Tuesday 21 November 2023

Going down in flames

Back when Twitter still had some life about it people were always demanding that you "name a more iconic duo". Turns out the correct answer is 'Melbourne premiership defence' and 'straight sets finals disaster'.

Last week suggested an uphill struggle to go back-to-back, but I thought we'd do the obvious thing and stretch things out for another week before being dismissed. Instead, the wheels came off with such force that they bounced up Royal Parade, onto Sydney Road, and are currently on the Hume Highway somewhere near Albury. 

There will be no chance to avenge our loss to Brisbane, no Preliminary Final, and no chance of a Grand Final in Victoria, because we've ended the season with downhill skiing records never to be beaten. We've got the option of playing the Chris Scott 2021-style illness card after late-season COVID anarchy, but as Alan Partridge said, "knock it off with the fancy words. It went tits up".

For all the sooking about us retaining players when expansion clubs were granted shoplifting rights at the end of last season, don't say we're not interested in equalisation. After Adelaide pounded Sydney on Saturday night, AFLW was one game away from being confirmed as a four team comp with the other 14 making up numbers. Now we've provided the "look, anything can happen" example by going out to a sixth-placed side that we'd thrashed two months earlier. 

That's a lovely feelgood story - until the Cats are held to nil by Brisbane in the Prelim - but it's giving me 'consuming water in a third world country' level shits. Pound-for-pound I'm more upset about this than our last Semi Final Fiasco. All those years thinking the men would never win anything beyond AFLX makes 2021 an emotional support flag that will take years to lose impact. On the other hand, the women have been somewhere in the mix for eight seasons straight so it's tormenting me that we got so far behind AND still nearly took it to extra time (or better) when starting hot favourites.

If you'd offered me premierships in both grades in exchange for an endless string of finals defeats I'd have done a tendon signing up, but as we won the flags without (as far as I'm aware) the help of Faustian pacts there's no reason to be losing games in Victoria hand over #fistedforever so I reserve the right to be gloomy about it for months.

You can't say we'd have played the same way/kicked the same score if the margin had only been three goals at the last change, but based on evidence from the rest of the season it's not difficult to imagine us finishing all over them. It's just the bit about trying to pull off the biggest three-quarter time comeback in the competition's history that got us. The death-or-glory recovery deserves credit, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't finish the job. We got what we deserved for the three quarters before, which completed a run of the nine worst our W side has ever played.

Much like North, apparently the Cats just needed a second look at us to get things right but let's remember the best bits of 2023. Like when we were tonking lowly sides with such ease that the coach let somebody else take over for a night (the club is pretending it didn't count but until I get advice to the contrary on MFC letterhead, Demonwiki is counting Shae Sloane as being in charge against Hawthorn), and I foolishly pondered whether this team could score a better points-per-game average than the men. That went out the door when the good teams turned up, but I still had faith that we could repeat right until last week, when the forward line disappeared into a massive sinkhole. 

When you look at how foundation clubs like Carlton and Footscray are going, it's a mark of quality that this is our first ever three game losing streak. Regular readers will know this all coincides with my AFLW membership purchase, which is reaching 'Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I' levels of joining backfire. I don't know what was supposed to be in the membership packs, but they still had plenty of the bag/water bottle combo to shift, because when I asked the staff member outside the ground if it was too late to collect mine she reached into one of several boxes and handed it over without even checking if I was really paid up. Shame, they might have seen the red flag next to my name and saved me from watching us drop another steaming turd in the middle of Princes Park.

Somebody's going to complain that we'd have won this at Casey, and you never know what weird things will happen there but if we weren't good enough to beat Geelong at Princes Park then forget the venues and concentrate on the bigger picture. Besides, for the good of the competition you can't play finals in Cranbourne. I'm sure Cats fans appreciate the irony of a team playing finals at a premium venue instead of an undersized ground about 100km from the Melbourne CBD.

It didn't need to turn out this badly. The woe of being held to one goal last week was nearly removed by fanging straight out of the middle and landing a pass with Hore after 20 seconds. She was too far out, but it was a nice reminder that we could find forward targets instead of booting the ball straight to defenders. We then switched to the innovative tactic of playing with zero forwards, and spent much of the first quarter down the other end, unable to escape and feeding them repeat entries until they couldn't help but take advantage.

For now we kept the ball down there for a bit, which was an improvement, but with absolutely not a cracker of crumb to be had you had no faith that somebody was going to pluck a goal from nowhere. Then we blundered around with some dreadful turnovers and next thing you know Geelong had the opener. This summarises the first three quarters - them converting from everywhere while we struggled to create any chances in the first place. 

I'm sure Casey Sherriff is appropriately sad for her teammates, but for the purpose of contract negotiation she must be secretly chuffed at how bad the forward line has looked since her injury. She may have only kicked 4.7 in 10 games but can now claim 'underappreciated role' status. My problem is that on the surface it doesn't look like we tried to replace her (and yes, the obvious question is "with what?" but fark me somebody's got to be paid to think about plans B, C and beyond), and it led to Bannan's influence being nuked. Between Hore's goal against the Lions and Zanker trying to win it single-handedly on Sunday, we haven't had a more awkward-looking forward line in years. And even then, a lot of the time low scoring games saved us.

The Cats were into the same Big Book Of Beating Melbourne as North, leaving no space for artisan rebound football. Instead we kicked straight at packs, and in many cases directly to their players with none of ours in the ara. Even when we did get the ball in the middle our players would look up to see nobody ahead and just madly boot it forward in hope of a miracle. There was no damaging ball movement until the last term when it was too late. I was sour on West by the end of the season but credit to her for not only being the best ball-winner but leading the disposal efficiency. However, when most them are close-range handballs to somebody about to be tackled what's the overall benefit?

We're were reduced to defending a siege, with Geelong doing us a solid by dropping a couple of marks inside 50. They seemed to pull down all the ones we booted straight towards them, including Gay having unpleasant flashbacks to playing for Carlton and turning over multiple exit kicks. Not that there were any good targets to aim at but any contest would have been better than a Geelong player 60 metres from goal. Everything was on their terms, and I'd have been sweating up like a doped racehorse if not for the memories of running all over the top of them in our last meeting. I sat there gritting my teeth and thinking things might still turn out ok if we didn't do something stupid like, or I don't know, going five goals behind.

Eventually, we gave them so many chances that they got a second. It was just the sort of goal from nowhere that we haven't gone near kicking in this final series. We'll get into snap, uneducated, and possibly dangerous suggestions about drafting and recruiting later in the post but for the love of all that is holy please find me a forward who can turn a loose ball inside 50 into a goal. 

I'd have been sweating up like a drugged racehorse if not for the memories of finishing over the top of them in the last meeting. People who hhate Melbourne (and admittedly I would have been pissing myself laughing watching as a neutral), this was the modern equivalent of "who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original". Against North we got the ball forward but were wrecked by their defenders, this time the only player with any sort of aerial presence was Gillard, who was a) on the last line of defence, and b) trying to break the world record for spoils.

The forwards were basically fictional characters by this point. Not much point having the league's top two goalscorers, a player renowned for running into open goals, and one who is probably the best contested mark in the competition on her day if they're never down there. We weren't going to kick goals from 80 metres out like Malcolm Blight, and with a 0.0% chance of crumb it was back to hit and hope in the off-chance that Geelong might do something stupid and let us get a steadier. But by now we'd lost the chance to stamp authority and they were having a wonderful time. 

You will recall, now that we need to pretend this isn't as embarrassing a loss as it seems, that the first time around they had us on the rack in the opening minutes before we goalled from a ludicrous free, then followed that with another straight from of the middle. You can't get silly frees in the forward line if the ball is never down there, and when Geelong had a Goal of the Year contender hit the post via wild ping from the pocket this was in danger of turning to shit even quicker than last week.

In the dying seconds we just got forward quick enough for Zanker to mark and miss from an obscure angle, but tellingly the ball movement was assisted by a free. Otherwise we'd never have strung together enough possessions without turning the ball over.  

I'm baffled as to how things got so bad for us in attack. Harris has not had a good season but I didn't like the idea of dropping Campbell and not picking a proper second ruck. Harris was backup ruck in a flag last year, but this was the point where we really could have done with somebody crashing packs and taking big grabs inside 50. When she finally got on one well within range later in the game she did a ridiculous pass to somebody in a worse position so who knows what the hell was going on. We should have sent her back into the ring mid-season to get the bloodlust going.

A 14 point margin at quarter time wasn't ideal but somehow it could have been worse. Still, we had three quarters to get things right and overrun them right? Apparently not. The added novelty value was Geelong fielding four of our exes, and it worked much better than when Port Adelaide tried a Barry/Toumpas/Trengove/Watts led-recovery. Everyone remembers Shelley Scott, and most will recall Chantel Emonson and Jackie Parry, but you'd do well to recall the four game career of Erin Hoare. She's one of only two players to have a career Daisy Pearce Medal tally of one, scored on debut in Round 1, 2018. And now, despite not having a kick all day she's in a Prelim and we're not. Parry was a forward who didn't kick a goal in her last 13 games for us, so who else would you want to open the second term with a goal?

We were in deep shit now, and even a good side had to be doubting themselves at a time like this. The ideal scenario was to do a men's Prelim Brisbane and come back to stamp out the underdog, but we kept going backwards at speed. When they got another goal almost straight after I was ready to discuss surrender terms with the captain who sounds like a Miami Vice character, the ex-MFC contingent, and that midfielder who used to carry Kevin Keegan's 1980s hair. 

After her rocky first quarter, Gay randomly ended the half as a hero by pulling down a tumbling kick in the dying seconds. The way things had gone I expected it to fling off the boot at right angles and kill a boundary umpire, but she converted after the siren and the comeback was ever so slightly on. The problem was wasting several minutes forward after the break without another goal, then conceding. By the time one of their players was allowed an eternity to run after a loose ball like Rocky chasing the chicken, then tap it through after a few half-hearted 'tackle' attempts we were absolutely rooted.

With the first choice forward options exhausted, our last desperate move was putting Lauren Pearce down there. Now, she's a great ruck and can take a mark but may be the least reliable set shot in Australia. We were stuck one one goal approaching three quarter time, so when she took a much-needed grab inside 50 it would have been an excellent time to rise above the ruck goakicking curse a'la Gawn 2021. We achieved full 'escaping a burning building' panic mode when Harris marked well within her traditional range on not too bad an angle and passed to Gay 50 metres out. 

At one point our 22 point recovery against Brisbane in the 2022 summer season was the greatest of all. Not sure if that's been topped since but if anybody's come back from 23 points or more they surely haven't wound in a five goal last quarter deficit. It felt stupid to stay, but I thought if I sat through Geelong beating us by 186 I could pay my respects to the death of our premiership defence in person. Last week fans voted to hear Zombie by the Cranberries at three-quarter time, and in the absence of any songs about violent civil disorder they should have played the theme from Poseidon Adventure.

We started the last quarter with Gillard in the ruck, which felt more like "let's see if we discover something for the future" than a tactic that might get us back into it but blow me down we went straight out of the middle for a goal. After mocking Pearce's goalkicking she pulled down a great mark, then did the sensible thing and dished it to a passing Hanks to finish. "Bit late for this" I thought, until Zanker whomped through a pair of set shots to cut the gap to 18 and our chances of winning were nudging just ahead of 'peace in the Middle East'.

It still needed three goals, but for the first time all day we were on top and finding space in attack. So the obvious turn of events was for Geelong to take a fortuitous mark in the square that seemingly ended it all again. In the end, it did, but not without a tremendous scare. After losing a few more minutes attacking as if drunk, we got the ball to Zanker for her third, and a minute later Mackin II was kicking a goal on the run to make the margin an even six points with a couple of minutes left.

I'd been reduced to watching the clock tick down on the AFL app, wondering how much of a lag there is between it and the real time remaining. Extra time would have done me nicely, not just for the novelty value of being there for the first time it's ever happened in a Melbourne game, and my life flashed before my eyes when Pearce grabbed the ball out of a ruck contest and ripped a snap that looked like it might go through - from my vantage point - for a millisecond. 

If my failing memory serves me correctly they had eight seconds to navigate and just got away with it. The ball was flying back towards our goal at the siren, but even though Gillard optimistically tried to claim a mark well after the siren I think she was helped by the defenders breaking off into celebration when they realised it was over. If we'd won it would have toppled coming from a shitload down in 2003 as my finest Princes Park moment, but instead I went home flat as a tack. Lucky the train across Royal Park got dismantled about 70 years ago or I'd have considered making contact with overhead wires.

Last time we ended a season this early it was at the hands of COVID-19, but at least that came after a win. So it's been a bit of a shambles, but let's agree that the pieces are there and just need to be arranged into a format that stands up all season against everyone. I appreciate the good times we had, but like watching the men all next year and thinking "yeah, but what are they going to do in the finals", I'm not going to be able to truly enjoy winning regular season AFLW games by any margin until we start winning finals again.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eliza West
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Eden Zanker
2 - Tyla Hanks
1 - Sinead Goldrick

Apologies to Purcell, B. Mackin and Paxman

Final results
How many years have I been doing this and only just realised you can't have a 'final leaderboard'. That's what I call post-straight sets clarity. Anyway, as there are now zero votes on offer may we offer a hearty congratulations to Tyla Hanks on her victory. After sharing the title with Olivia Purcell last year, this is her first outright victory. Paxy remains the boss, with five career titles.

No alterations in the minors, with Pearce winning her umpteenth consecutive ruck count, and Tahlia Gillard just holding off a last minute contest from Goldrick to take the award for defenders. No score in the Rising Star, so Aimee Mackin and Georgia Campbell can argue it amongst themselves but we'll be showing 'No qualified players' on the all-time leaderboard. The carryover mark for AFLW is three games, so Georgia Gall will be the only existing player to start next year eligible for the title.

34 - Tyla Hanks
29 - Kate Hore
15 - Lauren Pearce (WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Olivia Purcell
14 - Eden Zanker
11 - Blathin Mackin, Shelley Heath, Eliza West,
9 - Tahlia Gillard (WINNER: Defender of the Year)
8 - Sinead Goldrick
6 - Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman
5 - Alyssa Bannan
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
It would have been Pearce if that snap went through, but under the circumstances I'm going with Aimee Mackin's ice-cold finish in tense circumstances. Nobody would have blamed her for missing it - god knows the players who have grown up playing the game probably would have - but she gave us hope of pulling off the most ludicrous of all comebacks. Doesn't influence the overall result, so congratulations to the captain for holding on to win.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next year
Time to throw the baby out with the bathwater and try to change everything. Firstly, if the same conditions are there that almost had Paxy doing a post-flag runner to Perth for this season I wouldn't be surprised if it was on the cards again. If we can do the right thing for a legendary player and start to plan for the future at the same time it might work out for everyone. Otherwise the only first-choice players over 30 are Goldrick and Pearce, and they're not going anywhere so any other improvements are going to come via draft or trade.

From the risky suggestions department, are we sure Tayla Harris is a going concern? For all the free-scoring mayhem this year she kicked three goals and barely went near it in games that counted. I don't know if there's an injury problem, and don't doubt she can still play very good games but if you're all in on Zanker and Bannan for the future it might be a chance to improve elsewhere. Double on this if they like Gall and want her to play more senior games next year.

I'm assuming Watt retires, and without knowing contract statuses I'd suggest the majority of Fowler, Ivey, Johnson, Taylor, and Wilson will get the chop now that the real national draft is back. There's 'depth' and there's depth, so now that topping up with experienced players hasn't helped it's time to put some kids on the list and hope for the best. We're never going to have things as good as they've been over the first couple of 18 team seasons, but the pieces are definitely there to have another crack if we can fill in some of the gaps.

Final thoughts
I'm happy to take the piss out of us for losing finals left, right, and centre. Opposition fans can join in after submitting written acknowledgment of how good it was that we won a pair of flags first. Now I'm taking a long break from anything footy-related beyond trawling old newspapers for Demonwiki. See you in 2024 for M, W, and probably WTF.

Monday 13 November 2023

What a time to stop being alive

Just when you'd started to recover from the horrors of September, our worst finals performance of 2023 turns up out nowhere. This time we didn't kick ourselves out of a game, or lose in the dying seconds due to collective insanity, it was just a siren-to-siren munting by better prepared, significantly more up for it opposition. And in the week where they put all the names of members on a banner I'd like to apologise that we're now 0-2 since I joined.

Speaking of memberships, my kid won't care but I still haven't admitted to trading her membership for my cursed AFLW one. Junior was surprisingly keen to attend so I thought mentioning it would unnecessarily risk controversy. As far as a first final went it didn't give offer the same sort of inspiration that I got in 1989. In fact, after five minutes interest was lost to the point where the rest of the game was spent reading me facts from a Taylor Swift magazine and occasionally looking up to ask semi-relevant questions like "have we kicked a goal yet?" My response went from chuckling at the mad idea that we wouldn't get one, to nearly chucking shit as full time neared with us on 0.not much.

On the occasion of my second AFLW final I'm glad to see that it's traditional to make players stand arm-in-arm waiting for them to turn the top 40 tunes off. Last time it was the last song Madonna did before disappearing, this time I've got NFI what they were playing but just when you thought they were finally getting on with things somebody hit the wrong button and started playing Enter Sandman again. No wonder when the anthem started with an unusually zingy orchestral flourish I thought they'd accidentally played Austria.mp3.

Turns out it would have been better for us if they'd just played the radio for four quarters and decided the result via Rock, Paper, Scissors, because what followed made the shambolic pre-game events look like The Beatles at Shea Stadium. When you win 80% of the time the rest is going to come as a shock, but this was arguably our worst performance in W history. The last round of 2019 ended in a bigger loss, but we still hadn't played a final at that point. Now we've gone Prelim/Grand Final/Flag/top two, then into abject disarray against a side that was trampled a few weeks ago.

North are well-known for losing to the teams above them, but they're not the fourth pillar of The Good Teams for nothing. This might have been their finest moment, treating everything we did in the spirit of playing a mid-card mediocrity. The sad thing is that we didn't play badly for much of the game, it's just that the forward line suffered an Optus-style outage at Optus Oval, and after picking off our attacks with the greatest of ease North caught us out by flinging the ball back the other way at warp speed. If we'd converted anything in the first three quarters then maybe the conditions weren't there to be tormented on the counter.

If people went troppo over women's selection like they do the other stuff, then Eliza West getting the hook would have been controversial. I can see where they were coming from though, she gets a lot of it but is involved in more butchery than all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies combined. Maybe if she was involved it would have pissed about with the space-time continuum and we'd have won by lots but I don't see how 95% accumulation, 5% finesse would have helped on a day where the opposition had clearly done the same 'where will all the aimless kicks land?' studies as Brisbane.

My enjoyment of the first quarter wasn't helped by sitting at ground level. I don't care that this is how people did it for 150 years, it gives me the shits. We'd started in the stands before being driven out by a speaker that blasted everything at 350% volume like a jumbo jet taking off directly overhead. The ball coming straight towards us from the first bounce was a good sign, but North escaping without going close to conceding a score was not. Then when the ball got pinned at their end we couldn't extract it, eventually leading to an out of the arse snap into the wind. This kicked off a day where they kicked goals from every angle while we committed arson on forward entries and murder on set shots.

Like last week all over again we couldn't escape their pressure, leading to desperate kicks forward that usually landed with the opposition. They kept missing shots, including one politely from almost directly in front, but we couldn't do anything but thump the ball as far away from goal as possible and hope it didn't come back. But it did. What we needed was a repeat of the first game when they gave away a stupid 50 to get us going.

We'd come from behind against North once this year so even though we were wading knee-deep through quicksand it was only just over a goal the difference so the towel wasn't poised for throwing in yet. When Hanks won a holding the ball free near enough to right in front of me (related: that clip is probably approaching succulent Chinese meal levels of not needing the link) I thought a) this will get us going, and b) god I hope we get some kind of score for the quarter. It was a point, and a goal probably wouldn't have saved us, but from my perspective as good as level to the goalline bullshit it didn't fully cross the line before being touched. There was added confusion when the umpire signalled that it hit the post, but I watched this bit of the replay just to see if we got on camera (answer: no) and it bounced off the player into the opposite post. So if it was already touched before fully crossing the line then what does it matter if the post was involved?

Under the circumstances, it's a miracle that we got to quarter time just nine points down. This wasn't much more than their lead in the last meeting before we held North to two behinds for the rest of the game. So in two meetings this year they've gone goalless Q2-Q4 and we've done it Q1-Q3, so stand by for another pearler if we somehow get another crack at them in the Grand Final.

At this point, it was back to the stands, not just because of the reduced visibility but also somebody in front who was keen to talk to anyone. Not to mention an old man immediately to the right who had clearly only turned up because it was a final and was on the verge of sooking about the quality of the game as if he'd expected it to be North 1996 vs Melbourne 1964. I'm not defending the entertainment value of the first quarter (and the next three from our perspective), but once you've arrived at the ground carrying on about the standard is like going to the wrestling and carrying on about it being rigged.

The second term is what killed us, holding them to a handful of inside 50s but conceding the only goal and not scoring a cracker. Purcell turning a set shot into North nearly kicking a goal via yet another botched attempt at finding a forward target said everything you needed to know. I'm pinning all the blame on our forward entries. The defence might have crumbled under siege, but we had enough chances to get back into it. Even then it was only 15 points at the break, so if you were still a believer in us out-running teams then there was hope of making it interesting.

As much as I hated Harris starting the second half in the ruck and playing Pearce forward, it almost paid off when LP pulled down a mark right in front of goal after a minute. I haven't gotten over her missing from the top of the square against Adelaide last year and thought "this could go anywhere" shortly before it went anywhere but through the middle. So basically we gave up a ruck who can pick up contested possessions in the middle, and a forward who might be well down on her best this year but can take marks and kick goals.

That's when it got a bit perverse, with North kicking three quick goals to blow the margin out from 'unlikely' to 'bloody impossible'. It was approaching unmitigated fiasco territory midway through the last quarter when Hore finally pulled down a mark (or was it a free? I was losing the will to live by this point) directly in front, not far out and put it into the post. I'd have started flicking through the record books for the all-time lowest MFC scores if my kid hadn't captured the phone to play lo-fi games that would have looked shit on the Sega Master System. 

Fortunately North saved this team from being the first to go goalless since the 1956 Thirds by going into self-preservation mode long enough for Bannan to belatedly turn up. The way things were going I expected it to somehow end in us conceding at the other end but she converted, jumping us ahead of our previous lowest AFLW score. Her traditional frenzied post-goal celebration seemed a bit odd under the circumstances but I suppose when you've got the music in you etc... etc...

I'm not going to hold it against the North fans for going off their nut at the end, especially when heaps more of them turned up, but the guy doing on his feet whinging about the umpiring deep in the last quarter of a record-breaking thrashing could wind the siege mentality in a bit. 

All in all, it was one of the filthiest performances you'll ever see. I think there's a way back but not sure how far it will go before turning into a sheer drop from a cliff.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Olivia Purcell
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Sinead Goldrick

Apologies to Gay, McNamara and Paxman - just because the field in front of them was so thin.

Hopefully there's still 15 votes in this, but even if that's the case it will only prolong the Hanks vs Hore battle because everyone else is now officially stuffed. The captain reduced the gap by one, leaving the field open for any combination of final result between them. No change in the minors, with Goldrick narrowly eating into Gillard's lead, and nothing close to votes for A. Mackin or Campbell that would save the Rising Star. 

32 - Tyla Hanks
28 - Kate Hore
--- Done for ---
13 - Olivia Purcell
11 - Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Shelley Heath, Eden Zanker
9 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
7 - Sinead Goldrick
6 - Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
Get stuffed

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
No need to burn the place down yet, this may have been one of the great debacles but unless we regroup going out in straight sets could top it. Due to Channel 7's women's cricket commitments, there's no Friday game again, as if they don't have multiple other channels to put a footy game on. Great news for fans of Pie In The Sky, which couldn't be blown out of its timeslot on 7Two with explosives for something like an AFL final. 

To be fair a Friday game could only have been Adelaide vs Sydney, so an ancient repeat featuring Dr. Meinheimer from Naked Gun will probably rate better here. But that means they occupy Saturday night, and we're back to squinting in the sun at Princes Park from 3.05pm Sunday. And after waiting for years to play Geelong, it's a second game against them this year. Last time we withstood early stress to grind them into dust by the last quarter, but after this week it feels like if we're ever going to lose a final to a team outside the top four this could be it. Surely not, but the coaches will be up all night trying to find ways to look dangerous again.

The problem is that this is nearly our best side. Sherriff's mystery fracture has ended her year, and Lampard isn't going to be ready so what can you do except trust the survivors? I'm sure West will come back, and I'd prefer Wilson over Ivey, but otherwise for players who have appeared once this year you're down to Watt, Gall and Colvin - none of who are going to help if Geelong has reviewed the same tape of our forward entries. If they didn't have enough faith in Campbell to play her for a full game I suppose you could bring Watt back and park Harris inside 50 to try and create some sort of contest. Otherwise we're just going to have to hope that the players haven't entered a misery spiral and can secure a ticket in the Prelim lottery. Then it's back to Springfield and here's hoping for a better result than last time.

Final thoughts
We've nearly achieved a modified version of the famous 1996 Fitzroy banner. This time it's 'Broken by Brisbane, F'ed by North', and you can sit back and wait to see how the AFL completes the trifecta. 

Monday 6 November 2023

Red and Blue Alert

If it all goes tits up this year you can blame me for signing up as an AFLW member right before finals. When my daughter's renewal notice for the M arrived I realised that she wouldn't even notice if the money was redirected into causes under my name, then we almost immediately lost top spot and automatic Grand Final hosting rights. Sorry about that.

Losing our return trip to Premiership Alley wasn't the ideal way to end the home and away season, but as there's only four decent teams the season is probably just as likely to end in flag as it was last week. The good news is that we didn't also lose the McClelland Million, with St Kilda doing us a favour for the first time since not drafting Petracca and unexpectedly beating the Lions last week. After dropping to 1-2 against the other contenders there may be a few alpine activity-related accusations flying around, but while defeat may have cost us top spot it didn't make the coveted cash disintegrate like some bullshit cryptocurrency scam. 

Speaking of the white stuff, you can fret that this time might turn out to be downhill skiers but at least they're not engaging in Eric Clapton's 'no snow, no show' philosophy. I'm so far outside the target market for Pride Round that all I can do is offer a supportive thumbs up and genuinely wish everybody well, but if there was ever a year to celebrate other reasons to be proud they should have done half-half jumpers showing a negative drug test. 

Given that AFLW players are getting an average of $60,000 this year they're probably looking at the shenanigans on the other side and thinking "Drugs? We can't even afford food", so it's ironic that they played this as if under heavy sedation against opposition frothing to rip them apart like an outlaw motorcycle gang on bathtub speed.

In the end, as long as the trifecta of injury scares are resolved in the positive, does it really matter? Sure if we want to host the Grand Final, Adelaide needs to do their part of the Finals Bradbury Plan but we've got to get there first. Winning here would have made that easier, offering the closest thing to a Qualifying Final bye against Gold Coast. But even if we got through week one the easy way, we'd likely still have needed to beat one of the big hitters in a Prelim. I'll take the two guaranteed home finals and am happy to slay the dragon at *checks list of eligible SA venues* Norwood Oval if required.

Regardless of how much there was to play for, team selection still left me suspicious that we were comfortable gently gliding to the end of the season. I was all for Rhi Watt's record-setting debut in a throwaway game against dreck, but the logic of ditching Campbell here escapes me. She's still developing but has shown a bit this year, so pissfarting around with the ruck division a week from finals felt suss. Anything could be happening behind the scenes, but this + introducing Ivey for the first time since Round 3 last year was strange. All the best for her making a fairytale run to the flag but in a short season with no pre-finals bye I'd think you'd want pre-finals stability.

Just when you thought the drama was over, unexplained hamstring phenomena took Paxman out rogue canine style during the warm-up. Even at the tail end of a great career Paxy would be hard to replace at short notice, but the emergency reintroduction of green as grass tall forward Georgia Gall didn't do much for our structure. Maybe they knew we'd be bombing kicks towards defenders all night and thought she could help bring the ball to ground. Either that or the other emergencies had ducked over the road for a milkshake and couldn't be found.

In the same way we should never be allowed to lose at Perth Stadium again, it would have been nice to go unbeaten at Springfield forever, but Brisbane were so up for the contest that we might not have handled them with a full side. Craig Starcevich's old school motivational technique of showing players highlights of them losing the Grand Final. It obviously worked, but I hope old mate who was falsely awarded Tahlia Gillard's BOG medal realised how lucky she was that key defenders are constitutionally banned from winning AFL awards.

It's a shame we can't play the Lions again next week, because the niggle value of this game was so high that there's no way they'd have been able to recapture enough steam to do it again. They've got the coveted Round 10 Cup, and their players carried on like Footscray fans after beating us in 2022, as if one mid-season win erased the stain of playing the worst hour in the history of Grand Finals. If Brisbane go on to win the real thing I'll recognise that this was the start of something big, for now I'd like to read from the Book of Malthouse and say it was their Grand Final.

Just seeing a Melbourne side play at this ground gave me fond memories of the day we won the version. It doesn't look like much has changed since our original visit other than the locals kicking a competitive score. Seems like the brick wall of death in the right of screen forward pocket has almost entirely been covered up. Last year there were handy gaps at either end so you could slide across a wet ground and into a career-ending injury. Otherwise, it still looks a lot like Casey Fields North but with bonus Kardinia Park style train noises.

Now that you know the result, the opening minutes perfectly explained what was going to happen. We've had games that got better after a ropey start - including our other appearance at this venue - but Brisbane had us on the back foot from the first bounce. They were so dominant in the first quarter that we deserve some credit for recovering to get in front, except for the bit about not kicking another goal after.

Our backline has spent most of the year waiting for something to happen so it's probably good that they've been subjected to a pre-finals barrage. They held up well in one-on-ones, including Air Gillard flying through with spoils all over the place, but weight of numbers and inability to stop quick transitions got us eventually. When we finally escaped confined spaces and got the ball inside 50 it was plucked out of the air with the greatest of ease. Then, when Brisbane finally gave us a chance via a shizen handball in defence we turned two players running towards the loose ball into conceding at the other end.     

Thanks to Channel 7 you were lucky to know any of this was happening. I'll take up weapons to defend Jason Bennett but he should demand a trade after your home of finals warmed up by broadcasting like community television. The commentators clearly weren't there - as shown by a background during half-time that would have meant they were hovering in an airship - and they would have had all sorts of trouble calling off the screen while battling random, often transition-free zooms and picture freezes. No wonder there was so much awkward silence, they were probably slapping monitors and yelling "is this thing working?" away from the mic.

Our forward line fizzed, but they never got much of a chance to do anything with the rushed, panic kicks coming towards them. The start and end of the Adelaide game showed they can score against good sides if we can get the ball down there with some degree of poise. None of that was allowed here, and Brisbane knew exactly where to stand for our desperate kicks from packs. They kept dropping easy marks, we didn't have anyone close enough to take advantage. Then even after they lost time regathering, somebody was on their own for the next kick. This was not our night in any sense.

We were in serious danger of joining the scoreless first quarters list before snatching one against the run of play. Even with Sherriff kicking from close range at next to no angle I'll admit to having grave concerns about where it was going to end up. She made mockery of my inner-turmoil (and took advantage of a reverse mozz after her inaccuracy was mentioned on commentary) to make scores a whole lot more reasonable than they deserved to be. This was almost stuffed up by allowing the ball to get back into Brisbane's 50 in the dying seconds. We survived, then made up for it by conceding scores out the yin yang to end the next two quarters. 

But first, the 'maybe everything's going to turn out ok' revival. There was no serious wind involved (but unlike certain other venues they've been smart enough to build a structure behind one of the goals to stop Hurricane Bertha whipping through), but we turned the game around in the second quarter after finding some space. I was open to the idea of wearing them down like so many before, but in an extreme version of Adelaide there was no point running the game out better if you're a million points down.

The tide was turning in our direction. Even when Harris, who earlier nearly legally killed an opponent with a knee to the head in a marking contest, briefly seemed to have done her shoulder she cured herself with an overhead mark and goal. Good thing she came back, because we'd already lost Watt to concussion. Later Chaplin had to be assessed after another head knock, and Goldrick was hobbling around as if crocked. Shit time for an injury crisis.

We gave the goal back, but the game were turning in our favour. After being well held all night superstar mode was engaged when Hanks goalled, then Hore put through a snap from a weird angle and things were looking up. Until they weren't. After getting in the way of almost everything thrown at them until then, our defenders all missed a player standing alone in the square. It nearly got worse, in an attempt to reach half-time without further damage Bannan went behind the metaphorical ball, found herself with the actual ball, and was pinched for holding it. Just as I was doing my bit for all those "you don't get toxic male behaviour in AFLW" people by yelling obscenities they charitably missed an absolute sitter.

You'd like to stay that set up an exciting second half, but that would only be correct if you're a Brisbane fan. It might have turned out differently if Hore hadn't toepoked a loose ball in the square into the post. This indirectly led to Brisbane kicking two in quick succession and us getting none for the rest of the game. If there was anything that encapsulated our night, other than dump kicks falling straight into the arms of defenders, it was Purcell winning the ball from a contest, doing 95% of a fend-off but being caught at the last minute for holding the ball.

You can assign some of the blame to our reduced capacity side, but there were a few "can't play XYZ" every week performances. Zanker worked hard defensively but never looked like kicking a goal, Bannan may never have had a worse night, and under finals-like pressure West's already wayward kicking went to pieces. She's a great accumulator but should be named the league's first Designated Handballer and entirely banned from ever kicking. Meanwhile, without Watt we were back to playing Zanker and Hanks as second rucks. You can't factor in somebody being concussed, but if either of them do it next week in place of Campbell I'll spew up.

The umpiring was baffling, but when we were still in front after ludicrous decisions like the whistle going for a Mackin 'high tackle' (e.g. she was burrowed into) before the contact, you can't blame the decisions. We were just carrying too many fringe players to go one short for most of the game against ravenous opposition.

We were in deep shit late in the quarter, but within the range of a miracle comeback. Until they kicked the last two goals. It started with another late holding the ball, and finished with Heath being done for a dangerous tackle even after bringing player to ground without her head going close to contacting the turf. This made the points and double chance safe for Brisbane, even with one of their players ending the quarter bleeding like she'd severed the carotid artery.

Any chance of making Brisbane nervous died with another pair of intercept marks handed out like Christmas gifts. I'll take any opportunity to demand extra crumb but no point here because ball wasn't reaching ground often enough. We ran the game out much better - albeit against opposition who'd done what they needed to - but continued to attack as if drunk, completing our first goalless second half since that absolute shambles of a loss to St Kilda in 2020. The Lions didn't get one either but fat lot of good that was for us by now.

Even when we did have chances they were blown in novelty fashion. When Bannan snapped on the full it tempted me to look at her career stats to see proportion of damage done against good teams vs bad but I stopped before it made me sad. She was having such a bad run that even a kick off the ground in the square was called in danger. I'd argue that if there's a loose ball that close to goal you should know there's probably a boot in the vicinity and you dive towards it at own risk but it wouldn't have changed anything. 

It's our worse loss to them - and the only one that didn't end with a final score of 15 at Casey Fields - and means having to go back-to-back the hard way. So be it. Once the flag is in the bank we'll look back and laugh at the joy they took beating us here.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore 
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Tahlia Gillard
2 - Tayla Harris
1 - Libby Birch

Apologies to Goldrick, Hanks, Mackin, Purcell and Zanker.

And just like that's it's on again. With somewhere between 10 and 20 votes in the tank, the captain is within striking range again. As for everyone on eight votes or less, better luck next year. In more important news, the Defender of the Year committee has met and rule Blaithin Mackin is not eligible, which is tremendous news for Gillard fanatics everywhere as she has inherited the lead. Pearce is even more provisionally your ruck champion again, and it's looking like a blank year for the Rising Star.

28 - Tyla Hanks
23 - Kate Hore
--- Needs four finals ---
11 - Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Eden Zanker
10 - Olivia Purcell
9 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
6 - Sinead Goldrick, Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
It's got to be Hore from the pocket in the second quarter, just when everything looked to be turning our way and that we wouldn't concede another goal for the season. It was all a bit of a letdown after that. No change to the overall leaderboard. 

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
It's back to Fortress Princes Park to play the only top four side we've beaten this year. What could possibly go wrong? After an early scare we did North surprisingly easily last time, but I'm not taking a repeat for granted. If all of Chaplin, Goldrick and Harris survive, and we get some of Paxman, Mackin and Gay back (+ Campbell for Watt as the enforced change) then I would certainly expect to win. For god's sake I've had enough of losing finals this calendar year so let's at least get through this one, no matter how much toil and struggle it requires, then take our chances in a Prelim.

For some reason, we're playing at 3.05pm Sunday, even though there's no game scheduled on Friday. Remember the bit where I suggested tying a longer season to viewing metrics was a swizz?

Final thoughts
At least now there's no case for the league forcibly breaking us up. Which is something.

Monday 30 October 2023

Answer blows in wind

Due to being old and tired I was pleased to hand over the keys for this week to returning guest reporter Craig so he could do the game justice for the historical record. Then after all the woe is me self-pity about the season wearing me out the first thing I read is that he went from the northern suburbs to Casey via public transport, and as a resident of the far north let me tell you this is somewhere between commendable and worthy of instant life membership. Anything you read after this in italics is me, otherwise take it away Craig! 

Due to my current, albeit temporary, living arrangements I am located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Combined with attending all AFLW matches via public transport, the journey to and from Casey is quite an epic of connections and potential complications. Fortunately the earlier time of 1.05pm, as opposed to 3:05pm in our previous Casey games this season, meant arriving home on the same date I left. It did mean leaving before sunrise, but at least it gave me time to get some reading in.

Enough of my complaining (it's never stopped me before - editor), but it does say something about this team that I'm prepared to regularly spend around three hours each way travelling to watch them play about 80 minutes of football. Then there's the wind. Before the Adelaide game someone on Demonland asked for advice as a newbie visiting Casey and the first reply was "don't wear a toupee". Given how windy it was in the central suburbs, it was with some trepidation that I headed to the game, wondering what it would be like today when still days elsewhere usually mean a gale at Casey.

The conditions weren't too bad by Casey standards. That's not saying much but it has been worse. However, rather than the usual diagonal wind blowing across the ground from roughly half back to half forward, this was close to directly down the southern end, just a little off to the eastern pocket. Oddly enough, the only other game I can recalled this orientation presenting was also against Freo, in the 2021 Qualifying Final (Confirmed - I spent the whole review whinging about it). 

The breeze was of sufficient strength to mean the banner couldn't be raised, which was disappointing for two reasons. Firstly it meant no large, visual acknowledgement of Shelley Heath's 50th game, though the two-deep honour guard that stretched from the player's race halfway to the centre square compensated somewhat.  And secondly, for the dozen players (Hore, Hanks, Bannan, and Harris included), who of their own volition with no prompting from the club spent an evening with the cheer squad helping put the banner together for the second year running. You have to love this team.

This week's late withdrawal/mystery injury was Maddie Gay, who apparently reported some hammy soreness after Thursday training. So, with the non-returns of Tayla Harris, Gaby Colvin and Aimee Mackin, and with Sarah Lampard still a couple of weeks away, Georgia Gall was given her debut.

Freo won the toss and predictably kicked with the wind. The game started as it so often does for this team, quickly conceding a goal. For a side with such a fantastic defensive record it's amazing how often this happens. We soon had the ball camped in our forward line but it was obvious that with force 10 gales blowing in our faces scoring would be difficult. One attempted pass from Hanks to Purcell was perfectly on target, only to be blown five meters off course. Who else but Hanks herself stepped up with a bit of magic to open our account. It wasn't quite on the scale of the goal against the Kangas last week, but effective nonetheless. It was the last for either side before quarter time, but despite trailing by a point at the change I wasn't in the least concerned, knowing we'd done a good job keeping them to just one with the wind. 

Maybe I should have been a little worried. Despite dominating play, and the ball barely leaving our attacking 50 except to be taken back to the centre for a bounce, we blazed away with the wind, kicking 3.7 in the first 12 minutes of the quarter. This included an inspired burst of five behinds in two and a half minutes. The goals came via Zanker running onto a great tap from Pearce, and left foot snaps from congestion by Paxman and West. In the rush, Hore, Zanker and Purcell all missed snaps I'm sure they would have loved to had again (Or on a ground that's doesn't play like you're kicking directly into Cyclone Tracy). At the end Freo rushed the ball forward to an open forward line, where Wilson found herself mismatched in a foot race with a player half her size but twice her speed. Bang, Freo had gotten one back.

Speaking of Wilson, never mind other clubs going after the likes of Hore, Hanks and Zanker, you would think there is a greater danger of losing players like her. She has played eight games over the last two seasons, done all that has been asked of her, and hardly put a foot wrong but gets dropped as soon as established players recover from injury.  She'd be getting a game each week in any other team and is the player you'd think opposition recruiting officers would be targeting.

A half time lead of 18 was a little disappointing given our second quarter ascendancy.  The third started well, with territorial dominance culminating with a Kate Hore toe-poke at pace in the goal square for the first of the quarter.  Then devolved into a partial replay of the second.  Despite kicking into the wind we had the ball locked in our forward 50, but unlike the last quarter we couldn't score. Multiple opportunities weren't taken, until Freo finally got it away and were rewarded with a rough holding the ball against Goldrick right in front. They missed, so we'd again only lost the quarter by a point into the wind. On the face of it pretty good but could have been so much better.

Also worth mentioning from the third quarter was 50th gamer Shelley Heath standing her ground for a mark and being poleaxed by somebody twice her size (which is just about every player in the comp) charging through. She is tougher than nails so immediately sprung to her feet and took off, accepting the 50 metre penalty as if nothing had happened. 

The fourth quarter was rinse and repeat (Thank you again for doing this Craig, I was watching it wondering how I'd fill even a short report unless somebody went off chops again like the West Coast coach), with all the play in our forward line for no meaningful reward until Blaithin Mackin produced a great snap from distance 10 minutes again. Again, Freo got a quick reply and negated our long period of attacking. Fortunately we finished with two more goals, one to Hore after quick ball movement that left her level with Zanker on the competition goalkicking table, then one from an Edo set shot that put her back in front. It left her the first player to kick twenty goals in an AFLW H&A season, still with a round to play. So in the end a 33 point win.

I'm glad our Casey visits are over for this year, assuming any home finals will be at Princes Park (They had better be, playing any more finals at this paddock would be bringing the sport into disrepute). Never mind the wind, and the fact that it's virtually in Gippsland, you could argue that we've had our three worst performances of the year there, the loss to Adelaide and two scrappy wins over the struggling Dogs and Dockers. Our skill and superior ball movement superiority relative to other teams is less of an advantage when the wind is playing havoc and can reward a kick and hope game style more than it should.  We generally rise above it but it's just another argument against Casey.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Paxy Paxman
4 - Lauren Pearce
3 - Sinead Goldrick
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Tahlia Gillard

Apologies to Mackin, Hore, McNamara, Zanker, and West.

With an absolute maximum of 25 votes left if we go to the Grand Final the long way it's time for the dreaded dotted line to start eliminating contenders. It will be almost impossible for Hanks to lose from here but I'm not calling it yet. However, I think we can be pretty sure that Pearce has got the ruck award in the bank.

28 - Tyla Hanks
19 - Kate Hore
11 - Blathin Mackin (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Eden Zanker
10 - Olivia Purcell
9 - Shelley Heath
7 - Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year)
6 - Tahlia Gillard, Sinead Goldrick, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Sarah Lampard
--- Abandon all hope below here ---
2 - Lily Mithen

Goal of the Week
This week goes to Blaithin Mackin's fourth quarter effort, showing several of her teammates who've been playing the game years longer how you snap around the corner from distance. I don't know if it would dislodge any of the current top three so I’ll leave that decision to your regular correspondent.

(It does not. Existing leaderboard stands)

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next Week
Our final home and away game is against the Lions at Springfield (or to use its official name - Premiership Alley), which was going to be the top spot/home finals/$1 million mega match before Brisbane's stumble against St Kilda and Collingwood's loss to Sydney wrapped up the McClelland Trophy. It means the club gets a cool mil, with half split between the men's and women's teams. That means relative to their actual salaries the women will get a nice little earner and the men chicken feed.  And I can't say that bothers me one little bit.

Final thoughts
Thank you again to Craig for coming off the bench. You are welcome back any time, and I would encourage the club to use a slice of their newfound mil to buy you a yearly myki. Hopefully this break will propel me to great things for the rest of the season, ending in flat out back-to-back flag carnage whether in Melbourne or Adelaide. Let the games begin. 

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Keeping the standards up

It's getting to the point where the women might apply to play out the year as Narrm to distance themselves from the men. Just as all the finals and trade distractions ended and gave us the chance to focus on a prime-time, top of the table AFLW clash between premiership contenders all the focus went to the crossing of the Joel Smith Line and it was back to square one.

Enthusiasts knew where to look for a side that's won as many AFL-branded premierships with 0% of the drug furore, and unusually for a Melbourne home game that was Princes Park. Apologies if you live in Clyde, but playing games at grounds with a seating capacity above double figures is a good thing. Also, even if it means paying rent to Carlton we've never lost in seven starts there, including a pair of finals. After kicking her entire career goal tally to the left of screen there I know Georgia Campbell is with me, and Shelley Heath will be happy to go there every second week and tag superstars of the competition into the ground. 

Basically what I'm saying, and please don't write into the club to complain like somebody once did when I still had life force to do spicy, controversial tweets, is that Casey can GAGF with extreme prejudice. We've won a lot there, but we've won a lot everywhere except Adelaide Oval and Alice Springs. This is only partly self-interest about Parkville being half the distance from my house than Casey, we've got a side on a run of sustained success that will probably never be repeated, they deserve to play somewhere with at least two sides. The crowd here was only 800 more than against an interstate club at the other place but looked infinitely more professional. There's a time and place for games in local parks, and this wasn't it.

Our cherished (?) unbeaten record at the ground looked shaky 13 minutes into the first quarter on Saturday night. With North two goals up [EDIT - We actually got our first goal after theirs, but I'll leave this intact as a reminder to myself in the future how frazzled I was by late October 2023] , and our attack in full Can't Play XYZ Every Week mode the danger of consecutive defeats against other sides was real, with another to come in the last round. There are too many good teams at the very top of the ladder to ever assume we ever had flag in the bag, but this would have left us in the frame to visit either Adelaide or Brisbane for the first final and the other in a Prelim. After what happened about six weeks ago I can't face another round of people trying to engineer the ladder to keep us in Victoria so the best thing to do is just keep winning.

Just as things were getting wobbly we discovered the old-school AFLW method of blanketing opposition until they're a gibbering wreck. That's where things went wrong against the Crows, instead of jumping to a lead and trying to run them down in a relatively high scoring game we'd have done better in a 25-20 slopfest. From that high point, North didn't score a cracker until the last minute, avoiding the surely unprecedented 'feat' of going scoreless across the last three quarters. Like a certain other red and blue outfit who have recently been in the news, no point being a great defensive side if there's nobody making it count at the other end. 

It took me until about halfway through the third quarter to appreciate that we were the better side and it would probably stay that way, because I'd gone in worried about the implications of losing and the first quarter didn't do much to help. In contrast to a men's season where there were so many weird results that the near-miss of a GWS vs Carlton Grand Final doesn't seem all that bizarre, there's as much chance of a side outside the AFLW top four saluting as there is of cycling across the Atlantic Ocean. Effortless dismantling of the dregs was good fun and great for percentage but we needed to be reminded that the best sides were beatable before playing them again when it matters most. 

Even if she's not at peak goalscoring form, the ongoing absence of Tayla Harris was worrying. Then we had to dip into our questionable depth with a pair of late changes, and I went in lightly panicking about being undone in a crucial game. For once it's not all about ladder position either, because the reincarnated McClelland Trophy is decided on combined AFL/W performance and comes with a million dollar cheque. The players get half the cash, and the way some of the men are going I expect their share will be managed by trustees Britney Spears style. 

For all the weird shit they've done since, the men did their share of the work with a reasonable home and away finish, now they need to sit back (and please, do stay home gentlemen) and hope we outlast Brisbane and Collingwood. Surely it's no coincidence that we're playing the Lions in the last round of the home and away season, offering great "who's going to get the money?" content involving lots of people who were playing for a hot dog and a handshake in the league's early years.

I'm still mentally in the era where we were asked to throw money in a bucket to stave off insolvency, so automatically thought about the money when the Lions were involved in a thrilling finish with Adelaide in an earlier game. The bit about the highest finishing side hosting the Grand Final slipped my mind while I was doing Bradbury Plan calculations on how we'd still get a home final AND a mil if the Crows finished top. As usual they didn't do us any favours, meaning that while Brisbane's percentage likely means they'll finish behind us on this ladder no matter what, the big bucks will likely still be on the line in our Round 10 return to Springfield. 

The result of Adelaide/North next week will be important in making sure we get one of the home final or Tattslotto jackpot, if not both. Normal people don't concern themselves with this sort of stuff, which is why the AFL website doesn't even bother carrying an updated McClelland leaderboard. Their ladder page does carry a link to 'AFL Preseason', even though that hasn't had a ladder since about 2001. Good stuff.

I'll excuse the CEO for having other things to worry about at the moment (although, was that who the cameras cut to sinking a glass of red in the stands?) but the Chief Financial Officer must have been going through their worst post-premiership agony when we were two goals behind. Our excuse for the first was the umpire missing disposal so illegal that it should have had a lawyer. That was a blow considering it was already clear that we wouldn't be teeing off on North like everyone else, but the second was self-inflicted. A long, hopeful kick to the square should have easily been chopped off but two defenders misread the flight, went to spoil the lone forward in the area, and watched it fly over their head.

The only reason I mention that Gillard was responsible for that goal is because the rest of her game was at the same level as the day she was RORTED out of the BOG medal in the Grand Final. It's not easy to show how good you are as a key defender when the ball is at the other end for most of the game, but given the job of stopping a real-life contending forward line she either spoiled or intercepted everything that came her way. Sometimes I worry that we don't have any promising young players waiting in the wings, then I remember that a lot of the Rising Stars have already risen. Gillard is 19, Bannan is 21, Hanks, Purcell and Zanker are 23, and only three players here are over 30.

We haven't got much of a fringe, but the less-celebrated players certainly stepped up here. Our record for disposals in one AFLW game is 32 (I'm glad you asked, the answer is Olivia Purcell in R8 last season), and as Charlotte Wilson now has a total of 37 in seven appearances even she'd probably admit to being spare parts but played as good a four touch game in defence as you'll get. See also Georgia Campbell, whose only kick was from a free but is developing nicely while Pearce is still around. Also, I'm incredibly biased towards Maeve Chaplin because of her elite post-premiership celebrating, but she may have finished off late-withdrawal Gabby Colvin.

At the other end of the star-studded card, Tyla Hanks is tremendous. The neck-and-neck race with Kate Hore to be our most important player was blown to pieces on Saturday night. Hore is great, Hanks is even better. For all the whinging about how we kept our list together while everybody else was torn apart by expansion, we nailed our draft picks in the early years of the competition. Other than the top players the inaugural draft looks a bit ropey now (although what about the value of Mithen and Lampard at picks that add up to 221?) but we followed up Zanker in 2017, Hanks in 2018, Birch via flogging all our picks in 2019, Bannan in 2020. Then we got Harris practically free from Carlton the next year and were even more off to the races than before.

List management triumphs aside, we were in deep shit here until North charitably helped get us going with a needless 50. Darren Crocker doesn't look any different than when we gifted him a caretaker win by furious tanking in 2009, but if he didn't have hair to pull out I'm surprised it didn't end in his bald scalp pouring blood from being torn at anyway. Even at our worst we've always found a goal somewhere, but the early signs were that we'd struggle to score so this was an own-goal of epic proportions. Maybe we'd have started slowly then gone over the top like an invading army again like the Collingwood game, but this certainly helped.

The gift was delivered to Casey Sherriff, who could do with a freebie after toiling away forward all year for not much return. I'm too tactically dense to understand if there's an important role being played, but I'm prepared to accept it even without a Stinear Math presentation to explain, but at the same time you've got to hit the scoreboard eventually or crumb fanatics might start asking whether we could find somebody else who's more likely to pluck goals from unexpected places.

It's simplistic to say that goal changed everything, but you can argue a connection to North nearly failing to score again. For the first time in a bag-laden season (in all senses of the word) we spread the goals around. I thought it must have been a while since we had all single goalkickers, then found out it last happened in the Prelim. Still, after the Zanker vs The World effort against Adelaide it's good to know we don't need her, Hore, or Bannan to go bananas to beat top sides.

After tormenting a bunch of glorified amateurs last week, the only time Banno got near it here was a fend-off/spin combo that literally turned into a holding the ball tackle, but our other peak forwards got their share. When Hore pulled down a fine contested mark in front of goal early in the second it didn't seem right to be taking the lead. If you ignore the obvious point about the game not going the same way etc.. etc... turns out that one point lead would have been good enough for a draw.

Things got a bit weird for the next goal, with what seemed like and was commentated as a mysterious ruck free to Campbell. At the time I thought it was a fair balance for the umpires missing the massive drop/throw for North's first, but was confused when the match statistics arrived and Campbell hadn't been credited with a free. Just when I thought I'd exposed Champion Data's business, wiser viewers pointed out that it was actually the slightest of downfield frees for Purcell being held off the ball. 

Now that I see a replay, yes indeed she was being ejected from the contest with what seems like a rugby tackle so fair enough. The commentators completely were no help explaining this, but they also spent half the night calling Fitzsimon 'Fitzsimons' like no lessons were learned from Trengove/Trengrove. 

The half time lead was only nine so we were still in 'anything could happen' mode before Hanks kicked off the second half by bursting through a pack like Sonic The Hedgehog, then turning all the opposition players around her into dust before kicking it on the outside of her boot. 

My local Bunnings has a plaque to commemorate being opened by Tony Shaw (recently revealed to have accidentally sent a picture of his snag to an innocent party in 1989), by the time Tyla is finished the one she worked at will have her picture 20 foot high on the outside. Unlike certain other bulk possession winning premiership winning midfielders associated with this club I'm positive we can get to that point without a raft of scandals and public bust-ups.

It's not that North gave up after this, we just treated them like somebody holding a ball just out of reach of a small dog. I don't think they knew how the margin had blown out this far, It didn't get much worse, the next quarter and a half was largely played in the middle with no more goals kicked until Zanker bunged one through at the end to keep the ColemanW race interesting. The Roos were already well out of time by then, but it was a nice exclamation mark. 

Now the focus was on our beloved Shutdown Watch, after getting back into the goalless last quarter game against the Eagles, this was a chance to keep North entirely scoreless in the fourth in the same style as the 2022 Spring (never Season 7) Prelim. We achieved a 15th goal free quarter in 16 starts. That's equivalent to the entire MFC careers of Mitch Clark and Shane Valenti, which is probably not the measurement this team is comparing with but seems pretty interesting to me. Though to be fair, I am writing this at 4am which explains a lot.

Regrettably the full shutout was not achieved, as they shambled through a hopeful long behind in the last 30 seconds. There's a couple of Demonwiki pages that have gotten so long the system won't let me edit them anymore (hence the split of Unknown Players into multiple pages, with Tribunal results to follow now that it crashes whenever I try to add the newly discovered 'Rod Grinter slaps somebody in the '92 Reserves Prelim' incident), and the way this team is adding to the scoreless fourth quarters list I'm concerned/delighted that it may be heading down the same path. The tally remains 15 since 2007, so please refer to earlier obscure Clark/Valenti comparison again.

Even before assuming results next week went as expected this already nearly made sure of a top four finish, then Essendon imploded against West Coast (who must have been inspired by their coach going off like a pork chop last week) and we're now two games and 160 percentage points clear of fifth. That means playing out the rest of the season to answer the question of 'who' and 'where'. If the answer to question B) is 'the state of Victoria', here's to it being at Princes Park and not Mt. Variable Weather. I'm open to keeping our winning streak at the ground - dating back to ruining Carlton's going away in 2005 - rolling through three more finals, at which point we should be given rights to the ground in the same fashion as Brazil being given the original World Cup for good after winning it three times.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Tyla Hanks
4 - Blaithin Mackin
3 - Tahlia Gillard
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Olivia Purcell

Apologies to Pearce, Mithen, Hore, Sherriff, and Wilson.

When Ron Barassi said "you give me possessions and I'll shut up" he was setting the criteria for every award in the game. Hore does heaps from one end of the ground to the other but Hanks gets a shitloads of touches and bulldozes through clearances for fun so she was probably always going to finish in front by the end of the year. There's a reason why in more than 25 combined leaderboards between men and women we've had about two non-midfield winners, and one of them was a ruckman. 

On the men's side you can justify that by the many years when our forwards couldn't get near it, and defenders were regularly losing the will to live after watching the ball go over their head all day. In W-Land it's almost been the opposite, until this year we've never been a high scoring side, but have won so much that the defenders don't have to do a massive amount of work.  

There's still a maximum of 30 votes left, but while you never know, in this case you probably do and we may be naming a provisional winner next week. There's no movement in the minors, but Original Recipe Mackin is firming up her controversial DOTY campaign. Still no votes in Rookie of the Year, so unless Campbell gets in first then Mackin II is still a chance of creating the first sibling winners in Demonblog history. Votes have always been handed out in an unbiased, non-storyline driven fashion but I'd secretly love that to happen. 

28 - Tyla Hanks
19 - Kate Hore
11 - Blathin Mackin (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Eden Zanker
10 - Olivia Purcell
9 - Shelley Heath
6 - Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan, Tahlia Gillard
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Sinead Goldrick, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Ruck of the Year)
1 - Paxy Paxman

Goal of the Week 
It can't be anything other than Hanks barging through the pack, selling more dummies than Baby Bunting and leaving several North players considering their future in the game. I enjoyed it so much that it's going into the top three. 

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Tyla Hanks (Q3) vs North Melbourne

Next week
One week at a ground with sides is enough, back to Casey to play Freo on Saturday. Remember when they were ripped off out of a flag by the cancellation of 2021? Whatever happened next hasn't been kind to them. If the state of West Coast is anything to go by, losing players to them can't have done much damage. Can't be easy for Perth teams to fly all the way across the country then arrive and realise they've still got to get to Cranbourne. May as well divert the plane to Tooradin Airport and take your chances with an emergency landing.

If Harris and Lampard return as expected (EDIT - I must have missed the bit where Lampard is out 2-4 weeks with a fracture wrist, so that's not happening) we'll be winding up for finals nicely, and while they're probably the last of the mid-table mediocrities before you get into the absolute slop we should win without too much drama. If the wind affects the quality of the game in any way I'll see you back here afterwards for more hanging shit on playing in Cranbourne.

Administrative announcements
I could do with a pre-finals bye, so if you're super-keen on joining the team and want to do a guest report for next week let me know. You get to hand out votes, declare the Goal of the Week winner, and even provide balanced pro-Casey coverage if that's your thing. And at the point where I'm saying I need a rest, remind me sometime in December that I want to do a countdown of all our W games from Flag (hopefully occupying the top two spots once this year is over) right down to that time Adelaide beat us by 10 goals. 

Speaking of December, with Christmas coming, why not stuff somebody's sock with one book or another?

Final Thoughts
Two quarters of looking helpless against the Crows shook my faith but this result has reinvigorated me. By the time we leave Springfield in the last round (potentially to return to Premiership Alley the following week if results leave us with an away final against the Lions) I might be back into a misery death spiral, but for now I'm a believer that back-to-back is possible again, and that's all you can ask for. 

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Banno goes boonta in b-team beatdown

Welcome to another big week of nobody paying attention to a really good team because we were too busy trading some men, fishing another out of hospital, and blowing up the AFL Tables servers trying to work out who Tom Fullarton is. I don't know if there's a good time to balance clear air for AFLW and not killing the players in the middle of summer, but it's a touch NQR that the season will have three home and away games left by the time all the other competition's newsworthy distractions are over.

It doesn't help the build-up when you're playing another of the many dreadful sides, but if there was ever a day for West Coast to score more than seven points against us this was it. A raft of injuries (some qualifying under the 'good week for a rest' rule), +30 degree temperatures on a ground with about 2% shade cover, and the recent disappointment of losing our first game in a year had us primed for a... not as big as expected win. The Eagles certainly weren't going to beat us without something insane happening, but you could make a case for it staying interesting a lot longer than the other times we've brutalised them.

To their credit (he says switching to a deeply patronising tone) they reached half-time near enough to keep open the prospect of the biggest upset of all time. We might have had a shitload more injuries, several players could have collapsed from heatstroke during the last quarter, you never know. Then the 'no goals in the last quarter' count was reset to one, and extended to the opposition not scoring a cracker for the entire second half, on a day where they only have nine inside 50s. You can't tell anything from a high inside 50 count, but when it lands in single digits you have - in the end - had a shit one no matter how solid the supporting effort. 

The absence of Tayla Harris and Lauren Pearce was a win for stats nerds everywhere, as Rhi Watt lost her chance to be the only two-time leadership group member never to play a game, but gained the title of oldest MFC debutant of all time. At just shy of 36 she easily vaults Laura Duryea for the AFLW record, and finishes over a year ahead of ex-North man, and later Australian Football Hall of Famer, John Lewis for the combined club record. Put that on a t-shirt. John's great grandson played for West Coast, Rhiannon's great grandchildren may be around to see their women's side achieve respectability.

After narrowly missing a 100 point win against Freo (who, to be fair, had been walloped by COVID protocols) two years ago, I was open to the idea of going 12+ points better against the alternative but tempered my expectations based on raft of changes, and weather that may as well have been the Kalahari Desert compared to Casey. A nice, comfortable win without injuries or suspension would have done me well into the third quarter. Then as the score started to tick up I got bloodlust and wanted to pile unnecessary misery on players who were probably hoping somebody would throw the towel in and f or them. 

The secessionists love playing air raid sirens at the start of quarters, and what better day than when you're likely to be under fire from start to finish. When they unexpectedly went straight out of the middle and kicked into the heart of forward 50 I'd have been more nervous if it didn't land in the arms of a defender without an opponent in the same area code. Like a sadder version of the start against GWS, it was false hope for the scattered home crowd. They knew it was the equivalent of if Luxembourg had fired the first shot in World War II. They were quite efficient in scoring from their remaining inside 50s, with two goals from seven attempts. 

On every measure other than the scoreboard we were better between that mark and the first goal, but the interim was a bit rough. The Eagles tried their best not to be thrashed, at the cost of looking a chance to go one better than last time and become the first team to score nil. The effort was there, and you knew we'd break through eventually but for now it lacked clear cut chances. 

At least we had the commentary stylings of 'Scoey', who not only reminds you of a fringe Simpsons character but has perfected the world-weary, 'pretending to love the game but sounding like he doesn’t want to be there' attitude of Gerard Healy. This is the same person who thought we had mental scars from the 2018 Prelim shortly before humping Geelong by a huge margin, so I assume Tim Ruffles was busy.

There wasn't any saving this game for spectacle enthusiasts, but those of us who clutch to anything red and blue like our lives depend on it needed a spark. Enter Alyssa Bannan, about to take her turn on the rotating 'five goals in a game' showcase. First Hore equalled Daisy’s club record in Canberra, then Zanker at Casey, now Banno has done it somewhere that doesn’t start with C. If last week was anything to go by, good teams have realised that you can't let her run out the back and into an open goal. For obvious reasons the Eagles were unable to implement that strategy, twice standing around like Wile E. Coyote being passed by the Road Runner in a cloud of dust.

Unlike unbeaten premiership favourites Adelaide, the Eagles not only scored in the opening quarter but got full points. Sure it came gift-wrapped from a 50 but better to make charitable contributions than risk the AFL kidnapping half our list (and if this happens may I suggest the bottom half) to distribute around the country. Normal service resumed with Bannan proving her versatility by booting a set shot as well, and no damage was done from gifting them a goal. 

There was already a less than 0.01% chance of being caught from three goals to one in front but we lobbed in a fourth just to make sure of it. While her sister was busy hoovering up kicks off the half-back line, new cult favourite Aimee Mackin was busy causing carnage inside 50. After a near miss where she don't argued one opponent with contempt, had a bounce, then booted it straight out on the full, her long-awaited first goal finally came from a spot of goalsquare crumb that furthers the theory that we should be recruiting the Irish as early as possible and training them into a race of superplayers. 

At 26-years-old there's plenty of time for Mackin to either a) polish her game, become the most exciting forward in the league, and be part of the first sibling life member combination since the Febeys, b) have the excitement coached out of her, or c) lose interest and concentrate on dominating the Gaelic game instead. There was a centering kick from the boundary line that would make recruiters fall off their chair if done by a prospective draftee. The next step is doing this against the good teams she is already providing terrific entertainment value.

The only thing that was going to stop us winning now was direct nuclear strike, so I took the opportunity to spend the second quarter cooking dinner. Still watching, but with the sizzling commentary replaced by sizzling frypan. I'm sure some excellent audio content was missed, because the footy didn't have much going for it. We spent the whole quarter thumping away at their end for a measly by our standards 0.2, while West Coast nearly went a full quarter without going inside 50 once. Once they did our defenders were so surprised that they conceded a mark/goal, and somehow we'd lost the quarter. 

This was the AFLW equivalent of the day we held Footscray to two points in the third quarter and still lost by 98. That not only made the margin a respectable 15 points, but reopened the prospect of events with the rarity of Haley's Comet conspiring to beat us. Or we could kick the next 55 points unanswered. Which was nice.

You could be excused for feeling a little bad for the Eagles when they followed up an arguably heroic defensive effort by leaking a goal less than a minute after the restart. That must have been a touch deflating, because they curled up in a ball for protection and suffered two full quarters of one of the greatest bombardments in competition history. We've scored more twice this year, but neither with as many scoring shots. This was brutal. Unless they were in the shady, CIA interrogation centre style building at the right of screen I don't know where the bulk of the alleged 1200 crowd were hiding, but local fans deserved a medal for commitment.  

Despite a level of domination and control that skirted the boundaries of legality, we went several minutes without a goal after Bannan entered 'on the verge of a bag' territory with her fourth. I was absolutely convinced that she was going to plow past Daisy's record and finish with about eight. Sadly not, but a pair of late goals carried the margin to 46. I'd have taken this as the final margin at half time, but now that rampage was in the air I went into full sicko mode and wanted us to kick 10 goals to nil.

Not surprisingly, players who'd just spent three quarters going full pelt in the heat were more open to energy conservation. In any other conditions it might have got really ugly, but at the same time this is a rare scenario where you can say "they'd have won by more if they kicked straighter". It doesn't work in a 50/50 game, but when it's almost certain the ball would have been back at our end seconds later it could have turned into a conveyor belt of carnage.

In the conditions, I don't hold it against the players for running the clock down in Harlem Globetrotters mode, turning the endless stream of marks inside 50 into an excuse to chip the ball to players in better positions while Eagles defenders trailed behind with their tongues hanging out like neckties, begging for mercy. When Mithen set up Hore's first, the opposition must have seen their life flash before their eyes. We got two more, including Bannan's fifth, but spent the last few minutes gleefully spraying shots like a training session. One day they'll be better than us, but the good news is I'll probably have carked it from old age first.

Like letting the kids occasionally beat you at video games, we tried to encourage them to score something by finishing with Gillard and Birch on the bench. Didn't help, but I expect our coaching group to be jointly nominated for the AFL Community Award for effort.  

Bannan should have kicked for a club record-breaking sixth after the siren, but hit the deck with what thankfully turned out to be cramp and donated the shot to her captain's leading goalkicker campaign. I'm not sure cramp counts as an injury that you can decline a set shot for, especially when you not only stay on the ground, but stand practically next to the person kicking it. Even if you're not doing the old James Manson scam, try this in a close game and see what happens.

Hore missed anyway, probably because she looked over at Banno during the run-up and thought "what are you doing here?" That made it an even 70 points, and a warmer than usual chapter in our glittering history of thumping those less fortunate than us. Which is great, but unless it ends in beating good sides you're basically Geelong 2012-2021.   

Obviously the West Coast coach is not a believer in a) learning from the best, or b) retaining his dignity, because he had a very enjoyable post-match sook about having to play us. 

It can't be easy going into a game knowing you'll be thrashed (and didn't the bold, scrolling NO WINS graphic on Saturday night give me nightmare flashbacks to the Mark Neeld era) but forget the first half noble effort of an outmatched side that's won seven games in five seasons, the real enemy is fixturing.

Please appreciate the gentle and patient way author Nathan Schmook highlights the false claims about where the Eagles finished last season. If Tom Morris can bounce back from scandal to win an AFL media award, Nathan should be commended for not printing the quote verbatim then adding *Arrested Development voiceover* They finished third last. 

Since then the coach has 'apologised' (with a hint of kicking and/or screaming), but like us morally deserving the 2013 wooden spoon because we only beat GWS, I can see why he feels like they finished last. The only worse sides were expansion clubs put together in more haphazard fashion than the Brisbane Bears, but even if we all know it's farcical to only play 10 of 17 teams in a season that's life. Also, not sure what his excuse is for the season to date when they've played 12th, 9th, 14th, 18th, 17th and 11th until now. They've got Adelaide in the last round, and god help them with that, but have otherwise practically played a second division draw and are still shite.

I'm not sure what degree of assistance you can give to a regionally isolated team, in a still semi-professional competition, when the other local side is no good either, but if a men's team played like this across five years they'd be allowed to appoint their own umpires. They should get something, but not having to play the premier is kooky. Alternatively, I volunteer we play all the bottom sides next year in the name of equality.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Alyssa Bannan
4 - Blathin Mackin
3 - Olivia Purcell
2 - Eliza West
1 - Kate Hore

Apologies to Hanks, Goldrick, Mithen, A. Mackin, Campbell, and Watt.

There's still a maximum 35 votes to play for so nobody's eliminated yet, and minimal votes for the big hitters this week leaves the door slightly open for a come-from-behind win for the ages. I've decided to consider Original Recipe Mackin a defender, so she's into the lead in that award.

23 - Tyla Hanks
19 - Kate Hore
11 - Eden Zanker
9 - Olivia Purcell
7 - Blathin Mackin (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Shelley Heath
6 - Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan
4 - Tayla Harris
3 - Sinead Goldrick, Sarah Lampard, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Ruck of the Year)
2 - Tahlia Gillard
1 - Paxy Paxman

Goal of the Week 
It's got to be the long-awaited Goal I by Mackin II, as good a crumb from close range as you're going to get. Does not dislodge anybody from the overall leaderboard.

1st - Kate Hore (Q1 #2) vs GWS
2nd - Paxy Paxman (Q4) vs Geelong
3rd - Eden Zanker (Q2) vs Collingwood

Next week
Dismantling the league's jabronis brick-by-brick is very good, but contrary to what Michael Prior may think all the good teams get a go at doing it. That leaves us taking on North Melbourne and their even more astronomical percentage from one spot lower on the ladder. In a rare case of 'trying to get people to attend' we're back at Princes Park in prime time on Saturday night, and we'd want to be getting several of the injured players back for the occasion. The stand-ins did perfectly well this week, but I'll have one Harris, Paxman, Gay and Pearce combination with the lot thanks. However they do it, either Campbell or Watt should remain so Harris can maraud the forward line all night.

After Adelaide I don't know if we're going to win against the top teams, but am sure that it will be a significantly better contest than this was.

Final Thoughts
I don't know if we learned anything important from this. May as well leave the tapes in the sun to melt and turn focus to the veritable shitload of important games that follow.