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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Crack the sads here... (to keep out nuffies, comments will show after approval by the Demonblog ARC)