Monday 6 November 2023

Red and Blue Alert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

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