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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)