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. 

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