for all we knew, so it was comforting when Zanker steered one through after the siren to extend the lead to 26.

I was reasonably confident we weren't going to lose from here, but you never know. Which is why I enjoyed Harris' ridiculous goal off the deck so much, especially as she was in the middle of being pushed over when the boot connected. Thanks to the umpire for doing us another solid by missing Bannan putting her opponent in a headlock about five seconds earlier.

Any Footscray fans slogging their way through what was now an obvious defeat would have considered doing anything else when they marked 30 metres out and failed to score. It was as comprehensive as you like, and if we hadn't already thumped Carlton and would presumably do the same to GWS, they were playing as badly as any foundation club could be expected to. And will probably still play finals, when under my Eddie McGuire-esque radical plan they'd be flat out trying to avoid relegation at the bottom of Division 1. We took an additional litre of piss out of them when Hore's centering pass from an outrageous angle skipped through for a goal.

Things were getting very bleak for Mr. Circle of Trust Nathan Bourke, and with former interim Dogs coach Sam Blease (yes, this actually happened) probably ready to launch a coup against him he chucked the magnets in the air. Forwards went back, backs went forward, Footscray went nowhere. To be fair they did kick two behinds for the quarter, while we whopped on another four into a breeze that I now believed to be fictional. 

The first FU of our 15 minute victory lap came when Goldrick decimated an opponent in a tackle, bedraggled players forgot to give the ball back, and Bannan ended with a mark and goal. She got the next one as well, taking advantage of the opposition all but left the ground. And why not, when Kayo informed me that the World Indoor Cricket Championships were also being played in the area. 

We almost conceded a goal, but their mark in the pocket led to no score after the player tried to kick about nine metres backwards to a teammate, who was subsequently wrapped up and didn't even get a shot off. There was a rare bit of good news for them at 52 points behind when what looked like a Purcell goal was called touched off the ball, then the pummelling resumed when Duffy kicked the next one anyway. 

It was all good fun, narrowly pushing ahead of Freo 2017 and West Coast 2020 as our second highest score/biggest win. Those wins both felt more savage, this was more death by a thousand cuts. It's not that the Dogs weren't having a bash, they were just methodically dismantled by a better side.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tayla Harris
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Olivia Purcell
2 - Eliza West
1 - Sarah Lampard

Major apologies to Bannan and Hore. Other apologies to Mithen, Paxman, Zanker and pretty much everybody.

Nothing for fans of random players this week, but the top of the leaderboard is becoming a battle royale of epic proportions. With at least four games to play this could go anywhere.

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

Goal of the Week 
As much as I enjoyed the lightning toe poke by Harris, we'll pretend Hore meant to have her flying shot from the boundary. But we won't pretend enough to alter the top three for the season? 

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton
3rd - Kate Hore vs Brisbane

Next Week 
There's more mid-table mediocrity on the cards when we travel to the Gold Coast on Saturday night. The Suns are only in the eight because Footscray's percentage collapsed like a Russian bridge, so with any luck they'll do the Dogs a favour and let us win by a massive margin again. You'd think we'd win easily but stranger things have happened. We'll be wearing the pride jumper, and in the words of Bill Hicks, if this bothers anyone I recommend you looking around at the world we live in and shutting your fucking mouth.

Final Thoughts
Fair way to celebrate a contract extension for Mick Stinear. And who'll ever say no to whipping the Dogs in any format?

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Stop the boats

(Later I realised that this headline makes no sense, because if the boats don't stop in the first place you don't need a docker. Too late to get out of it now - editor) 

Say what you like about AFLW, but where else are you going to play a nautically themed team on a ground with a surplus Iraqi air raid siren? Well, to be fair, the 2015 men's pre-season - but when will you do it while watching a Melbourne side that wins more than it loses for seven consecutive seasons?

Standing in the way of our continued adventures in the top four, a Fremantle side that has plummeted from contention at warp speed. In 2020 they were on an unstoppable romp to the flag in arguably the league's best quality season before it was abruptly cancelled, now they're scraping the bottom of the barrel alongside overmatched expansion teams. 

In a week where, several months too late, people have started to take the idea of two divisions seriously, Freo's ladder position makes them relegation candidates but they're better than that. Like many teams in this competition, they've got a handful of excellent players at the top end, and a lot just holding a spot until somebody better comes along.

The purple people's situation is not as dire as last year, when we unleashed the cruellest treatment of dockers since Chris Corrigan, but you could still make a case for them pulling off an upset here. After a rotten start to the year they'd found (relative) form recently, were coming off a training run against the Eagles, and got to play us at home in weather that was like Equatorial Guinea compared to Casey Fields. And if you're into omens and mysticism, I suggested during the Brisbane review that we only ever lose to good teams so that could have been setting up an ironic defeat. Sure, we beat Carlton straight after but my girls are a combined nine years old and they could have got a kick that night.

Over the last couple of years I've been spoiled into expecting to win as red-hot favourites, to the point where our first true upset loss for either gender will probably set off a mental spiral that leaves me in state care. Why not here, while watching an hour on delay and expecting Kayo to screw me at any moment, as Freo were more than a match in the opening minutes. Turns out they only had three quarters in them, but considering their home weather advantage how was I supposed to know that?

After a bit of arm wrestle, it turns out our advantage came from (ironically, considering some of our recent issues) a more efficient forward line. Our first decent inside 50 of the afternoon went to ground, where Harris scooped the ball off the deck and thumped it through like it owed her money. The evidence for playing one of the best forwards in the history of the league as a forward was growing. Then she spent the rest of the game either a) doing gold medal hitouts, or b) taking tremendous saving marks in defence, and I was willing to accept that as long as somebody else could take a grab inside 50 then she can play anywhere they like. Having said that, we've seen enough times over the years that what looks good against lowly sides doesn't always stand up in important games.

The lead didn't last long, and the circumstances of their first goal were enough to send a shiver down the spine of cowards like me. It started with a forward a mile clear on the lead before dropping the ball cold - which was good - and ended in another doing the biggest throw in the city of Perth since the Western Force before they wobbled the snap through - which was bad. 

Given that the mark would have led to a kick at a distance only about five players in the league would have covered it might have been better if they'd just grabbed it the first time. I could understand the umpire missing the ball being chucked out of a pack, it made more since than when Eliza West caught a player for what should have been holding the ball, then dumped her upside with a German suplex and it didn't end up as a free for anyone.

If Freo weren't going to go away, we needed to make our opportunities count. Eventually they ran out of juice, but there were a few nervous moments early. Kate Hore ended up with three goals but started by running into an open goal and kicking on the full from 20 metres. Good thing for her, the St Kilda player who shanked a point from centimetres out had the market for shocking misses cornered.

Paxman missed another before we gifted them a golden opportunity right in front via Gay's good old fashioned two-handed shove in the back. They necked themselves with that kick, allowing us to put on a coast-to-coast rebounded masterclass that ended with Zanker wandering in at the other end. After the St Kilda incident, Channel 7 didn't have any faith in a player just because she had an unguarded square ahead of her, holding the camera on her as ball hit boot so you only knew it went through by the celebrations.

Scoring almost every time the ball went forward was different to normal policy, but Freo seemed almost as likely so this game was still a chance to go anywhere. As keen as I was to retake the all-time AFLW win back this was clearly not heading in the same direction as Adelaide 96, GWS 1.

We got a break from a defender suicidally diving on the ball 30 metres out directly in front and forgetting to do the Acting Football League routine. Daisy's subsequent goal didn't hurt for long. It would have helped if we could win a clearance. Enter Zanker, who got her second via a mark, and Harris doing another million dollar hitout towards Hanks that created another chance. Ironically our best centre break of the game ended up pinging the other way for Freo to turn two quality opportunities into a point. 

This made it clear that if we could keep scoring there was no way they'd catch us. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you can score five only for the other side to respond with 10. The Dockers would have needed to go until midnight to reach double figures under any circumstances. Our next came via Bannan turbo-boosting into space, flubbing her bounce, then regathering. This eventually set up Daisy to gently rotate in space for a bit before allowing Duffy to stitch up her old side. That's fun when it doesn't happen to us.

My anti-Harris in the middle propaganda tipped into full disarray when she did another tremendous tap to start the third quarter. This led to Hore giving us a three goal lead, and Tayla hit the next ball up so well that it was too fast for Hanks to run on to. It was that good I was almost at the point of going back and deleting all my complaints about her playing in the middle. Hanks might have double grabbed at this footy coming towards her at light speed, but she was otherwise excellent again. About time this club had a Rising Star winner that didn't immediately go into turmoil and/or demand a trade.

In some circumstances, this would have seemed a comfortable lead. As if you'd trust a Melbourne side with a lead. We were unlucky not to add another when a defender hung off Bannan in a marking contest like she was abseiling, then followed that by accidentally whacking her in the mouth. It was all red and blue now, which is why nobody was surprised when our next blown chance immediately begat a goal at the other end. This was bad news for the baby who was vigorously hoisted in the air in celebration behind the goal. If we hadn't defended so well from there somebody would have called child services.

With scant respect to the feelings of an innocent child, this briefly sent us into self-destruction mode, giving away a stupid downfield free for a late bump, then not properly marking their captain at the top of the square. She got the short pass, kicked the goal, and it was back to six points. The Dockers were kicking with something of a breeze but it wasn't the sort of divine wind that nearly guaranteed victory if we were in front at three quarter time. 

Breeze be buggered, the game was balanced precariously, and my tension was not helped by them having multiple opportunities against the wind in the final term. The low point was when we flung out of defence but lost the ball via West's botched kick. Then a 50 gave them another shot which mercifully failed to make the distance. After a hot start to the year I'm getting frustrated by West's disposal. See also her next rebound, which came off the boot like a sack of shit and rolled 20 metres along the ground. All's well that ends well, because that accidentally ended in Purcell kicking a crucial goal to put us 10 points up.

Shelley Heath deserves credit for Purcell's goal after taking a belting contested mark, and the former kung fu artist also had a big part in Hore's second. That was the end of the Dockers' resistance. Good news for the kid. Then Hore crumbed the bejesus out of a contest for our third and it was time to put the babies to bed rather than waving them about like the premiership cup. One spectator took Freo firing off distress signals like the Titanic so badly they started making animal noises.

Everyone contributed, but a moment please for Blaithin Mackin who I'm very keen on. Irish players being good kicks has become a cliche (especially when you ignore all the players who came here and were never heard of again), but for somebody who's been in Australia for six weeks a couple of her passes were spot on. Like Goldrick, who was lucky not to be pinged earlier for instinctively playing on, she can do things that get her into trouble but in open play her kicking is better than some players who grew up here.

By the last couple of minutes Freo had lost interest. Things got farcical when the ball stopped just before rolling over the boundary, Duffy casually tried a banana from the pocket, thought she'd hit the post and had to be told by her captain that it had gone through. Makes up for that one Hanks got ROBBED out of at Casey last season. And regardless of what it might have clipped on the way through, if that's the sort of madcap goal she's going to kick, pinching Duffy from the Dockers and waiting five weeks for her to find fitness was worth it.

It was a slow burn, but in the end 66 points represented our equal third best score of all time. Didn't feel like it, but you can't argue with six players sharing 10 goals. I don't expect this against top sides (would be nice though), but have renewed hope that if Harris stays unsuspended we're a premiership chance. Now that there's a double chance on for the top four - and only five good teams - we're in a reasonable position for the future.

On the other hand, Fremantle is now 17th. This says something about their fixture but should also be a source of immense shame considering the ratshit teams at that end of the table. The good news is that they get to play... Adelaide and Collingwood, before coming home with a stiff breeze against Sydney and Hawthorn. Which might see them climb to the giddy heights of 14th if they're lucky.  Bad luck, look up and learn something.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Tayla Harris
2 - Kate Hore
1 - Olivia Purcell

Major apologies to Gay, Heath and Zanker. Apologies to Birch, Goldrick, Paxman and West.

For once there's genuine drama at the top, with Hanks surging, Purcell slowing down, and Paxmania randomly breaking out every couple of weeks. No change in the minor awards, with Lampard still narrowly ahead of Birch in the defender race (though the committee will need to decide on an appeal from the People for Maddison Gay Committee on whether she should be ahead of both). Nothing yet for the Rookie of the Year.
15 - Olivia Purcell
14 - Karen Paxman
13 - Tyla Hanks
10 - Eliza West
9 - Tayla Harris
8 - Lily Mithen
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay, Kate Hore
3 - Sarah Lampard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
2 - Libby Birch
1 - Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Lots of goals, some of them very good, but no contenders for the annual award. For novelty value I'd like to nominate the Duffy banana experience.

1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Tayla Harris vs Carlton
3rd - Kate Hore vs Brisbane

Next Week 
On a weekend where Brisbane's percentage temporarily went above 300, everyone else gets to take their turn dismembering one of the awful teams while we... play a 4-2 Footscray. Ultimately, going through the 12 Tasks of Hercules will probably serve us better come finals than beating up on slop for months then running into the good sides when it counts. Mind you, our last two games are Essendon and West Coast, so hopefully it sets us on a path of destruction that rips through the finals like a tornado. Stranger things have happened.

There shouldn't be any need for changes - enforced or otherwise - for what should be the nearest thing to World War III this week not involving North Korea. I like to think we'll put the final seal on our top four credentials with a win but remain, as always, scared to death.

Final Thoughts
For perhaps the first time ever I've got nothing. Go the 'mons.