Monday 13 November 2023

What a time to stop being alive

Just when you'd started to recover from the horrors of September, our worst finals performance of 2023 turns up out nowhere. This time we didn't kick ourselves out of a game, or lose in the dying seconds due to collective insanity, it was just a siren-to-siren munting by better prepared, significantly more up for it opposition. And in the week where they put all the names of members on a banner I'd like to apologise that we're now 0-2 since I joined.

Speaking of memberships, my kid won't care but I still haven't admitted to trading her membership for my cursed AFLW one. Junior was surprisingly keen to attend so I thought mentioning it would unnecessarily risk controversy. As far as a first final went it didn't give offer the same sort of inspiration that I got in 1989. In fact, after five minutes interest was lost to the point where the rest of the game was spent reading me facts from a Taylor Swift magazine and occasionally looking up to ask semi-relevant questions like "have we kicked a goal yet?" My response went from chuckling at the mad idea that we wouldn't get one, to nearly chucking shit as full time neared with us on 0.not much.

On the occasion of my second AFLW final I'm glad to see that it's traditional to make players stand arm-in-arm waiting for them to turn the top 40 tunes off. Last time it was the last song Madonna did before disappearing, this time I've got NFI what they were playing but just when you thought they were finally getting on with things somebody hit the wrong button and started playing Enter Sandman again. No wonder when the anthem started with an unusually zingy orchestral flourish I thought they'd accidentally played Austria.mp3.

Turns out it would have been better for us if they'd just played the radio for four quarters and decided the result via Rock, Paper, Scissors, because what followed made the shambolic pre-game events look like The Beatles at Shea Stadium. When you win 80% of the time the rest is going to come as a shock, but this was arguably our worst performance in W history. The last round of 2019 ended in a bigger loss, but we still hadn't played a final at that point. Now we've gone Prelim/Grand Final/Flag/top two, then into abject disarray against a side that was trampled a few weeks ago.

North are well-known for losing to the teams above them, but they're not the fourth pillar of The Good Teams for nothing. This might have been their finest moment, treating everything we did in the spirit of playing a mid-card mediocrity. The sad thing is that we didn't play badly for much of the game, it's just that the forward line suffered an Optus-style outage at Optus Oval, and after picking off our attacks with the greatest of ease North caught us out by flinging the ball back the other way at warp speed. If we'd converted anything in the first three quarters then maybe the conditions weren't there to be tormented on the counter.

If people went troppo over women's selection like they do the other stuff, then Eliza West getting the hook would have been controversial. I can see where they were coming from though, she gets a lot of it but is involved in more butchery than all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies combined. Maybe if she was involved it would have pissed about with the space-time continuum and we'd have won by lots but I don't see how 95% accumulation, 5% finesse would have helped on a day where the opposition had clearly done the same 'where will all the aimless kicks land?' studies as Brisbane.

My enjoyment of the first quarter wasn't helped by sitting at ground level. I don't care that this is how people did it for 150 years, it gives me the shits. We'd started in the stands before being driven out by a speaker that blasted everything at 350% volume like a jumbo jet taking off directly overhead. The ball coming straight towards us from the first bounce was a good sign, but North escaping without going close to conceding a score was not. Then when the ball got pinned at their end we couldn't extract it, eventually leading to an out of the arse snap into the wind. This kicked off a day where they kicked goals from every angle while we committed arson on forward entries and murder on set shots.

Like last week all over again we couldn't escape their pressure, leading to desperate kicks forward that usually landed with the opposition. They kept missing shots, including one politely from almost directly in front, but we couldn't do anything but thump the ball as far away from goal as possible and hope it didn't come back. But it did. What we needed was a repeat of the first game when they gave away a stupid 50 to get us going.

We'd come from behind against North once this year so even though we were wading knee-deep through quicksand it was only just over a goal the difference so the towel wasn't poised for throwing in yet. When Hanks won a holding the ball free near enough to right in front of me (related: that clip is probably approaching succulent Chinese meal levels of not needing the link) I thought a) this will get us going, and b) god I hope we get some kind of score for the quarter. It was a point, and a goal probably wouldn't have saved us, but from my perspective as good as level to the goalline bullshit it didn't fully cross the line before being touched. There was added confusion when the umpire signalled that it hit the post, but I watched this bit of the replay just to see if we got on camera (answer: no) and it bounced off the player into the opposite post. So if it was already touched before fully crossing the line then what does it matter if the post was involved?

Under the circumstances, it's a miracle that we got to quarter time just nine points down. This wasn't much more than their lead in the last meeting before we held North to two behinds for the rest of the game. So in two meetings this year they've gone goalless Q2-Q4 and we've done it Q1-Q3, so stand by for another pearler if we somehow get another crack at them in the Grand Final.

At this point, it was back to the stands, not just because of the reduced visibility but also somebody in front who was keen to talk to anyone. Not to mention an old man immediately to the right who had clearly only turned up because it was a final and was on the verge of sooking about the quality of the game as if he'd expected it to be North 1996 vs Melbourne 1964. I'm not defending the entertainment value of the first quarter (and the next three from our perspective), but once you've arrived at the ground carrying on about the standard is like going to the wrestling and carrying on about it being rigged.

The second term is what killed us, holding them to a handful of inside 50s but conceding the only goal and not scoring a cracker. Purcell turning a set shot into North nearly kicking a goal via yet another botched attempt at finding a forward target said everything you needed to know. I'm pinning all the blame on our forward entries. The defence might have crumbled under siege, but we had enough chances to get back into it. Even then it was only 15 points at the break, so if you were still a believer in us out-running teams then there was hope of making it interesting.

As much as I hated Harris starting the second half in the ruck and playing Pearce forward, it almost paid off when LP pulled down a mark right in front of goal after a minute. I haven't gotten over her missing from the top of the square against Adelaide last year and thought "this could go anywhere" shortly before it went anywhere but through the middle. So basically we gave up a ruck who can pick up contested possessions in the middle, and a forward who might be well down on her best this year but can take marks and kick goals.

That's when it got a bit perverse, with North kicking three quick goals to blow the margin out from 'unlikely' to 'bloody impossible'. It was approaching unmitigated fiasco territory midway through the last quarter when Hore finally pulled down a mark (or was it a free? I was losing the will to live by this point) directly in front, not far out and put it into the post. I'd have started flicking through the record books for the all-time lowest MFC scores if my kid hadn't captured the phone to play lo-fi games that would have looked shit on the Sega Master System. 

Fortunately North saved this team from being the first to go goalless since the 1956 Thirds by going into self-preservation mode long enough for Bannan to belatedly turn up. The way things were going I expected it to somehow end in us conceding at the other end but she converted, jumping us ahead of our previous lowest AFLW score. Her traditional frenzied post-goal celebration seemed a bit odd under the circumstances but I suppose when you've got the music in you etc... etc...

I'm not going to hold it against the North fans for going off their nut at the end, especially when heaps more of them turned up, but the guy doing on his feet whinging about the umpiring deep in the last quarter of a record-breaking thrashing could wind the siege mentality in a bit. 

All in all, it was one of the filthiest performances you'll ever see. I think there's a way back but not sure how far it will go before turning into a sheer drop from a cliff.

2023 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Kate Hore
4 - Tyla Hanks
3 - Olivia Purcell
2 - Shelley Heath
1 - Sinead Goldrick

Apologies to Gay, McNamara and Paxman - just because the field in front of them was so thin.

Hopefully there's still 15 votes in this, but even if that's the case it will only prolong the Hanks vs Hore battle because everyone else is now officially stuffed. The captain reduced the gap by one, leaving the field open for any combination of final result between them. No change in the minors, with Goldrick narrowly eating into Gillard's lead, and nothing close to votes for A. Mackin or Campbell that would save the Rising Star. 

32 - Tyla Hanks
28 - Kate Hore
--- Done for ---
13 - Olivia Purcell
11 - Blathin Mackin, Lauren Pearce (PROVISIONAL WINNER: Ruck of the Year), Shelley Heath, Eden Zanker
9 - Tahlia Gillard (LEADER: Defender of the Year)
7 - Sinead Goldrick
6 - Tayla Harris, Paxy Paxman, Eliza West
5 - Alyssa Bannan,
3 - Sarah Lampard
2 - Lily Mithen
1 - Libby Birch

Goal of the Week
Get stuffed

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

Next Week
No need to burn the place down yet, this may have been one of the great debacles but unless we regroup going out in straight sets could top it. Due to Channel 7's women's cricket commitments, there's no Friday game again, as if they don't have multiple other channels to put a footy game on. Great news for fans of Pie In The Sky, which couldn't be blown out of its timeslot on 7Two with explosives for something like an AFL final. 

To be fair a Friday game could only have been Adelaide vs Sydney, so an ancient repeat featuring Dr. Meinheimer from Naked Gun will probably rate better here. But that means they occupy Saturday night, and we're back to squinting in the sun at Princes Park from 3.05pm Sunday. And after waiting for years to play Geelong, it's a second game against them this year. Last time we withstood early stress to grind them into dust by the last quarter, but after this week it feels like if we're ever going to lose a final to a team outside the top four this could be it. Surely not, but the coaches will be up all night trying to find ways to look dangerous again.

The problem is that this is nearly our best side. Sherriff's mystery fracture has ended her year, and Lampard isn't going to be ready so what can you do except trust the survivors? I'm sure West will come back, and I'd prefer Wilson over Ivey, but otherwise for players who have appeared once this year you're down to Watt, Gall and Colvin - none of who are going to help if Geelong has reviewed the same tape of our forward entries. If they didn't have enough faith in Campbell to play her for a full game I suppose you could bring Watt back and park Harris inside 50 to try and create some sort of contest. Otherwise we're just going to have to hope that the players haven't entered a misery spiral and can secure a ticket in the Prelim lottery. Then it's back to Springfield and here's hoping for a better result than last time.

Final thoughts
We've nearly achieved a modified version of the famous 1996 Fitzroy banner. This time it's 'Broken by Brisbane, F'ed by North', and you can sit back and wait to see how the AFL completes the trifecta. 

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