Wednesday 13 September 2023

It's five o'clock somewhere

As the only Melbourne team to win more than they lost for 7+ consecutive seasons since Norm Smith, it feels rude to lump our AFLW team in with the men, but that's what you get for starting a season at the same time as the finals. All those dead rubber years where I'd have been happy to roll straight out of the last home and away round into something more enjoyable, now I'm both mentally exhausted, and in too much panic about what's going to happen on Friday to give this team the energy it deserves.

Even pre-flag I had nothing but love for this branch of the MFC family, and look forward to getting right into it when the fallout of the other season is over. It doesn't help your emotional commitment when two rounds in half the competition is in confirmed disarray. I'm always happy to win, and unlike 30 years of expecting the men to lose every week there are now times that I can be absolutely certain we're going to win at AFLW. Maybe the real excitement is in worrying about failure, which made Round 1 so good, and left me doing the time-honoured "get on with it" hand gesture waiting for the big matches - and dare I say finals.

Suffice to say, playing post-local derby embarassment GWS at 5.05pm on Sunday, in Canberra, at a ground where every single spectator was on the broadcast side didn't qualify as a big one. Not that I expected to pile on the third highest score in history, but it makes sense that if we could turn the turbo on against decent opposition last week, that things might get ugly for a team which scored 1.0.6 in our last meeting.

The Giants haven't always been poleaxeable, we did have to pull that finals win from the arse against them in 2020, but when everyone else turned up they were left scrambling for players, with help from a draft that allows players to say what state they're willing to play in. Then the AFL let the last four expansion clubs thieve players for free, and not only weren't they able to participate but one of the freebie four are their cross-town rivals. Best of British luck fixing that up. Meanwhile we've been at the top of the ladder for seven plus years, eventually won a flag, watched all the other original clubs have a poor run somewhere, and have practically never lost a big name player. It's got to end eventually, but until then it's been great viewing.  

Other than the furious vengeance unleashed on tired, poor, huddled masses in the last quarter, this game will be most notable as the first without a direct thread to Round 1, 2017. Even Mick Stinear missed a game, but Paxy had been ever-present since day one. After brief rumours about shifting interstate post-flag, the rebrand only lasted one game before injury and late withdrawal. No good comes from losing a five time All-Australian, but we still have star players out the yin yang so I knew it would take some outrageous scenario to lose. Then somebody with the biggest headband since Carl Ditterich kicked their first goal about 10 seconds in and I thought "that's what you get for being overconfident". 

All's well that ends well, and while GWS clung on for longer than expected that turned out to be the classic counterproductive goal that looks good at the time but leads to the other team scoring two out of the middle, leaving you six points behind where you'd have been if the ball got trapped in the forward pocket for five minutes.

Enter the greatest individual AFLW quarter in our history, featuring Kate Hore kicking three goals, missing another shot on the siren, and also randomly bobbing up middle and back as required. And between all that you've got Zanker crumbing the bejesus out of one, and Bannan ready to jump in when it was her turn. If Harris starts kicking straight again this may (and I say may, because we've got to play somebody good eventually) be the season that makes up for all the years of labouring to kick - and often win with - small scores.

We didn't have it all our way early. Big Carl had a set shot for a second but stuffed it out on the full, before repeat entries doubled their tally from the last meeting before quarter time. Turns out a more open game probably didn't the Giants. Congratulations for not just stacking everyone behind the ball and trying to bore out a 30-12 loss, but they clearly didn't have four quarters in them. Two and a half was all that could be mustered before we engaged wallop mode and went for the landslide.

To only be slightly condescending, this was such an easy win that we could afford to not go close to the interchange cap, and use Paxman-replacement Wilson, and Campbell for only 40% of the game each. The cautionary tale to our ongoing success is that our depth is at fish-pond levels. If Wilson is next cab off the rank when Paxman and Fitzsimon are injured then you wouldn't want to be battling an injury crisis. It can't have helped trying to get going on that little game time, behind the ball in a game where the opposition was slowly sinking into quicksand. 

If it was going to look like nobody was there, and without the live broadcast where Fox Sports had to show people to prove they weren't using the old Channel 7 fake noise machine, at least Hore's golden quarter took place facing a grandstand. Imagine if you'd played the greatest wing game in competition history and all the highlights featured a side of the ground with all of one security guard in it.

The Giants should lobby for this competition to be played under AFLX rules, because they were more than competitive in the first quarter. They got the ball down our end enough, usually winding up in the hands Gillard, who should still be bitter than she didn't win the BOG medal in the Grand Final due to not being a midfielder. They eventually turned the mass inside 50s into a second goal, but the turnover that set up Hore's third showed that they couldn't stay out of their own way long enough to trouble us. 

It's almost not fair (but bad luck) that we got to wheel Purcell in from Geelong to go alongside homegrown superstars in the making like Hanks, but credit to whoever's running the Irish recruiting division because Mackin and Goldrick have continued to be good this year. The latter kicked the opening goal of the second quarter and now I was even more certain about where this was going. The Giants were put in full defensive mode keeping us to just three goals. We missed a couple of easy shots, but I don't think it would have helped them going back to the middle.

By the time Lampard (previous tally - 3 in 53 games) became the Shelley Heath style unusual goalkicker of the week, the Giants were holding on for dear life. To their credit, after we missed another pair of shots to open the quarter they did have several very good minutes which included a third and final goal. Then right at the end, even with a lead in the late 20s that we weren't going to lose without the most random sequence of events in football history, Hore pulled down another mark for her fourth and their best part of the day - other than the first 10 seconds - had been wasted in the blink of an eye.

And then the hammer of the gods came down on them, starting with Purcell picking off another turnover, and going through a Bannan goal not longer after to officially kick off party time. Hooray for longer games when you're running them out against the less fortunate. A 7.2 quarter even beat the best in our record win against Freo, and they had the excuse of players called on at a few hours' notice as COVID replacements. Hore's tally equalled Daisy Pearce's club record for goals from that day, meaning that we're now in the interesting situation where we've had 2x five goal performances, 0x four goals, and 20x three goals. Interesting to me anyway, your views may vary.

As a joyous massacre of innocents it was great, I preferred last week for proof that we're going to be a top finals contender again. On paper the first half of the year should be fairly easy, but with the exception of West Coast being as putrid as their men's side, all the action comes from Round 5 onwards. If everyone stays fit and unsuspended I'm hoping we can finally win a Grand Final in the state of Victoria.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Olivia Purcell
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies to Bannan, Gillard, Mackin, McNamara, Mithen

Two games in and there's already a mega-gulf between Superstar A, Superstar B, and everyone else. Best of luck to the chasing pack, we will judge each game on its merits but if a third party wins the big one I'll be flabbergasted.

9 - Tyla Hanks, Kate Hore
3 - Sarah Lampard (LEADER: Defender of the Year), Blaithin Mackin
2 - Shelley Heath, Olivia Purcell
1 - Tayla Harris, Lauren Pearce (LEADER: Ruck of the Year)

Goal of the Week 
There was more crumb on offer than the Tip Top factory, but the best was Hore's in Q1 where she gathered a rolling inside 50 on her toes, turned around and kicked the snap. And because she deserves all the medals (no, I'm not guilty about underrating her in last year's medal count, not at all) that's a new leader in the season award.

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

Next week
It's the Bulldogs, now believed to be no good but always stay on high alert anyway, at Casey on Saturday. If you've ever dreamed about joining the ranks of Demonblog guest reporters this could be your chance, because one way or the other I'm going to be worn out after the night before. I'll still be watching so will be able to do an emergency report if required but will be happy to hand the keys over to anybody up to and including Helen Demidenko.

If either Paxman or Fitzsimon are fit that's Wilson done for. Halfway through I was also considering whether to call for the long-delayed Rhiannon Watt debut in place of Campbell, but being interviewed by Fox Sports midway through inspired her to bigger things. Otherwise, no alterations required if everyone's upright. I'm still relatively scarred by the Dogs keeping us out of a Grand Final in 2018, and the wildcard element of a 25 degree day (probably with the sort of roaring breeze that starts bushfires) has me on my toes. We win but not as easily as this.

Final Thoughts
As they used to say in the Wogs Out Of Work (NB: I am not doing a racism, this was a real thing) ad that I can't for the life of me find online... It. Was. Really. Good.

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