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.

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