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.

1 comment:

  1. This has got to be the first footy report ever to feature the word "barnet". Kudos.


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