Sunday 20 November 2022

Once more with feeling

In the grand scheme of Australian sporting schedule cockups, you don't have to wait for all the good grounds in Queensland to be booked on Grand Final Day, just come to my place when the joyous occasion of a Prelim intersects with an equally important toddler related event, leaving my house full of people who had absolutely no interest in the composition of the AFLW Grand Final.

Of course this wasn't going to stop me from watching, and I absolutely turfed my dignity out the window by casually slipping the TV on at 3.09pm. The discreet option would have been to sneak into another room and watch on my phone but I thought it was time to be out and proud as somebody who would give equal weight to a footy game and a small child's milestone event. Deft management of the schedule ensured that all the really important stuff was out of the way by the first bounce, but I was still left trying to watch while interacting with normal people and not flagrantly yelling obscenities at the TV until after half time.

The third quarter was a great time to be able to fret via the medium of offensive language, because what turned out to be the greatest defensive performance since Rorke's Drift looked a lot like North pounding away with repeat inside 50s and threatening to blow the game to pieces at any moment. I nervously used all the seven words you can't say on television, but somehow we only conceded two behinds from 18 attacks and only conceded two behinds. This tough effort didn't win the game on its own, but it helped kill North off, setting the table for what happened in the last quarter.

Now, for the third time in 18 months a Melbourne team is playing a Grand Final. Make if four if you count our Putinesque annexation of Casey. 'What a time to be alive' was already achieved on 25/09/2021 but for those of us who celebrate AFLW this would be a delightful exclamation mark.

With our old friends Adelaide on the scrapheap, and a rematch with lone conquerors Brisbane awaiting, we may have started favourites but I wasn't taking anything for granted. It's easy to be confident once the win is in the bank, but I was shitting it about losing. Eighth placed teams shouldn't be scary for one that missed top spot by a literal point, but there was no doubt North was the fourth best side in the comp. NQR competition structure and fixturing buried them in eighth (just a casual 1.5 wins and 80 something percentage points ahead of ninth), but they'd have been worthy Grand Finalists if it had gone that way. But it didn't, so in the most respectful possible terms, bad luck.

Considering how short AFLW season is, it feels like a lifetime since we nearly lost to North in Round 2. Remember the controversy about making it a curtain raiser to the men's final, when they were still a flag chance but we still weren't convinced by the women. The M bombed out quickly, and the W went on to lose just one game and achieve the best defensive record in the history of the competition. It's insanity to compare AFLW and AFL stats, but if you were so inclined best of luck finding somebody at any point of the leagues's history that let in just 18.4 points per week. As an admirer of the defensive arts dating back to a brief fascination with Phil Gilbert, it won't surprise you to find out that I. Love. This. Shit.

After our dud start against Adelaide, I wasn't surprised to concede the first goal. That game gave me confidence that we could return serve against top opposition, if we could get the ball forward. There wasn't much of that early, as the ball stayed camped at North's end. We were turning them back effectively - something that would happen x18 the next time they kicked to right of screen - but struggled to get the ball clear. Our play-on tactics look good when they work, but it's harder to get acres of space to run into against good sides.

We were finding it hard to move the ball, with regular accumulators Purcell and West being jumped on before, during, and after getting it, so sneaking one at the other end felt like thievery. In what Jane Bunn would describe as 'blustery' conditions, Fitzsimon's set shot was pinpoint and we were back on level terms.

For all the scorn poured on Casey for being a wind tunnel, and suggestions that AFLW should be played at decent grounds more often, there was an absolute gale blowing through Princes Park. The cameras Channel 7 used for the play were stable, albeit with the usual issues of zooming in way to far on the ball so you didn't know what was happening two metres away, but their Celebrity Cam that perused the stands looking for well known figures was so shaky you couldn't focus for long without risking a spew. 

If that first goal felt like we'd been lucky because North couldn't convert, getting another was Ronald Biggs, the Great Bookie Robbery and Oceans 11 rolled into one. This time it was Mithen from a standing start, suggesting it was going to be one of those days where the goals come from unexpected sources. This is a good thing at any time, but especially in a competition where most games don't break a 50 point aggregate. It also helps when your actual forwards are hit and miss - Harris hasn't kicked a goal for weeks, Daisy had to roam up the ground to get involved, and all of Hore, Bannan and Zanker were in and out across the afternoon. Like Lampard getting two against Adelaide, anything unexpected is a bonus.

Speaking of Harris, things got more complicated when she did herself a shoulder mischief in a ruck contest. The contact looked innocuous, the reaction showed that the result was extremely painful, and she basically played with one arm for the rest of the day. You can't say I wasn't thinking about her, because my first thought was "well, at least she doesn't have to lose another Grand Final". After three in six seasons, a fourth might be too much. Rene Kink lost five so hopefully she's not on the phone to him for support on Monday morning.

For want of anywhere else to put it, Paxman Head Injury Watch can report that she had the bandage off during a midweek media appearance and the wound looks horrific. I'm not sure how it can be still be so bad weeks after the contact, unless she's headbutting lockers pre-match Goldberg style. If we win the cup they should wrap it in tape too. Off-season plastic surgery issues aside, Paxy was very good again here, but the long-term future is Tyla Hanks. She isn't quite at the Clayton Oliver sixth sense level in traffic or possession level, but looks so comfortable with the ball in traffic and chaos swirling around. She also had 12 tackles. What a legend.

After briefly going behind again, the cavalcade of unusual goalkickers continued with Casey Sherriff, and we were never headed again. Not without one of the most heroic defensive performances of all time. A goalless third quarter is gold for people who hatewatch AFLW/do reflex snarky replies whenever it's mentioned, but it was the equivalent of an exciting 0-0 in soccer. Yes, such thing does exist, when one or both teams have dozens of chances but can't break through. 

You don't need a blow-by-blow description of this quarter - just imagine North pounding the ball forward a million times, but not finding targets. We'd dash out of defence, break down somewhere between half-back and half-forward, rinse, repeat and do it all again. The rare times we did burst forward were for nowt, and usually didn't leave the ball down there long enough to put any pressure on North. There was one particularly rotten one where Bannan did all the running, had nobody to kick to, and so just punted it down the throat of a defender in her own postcode of free space. 

It didn't help that Zanker had to be sacrificed to the ruck after Harris' injury, but I felt like we were going to be trying to defend a lead of a couple of points until the final siren. This was no way to live, but getting to the last change three points ahead was practically a miracle under these circumstances. 

Hands up if you had any confidence from here. I thought we might win, but not without a death struggle that went down to the final siren. In the end, it was reasonably easy, aided by North failing to score again. Daisy missed one chance to kill them off with an irregular attempt at a close range snap that missed everything. It the end it proved a handy OOF. Hore's strong mark and goal gave us breathing space and set Pearce up for the in-game redemption story. She's just going at this point, but her winning goal was a thing of beauty, running away from an opponent, breaking a tackle, turning, and hoofing it through and snapping the shit out of it from 30.

Start your Simpsons gags, because we're off to Springfield. Quite literally in my case. As Daisy's goal cross the line I fist pumped my way through the living room, and went straight for the phone to see how much flights to Brisbane cost. By the siren I'd gotten over my all-consuming inner tightarse and booked. Stick your 'Move It To Marvel' campaign where it fits, I'm fully invested in self-interest now.

One game shy of seven complete seasons of being stitched up from attending games at every opportunity by family commitments, work, or the fact that Casey Fields may as well be in South America for its proximity to me, I've finally found a game I can go to. It'll cost several hundreds of dollars more than just getting in the car and driving to Cranbourne (although with petrol prices...) and probably take the same time, but the convenient meeting of last week of season and first week of holidays gives me the chance to go.

And, despite North fans sooking hard about umpiring, nobody can deny that we deserve a spot. There's only four good teams in the competition, but two of them have to miss out. Unlike most seasons the standouts will play for the cup, and I can't wait to have another massive crack at the Lions on a deck that looks like the fifth day of a test match in Lahore. Bring on next weekend ASAP.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Lily Mithen
3 - Karen Paxman
2 - Tahlia Gillard
1 - Shelley Heath

Apologies to Birch, Chaplin (minutes points for saying we 'verse' North in a post-match interview), Mackin and Zanker

What seemed off is now very much back on, with the last two survivors pocketing votes and the leader missing out. There are still multiple permutations that could land us this website's first triple dead heat. As long as we win I don't care if Coco the Clown gets five votes but it will keep things interesting. Congratulations to Libby Birch, now confirmed winner of the Defender of the Year award, and to her fellow defensive Tower of Power, Tahlia Gillard who can't do worse than a share of the Rising Star. I've got hopes of a heartwarming Mackin BOG that forces a draw but won't let that unduly influence proceedings.

27 - Olivia Purcell
--- Can still win ---
26 - Tyla Hanks
23 - Karen Paxman
--- Cannot still win ---
20 - Lily Mithen
18 - Eliza West
15 - Tayla Harris
13 - Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
5 - Tahlia Gillard (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Rising Star Award), Sarah Lampard, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay
3 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
For sentiment and context you can't beat Daisy. Nothing to trouble the Bannan heavy top three but vital in the context of our season. If this is the last goal she kicks for us - and by christ I hope it isn't because a couple will come in handy on Sunday - it was memorable.
1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Media Watch
Patrick Dangerfield's brand of Full Frontal level comedy usually shits me but on special comments he acted normally and was quite enjoyable. I look forward to a couple of years when he's promoted post-retirement to their main roster and is encouraged - usually by his fellow callers - to be as absurdly wacky as possible, give everyone the shits, and ends up hosting 'Roaming Danger' when Big Turd finally spontaneously combusts.

Next week
Much like winning the men's variety interstate due to a global pandemic, I didn't grow up expecting my first taste of live MFC Grand Final action to be through a women's team. And if you'd told me it would be the first game at a venue somewhere in the Brisbane suburbs, in late November, on a ground where the turf was laid a month ago, and where there are only 600 seats I'd have called you a dickhead. 

I'd have also called you a dickhead for running a league and failing to account for one of the best sides making. Understandably, the Gabba is out for cricket, but Carrara is also taken by something called Festival X. Lucky they're not holding it in a club. The good news is that every sniffer dog in the state of Queensland will be occupied so feel free to show up at our game carrying a trafficable quantity of gear.

Once absurd suggestions of moving the game to Cairns were ruled out, Brisbane's new training ground (and, to be fair, future home of AFLW and Reserves games) was confirmed as the venue. Of course, when I say 'confirmed', I'm expecting that several hundreds of dollars invested in flights and hotels will go up in smoke when the surface is declared unfit on Wednesday and the game is relocated to a region where there's more than two suitable grounds. Like Melbourne.

I've been laughing at the idea of 'venue subject to change' for years, but the joke will be on me if it winds up here. There's no way the league would refund you if that happened, but I note that while their ticketing FAQ says "the AFL reserves its right to change the AFL fixture at its discretion and without notice. The AFL will not be liable for changes made to the AFL fixture.", the actual terms and conditions linked to only say they won't be liable for changes made due to COVID border restrictions. I expect their response to that loophole would be to make you spend more on lawyers than you paid to go their in the first place. Maybe Peter Lawsuits will take up the case for fans instead of suing the club again?

I'll remain positive for now, but be on guard for a stitch up until about 2.39pm AEST on Sunday. Regardless of whether the ground holds up, what says Grand Final more than a ground where 7400 people will be standing. So far, so Casey Fields, but at least this joint has a train station and it won't be freezing cold. Instead, we'll stand outside with no shelter and die of heatstroke so swings and roundabouts.

Here's an artist's impression of how it's supposed to look. I'll be the guy awkwardly reacting as if he's standing the mark, you can be the lady in the background who looks like she's demanding holding the ball, and if any of us can effectively get food, drink, or take a slash with running water it will be a miracle.

Second to the Death Valley Docklands style turf chat is the small matter of playing a Grand Final against the only side to beat us all season. You'll recall that day we were without Tayla Harris, went three goals up, then fell in a crater.

Based on that, and predicted hot weather, Brisbane will certainly be expected to win. I'm quietly hopeful though (which is a few steps below quiet confidence). Harris might only have one arm but she hasn't kicked a goal for weeks and we've found alternative avenues. This statement may backfire when we lose the AFLW equivalent of the 1989 Grand Final, but we're in a good position because the better your defence the less you've got to score to win.

If Harris is fit and nobody else gets hurt midweek there won't be any changes. I maintain that if Duffy is alive she'd probably be a better forward on paper than Daisy at the moment, but even half-heartedly suggesting a switch would lead to somebody assassinating you in the street with a poison umbrella. And you'd deserve it. That would be like trying to turf Nathan Jones at the last minute if he'd made it back into the side in late 2021 - with the added bonus of her being the serving captain. She brings great aura, and as discovered on Saturday can still do some damage if given space, so form an orderly queue behind the legend and let's get the fairytale finish that Jones was denied.

Given my travelling schedule there may be an interim post on Sunday night, but the full enchilada won't be up until Wednesday at the earliest. If it arrives before that you'll know I've entirely run out of things to do in Brisbane (which doesn't seem very hard) and am trying to stave off the temptation to try autoerotic asphyxiation.

Final Thoughts
Regardless of what happens at the local park next week, we've had a wonderful season in an otherwise stagnant year for the competition. We may never get the opportunity to be this good again, so why not make it the nearest thing to a perfect season and win a shock flag? I fully expect the result will be decided by a fluky bounce off some lumpy turf, and will not complain in the slightest if it goes our way.

Sunday 6 November 2022

For a feud dollars more

One way or the other we've seen off every decent in the competition since 2017, except Adelaide. Even Brisbane, who could easily beat us to a flag in three weeks, were toppled in a final last year. But, until Friday night we'd never beaten the Crows in a seriously important game. Round 1 this season was good, the mid-2021 win even better, but they've had us on a leash when it counted. There was the humbling in the last round of 2019, the 2021 Prelim disaster, and a Grand Final where we escaped humiliation but never looked any reasonable chance of winning.

All this has left me with both fear towards, and hatred of Adelaide AFLW. Regardless of the fact that we could very well play them again in a Grand Final (and if we learnt anything from the men's season it was not to prematurely claim superiority over a side that hasn't been eliminated yet), it might be time to start treating them like everybody else. Coincidentally, the aura started to fade just as they had to start sharing players with Port Adelaide, and have gone from an unstoppable juggernaut to just one of the - admittedly minuscule - teams who deserve to be at the top of the ladder.

Beating them at our last start was irrelevant here. 10 weeks ago may as well be a lifetime, especially coming in off the back of the easiest finals lead-in of all time. Maybe somebody got to play Footscray, North and Hawthorn in consecutive weeks at the end of 1927 but I bet they didn't hold all of them + and one other side scoreless in both the first and last quarters. The dream run of the millenium saw us fall a point short of finishing top and left us vulnerable to the biggest non-drug related comedown in history. Now we've come back from the dead to win in heroic fashion, put ourselves on what appears to be the weaker side of the finals draw and the sun came up Saturday morning in red and blue.

It's easy to talk like this now, but cross to me halfway through the first quarter and I was having kittens. Starting favourites was understandable, but after thrashing Hidem, Foldem and Flee in glorified training runs, I didn't consider us dead certainties like the bookies. Sports betting is a cancer, and I'd never bet against my own side but still perked up at Adelaide paying $4.20 to win. If that's the scale they were grading on, West Coast must have been about 200-1 last week.

My discomfort with starting raging favourites against a defending premier who'd finished one spot below us on the ladder went into overdrive when we conceded the quickest goal in league history. Purcell won it from the bounce, but her handball was picked off, Adelaide pelted forward for the opener, and I swore in front of the kids.

Couldn't go forever with other teams failing to score in the opening quarter, but this was a bit ridiculous. It still left us with a good recent first quarter average, so no harm done as long as we didn't spend the next five minutes under peak defensive stress, eventually conceding a second goal and confirming that you can't actually play the shit teams every week.

Initially, it didn't look like we had any hope of escape. It was a lot like that 2021 Prelim, and consistent with Adelaide's status as a grown up, competent, side, they didn't allow the sort of freewheelin', piss takin' run as the dud sides, instantly burying anybody who touched the ball. It wasn't until we got running that things started going well, showing that the Crows had the right tactical idea but just couldn't drag it out across four quarters. For now, there was a bit of tits up about us. Even on the rare occasions we escaped their clutches and got forward, it looked unlikely that anyone would convert.

By the end we'd found a multi-pronged forward line - including from some random sources that nobody saw coming - but at first Harris and Pearce, D were miles off it. Harris has an excuse for going goalless a third week in a row because she ended up doing a lot of rucking after Pearce, L hurt her shoulder (and did a bloody good job of it), but hasn't looked her usual terrifying self inside 50 for weeks. With her goes about 99% of our contested marking power, so you can see why I had so little faith in overcoming an early deficit. This is also partly due to me being a massive, yellow streaked, coward. Which is why I was almost ready to scuttle the fleet and head for the lifeboats when their ruck shoved Pearce out of a ruck contest and snapped a third. 

At the time I was outraged, but in their defence the umpires did ignore LP doing the exact same thing later. Even with umpire whinging removed, it was an especially painful goal to concede because it put the brakes on our first decent patch of play all night. We'd just narrowly missed goals when an end-to-end move saw Zanker dispose of her opponent in the marking contest but drop the mark, and Mackin almost got to a bouncing ball in the square but ended up kneeing it through. She nearly killed a defender in the process, which might have come in handy.

These half chances were as good as it got, so thank god the backline held firm under pressure and stopped us letting any more in. Birch was incredible again, but while they'll be pushed out of the votes, a word please for Chaplin and Gillard who were also fantastic in helping stop the Crows early, and almost completely blanketing them after quarter time. Chaplin also got genuine laughs telling the joke in the huddle before the third quarter, so that's another win for her. Not bad for somebody who was delisted without playing a game nine months ago.

Already three goals down, it also looked like we'd lose Lily Mithen, seemingly knocked into oblivion in a collision. That's just what we needed, not only a player down for the night but probably next week as well. She might have kept her head wrapped and loaded the bandage with metal 1980s wrestling style, but turned out to be naturally made of iron, returning with no ill-effects to be one of our best players. After Paxman instantly bounced back from a head knock that still has her head bandaged several weeks later, you start to wonder if they're playing to a different concussion protocol in AFLW. Or do lighter bodies mean less damage in collisions? Ask Dr. McCrory.

Finally, deep into the quarter and with the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse roaring down Royal Parade, something finally went our way. The second movement of an otherwise innocuous tackle on Harris made contact with her back, giving us a cheap, nasty, and free chance to get on the board. If anyone in this league is going to effortlessly hammer through a goal from that distance it's Tayla, but perhaps put off by the big Carlton logo behind the goal, she kicked it like a bag of potatoes and barely registered a point. 

That was our absolute lowest point of the night, and where you could have been forgiven for throwing your hands up in the air and walking out of either Princes Park or your own house. 90% of the time you won't go wrong following that instinct, but to the credit of everyone involved the next three quarters couldn't have gone much better. 

We'd been overwhelmed, but the quality of game itself was an astronomical improvement on the dreck served up by half the competition. Makes you wonder what it would be like if these were the matchups you got in Division 1 every week why the rot played each other. The terminally miserable are never going to care, but you've got more hope of retaining open-minded viewers after this than some woeful slopfest featuring Carlton and Essendon.

Then, just when you thought all was lost and the women were heading into the previously male domain of straight set exits, we belatedly turned up and Adelaide couldn't cope. I'm not into claiming game-changing moments that don't lead to a score, but if there's ever been a team-lifting moment that ended in a turnover, this was it.

Bannan is like an electrical storm, she shows up at random but offers a spectacular visual effect. Six bounces in one run were just two short of the leading total for our male players across 24 games. I don't blame her for not making perfect decisions after having just charged down the ground like a juiced up racehorse, but it's still a shame that the kick found Hore stuck behind two opponents instead of the three players standing on their own. Even if she'd shanked it to one of them due to fatigue, there would have been enough doubt to declare it the greatest run since Cathy Freeman.

As well as the game went from here, it's fair to admit that a stroke of luck got us going. Purcell did well to walk out of traffic before her snap, but the kick only narrowly avoided a defender who should have rushed it through (and may very well have, thank god for the lack of video replay), and still had take the right bounce in the square. No complaints from me, the way we'd gone until then I'd have taken the cheapest, most administrative 50 in the history of the game to get us moving.

Now there was room to run that didn't exist in the first quarter, and Mackin increased the available space with some of the widest dummy sells in the history of the game. One of them saw her tilt so far to the side that a light breeze might have left her cartwheeling across the ground. It was genuinely thrilling stuff, and in conjunction with Goldrick fanging off half back at maximum speed, this is the greatest overseas combination we've had since Stynes and Wight.

Things were getting interesting in unexpected ways. The world's most underrated player Sarah Lampard previously had one goal in 50 games (and even that was a free hit against first expansion slurry West Coast), but wandered forward to thump one from distance. This was a fine time to try something new, bringing the margin back to under a goal and all but wiping out our dreadful start. If the plan had been to run Adelaide off their feet it was starting to work. With Daisy Pearce struggling to have an impact we still lacked firepower, but namesake Lauren had no such issues, doing a marginally less obvious shove from a ruck contest than the earlier one, and putting us in front.

It would be an understatement to say I didn't foresee the game flipping on its head like this. Instead of  holding a side scoreless in the opening term we did it in the second, but it's not like Adelaide didn't have chances, it's just that the backline was on fire. Birch is so good it's not funny, and at this stage I'd like to remind you that we effectively got her for pick 8, with about as many years left to play. That'll do nicely.

Considering where we'd started, it was an achievement to be ahead at half time. Without any sort of wind that might encourage the Crows to run up another big score to the left of screen, we escaped the first 15 seconds without conceding this time and things were looking up. Not that the game was won yet, far from it, but we had more run, looked more likely to score, and their attacks were being turned away with the greatest of ease. 

Enter greatest show on turf Bannan again, to kick her first (complete with an elite finger aloft celebration) and increase the margin to eight. It might have been RIP Adelaide if Hore hadn't missed a sitter from directly in front not long after. Alternatively, it might have prompted the Crows to kick nine unanswered goals and win in a canter so best consider it part of the plan and move on. I was NOT interested in this way of thinking when they flung straight down the other end and immediately kicked another.

Now our lead was four points at the last change, with no recent experience of a tough last quarter, West off the ground clutching her shin like Nancy Kerrigan, and the Adelaide coach declaring that he was confident his side was going to run the game out better. I was, quite frankly, shitting it. Like almost every scenario involving this side, it was premature panic. Our run of keeping sides scoreless in the last quarter ended, but only to the tune of one point, while down the other end we piled on three to win in what would have seemed like absurdly comfortable fashion an hour earlier.

In a completely random turn of events, Lampard got the party started with her second. I haven't seen such an unexpected goalkicking rush in a final since Sam Weideman, but at least he was expected to be a forward. Her set shot was so good that I'd encourage more forward excursions in the future. 

The final death blow was struck by one of the all-time zaniest AFLW goals. With 10 minutes left, and a 10 point lead, we were by now means safe. And when Bannan marked on the edge of her range I didn't hold out much hope, then she deviated to the right mid-run up, and sprinted just close enough to goal that she still had to kick over the outstretched hands of a second defender. It was absolutely glorious, but you can understand why that would make the opposition shut up shop and start thinking about the flight home. 

The last remaining interest from the Crows was to start niggling, as if they hadn't pissed away a match-winning lead by playing three quarters with the handbrake on, but we refused to show anything but the most token interest. Zanker chucked another one on for good measure, and against all odds we'd pissed it in. Not really payback for the 2002 Semi Final but it'll do for now.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Lily Mithen
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Libby Birch
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Sarah Lampard

Apologies to almost everyone, but especially Chaplin, Gillard and Mackin.

Now there's a maximum of two games to play, everyone outside the top three is gorn. Realistically, Purcell must win this from here. I would never have seen it coming pre-season, but accumulation is boss. 

27 - Olivia Purcell
--- Needs two more games ---
21 - Tyla Hanks
20 - Karen Paxman
--- Abandon at hope ye below here ---
18 - Eliza West
16 - Lily Mithen
15 - Tayla Harris
13 - Kate Hore
12 - Libby Birch (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Defender of the Year)
5 - Sarah Lampard, Eden Zanker
4 - Maddie Gay,
3 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Alyssa Bannan, Lauren Pearce

Goal of the Week 
Congratulations to Lampard for being apologised to in a different category this week. I loved to see her smash through the first like her leg was a baseball bat, but good luck beating the Bannan extravaganza.  
I liked it so much, that I'm promoting her to second place on the overall leaderboard. You can't beat the game winning supersnap against North, but this was tremendously enjoyable in its own way. The Princes Park ground crew is still trying to unscrew the player on the mark out of the turf.
1st - Alyssa Bannan vs North Melbourne 
2nd - Alyssa Bannan vs Adelaide (QF)
3rd - Eden Zanker vs Gold Coast

Media Watch
There must have been somebody watching who thought commentator Alister Nicholson was the same guy who used to play full back for us. He was good, joining the list of Channel 7's perfectly sensible commentators who you'll never see during the men's season because they prefer blithering idiots with 'personality' over competent media professionals. 

Next week
Nothing. Have a well-deserved rest. Cheer for whoever you think we're a better chance of winning against...

... the following week
Now that we've lost our chance of finally playing Geelong, it's a Prelim against Richmond or North. We can beat Richmond but the Roos would be interesting. A little too interesting for my liking, so let's get rid of them ASAP. As long as West's leg didn't fall apart when the tape came off, I don't see any reason for changes. After demanding Duffy for the first half of the season she might have missed her chance now. If you were playing a video game and there was no element of sentiment involved, you'd probably say she was more likely to kick goals than Daisy at the moment, but the captain is the heart of this side so she stays no matter what.

We've had a good run with injuries, and have natural replacements available for each part of the ground. Duffy as the replacement forward, Ivey in the middle, Caris in the ruck, and Wilson or Brown in defence. Other than Duffy, none are nearly as good as what they'd replace but are good enough to play a role in the machine. What we've got on field is a 50/50 proposition if we end up playing Brisbane at the end, but for now it should take care of any of the other options.

Next question is where the Prelim will be played. Sorry to people who enjoy games played in Falkland Islands style conditions but Casey is out. With the Big Boring League a month away, I expect Docklands is also off, so back to Princes Park I suppose? Not ideal, but having won comfortably there twice this year there are worse places they could send us. This team has so much heart that I'm confident they could play in a minefield and it wouldn't affect them, so here's to avoiding shitting of bed in a fortnight and we just might get another look at a Grand Final.

Final Thoughts
Eight years of membership later, my daughter still couldn't give a rats for footy of any gender (and is still bitter that I wouldn't let her go to bed before the final siren on 25/09/21. Bad luck.) but has been around long enough to pick up the vibe. When I offered the view that the women might win the flag she said, "that wouldn't mean as much to you as the other one though". Which is true, but that's like being upset because your Powerball win is inferior to the GDP of the European Union. It would still mean a tremendous amount because I absolutely love this side. Unlike the men, I don't need a premiership to validate my own supporting life, I want it for the players and coaches who have done so much for this program since 2017. But also a lot for myself.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Taking advantage of the less fortunate

If you follow Melbourne long enough you'll keep finding things to surprise you. When I took this lifestyle on in 1989, I'd have scoffed at the idea of a women's team, with games broadcast live on an interconnected network of worldwide computers that also delivers on-demand viewing, gaming, and - let's be honest here - filth. Now, after 33 years of milestones being ticket off - including winning the original recipe competition flag I never thought would happen - we've reached the point where I felt a bit flat after a 79-1 win.

As far as last round percentage disappointments involving West Coast go, it had nothing on the two day fiasco at the end of 2017. That weekend we had a simple task, botched it, and were punished accordingly. This time every effort was expended, in unfavourable conditions but we narrowly ran out of time. Grabbing the minor premiership (and if you're calm enough to look that far ahead, Grand Final hosting rights) via the heist of the century would have been ace, but it still meant finishing with a 9-1 record, a double chance, home final, and perhaps a trip to [Venue TBC in Queensland] for the big one if things go as planned.

Brisbane's comfortable win on Friday night seemingly removed most of the drama from this game. We were left having to either keep West Coast to a humiliatingly low score, or score well over hundred. I wasn't confident in either option, between wind blowing so hard that our banner disintegrated, sodden turf after days of rain, and the expectation that the Eagles would try and escape their last game without looking silly, I never thought the magic margin would be threatened. After the visitors were subject to death by a thousand cuts, we ended up with about 90 seconds of drama and fell short by the loneliest number.

West Coast was on a hiding to nothing here. They knew we were playing the game, but we didn't need to play the game, because we'd already won the game. Give that Richmond finished fourth, their win over Brisbane doesn't even count as a colossal upset anymore, leaving about zero major surprises this season. If you were in an AFLW tipping comp you'd be ashamed at having an average of less than eight a week. To their credit, the Eagles tried to keep things from getting out of hand before eventually being swamped. I'd struggle to get out of bed for any sort of inevitable defeat, let alone one where you have to fly across the country, then drive 90 minutes to a suburb where the weather randomly changes every 20 minutes.

If they were wondering what the point was, so were Fox Sports. The host broadcaster correctly identified this game's limited appeal to viewers and put on the lowest budget coverage since ESPN Ocho did the Slippery Stairs. There was zoom in, and a zoom out that made it look like they were filming from Stony Point, but nothing in between. Usually their sideline interviews with players come with picture-in-picture, this just had them fliping frantically between dejected West Coast players and the play. They never spoke to any of our side, who had no time for gasbagging with commentators mid-match when there was important work to do.

West Coast's all-yellow long sleeves were a fashion disaster, but made them look appropriately like a PacMan ghost, existing only to be mown down on our way to a high score. Still, no matter how savage it got in the end, talking about racking up astronomical scores before the game was uncouth. I'm pretty sure coaches and players had discussed the idea though, because we spent the afternoon bamboozling clearly outmatched opposition by trying to play like the Harlem Globetrotters. It didn't always come off, and despite conceding plenty the Eagles' intercept defenders were probably their best players, but it was obvious from the first bounce that we weren't going to do something silly like losing.

Why wait until Round 10, I could have told you after the fixture was released that we wouldn't lose to a bottom four side in the most unbalanced competition since the late-1980s VFA. I can understand why a lot of people who are otherwise open to this sort of thing don't rush to watch their side being monstered at every start. We've all been through periods of total incompetence in the men's competition, but nobody's scored 0.1.1 for about 100 years. It's not an indictment on the long-term future of the league, but doesn't promise tremendously competitive seasons until good sides start losing their best players to retirement and can't replace them. Hopefully we prop ourselves up by constantly swiping promising players from other clubs. What more could a future superstar ask for than playing on a windswept tundra in the middle of a housing estate?

We had the best of the early minutes, but the egg didn't start to crack until a self-destructive panic kick from the last line landed with Paxman. Just when it looked like her campaign for another medal was over, Paxmania has taken off again recently. It's happened ever since she started pre-wrapping her head. I hope she keeps doing it even when no longer necessary until somebody throws it in the crowd like an unsanitary version of Bruce Doull's headband. 

Paxman mastered the extra head weight and the tricky wind to steer her shot through, then hit Hore with a delightful pass for another opportunity and it looked like the parade was going to begin early. She missed, and I switched back to thinking the bumper margin was going down the Casey Crapper. The Eagles looked as likely to kick a goal as I was from the couch, but that didn't matter unless the ball was going through middle post at our end. By the time we reached 1.4, neutrals would have been forgiven for checking in with Race 3 at Port Kembla. And they'd have missed the best part of the quarter. Hore - who also had five forward 50 tackles in the opening quarter alone - set Fitzsimon up with a delightful handball, then the Eagles backline lost Purcell for a third and things were looking up again.

If you just multiplied 23-0 by four we'd have easily covered the score required, but when has it ever worked like that? More good news - it was the fourth week in a row holding an opposition scoreless in the first quarter, and I'll be well and truly buggered if that's ever been achieved in high level competition before. We later doubled our fun with a fourth consecutive shutout last quarter. None of this is any good for the credibility of the competition, but has been tremendous fun for us. I hope there's no culture shock when we go back to playing half decent teams.

Their forwards may have stood little chance, and stuffed themselves up when given opportunities, but let that not detract from an unreal defensive game by Libby Birch. She was cutting off everything that came near, and is as responsible for keeping West Coast to a frighteningly low score as their own issues.

The victims found some respite by parking the ball at their end for the first five minutes of the second quarter. Sadly for anyone hoping to break the ultimate taboo and keep a side scoreless, they used this time to shamble through a point. Turns out that was it for them, but they did blow a few more chances around this time. The worst was the player standing on her own within scoring range and dropping a mark, which prompted us to belt down the other end, say "thanks for keeping things interesting, now get out of the way" and kick another. We were trying to move the game on as quickly as possible but Harris' handball from 15 metres out to Bannan nearly backfired, as she only barely got boot to it before being caught. They all count, but we won't be pulling off razzle dazzle moves like that against Adelaide or Brisbane.

There was never any doubt about us winning, but after Zanker took about nine bites of a mark before gently dropping her kick over the top of a square full of defenders a poleaxing was back on the cards. The inability to rush that through made them look foolish, but not as much as bursting from the next centre bounce and having a player smother her own teammate. It was hard to get excited watching the semi-professional equivalent of playing against a kid and refusing to go easy on them but I secretly loved it. The commentators did their best to make excuses for the Eagles, but all you need to know is that they have beaten Port and GWS, but lost to Freo, Hawthorn and Essendon so would probably be near the bottom of a second division as well.

The hapless visitors were back to defending like the Russians at Stalingrad, and their task was made more difficult by a half that started in lovely sunshine ending with pouring rain and gale force wind. This made it look less likely that we'd double our 38-1 advantage and get near the magic mark, but we nearly got there. West Coast had another five minutes of serenity after the restart before the procession recommenced. Hore got our sixth, but we were also piling up wasted chances. Zanker and D. Pearce missed gettable shots, and Harris bombed one wide from distance, before Mackin steamed into the wide open spaces of our forward line for her inaugural AFLW goal. Again, it was an assist to Kate Hore, who won't get a stat for disposing of her opponent in a marking contest, but morally deserves a slice of the action.

As tragic as this was getting, we were now only 15% behind Brisbane so there was suddenly a lot to play for. The minor premiership means more to me since Gawn in Geelong, but I still think it's presumptuous to worry about hosting a Grand Final before the important stuff has even started. I just wanted to do it for the achievement, to go into finals knowing we chased down a massive total.

If any West Coast fans were still watching they'd have briefly taken their head out of the oven for another near score late in the quarter. Sadly for them, the ball failed to break for a chasing player inside 50 and was quickly sent in reverse to safety. It was not a day for proving my theory that we didn't give Krstel Petrevski enough of a run as a small forward, but you could have put Gary Ablett Sr in that forward line and he would have struggled for a kick.

Restricted to just two goals for the quarter, we went into the last needing to pile on four and a bit to bugger all in the final term. We got the four, but fell agonisingly short on collecting even bits to reach correct weight. To prove that the chase was serious, Harris did a risky bump to a player with extremely large hair. Luckily her voluminous barnet absorbed the blow and Tayla escaped with a fine.

It got to 60-1 with eight minutes left after Harris, Hore and Hanks combined for a Triple H goal. Still doubted we'd get three more, but was quickly put back in my box by Hore and Zanker and the chase was well and truly on. Sadly, swathes of the last few minutes were lost to charity umpiring, letting the Eagles feel better about themselves by throwing the ball and/or walking into tackles unpunished, wasting valuable clobbering time.

Then an end-to-end move sent the unlikely Heath through, and when Lauren Pearce snatched one out of the ruck for a point we only needed another behind to jump in front of the Lions by 0.2%. It was not to be, and you can't blame players for not knowing what the obscure percentage calculations are while they're in the middle of a match, but if only Daisy had any sort of shot from the boundary instead of trying to centre we might have got the required score. Never mind, what would a Melbourne flag be if won the easy way? 

Narrow percentage disappointment aside there's nothing to complain about. Harris got away with the bump, nobody was injured, and the banana skin was not only avoided but lobbed into landfill and left to decompose. Now the real stuff begins.

2022 (Spring) Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Libby Birch
3 - Lily Mithen
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Karen Paxman

Major apologies to West and Zanker

With a maximum of four to play the dreaded line appears. Farewell to anyone with fewer than five votes. At the top, Purcell will have to work hard to lose from here, and Birch all but wins the Defender of the Year.

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

Goal of the Week 
A few contenders this week, but with respect for the turbo runs by Mackin and Heath, I very much enjoyed Zanker swinging the kick over a bunch of defenders who had lost the will to live. 

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

Next week
It's good when you take so long to write the post that not only the tribunal results are in, but so is the finals fixture. We knew it was Adelaide somewhere in Victoria, but in a blow for the Casey faithful we'll be playing at Princes Park. Theoretically, playing at a stadium with sides should provide a better standard of play, but if you're into arguing about this sort of thing it should be pointed out that Geelong and Collingwood both get to play finals on their home grounds.

Once I discovered that finishing top would have also given us the chance to go directly to a Prelim by tonking Richmond, there was some bitterness about not having got the percentage required. On the other hand, you win that, get a week off, then meet a much better side having not played a competitive game for months. Adelaide are not as they once were, but will still be a challenge. If we win then start booking your tickets for Queensland, if not I'm still confident that there's nobody from fourth to eigth that can beat us without somebody weird and wonderful happening.

Final Thoughts
I've gone from 0-100 and back again on our chances of winning the flag this year. Now I'm a 75% believer, but desire it 100%. Putting 'Season 7 premier' on your honour roll is so Mickey Mouse that the cup should be shaped like Disneyland, but I really, REALLY want to do it anyway. We can add a real one in 2023. Don't let the big D(emonblog) down.