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.

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