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.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Clock stops at 14

When I mostly seriously claimed the AFL would react to our winning streak by breaking the side up like a corporate monopoly, I didn't expect the first step to involve brainwashing the Paxman family pooch into assassinating its owner. Our first canine related tragedy since one chowed down on Christian Petracca's hand saw Paxy disappear into Concussion Protocol Land, but when we reached quarter time without conceding a score to the only other undefeated side I was willing to pardon Double Agent Dog instead of turning it into an actual Manchurian Candidate.

Our scoring had slowed to 'playing the good teams' level, but Adelaide's attacks were being smashed back like Roger Federer returning serve from a child and I made the mistake of thinking we might have been worthy of the premature 'can anyone beat them?' chat last week. You can take one of our stars out but the rest will make up for it etc.. etc.. Then we didn't score again until the last seconds of the third quarter, leaving a miracle comeback required to keep our record breaking winning streak alive. 

It nearly happened, but while the greatest run since Debbie Flintoff-King is over, rejoice at the Melbourne Football Club holding a league record that isn't men losing by between 186 and 190. Now the positive side of the ledger is Fred Fanning plundering hapless opposition for 18 goals, Jim Stynes playing 244 in a row, the record AFLW winning streak and not much else.

After taking a week off from whinging about how the competition is run, can anyone explain how a match between powerhouse sides that were almost certain to be at the top of the ladder when the fixture was done ends up on Foxtel at 3.05pm on a Saturday, with free to air snoozefests like GWS/West Coast and Port/Sydney on either side?. They've already reduced the chance of roping in neutrals by broadcasting on a secondary channel, showing games between Flotsam and Jetsam is waving the white flag. 

While you had to be an enthusiast to know where this marquee game was on, the reward for tuning in was a guest commentator who just caught herself at the last minute to say she was "bloody" excited to be there, and Andrew Krakoeur's randomly appearing punditry opening the door for everyone between The Spencil and Tim Ruffles to appear next. Other than the boundary rider, none of these callers were shown at the ground, so the reference to one of them 'wearing a puffer jacket in the commentary box' might have been a swizz. Either that or somebody left the air con up at Fox Footy HQ where they were watching on monitors.

There's an argument that you don't really need the commentators to be at the ground, and indeed some need to be taken as far away as possible then left there, but if your only live attendee is at ground level and everyone else is relying on what they're seeing on monitors you're going to miss important stuff that happens off the ball. Maybe I was out of the room when they showed them in a clearly identifiable as Casey commentary box but it all seemed a bit stagey to me. Even the crosses to the boundary rider felt like they were making an international phone call.

By anyone's estimation last year's Grand Final was not a classic spectacle. Very enjoyable, even at a game with a random brick wall perilously close to the boundary line, but not a sparkling example of the code. This would have rated lower than 10 pin bowling repeats featuring Cara Honeychurch but was much better suited to a final. It had the required top team level of players trying to tear each other from limb to limb, but with scoring, dramatic momentum swings, injuries, and umpires absolutely making it up as they went.

I went on a streak high, knowing that this was going to be the biggest challenge of the year but believing we'd carry from the unprecedented dual victories over the Crows last season. We scored 44 and 48 in those wins and split the difference with 46 here, but the difference was not keeping them to a score in the 20s again. It didn't look like it would matter in the opening minutes. We pelted out of the middle for Zanker to mark and goal in the opening seconds, and after clattering her next shot into the post with force she ran onto a loose ball to soccer home the second.

This was very good, Adelaide were getting the ball forward but we defended our arse off. At this stage I'd have refused to believe we'd spend the next three quarters toiling mercilessly to clear the ball whenever it went down their end. For now everything looked easy, to the point where even Sinead Goldrick (36 games, 0 goals) was having set shots. I knew we wouldn't hold them out all day, but reaching quarter time 16-0 up was a great sign. In one of the most niche stats ever we lost four of the first five games where the opposition was held scoreless in the opening quarter, but had completed the job the last 10 times. Across several categories, all good things must come to an end.

A risky tweet suggesting the league would start stripping us of players mid-match looked shithouse about 20 minutes later, but the idea is still valid. After a year and a quarter break we went back to being bullied by Adelaide, and could conceivably to either Brisbane or North but most of our fringe players would walk into any team from 5-18 on the ladder. 

It took until midway through the third quarter for things to go absolutely tits up, but the tone of things changed from the start of the second. On a day where Casey Fields didn't turn up the traditional hurricane force winds it may as well have for all the luck we were having getting the ball down our end and scoring. Spoiler alert - Zanker played the best key forward game in club history, but every other avenue to goal was shut like Fort Knox. It's good fun ripping bad teams apart but the difference in this game was crumb, and we had nil. Other than Zanker we practically didn't have a forward line. McNamara dropped in from the midfield for two goals but otherwise they had us covered. Bannan and Sherriff didn't go near it, Harris/Pearce were about as successful a ruck/forward duo as Gawn/Grundy, and other than Eliza, nobody else looked like it. At last it was officially a case of 'you can't play XYZ every week'

You can't blame injuries when you're less than a goal behind with three minutes to go, but we did have a shithouse run. Aimee Mackin's promising start came to a halt both due to competent opposition and an ankle injury, Pearce looked to have done a shoulder/wrist/both at one point, Heath ended the game with a splattered nose, Harris came up sore from a contest, and only now do I find out that Goldrick finished the game on the bench injured too. Still could have won if not for trying to climb out of a cavernous ditch in the last quarter.

It took a few minutes for them to finally capitalise on keeping the ball at their end, then we let in another one not long after. In the first quarter our backline kept them at bay, this time their forwards and midfielders did most of the work. The only enjoyable bits were the brief teases of all-out street fighting between Libby Birch and the player with surname and hair inspired by Clive Waterhouse. Professionalism, and not wanting to miss the majority of a short season, stopped them from engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Forget Tayla Harris having regulated boxing matches, I want to see them settle things in Ramsgate Hotel fashion.

Clive's point on the siren wiped out our first quarter advantage, but with scores to the left of screen standing at 32-0 I didn't think it was over yet. Adelaide thought otherwise, banging on four goals in a row. I don't know if we had the forward line to take advantage anyway. What happened in the last quarter makes you wonder if it would have mattered, Zanker might have kicked nine if they'd got the ball to her enough at the top of the square. For now she was left wandering up the ground to get a touch while the Crows did as they pleased. Even the wacky bounces were going their way, with Heath being done like a dinner by one in front of goal that would have otherwise been easily rushed through for a point. It was that sort of day.

I'd like to return ASAP to playing a second ruck so Harris can go forward and stay there. She's a better ruck than Campbell (and maybe Rhi Watt, who is on her way to becoming the only player ever to serve in a leadership group without playing a single game for the club) but means basically sacrificing centre half-forward, and with the number of panicky, tumble kicks that go down there contested marking ability is important. 

I've got plenty of confidence and trust in this team, but the idea of coming back from 25 points down at three quarter time was absolutely fanciful. Enter McNamara, who kept things interesting in the dying seconds, with our first score since late in the first term. It was unbelievably against the run of play but unlocked the possibility of a last quarter comeback. That or going a 15th game in a row without conceding a goal in the last term but still losing. We got none of the above, but not without a massive bash at one of the great heists.

Goldrick had been very good in defence early before getting wiped out with everyone else but I enjoyed her being thrown into the middle to start the final term. It weakened our defence but that didn't count for much if we couldn't score. Percentage might become important for securing a home final but I'd rather risk losing by six goals here than not trying to win. And that we did, with Zanker getting EZ3 after marking in the square in under a minute. 

When she got a fourth soon after the great escape was definitely on. With most of the quarter left the margin was under two goals, with plenty of time left to run over the top. Alas, we may have run the game out better but Adelaide hanging on in the last quarter is a lot different to the sides who need the mercy rule invoked five minutes after the restart.

Even with our one dimensional forward line I could see us finding the goals to win, as long as half the quarter wasn't wasted fruitlessly trying to get the ball away from their goal for more than 20 seconds at a time. And wouldn't you know what happened next, ending in the Crows doing what nobody else (including them in a final) could and putting up a goal against us in the last quarter. It (seemingly) killed the game, but giving it away from a downfield free kick via Harris trying to kill somebody made you feel a little bit better. Like it was a moral victory in our favour that we still hadn't let a real goal in. 

The moral victory didn't the quarter, but that goal barely survived a minute before McNamara's second left us back where we'd started. Then Zanker grabbed a share of the D. Pearce/Hore club goalkicking record, and we were less than a kick behind. I was right into the idea of her winning it with a sixth. Probably because it was the only realistic option. It would have been a good time for somebody to pluck one from thin air, but there wasn't going to be any Bannan out the back specials. In the end it wasn't anything, and the Crows did a fine job not only holding on but getting a real life, fully earned fourth quarter goal against us. You can argue that we were pushing so hard for a winner that it was the equivalent of an empty net goal in ice hockey but that's nothing more than a coping strategy.

Anything can happen, but on a day where our disposal efficiency coincidentally went into the toilet just as quality opponents turned up I knew it wasn't going to happen the moment they got the ball at their end. On a day where the umpires were doing really weird shit (e.g. Bannan being pinged holding the ball after 'marking' a touched ball, Goldrick being done for a bullshit 'dangerous' tackle that would have given her another shot at goal) I was hoping we'd blunder the ball down there somehow and win it via a howler of a decision. It never got close, and after giving up a goal earlier from a silly 50 metre penalty the Crows weren't going to do anything stupid like that again.

As they say in the classics...

As I politely cracked the shits at full time my daughter assured me that everything will be ok because Dance Moms also won 14 in a row before losing. The only thing I know about that show, other than letting a nine-year-old watch it makes me a terrible parent, is that the boss eventually landed in jail so that's something for Mick Stinear to think about.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Eden Zanker
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Sinead Goldrick
--- Distance ---
2 - Olivia Purcell
--- More distance ---
1 - Eliza West

Apologies to Nil

Let this be a lesson that the bulk possessions midfielder will always win in the end. Major interest elsewhere is Goldrick drawing level with Lampard in the defender race.  

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

Goal of the Week 
The Zanker soccer job in the first quarter was good, but for execution and context combined it's McNamara in the dying seconds of the third. No change to the season leaderboard.

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

Next week
You might not be able to play strugglers every week, but there's enough of them to make it a regular thing. On paper there's no way to lose to West Coast, who have the worst percentage in the league, nearly 300 points less than us for the season, and trail 21 goals to one in meetings between the sides. You never know, but deep down you do. Unless Paxman's dog is in charge of catering on the flight over there's no scenario where I can see us going down the biggest upset defeat in competition history.

Near certain victory is no excuse to get cute with team selection, if that's even possible with our paper-thin list. Paxman obviously comes back, and is hopefully joined by one of the rucks but otherwise there's not a lot in reserve. I'd do Chaplin for Colvin but either is going to stand around twiddling their thumbs for four quarters while the action is at the other end. 

Mackin II could be due a rest but remaining options Fowler, Gall, Ivey, Johnson, Taylor, Watt and Wilson have three career goals between them so may as well leave that end of the ground alone and hope that Hore rediscovers bloodlust from tonking what barely qualifies as second division opposition. After that we've got a cow of a run home so enjoy the free-wheeling scoreboard shenanigans while they last.

Final Thoughts
This leaves us in a similar spot to last week. An almost certain double chance is highly likely to lead to a Preliminary Final at the very least, but with zero guarantee of repeat flag. Other than the residual sadness at a great winning run ending I'm not too distressed, but upcoming games against Brisbane and North will give us a better clue about where the season is going to end.

Monday 2 October 2023

The all star action attraction somebody's gonna end up in traction faction

There was a moment during the last quarter of the Melbourne Football Club's easiest senior level win at Kardinia Park since the 1970s where I achieved a level of sporting arrogance not seen since deep into the last quarter of 25/09/2021. 

After a competitive start, the Cats had melted like everybody else we've played in the last year, but late in the game they were streaming into the forward 50 with free players everywhere and looked like ruining the much-loved since finding out about it two weeks ago streak of not conceding in the last quarter. They blew it in slapstick fashion, and maybe because all the misery I'd suppressed at the end of the Carlton game was about to pour out (NB: it hit me like a train when I reluctantly tuned in midway through the first quarter on Saturday) this seemed like the funniest thing ever to happen at an AFL venue. 

On reflection it had nothing on Gerald Healy mispronouncing Gold Coast, Hawthorn holding a goalkicking competition for recovering drug addicts, the MCG cleaner point-blank refusing to clean a kid's spew off the Ponsford Stand, or any number of hilarious on-field fiascos but at the time I needed a good news story, and completing a 14th consecutive win without conceding a goal in the last quarter was the nearest thing that was going to happen over that weekend.

This magical run - that we've been so invested in since finding about it two weeks ago - could easily come to an end next week, even if we do win, but as far as I'm concerned it's up there with great feats of the code. You can discredit some of the 14 due to the opposition being pus but there were three finals in the mix so I'll have it on the top shelf of achievements thanks. It's being built up so much now that even if we go through the season undefeated (which, let's not get sidetracked here, is not impossible but unlikely), carry the streak into the Grand Final, and concede one on the siren while 45 points up there will be a slight element of sadness.

I'm not one to count chickens pre-hatch, especially before playing the next best team in the competition, but this was a welcome reminder of how good our side is. Like everyone else in the league our depth is so thin that a few injuries could throw the whole plan out the window, but this side is living through their imperial phase. Here's to stretching it out until the end of the year before the AFL starts kidnapping players and forcing them to play in strange places like Blacktown and Frankston.  

It's easy to forget in Round 1 we went into half-time barely clinging on against Collingwood, because since then there cannot have been a more entertaining team in eight seasons of this competition. I can understand even AFLW-friendly neutrals avoiding many of the games involving sides outside the top eight, but for pure footballing enjoyment you'd be made to watch anyone else. 

This was our biggest test since the opening round, finally playing Geelong five and a bit seasons after they entered the competition and just after getting their act together. Throw in a decent local crowd due to the upcoming public holiday, our soft-lead in, and the realisation that we've become the giant to be slayed in this league and I was a bit edgy about this. Not quite 'red alert' territory, but maybe a dark orange. After nothing short of an extinction level event could have stopped us last week, this was a return to "anything can happen" territory.

For a game where Kate Hore ended up outscoring them single-handedly, Geelong did look dangerous at the start. We've chased a couple of teams during the golden era but I didn't fancy it here, especially without Harris marauding around CHF clattering into people. She'd needed to have changed ends to get a kick in the opening minutes, the ball was stuck down their end, with the unlikely defensive pairing of Goldrick and McNamara repeatedly relieving the ball from 30 metres out. The dam walls look to have finally broken when they kicked the first, only for it to be reversed for a push in the back. Sucked in.

And double sucked in when our "can't play [insert massive list of shit teams here]" doubts were erased by the a goal from the worst free of all time. A defender certainly did hold onto Paxman without the ball, but only because it had been dropped during the initial tackle. There was no sling, no UFC-style slam into the ground, and if it happened to us I'd be cracking the shits. Geelong didn't get the opportunity to sook for long, because straight out of the middle Pearce was marking, having a flashback to missing from the square against Adelaide last year, and dishing it off to a passing Hore for the second.

So, while I'm sure class would have won out in the end, you can't help but feel sorry for them doing everything but kick goals for half a quarter, then going two goals down after a woeful free. Could have stopped the warp speed centre clearance that led to the second one I suppose. Their problem was wasting so much time nearly kicking goals that they went within a few seconds of an unlucky/negligent (delete as applicable) scoreless quarter. A late goal reduced the margin to seven, which was a far more accurate picture of where the game was at.

Geelong was both wasteful and unlucky again at the start of the second, with more unrewarded pressure and Goldrick doing the most incorrect disposal possible before we counter-attacked for a third. I can understand why the Cats - featuring three of our old players in the hope that something will rub off - will make finals, and maybe beat one of the 5-8 teams in the first week, but are no chance of a surprise run at the flag. They were ok, and will be better in the future, but we're in charge at the moment.

I was ok with being challenged, it's fun to pulverise the needy but finals aren't won by freewheeling rampage. It even seemed like a good thing when the player who no longer has a massive 80s style perm kicked a goal to keep it interesting. They may have lost that half of Kardinia Vice, but do still have a player called Crockett-Gills who sounds like she should be arresting people on a speedboat.  

The comeback didn't last long. To prove everything was going our way Heath flubbed a set shot that fell into Sherriff's arms in the pocket. She missed but it didn't take long to get the party started again. Enter Kate Hore, fresh from a random TV ad flogging booze on a couch with subject matter expert Mark Robinson, for her third. She might have had another straight after, but a ballistic kick out of the middle by Hanks arrived so quickly that it bounced off her. Then one rebound 50 later she could have had another shot but tried to be captainly and share it. 

I wouldn't trust these umpires to judge pies at the Whittlesea Fair but if Hore plays the whole season and doesn't finish amongst the top players in the league B&F then they should all be relieved of their duties. Her only danger is being pushed out by Hanks, who put forward her medal credentials at the start of the third quarter by nailing the ex-perm wearer holding the ball in front of goal.

Things were going very well for us now, but the suggestion that the AFLW should be evacuating players from Ireland on charter flights was furthered by Geelong's full forward pulling down a big contested mark for her third. We've taken a Moloney from them before and I'd be keen on doing it again as part of our ongoing project to create the biggest Irish diaspora since America in the 1800s. Our contingent weren't as rampant against sensible opposition but still had some nice moments, including Aimee Mackin being rorted out of her first career goal by being ignored while running into the 50 without an opponent in sight.

The margin was only 15 but it was hard to justify getting worried about the Cats launching a comeback. Still, after 10 minutes without a goal I wasn't arguing with Paxman's bouncing one right into Zanker's path for a tap-in from the square. That left us 22 in front at the last change, and surely to god we weren't going to suddenly concede four without reply so once Gay celebrated her 50th game with a goal all the focus turned to shutout watch.

Our best chance of stopping them scoring was to keep the ball at our end, including Paxman booting a tremendous set shot from the boundary line. I didn't think much of the "can anyone beat them?" talk on commentary, because history has shown the answer is almost always yes, but did enjoy the "this is over, start scanning the crowd for celebrities" shot of Daisy Pearce trying to look neutral as old employer thumped new employer.

As we ran the score beyond 70 I started to think how good it would be if the team that used to kick weird scores like 1.9 ended the year with a better scoring average than the men. With several good teams yet to play it would be a stretch to reach the required 88.12, but in five games we've already covered entire seven game seasons from the early years of the comp and all nine games of the 2021 H&A season. Longer games etc... etc... but I defy you to think back to some of our forward lines and wonder if they'd have scored at this rate if quarters went for an hour.

Once they'd comically botched their best chance for the quarter the only thing I wanted more than everyone getting to the final siren uninjured was for Mackin II to get Goal I but the wait continues. Hore teased another five goal haul but you can forgive her missing a set shot after darting from one end of the ground to the other for four quarters. A 49 point margin was a little bit unfair, especially when they had to stand around watching their former B&F Purcell plucking disposals left, right and centre, but that's life. The tide will eventually turn on us but here's hoping it will take a long time.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Olivia Purcell
3 - Eden Zanker
2 - Eliza West
1 - Paxy Paxman

Apologies to Goldrick, McNamara, Hanks and Pearce.

When one stops the other takes over, and the greatest two-horse race of all time continues. No change in the minor awards.

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

Goal of the Week 
I'm going wild declaring things to be the best ever at the moment, but Paxman's set shot in the last quarter is surely better than any we've ever done in this competition before? Obviously she wins the week, but has to be content with second place on the season leaderboard. 

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

Next week
It gets spicy on Saturday afternoon against the Crows at Casey. Our percentage is 300, theirs is 260, but time to get serious against proper opposition. We should get Harris back from injury, but I regret to say that the successful return of Colvin to defence probably means elite off-field celebrator Maeve Chaplin will miss again. Hopefully the conditions on Mt. Variable Weather don't wreck the quality of this game because it should be played like a final. Unlike all the finals against Adelaide until the last one I'd like to think we'll win, but will be generous and say they'll ruin the streak by kicking a goal in the final term. 

Final Thoughts
Now that the Trump people have won the men's competition we can write that season off as a bad memory and go all-in on winning this version of the flag.