Sunday, 18 March 2018

Don't fear the reaper

In the spirit of last round disaster I've not bothered editing this, so apologies in advance for any notable errors or missing words.

Who'd be a Melbourne fan? 10 years of swimming around in football's septic tank, then we climb just far enough out of the muck to 'enjoy' three thrilling finals near misses in a row - with another very much on the cards starting next Sunday.

Last year the AFLW side left it in the hands of other clubs, and could afford to casually blow Fremantle to bits in the last round just for the fun of it, this year they had to win or it was curtains. Beating our old friends the Bulldogs was a difficult task, but in the true spirit of supporting this club I was probably more confident than I would have been against a rotten side. You know the rules by now - don't trust them. As far as preliminary final defeats go it was hardly Jim Stynes running over the mark at Waverley, but is there any chance that at some point a weird scenario might go our way? The last time we got what we really wanted at the end of any season ended up costing us $500,000.

The only positives compared to that big old fuck up against Collingwood at the end of last year (as opposed to the women's BOFU against Collingwood this season), are that a) let's be entirely fair and reasonable, most - but perhaps not all - of us aren't nearly as invested in this team, and b) at least they had a red hot bash in the first quarter.

Without a Grand Final to go to, my non-attendance streak will stretch into season three. Tonight was spent trying to pull off the most obscure triathlon of all time - using two computer monitors to watch election coverage and a footy game simultaneously, while also being the responsible adult in charge of a boisterous small child. I'd been half tempted to drag junior along to the Western Oval on the (as it turns out correct) assumption that the #voteother revolution would fizzle out in SA, but then I remembered having to trek further than Burke & Wills back and forth to my car when we played the practice game there last year and chickened out.

Kicking with a cyclonic breeze in the first quarter was welcome, because I didn't fancy us to be digging out of a hole in the last, but only if our forwards could take advantage.

*Arrested Development voice* 
They couldn't.

I had some sympathy with anyone having to try and manage that sort of wind, the abandoned building site next to my house sounded as if it was about to distribute industrial waste around the neighbourhood again.

Consistent with most of our first quarters this year we were on the attack from 00:01 to the final siren, though in this case that was more pot luck based on the coin toss. Had that gone the other way our prized - and ultimately useless - record of having conceded 0.1 in the last five opening terms would have been blown to bits. Letting in 3.1 in seven quarters - and 3.0 of that in the first two - must be some kind of record. So we've got that going for us if nothing else.

Keeping the other side scoreless, and to one inside 50 in this case, was dandy, but when there's a rush on due to the fact that you'll be kicking into the wind in the last quarter only getting 1.1 out of it was not nearly enough. It's a miracle that we got as close as we did in the circumstances. The intent was certainly there, I especially enjoyed Cranston doing a FIFA International Soccer style (at least when I used to play it 20 years ago) spinny thing to avoid a tackle running inside 50. She ran into an opponent and had to lob a loose handball into space. It didn't generate a shot, but ultimately forced an out of bounds that allowed a long Paxman shot that was narrowly touched over.

Otherwise all the early pressure on the Bulldogs goal game to nowt. Our forwards looked less likely to take a mark than a double amputee, with Zanker, Hore and Cunningham achieving the trifecta by dropping one each in a completely different fashion (overhead, chest and sliding). With the aid of the wind any of the three would have been kickable, but let the Bulldogs off the hook. Hore made amends with the perfect pass that couldn't have been set up any better for Cunningham, who had the most torrid time as a key forward since The Spencil dropped the ball during his run-up against North.

The Bulldogs were under siege from every angle other than the scoreboard, but benefited from playing a team entirely lacking killer instinct. Everyone on our side was most certainly trying, but the problem was the same as it's been for most of the last 14 games - the silkiest players are all doing the best work up the ground, and inside 50 we're just buying lottery tickets en masse and hoping to have a win. What the forwards were doing was tormenting the Bulldogs defenders with pressure, but turning the game into a grim struggle didn't always work in our favour. Once everyone decided to ignore the AFL's plea for spectacle and instead try to win a life-or-death game of football.

We got lucky on the eighth inside 50 to nil, with the always busy Cranston drawing a free kick from a failed tackle and converting. The Bulldogs had barely had a kick at this point, and the ones they did get were usually under siege. As discussed last week this is often the best time to start worrying and avoid the rush, because you can't keep a side kickless all day. The first time they strung a couple of passes together I thought we were about to concede a crucial goal into the wind, but when the third player in the chain hoofed it ingloriously out on the full I made the fatal mistake of wondering whether it was going to be our day. Of course it wasn't.

The folly of not building a lead when we had the chance was further exposed when Sarah Lampard celebrated her first game of the season by doing her knee before quarter time. This is terrible news for her personally, but equally bad for the rotations of a 16 woman team on a night where the lack of sand was the only thing separating the wind from an afternoon in the Kalahari Desert.

We got to quarter time with one more player seriously injured than the Bulldogs had scores, and were worse off for it. At least we were either going to make the Grand Final, or become the answer to the trivia question of what team lost three games in one season after holding a team scoreless in the first quarter. Anyone who's watched Melbourne for more than five minutes knew deep down that it would be the latter.

Just because we were kicking into the wind it didn't mean we couldn't win the first bounce, get the ball inside 50 and do another strangulation job on them. It's one thing to have an extra 15 metres on your kicks due to natural causes, but that's not going to help much if all the kicks are coming from the square and into a wall of players. We never got the chance to put this theory to the test, because the ball flung out of the middle, into Dogs territory and wasn't seen down our end for nearly 20 minutes.

Footscray didn't look like creating wonderfully sculpted, highlight reel goals either, but there was a deep feeling of dread that they were more likely to eventually get them via brute force attacks. Eventually the repeat entries paid off with a free, a goal and the lead. It was a mirror image of quarter one, where now we were left desperately trying to free the ball from defensive 50 by any means necessary. Our home brand defence held up reasonably well in the face of a much better organised attack than they faced last week, before the Dogs got their second from a soft free right in front of a goal, given much to the joy of a Bulldogs fan parked next to the effects mic who let off a weird noise in celebration that sounded like a farm animal giving birth.

The first quarters of this side are unrepresentative swill, the moment the Dogs got the game on their terms they always looked more threatening. Good time for our ex-Deanna Berry, who was pretty good up forward last year before we flogged her as part of the Bianca Jakobsson deal, to chip in with her first goal in their colours. The wind wasn't helping us, but that couldn't be blamed for being thumped at the restart and seeing the ball go straight back into their attack. The usual suspects like Daisy and Paxman were great, but we just lacked somebody to take control and force at least a repeat ball-up in the hope of getting the ball away from where it could do the most damage.

There was late drama when we pinched a goal into the wind, Zanker is promising but didn't do much other than a lovely kick to the top of the square that Paxman read like the mastermind she is. It was our first inside 50 of the quarter, and the goal cut the margin to seven. This time we won the ball from the restart, and had one last ping at a goal that would have made the rest of the game very interesting but the Dogs held out for a vital lead.

In an ideal world, the third quarter would have seen us do what teams did at the Western Oval for years and stack on a ton of goals, then defend like buggery in the final term. I would have been happy to kick a couple, then get the first clearance of the fourth and keep the ball in our forward line for 10 minutes.

We were still without spark up front, and the Dogs were able to casually rush behinds and run the ball out of bounds for several minutes, relying on the kindness of "you wouldn't cost a team a Grand Final for that" umpiring. We couldn't make our own goals for shit, so it took a stuff up by the Dogs to finally open the gate. A kick-in shambles led to the ball being thrown-up at the top of the square, and the criminally underrated Katherine Smith nicked in to crumb her first career goal and restore the lead.

It might well have been touched, but as if the AFL is ever going to invest even the bare minimum in technology for this league. They've had their two years of goodwill, we'll be lucky if they don't outsource the competition to China by 2020. The special comments person made the outlandish claim that "it doesn't matter if it was touched", clearly trying to make an ill-defined point about where the Bulldogs defenders disappeared to as the goal was kicked, quickly leading to one of those great scenarios in a commentary box where somebody else challenges a wacky statement then the whole angle is forgotten about immediately because the director has told them to move on.

We should have had another after Newman took three bounces to get almost to the goal line then missing. Now that our season is over I can freely admit to not rating her, she highlights and the odd goal of the year are not worth the time spent MIA or missing shots like this. The flip-side is that unless you can find somebody else who runs that fast and is going to instantly walk into the team, it's probably better to stick with the player you've put two years into.

In a classic "that would never happen for a men's game" twist, I had to hit pause with five minutes left in the third quarter to put a cranky child to bed. I came back 26 minutes in the hole, staying well away from social media, my phone or pressing the wrong button on my remote control. The moment I hit play again we lost the plot, nearly throwing away the slight advantage we'd built.

Harriet Cordner had, by a massive distance, her best game, but got excited about spectacle in the last minute and tried to take possession of a ball that could have been left to bounce out for our free. By the time she gathered it hard on the boundary there was only one place it was going after it hit the boot, and when the Dogs found a target from free I was beginning to nervously adjust my collar. We weren't doing ourselves any favours with the wind, so it did one for us, the Bulldogs were left too far out and botched the second pass to get within scoring range.

We got to three-quarter-time five points ahead. This in no way felt safe, but at the same time I felt a strange calm about what was to come. It wasn't that I thought we were going to win, maybe I secretly thought we'd cop five goals in five minutes and have the result taken out of our hands. I was half expecting the draw that would set up Adelaide tipping us out by thrashing Collingwood tomorrow, which would have been the third consecutive AFL season to end with the Pies doing us over.

To have any chance we had to get the ball forward and keep it there. Cranston did her bit for momentum by elbowing a Dogs player in the head, but it backfired when they thumped a kick forward and Cordner was nicked for the more pissweak technical frees of our time. Sure, her arm crossed the opposition player's shoulder but it was while reaching over the top of it to grab the ball while the player was already being tackled. The 'high contact' was not detrimental to the player being tackled, Cordner was just being penalised for not having Go Go Gadget arms that could reach the ball without brushing a collarbone. Is that really what you want players being pinched for in Round 1, 7 or a practice match? So much for not stuffing a team's Grand Final chances unnecessarily. The recipient obviously felt guilty, because she tried her best to miss from the top of the square but barely snuck it home.

Now we were in some trouble, I was only confident when Paxman or Daisy had the ball in their hand, and that left 14 other players at any given time who were hitting, hoping and watching the ball fall 10 metres short of its intended target. That's if they could get their hands on it to start with, seven of our players had less than five disposals. We didn't deserve to be in the Grand Final, but I wasn't going to turn it down if one was on offer.

We could have done with one clean possession from the half-back flank, just to get the ball forward of centre and reset. Instead we immediately reverted to backs-to-the-wall mode, when it looked highly unlikely that we'd ever get enough space to get the ball forward again let alone kick a fourth goal. I despise the last touch out of bounds rule, but if there's ever been a kick that deserved to be penalised it was Brooke Patterson's free that shanked 10 metres forward and five metres right into the wind and rolled out.

The margin was two, but just as it looked like we'd never get enough space and keep the ball long enough without giving the Dogs time to stick 16 players into the defensive 50, my old mate Newman almost accidentally hit Hore for a set shot 20 metres out almost directly in front. Given the circumstances, and a couple of other wacky set shots this year I didn't have any faith in her converting, but feeding off the energy of the 200th mention for the season of her junior footy connection with Jayden Hunt (the AFLW version of Brad Green at Manchester United) she banged it through. The only downside was still having to defend for six and a half minutes.

Kicking another would have been the best way to throw a knockout blow, but it was not to be. The Dogs were soon on the attack again, and the closer it got to the final siren the more it felt inevitable that we'd lose to a late heartbreaker. It got to the point where you start to think 'if we're going to concede one, do it quickly so there's time to get it back'. Alternatively the Dogs might have cracked under the pressure, and when Jakobsson took two crucial intercept marks in the last two minutes you could have almost believed we were going to hold on. If you'd just emerged from a coma.

The end came from an unusual set of circumstances. A boundary throw in on the half-back flank gave us the opportunity to get the ball forward and cynically waste the last 90 seconds. Instead it caught on the wind, swung 10 metres closer to their goal, and in the chaos our defence lost their opponents and allowed the league's leading goalkicker to crop up for the first time all night and beat us. At the other end, our leading goalkicker hadn't registered a disposal of any variety. In a realistic world you'd probably have recalled the throw in for giving one side such a major advantage, but that's clutching at straws in the context of this result.

We still had just over a minute to pull something remarkable out, and with the players in a situation of almost unbearable tension the jobsworth umpire held the restart so he could enforce where our players could stand in line with AFL directives. Obviously that was the most important thing going on at this juncture of the season. After being forced to try a bit less to win we had one last chance, but a hopeful forward kick held up in the wind and was intercepted. Game over, season over, and the streak of stuffing up a finals appearance by the near narrowest of margins lives.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal votes
5 - Karen Paxman
4 - Daisy Pearce
3 - Lauren Pearce
2 - Katherine Smith
1 - Harriet Cordner

Apologies to O'Dea (significant apologies as it turns out), Cranston, Hore, Downie and Jakobsson

Final leaderboard
By virtue of narrowly missing out on the minors, O'Dea is toppled at the last minute. After missing votes in Round 1 through injury, Paxman has picked up 20 of the remaining maximum 30 votes available to win her first Player of the Year trophy. That's one each for her and Daisy, maybe if she can go back-to-back we'll rename the award for the third time?

20 - Karen Paxman
19 - Elise O'Dea
16 - Daisy Pearce
10 - Tegan Cunningham
6 - Katherine Smith
5 - Richelle Cranston, Shelley Scott
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson, Lauren Pearce
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Harriet Cordner, Erin Hoare

Banner watch
Interesting one here, because the Bulldogs banner definitely won for having a more traditional look than our corporate rent-a-canvas. But, I'm disqualifying it for having one of those reject slogans that makes no grammatical sense and is just there to set up a rhyme. What happened to that Bulldogs bloke who writes 'funny' banners? Doesn't work summer? Dees win in a thriller, 4-3 for the season, which in this competition is enough to win.

Next week
Let the other gender start giving us the shits.

Next year
O'Dea is young, but I hope there's at least one more year in Daisy and Paxy because if they go under the current arrangement we'll be cactus. Meanwhile brace for the impact of the expansion teams, not only that we'll probably lost a few good players to them but that they'll probably get their first wins against us.

Final thoughts
The competition certainly lacked verve once the novelty factor of the opening season wore off, and when the league started trying to enforce entertainment value, but when you've got a reason to take an interest it's still worthwhile viewing. I don't think the extra teams are going to help, but the competition is probably at the level it has deserved to be for the last couple of years. Given that many of the games are played in the deep suburbs, and often in hot weather the overall attendances have been good considering the competition started at zero two years ago. Anyway, when it comes to AFLW the equation is simple - if you like watching it then watch, if you don't then don't, and if you hatewatch it just to complain you're a poon.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Pre-season updates and final betting markets

Welcome to the lowest effort post of the year, where we update our January betting markets and predictions based on a lot of pre-season games that I didn't watch, news about other clubs that I paid scant interest to and The Vibe.

Remember, if you're gambling real money on these markets bet responsibly and seek professional help.

Final betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
Oliver comes off slightly to account for Petracca's joint Prymke plate winning pre-season campaign. Elsewhere Viney eases on injury fears, while Gawn and Neal-Bullen are the big movers in the top half of the draw. The biggest mover overall is Bayley Fritsch, slashing his price in half in anticipation of a Round 1 debut, followed by Josh Wagner who won't win but is clearly closer to playing senior games than most in his range.

$3.25 - Clayton Oliver (-$0.25)
$4.25 - Christian Petracca (+$0.75)
$8.50 - Jack Viney (-$1.50)
$11 - Michael Hibberd (-$1), Max Gawn (+$4)
$13 - Nathan Jones (-$4)
$15 - Neville Jetta
$20 - Jesse Hogan, Jake Lever
$22 - Tom McDonald
$25 - Jayden Hunt (-$3), Alex Neal-Bullen (+$10), Christian Salem
$27 - Jordan Lewis, (-$2), Jake Melksham (+$3)
$30 - Jeff Garlett
$35 - Dom Tyson
$40 - Angus Brayshaw, Bernie Vince
$45 - Cameron Pedersen
$50 - Mitch Hannan, James Harmes
$55 - Oscar McDonald (+$5)
$60 - Tomas Bugg
$70 - Sam Frost, Corey Maynard
$90 - Harley Balic (-$10), Billy Stretch (+$10)
$125 - Bayley Fritsch (+$125)
$140 - Dean Kent (-$30), Aaron vandenBerg ($-15), Sam Weideman ($-15)
$200 - Joel Smith (-$40)
$270 - Josh Wagner (+$55)
$325 - Tim Smith
$350 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Dion Johnstone
$500 - Charlie Spargo
$650 - Oskar Baker
$750 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$900 - Mitch King
$1000 - Lachlan Filipovic, Pat McKenna (-$100)

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Not a great deal of movement, with Hibberd retaining favouritism. The big mover is Tom McSizzle, sliding rapidly as I start to become confident that we'll keep him as a forward and not put him back into defence out of panic by Round 5. I expect he will be long disqualified from this award by mid-season.

$5 - Michael Hibberd
$7 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Jake Lever
$20 - Christian Salem
$22 - Jayden Hunt, Oscar McDonald
$30 - Bernie Vince
$45 - Sam Frost, Josh Wagner
$50 - Tom McDonald
$80 - James Harmes
$120 - Harrison Petty
$200 - Tomas Bugg, Jake Melksham
$400 - Cameron Pedersen
$750 - ANY OTHER PLAYER, Pat McKenna

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
Of course, Corey Maynard is eligible due to debuting in the last four rounds of 2017, but based on the pre-season it's a no brainer that Fritsch as leapt past him and into favouritism. None of the other eligible players look like getting a game any time soon, so they've all been moved out and 'no eligible player' has come right in.

$4.50 - Bayley Fritsch
$9 - Corey Maynard
$30 - Dion Johnstone, Charlie Spargo
$60 - Oskar Baker
$85 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$100 - Max King, Pat McKenna
$125 - Lachlan Filipovic

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Gawn remains the red hot favourite, pushing everyone else out. Smart gamblers may wish to get on Pedersen or McDonald, hoping that they will bank votes elsewhere on the ground and then take advantage of a Maximum mishap to reach the 10 hitout per game qualification mark.

$1.10 - Max Gawn
$20 - Cameron Pedersen
$25 - NO ELIGIBLE PLAYER, Tom McDonald
$90 - Declan Keilty
$135 - Max King
$175 - Lachlan Filipovic

Demonblog's Chosen 22
There's no doubt Vince will play, but I narrowly left him out in favour of Maynard. Corey's practice matches weren't anything special, but he gets the nod just because of Viney's absence.

B: Jetta, O. McDonald, Hibberd
HB: Salem, Lever, Hunt
C: Tyson, Oliver, Neal-Bullen
HF: Petracca, Hogan, Melksham
F: Garlett, T. McDonald, Hannan
Foll: Gawn, Jones, Lewis
Int: Brayshaw, Pedersen, Maynard, Fritsch

IN: Fritsch
OUT: Viney (inj)

Projected ladder
Changes in position from the first draft pre-season ladder are marked.

1. Adelaide
2. Sydney (+1)
3. Richmond (+3)
4. Geelong (-2)
5. Port Adelaide (+1)
6. GWS (+1)
7. Melbourne (+1)
8. Western Bulldogs (+1)
9. Essendon (-5)
10. Hawthorn
11. St Kilda
12. West Coast
13. Brisbane (+1)
14. Collingwood (-1)
15. Carlton
16. Gold Coast
17. North Melbourne
18. Fremantle

Yes, I've picked us in the eight. But the saver is that we'll probably finish ninth in a thriller again. Becoming the new Richmond isn't so bad if it eventually leads to a flag.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Here comes success (or a fiasco)

Just when you thought the infamous Bradbury Plan died as we ironically fell over at the end of 2017, it's back in AFLW form. What already promised to be a blockbuster last round of Grand Final permutations got even more complicated when Brisbane did a Melbourne against Collingwood, and GWS upset the Bulldogs. Against all odds we did our bit to keep our fate in our own hands by winning a game as red favourites, and have an advantage of half a game and percentage in the race for the top two.

This was not a game you wanted to tune in to at quarter time, because it was all downhill from there. Pummelling Carlton into submission across the first 20 minutes was fantastic, but I hope we don't end up looking back on this as a replay of Round 22 against Brisbane where we got the critical win but the missed chance to boost percentage by drubbing strugglers ultimately cost us a spot in the next round.

My best laid plans about going to my first live match fell apart on the day, and what a shame because it was one of those games where there's barely anything to write about for three quarters and all the post-rampage action would have come from crowd watch and seeing what sort of dilapidated shit I could find wandering around restricted areas of Princes Park.

Readers of our award winning AFLM coverage will have seen my torment about possibly starting to miss games from mid-season, and this was a reminder of the extra angles and gimmicks that you can only get at the game. Like one of those low grade interest games on the radio where you suspect they're just calling off the TV from a studio, something vital will be lost from the experience if I'm not there. Imagine I'd missed Round 19, 2010 and hadn't seen the kid spewing everywhere? That's up there with my all-time great footy moments, and other than ending up on the floor screaming unintelligible garbage when Sizzle goalled against West Coast I can't think of anything nearly as exciting that's happened when I've watched at home.

Of course, when you trade the outer for your couch you get to enjoy often baffling television coverage. On this occasion we were helpfully informed that we not only needed to win, but had to boost our percentage - and that had to "come from goals". I know we're famous for stuffing up attacking opportunities, but even we weren't in danger of kicking 2.43.55.

When it was announced at the first bounce that we needed to win by 85 points to go ahead of the Bulldogs I yelled "Noooooo!" at the screen like a movie bodyguard taking a bullet. Carlton are awful, but they have won two games this year so expecting to slaughter them was tempting fate on a level just below sending out finals ticket brochures before the last game. Then a funny thing happened on the way to quarter time. We tormented the piss out of Carlton, finally delivering on one of these dominant first quarters but holding half their side without a possession and kicking the highest single quarter score in AFLW history.

After that start it was certainly valid to talk about percentage, but tying it to the Bulldogs was a bit rich. Say we had retaken our record for the largest ever win back from them, condemning Carlton to the two worst defeats in history like a certain other AFL club I think of, it's fair to say we wouldn't have had time to get that much further beyond an 85 point win. So we'd still be vulnerable to any sort of narrow loss against them next week. We could have won by 300 and it wouldn't have protected us against the two teams half a game behind us unless there are more draws. This league is weird, so I'm not ruling it out.

It was finally an MFC women's first quarter that you could trust. We got the ball forward from the first bounce, and unlike the Fremantle debacle it didn't stay there because it was regularly going back to the middle after another goal. It was a very on brand start when the Tegan Cunningham Experience (TCE?) missed a sitter from directly in front, but she more than made up for it as the game went on by terrifying a rotating cast of Carlton defenders. By the end they'd tried everyone on her but Steven Silvagni.

The Blues had approximately eight seconds of reprieve, with the ball not even getting outside the 50 before Elise O'Dea converted. At the risk of ruining her career like everyone else I've ever attached myself to, I've decided that she's narrowly ahead of Daisy and Paxman in my favourite players. What a formidable group that is to pick from. She played a first quarter best described as "barnstorming", running rings around hapless Carltonians and kicking three.

We've had early goals that have gone nowhere before, but this time the opener was added to within seconds. The Blues' midfield parted like the Red Sea for us to go forward again, and Cunningham took advantage of a one-on-one with her fringe opponent to get rid of her and kick through an unguarded goal. I've got trust issues with this team, so I wasn't ready to concede victory just yet but it was fairly clear that Carlton were not going to spring a Freo/Collingwood style upset. Hopefully this was the death blow to the idea of using them in the 2019 season opener and we might get a go instead.

Crucially to our chances of not folding like an umbrella after quarter time, Carlton used one of their few inside 50s for the quarter to kick a point. That was their lot for the first 20 minutes, we went straight down the other end where the charismatically named Eden Zanker let rip with a big kick down the middle of the 50 for Cunningham's second. It was beginning to look a lot like the night where the Bulldogs player plundered the Blues for seven earlier in the year. Had we not gone to bed after quarter time, and were she not an iffy set shot kicking prospect, she could have taken advantage of the confusion of Carlton's defence to rack up half a dozen.

Cunningham (#4 on my ARIA favourite players chart) wasn't just kicking them, she set up a second for O'Dea with a perfect centring pass - assisted by nobody being in the same time zone as her target - and we were almost in an unbeatable position already. Even by our standards. Carlton's defence looked terrorised in the same way that I expect the army of Grenada was when the US turned up with Marines and an aircraft carrier. They failed to heed the warning about leaving O'Dea standing on her own near goal, and when Grierson set up her third the massacre was on. We'd had six scores from seven inside 50s, and not the 1.5 you'd usually expect in the circumstances.

I've not seen a defence so collectively terrified since the first two rounds of 2013. In lieu of having any idea how to stop us from getting the ball they went the biff. I'm not even sure it was deliberate, they were just so bereft of ideas that two different players nearly decapitated Mithen, and another had a good old fashioned yank on Cranston's hair as they walked through them otherwise unchallenged.

Not only was it the highest scoring quarter yet - and all this without Daisy or Paxman doing anything remarkable - but their defenders must have given away more free kicks proportional to time played than any time this century. Almost every time the ball went down there a whistle was sure to follow, which makes it even more of a shame that we weren't able to go on with after quarter time. I bear no ill will towards Carlton's defenders, but after years of seeing Melbourne sides in total disarray I'll take revenge anywhere it's on offer.

Like the men on Thursday, you knew that one bulldozer quarter was all that we were going to get, and just as Carlton were about to turn coach Damien Keeping into Damien Sacking his side managed to salvage some dignity. They finally got their hands on the ball, kicking the first goal after 20 seconds and another not long after. Suddenly it wasn't so easy to just pump the ball forward and wait for chaos to work in our favour.

It wasn't the first time I've seen a Melbourne game where one side gives away a huge lead because they can't get a kick, then regroup and start to chip away at the lead. The only difference was this time it was the opposition, and the two goals were as close as they got due to a complete absence of firepower at either end of the ground.

Not surprisingly when we did finally get it inside 50, a defender got nervous and gave away a free to Cunningham. With the pressure of kicking to pass forgotten spearhead Alyssa Mifsud's all-time MFCW goalkicking record she missed from directly in front again. Minor detail, she was fantastic otherwise. Like many AFLW forwards if she could take overhead contested marks she'd be dominant, but I think the same about Jesse Hogan and I think we're all reasonably happy with how he's progressing.

Repeat forward entries caused her next opponent to crack like the other two, and this time the free from the square was duly converted. No streamers fell from the stands, and nobody expected me (and possibly Mifsud) cared about the statistical significance of the moment. The closest thing to a celebration came shortly after when the Windows notification sound played over the stadium's PA. Don't forget to put your Windows Firewall on Princes Park.

Losing the second quarter after such a hot start was very Melbourne, but at least we kept the damage down to them cutting a goal off the margin. It showed that while we might have reverted to our old struggles, the opposition was so toothless they could have played eight quarters and not reached our score in the first.

Now all that was left to find out was whether we could put on another burst and at least send a message to the Bulldogs that we were capable of racking up big scores. We went forward straight out of the middle, and when a battle at full-forward ended with a whistle you thought it absolutely certain that Cunningham was going to get a free. The umpires were feeling charitable, they paid it against her to alter the ledger to about one against and 15 for. Seconds later she was denied one of the more obvious marks of recent times. Give that Carlton's percentage may grow above 50.

They could have allowed the Blues to send another 12 players on the field and it probably wouldn't have helped them score enough to win, but down the other end we were making kicking goals look impossible again. In another farcical application of the last 'disposal' out of bounds rule scenario, the Carlton player had the ball bounce off her foot and get pinged for 'disposing' of it. This set up an opportunity for the enigmatic (e.g. disappears frequently) Newman. She missed, but we were starting to fulfil the pre-match prophecy and improve our percentage point by point.

Shelley Scott was next to add a single. She played her best game since getting rid of the cows, but clubbing a golden chance into the post from the top of the square. It would have been another goal from a forward 50 free kick, borne of Cranston absolutely killing an opponent for holding the ball. Fatefully Scott's miss created the set of circumstances that allowed Mel Hickey's knee to go pop. I'm sure she doesn't hold Shelley personally responsible.

At the time of writing there's no confirmation of how serious the injury is, but I dare say she's not coming back in the next two weeks. What a pisstake, doing yourself a mischief when we're on the verge of a Grand Final after playing every game for two seasons. She has perhaps been unfairly underrepresented in our votes over the last two years, one because there's often limited space after the big three are factored in, and two because we spend so much time up front making goals look difficult that the defenders are often forgotten.

In the last quarter the sting not only went out of the game, it adopted a false name and entered the witness protection program. More gettable shots were being missed, and the chance to beat the bejesus out of a vulnerable opposition disappeared. They would want to do better against a competitive side next week, nothing after quarter time was Round 7 form let alone fit for a premiership.

After several minutes of torrid junk time struggle, a Carlton player implausibly named Georgie Gee as if she's a ventriloquist's dummy got a consolation goal, before the always busy Cunningham set up Kate Hore for the last. By then I'd already given up on hovering over the TV and was cooking dinner, waving a pair of tongs in the air in celebration at the final siren. Bring on the Dogs, and let's see if Melbourne women have more luck with fairytale endings than the men.

2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Elise O'Dea
4 - Tegan Cunningham
3 - Katherine Smith
2 - Shelley Scott
1 - Karen Paxman

Apologies to Hore, D. Pearce and L. Pearce.

O'Dea opens a crucial break in front of the 2017 medallist, while Daisy winning her own medal looks almost impossible now. She'd need us to qualify for the Grand Final and to pick up seven votes on a player who has polled in almost every game she's ever played.

19 - Elise O'Dea
15 - Karen Paxman
--- Still eligible if we play two more games ---
12 - Daisy Pearce
10 - Tegan Cunningham
--- Finished under any measurement ---
5 - Richelle Cranston, Shelley Scott
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson, Katherine Smith
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson,
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Erin Hoare, Lauren Pearce

Crowd Watch
What about the tightly packed group in the 'Legends' Stand' (the real legend is whoever got paid a fortune to build something used to full capacity for about 25 minutes) pocket decked out in MC Labour merchandise? When somebody came around the office on Friday desperately trying to fill the full sponsor allocation I'll bet they said yes picturing free booze, a shitload of food at half time and a decent view. Instead somebody forced a company hat on them, and sat them as far away from food and drink as possible, in a spot where it's impossible to see what's going on at the other end of the ground.

Banner Watch
Fox Sports helpfully failed to show the proper view of either banner, just giving us a side shot of them being run through. Carlton's didn't appear to have a curtain, which is strange because their men's season banners have curtains that you could fly a 747 through. Nevertheless, either cheersquad has posted their banner online yet so I can't cast an accurate vote. DRAW, but willing to renegotiate if anyone's got pictures. 3-1-2 for the season.

Banner Watch - second Monday morning update 
The early rumour was the banner broke, but further eyewitness reports suggest the advertising/promotions company who handle the banner didn't bring it in a hoistable format. I was right to be suss of these banners from the start. Result changed to a Carlton win, setting up a second sudden death decider next week. 3-3 for the season.

Next Week
Bulldogs at the Western Oval on Saturday night. It's in the unique position of either being an elimination final for one of the teams, or a prelude to the Grand Final. By then we'll know if GWS or Brisbane are still in the mix, ideally wanting either a draw or a Brisbane win by under 30 points that will knock them both out. Then the equation is simple, beat the Bulldogs and qualify or lose and wait to see if Adelaide beat Collingwood on Sunday.

It could be last year all over again, screaming obscenities at a Pies player who misses the easy goal that ends their resistance, allowing the Crows to win and tip us out. Notwithstanding their two wins being against Grand Final contenders, I've got zero faith in the Pies doing us a favour so a win against the Dogs is crucial.

Presumably Jakobsson comes back in for Hickey, but I'll be keen to see if they risk any other changes. There's no need to touch the forward structure, even if they will be playing against competent defenders, so even though Zanker flits in and out they may as well keep her. I'm less keen on Whitford, and thought Emma Humphries was unlucky to get the boot so I'll bring her back as well.

Based on what I saw today once the opposition got a kick I don't fancy our chances. The last three quarters were tellingly bland, we're never going to get away with that against the Dogs. Either way, it's going to be nerve-wracking entertainment, watched in a dual TV set-up with South Australian state election coverage because I'm an unashamed election nerd.

Final Thoughts
As if you'd go into any make-or-break Melbourne game expecting us to win. The only difference is this time it's against a good side, not flotsam and/or jetsam so we might just get away with it.

Friday, 9 March 2018

The only thing we have to fear is The Fear itself

Never before have I needed an off-season to end like this one. Every new story about what novel/unique/shithouse 'innovations' the AFL is about to introduce has driven me a step closer to locking myself in the house, creating a little fort from couch cushions and watching the season on TV. Ironically, that is probably exactly what they want me to do. I'm waiting to find out that this is all just to distract us from somebody famous being revealed as a massive nonce

As a trial run for my future as a bitter and twisted shut-in, I declined the option of a three hour round trip to Casey and hovered over my television with emoji style 😍 eyes bursting out like a Warner Brothers cartoon character whenever Christian Petracca touched the ball. After another week being made to feel stupid for following a sport that is apparently no good in its current format (while simultaneously having the fourth largest average crowd of any league in the bloody world) his performance was a timely reminder that there are very good reasons to plaster on a fake smile and keep plowing through until the flag exit strategy pays off.

Wasn't life simpler before the football 'industry' became a 24/7/365 race to force everyone in Australia (and if you believe delusional fantasists, soon the world) to pay attention to the AFL? It's at least partially my fault for being sucked in, if I didn't follow the news I'd never know what they were proposing until it happened. Just like it used to be. One year I didn't even know we'd played our first pre-season game until after it happened. Now after 11 seasons of being emotionally all-in on the idea of Melbourne winning meaningful silverware I've got a sinking feeling that it won't happen until we're playing 11-a-side games on pontoons in the Bay of Bengal.

Instead of changing everything, what about looking at simple solutions to supposed problems. Here's a free idea on how to save a few seconds every week, make players give the ball back to the umpire when it's at their feet instead of treating them like servants. One mannerless shitbag Saints player ran across the line with the ball in his hand during the third quarter, then dropped it at the boundary umpire's feet and walked off. The counter suggestion would be to just abolish the throw-in entirely, and I was pleased that Paul Roos brought some much needed sanity to this discussion of that topic by pointing out how it would just create more congestion. The centre bounce itself can do one, but I'm willing to punch on (not sure with who) until the cows come home to save stoppages.

If you're hopelessly in love with a club that plays in it, the carnies in charge of the Australian Football League have got you over a barrel. Slaughtering the head of the league probably pre-dates Sir Kenneth Luke, but for all the abuse we used to pile on Demetriou at least he tried to turn a blind eye to outrageous tanking and cut us a massive rescue cheque before we ended up in deep financial shit. Somewhere along the line the AFL has become the neediest, most insecure sporting organisation in the world - not even trying to conceal their desperation to have anyone from overseas pat us on the head and tell us how good we are. Some argue that we have to get foreign money into the game, I say bring back the days where players lifted bricks until 5pm and played footy on the side.

Lots of people were prepared to go along with AFLX as a bit of pre-season fun, but how can you trust the motives of a competition where the CEO is spinning shit like this? Now they're using puppet media outlets to set up the idea of rewarding mid-table mediocrity with a wildcard round. Because the only criteria you need for AFL House to take an idea seriously is that they do it in America. Next they'll be supporting rampant gun crime. In the immortal words of legendary sports broadcaster Alan Partridge:

I'm not just tense about the ongoing threat of city hall committing cultural vandalism on a game that's not theirs to ruin, there are other factors contributing to my malaise. For one, The Fear is back. It's a different strain to the 2013 variety when I thought we were about to be wound up, now I'm terrorised by the prospect of what on paper could (COULD) be a golden generation not reaching their potential. I can't even picture winning a flag, so for now I'm willing to settle for one token finals appearance as part reward for the thousands of hours of unholy tripe I've watched since 2007. Anything else would be a welcome bonus.

That's why Round 23 - the new 186 - hurt me far more than I let on. It's why I was on the floor, throwing my dignity out the window and screaming at Adelaide to kick goals against West Coast like my life depended on it. Psychologists would have a field day with me at the best of times, but this was a special occasion. I just needed one monkey off my back before concentrating on the rest. Now we've got the wait another six months to even try and erase that stain. And if it doesn't work this time that's another year, and then another, and the next thing you know it's all over. There's a reason I have this hanging above my desk - it's my life story.

I expect to die unfulfilled, but with the usual caveats and exemptions about the pre-season, watching this made me believe in a life-altering season more than any time since momentarily hitting the top of the ladder in late 2005. Ironically just as this happens I'm suffering a midlife crisis over no longer being young, carefree and fantastic, and am seriously considering grabbing at money like somebody in one of these and returning to shift work. As I watched us carve the Saints like a Christmas ham in the first quarter I had second thoughts about this approach. Imagine going through every fluctuating emotion since Brock McLean's R1 2007 broken leg and becoming unavailable for anywhere between one and all games in the (potential) glory years? If we could just storm to a surprise Footscray/Richmond style flag immediately that would be wonderful.

That I can even stretch to dream of a shock premiership run is enough to have me breaking out in lumps. To ensure not getting too far ahead of myself, I read encouraging season previews like this and try to remember that the perceived great leap forward is being judged on keeping the most important players upright for 22 games. Our depth has improved beyond fish pond levels, but we're still as vulnerable as anyone to an injury assisted crash. If the casualty list is short like 2016 then I think we can overcome the death march run home to make the finals. If players drop like flies like last year we'd want to be deeply ensconced (!) inside the eight on return from the Darwin game against Fremantle.

Even nearly 24 hours later I'm still confused at how much notice to take of what happened. St Kilda has more no name products than Aldi, including several who look like they'd be right at home in an 80s pub brawl, but it still can't have been anywhere near their best 22. Not that it was our top side either (sans Viney, Anal-Bullet and Sizzle Sr at a minimum + Harmes and Lewis if you're generous), but close enough to. Besides, I'm not worried about beating fellow middle of the road teams, it's the top sides and the shitboxes that concern me. Viney might miss Round 1 due to his dicky foot, but for now we can cover him to a reasonable level. Corey Maynard is not Jack Viney, and never will be, but nor is he flotsam that we have to play because there's nobody else available.

The most important thing about the second match of a series sponsored by a company nobody's any the wiser about two years later, is that nobody got seriously hurt. The second most important was the occasional lightning flash of brilliant football that makes you throw your arms in the air and ask where this has been for the last decade of your life. And because I'm always looking for an out to explain why we won't succeed, I hope we don't look back at the way our defence fell to bits when Sizzle Jr went off with a sore back and go "ahh, we missed that hint". The saving grace here was St Kilda kicking into the forward 50 like they were all drunk.

It was practically a re-run of our much higher stakes game against them in Round 21. We dashed off to a solid lead by quarter time, then slowed down, unexpectedly died in the arse during the third quarter, and recovered to win reasonably comfortably. The key difference is that only 4500 people turned up to see it, some of whom are probably still trying to recover their car from a cavernous pothole in the 'car park'.

Those of you who remember Chris Dawes winning our goalkicking with 20 - each of them harder fought than a World War I trench battle - will understand just how important it was to see multiple players providing goalkicking options. There was a bit of that last year, but we couldn't maintain it long enough to build a thumping percentage to insulate against a shock final round collapse. Now we must take advantage of our increasing power to merrily kick the shit out of a few plankton sides, and ensure that in the event of a tie after 22 games we're not reliant on other teams to win or lose by certain margins.

I can't get across how much I enjoyed Petracca's game without being arrested for public indecency, but everything you need to know about him as a super-weapon was demonstrated in our first goal. We flipped the script by torching another team on a quick break, but it still might not have turned into anything if Truck hadn't strong-armed his opponent out of the way to set up an open goal. Then after ripping the Saints from arsehole to breakfast in the first quarter he went into the middle and did them over there as well. What. A. Man.

At one point he found himself deep in the forward pocket and hit some weird, inverted torp that centered directly to an unguarded Bernie Vince. I can only think he was really having a shot and it accidentally found a free player, but am willing to entertain the prospect that like a quick Hamburglar handball off the deck he actually has sixth sense vision and meant it. He is my football fantasy - I'm even keen on his bullshit novelty NBA celebration routines with Oliver. If you're going to do anything that annoys opposition fans, make it something that only happens after a goal.

It was quite a night for players from the Petracca draft - McCartin and Brayshaw both played promising games after a shocking run with injury, and avoided the instant 000 scenario of crashing into each other. Gus is behind because of all the footy he's missed, but has the general building blocks of an excellent player. On the other side McCartin played the game of his life to earn a nomination in the Kingsley Klub pre-season XVIII.

We temporarily conceded the lead via two quick goals, one from an absurdly random free kick directly in front of goal, but that was effectively the last anyone saw of the Saints until the siren went. The rest of the quarter was a Harlem Globetrotters style exhibition of effortless, funky ball movement that made you fall in love with the sport all over again. When we didn't score instantly, St Kilda defenders would be tormented by a much welcome torrent of forward pressure.

Every once in a while they'd get a break from us clobbering them and escape the 50, only to blow their chance with horrible service to the forwards. We would then bounce down the other end, where a rotating cast of characters would thump through a goal. It's hard to fault an eight goal quarter, but when it happens in the first there is a nagging sense that you're never going to have it as good again for the rest of the day. Unless you were playing us when we were total wank. After goals from Garlett and Melksham x2, Tyson, Vince from Petracca's mystery ball and Fritsch people started to forget Jack Watts ever played for us.

If you were watching any other club you'd think a landslide was on, but with Melbourne you knew the inevitable correction couldn't be too far away. When they kicked the goal right at the end of the quarter I had that familiar "oh here we go" feeling. Realistically in a trial game it shouldn't have mattered if we did throw away a good start, but after going 6-1 in the last three pre-seasons (+3 if you consider AFLX legitimate) I've become accustomed to the good life. Before Round 1 starts at least.

To nobody's surprise we didn't carry on after quarter time, but even with the game slowed down and the opposition finally deciding to turn up the margin kept going up. They were a much tougher proposition, now but were still attacking like it was the first time they'd ever played the sport. If you've been paying close attention to our AFLW side you'd have recognised the 'hit it and hope' method, which was about as successful for them as it has been for our women in 2018. We chucked in a bit of that as well, but it was balanced by well worked goals and Oliver effortlessly fanging them through.

The brakes went on the outright rampage of the first quarter, but we still extended the lead into half time. I'm still not comfortable writing about us like we're a good side, which is why the third quarter was a handy reality check. First there was a half time interview between Simon Goodwin, and Garry Lyon wearing an implausible barnet that looked like fibre optic cabling. No AFL coach has said anything important in public since Mick Malthouse berated Mark Stevens so we were never going to learn anything remarkable. The only thing I got from it, other than the National Broadband Network running across Gaz's fringe, was that as much as Goodwin put a brave face on talk about the cancelled camp debacle he was still filthy about it.

Instead of matey Dorothy Dixers, Garry should have known the interview would be played at half time and asked - no matter how long ago it was recorded - why there's always one quarter where we roll over and die with scant resistance. He would have looked like an oracle. Given that our backline was practically at full strength it's concerning that they burst like a squashed bug the moment McDonald was packed away. It wasn't entirely their fault, we lost what had been complete dominance of the stoppages and the Saints decided to take their time looking for targets instead of panic bombing to a contest. Result - several players in red and blue standing around like traffic cones while St Kilda forwards roamed free as a bird.

Before you had time to breathe we'd copped six goals and had blown a 39 point lead. This is the point where somebody will bemoan the absence of Lewis under the assumption that he'd have applied some sick leadership shit to stop it. If that's the case he must have been distracted when Collingwood were fisting us in the first quarter last year. For many years the task of trying to calm everyone down would have fallen to Nathan Jones, but he was barely seen all night. The idea of becoming a good side without him suffering another crushing neck injury from carrying everyone on his shoulders is alien to me, but for the first time I really suspected that the rising tide might sink him. In the meantime I'm sure he welcomes the opportunity to become just a cog in the wheel rather than the straw that stirs the drink.

Their momentum was finally halted by accident, with Jake Melksham sliding through a perfectly legitimate attempt to gather the ball and straight into Jack Steven's ankle. Jeff Garlett steadied the ship not long after, and we were back in front at the last change. Any rational human could understand that Steven's injury was a racing accident, which is why David "What have you got to worry about Melbourne fans?" King suggested it was the perfect example of why the sliding rule was so important. There was not a hint of irony about it, nor did any of the umpires feel strongly enough to pay a free at the time. He was not as vocal about an incident earlier in the game where Mitch Hannan was pinged for desperately lunging onto the ball and having a Saints player run into his head.

Speaking of people who've had their head run into, the last quarter opened with a fortuitous bullshit free to Brayshaw right in front of goal. Josh Wagner must have felt guilty about it, because the first time the ball went down the other end he tackled somebody in the face to give it back. That was St Kilda's lot, Gus got a second, Hannan another as a direct result of a nervy fumble, then Bugg turned up his own in the square for a third.

Other than a rancid miss in the first quarter I was happy with Bugg, his forward pressure was excellent. Doesn't mean he's a Round 1 starter, but it makes a change to have capable players waiting in the wings. I enjoy how now every time he goes near it they have to talk about him punching that Sydney bloke in the head as if he committed a human rights violation. Bad luck getting six weeks for a badly aimed jumper punch, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the victim played 84% of the next game when painting Bugg as the second coming of Jack the Ripper.

To add to the general fiasco that is my personal year 2018 to date, I missed the next five minutes when the excitement of the JLT Community Series caused our electricity to lose the plot. I don't know if you've ever tried to restart a Foxtel box after a quick power outage, but it's like waiting for paint to dry. If it happened in the fourth quarter of a real game I'd punch on, so that's a great advertisement for why I have to keep going to live matches. I half expected to come back and find we'd conceded five, or that everyone had done a knee. Fortunately no. The most disastrous thing I saw as it returned was Billy Stretch buggering up a shot from the pocket.

As everyone went into self-preservation mode there was a quick Gawn injury scare, before it was revealed to be nothing more than cramp. Maybe it's because our performance had calmed my nerves, maybe it was because I was dying to go to bed and couldn't face the prospect of fretting about it, but I had a gut feeling when the injury was alleged that everything was going to be alright. And indeed it was, he gingerly went to the sidelines for some stretching and all was right with the world.

The last came courtesy of Hogan, whose two goal total didn't go near telling you how well he played. His work pushing up the ground was glorious. We don't need one man to kick 70 when he can play a part in setting up 100 for his teammates. I'm more than happy for him to go to CHF and kick as McDonald's lead. Even the idea is starting to make me sweat, I think I need to sit down and watch some 2013 'highlights' as the footy equivalent of a cold shower.

Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season Performance votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Max Gawn
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Dom Tyson

Apologies to Brayshaw, Garlett, Lever and Bugg.

Surprise Leaderboard
The award that would not die. I said it would only be awarded if two or less players were tied at the top, and here we are. Congratulations to Maximum Truck on their win.

7 - Max Gawn, Christian Petracca
5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - James Harmes
3 - Clayton Oliver
2 - Jesse Hogan
1 - Bayley Fritsch, Dom Tyson

Banner Watch
St Kilda made the contest easy by not bringing one. 2-0 Dees for the pre-season.

The week after next
Via a Casey vs Box Hill practice match next week it's off to Round 1, and god may have mercy on our souls. Notwithstanding Geelong sending out a reserves team and being thrashed by Gold Coast I'm not entirely convinced by them as premiership contenders. However, I'm less convinced about us on that front so I'm still assuming defeat. The obvious Melbourne thing to do is to beat them, then lose to Brisbane and North.

Final Thoughts
I'm riding an unprecedented wave of MFC-related positivity. If it all goes tits up from here I may end up bouncing off the walls of a rubber room.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Uphill skiing

Talk about making life difficult for yourself. You'd think three weeks of holding opponents to 0.0 in the first quarter would have meant three thumping victories and the instant award of the premiership flag without the need for a Grand Final. Instead we've used the other nine quarters to come up with one narrow loss against rubbish, one thumping loss against rubbish and one thrilling win against a premiership contender. Just when you think you know the answers, this team changes the questions.

Crucially, this time when playing against a far better side we didn't just drop dead at the quarter time siren never to recover. There was some well suicidal play in the last few minutes, but you could forgive semi-pro players for running out of legs after nearly four quarters of thrashing into their opposition at maximum pace. I'm sympathetic to the people who don't watch this league because they're not keen on the standard, but for my money this game was a perfect example of why sometimes a brutal, full intensity slog is just as good as a free flowing, spirit of the game initiative rigged spectacle fest.

It's easy to be full of praise about our side when they narrowly held on to win for the first time in three weeks. But the washing away of some of the roadtrip from hell curse aside, how could any breathing human not love watching Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea at a minimum? That's a three player combo that almost ranks alongside the Jurassic Pack of 1998 Seecamp, Ingerson, and Shanahan in my heart. The nature of the competition is that every team will have its cohort of battlers (and if you're a Melbourne fan, is this new to you?) but those three are dynamite.

Obviously Daisy is the star attraction, and one day when DemonbracketW is an established competition I expect we'll just go back and retrospectively give her the 2017/18 titles she would have won in a landslide anyway. After being tagged to buggery last week, the captain climbed off the deck and played a blinding first half that helped set up the win. Then in the thick of the battle in the last quarter she was in everything to keep us in front, even quickly recovering from being flattened to be back in the play seconds later. What a legend.

I'm not used to having the most loved player in the land. And not a "Look, I'm wacky me. Wahey!" type like Robert Murphy who people say they ' love' just to seem more cultured. There's a reason I named a medal after her before she retired, and I can confidently predict that with allowances for there not being a senior football league until her late 20s that she'll be the first AFLW player to become a life member. Either that or I'm just unnecessarily excited over the prospect of unexpectedly re-entering the finals race when all seem doomed.

The opening of the game was more Freo than Collingwood, immediately on the attack and straight into the key performance indicator of wasting inside 50s. At least we were trying something different, as part of a post-National Lampoon's Vacation cull that also saw Laura Duryea and her comedy number ones get the boot, Alyssa Mifsud was dumped for a third time. She was replaced by charismatically named top draft pick Eden Zanker, who didn't do much other than a five minute period in the second quarter when she threatened to have the most electrifying debut since Brent Heaver. She didn't need to be the focal point, for once we did what other teams continually do against us and ripped a couple of goals out of nowhere.

After risking the reputation of that kid from the Chemist Warehouse ad by only ever kicking one career goal, Daisy took a quick handball off the ground and snapped around the corner for the opener. A few minutes later she did the same, presumably leading to the kid ripping off his Melbourne jumper like he was Hulk Hogan, running around the house like a madman and eventually realising that he doesn't need to stay in character because they're just going to repeat the old ad for years to come. The second goal came with the compliments of the enigmatic Aleisha Newman, who contested the mark, then followed up with a smother that created the opportunity. With not a single kick into space for her to run on to, Newman could have gone missing but compensated with a great forward pressure game.

Zanker's first chance came as the result of Karen Paxman doing something that you rarely see in an AFL game. The world has gone crazy for Dustin Martin fending people off with his arm, but Paxman quite literally just lifted the ball up and pushed it her opponent away with it. It deserved a goal just for novelty value. What happens if you stuff the ball straight into your opponent's head in that situation, is it a high contact free against?

Consistent with the last two weeks - other than the brief period of serious Collingwood dominance at the start last week - we constantly had the ball forward but couldn't make anything of it. On the other hand Brisbane never looked likely to score either, so Daisy's second snap for the second of the quarter was at least reward for effort, if not any comfort considering what had happened over the last two weeks. I was half willing them to score a point just so we wouldn't risk losing from an unloseable position yet again. On the other hand, the stats nerd in me wanted to join what must be an exclusive club of teams that have kept opposition clubs scoreless in the opening quarter three times in a row.

Based on recent experience the Brisbane coach probably didn't even give a team talk at the quarter time break and just sent his troops out safe in the knowledge that we'd probably get comfortable and self-destruct. Public expectation was half met, the good times surprisingly carried on as per the first quarter but less surprisingly weren't converted into goals. It wasn't just the usual desperate hit-and-hope stuff like Shaun Smith was down there, we'd also lost the ability to get the ball into dangerous places and create half chances. Naturally after piling the pressure on for several minutes we conceded. At least we kept it to that, while only scoring three behinds ourselves.

Brisbane has a solid team, but I think we can all agree that the best thing about them is the woman with the fierce mullet. Apparently it's being worn in full irony as part of charity fundraising, which is heart-warming but I was desperately hoping she was entirely serious and had no idea that it looked so hilarious. She's like what you'd get if a poxy sketch comedy program did a skit about bogans, and in this case I choose to suspend my disbelief and believe that it's real. She provided the Lions more than just a zany, party at the back barnet, calming Pearce down after her barnstorming first half. I'd like to think the attitude goes with the Prisoner Cell Block H style hair, and she spent the third quarter threatening to shank Daisy after lock up.

In a quarter where there must have been a record number of smothers, pressure acts and most likely whatever one percenters are, our best opportunity came when a loose ball bobbled towards Tegan Cunningham in the square with nobody in front of her. She was unable to manoeuvre her extra long leg to it on the bounce and it shot off her knee for another point. At the other end we were lucky not to concede a second goal when a Brisbane player walked through a flappy-armed attempt at a tackle then missed an open goal.

It was clear that our big forward line wasn't going to suddenly start pulling off a Wayne Carey style festival of contested marks, so we tried something else by benching Cunningham after half time. It might have worked, had Kate Hore not missed a sitter and Cranston's attempt to thrash one through from 40 metres gone wide. In what was obviously going to stay a low scoring game, we just needed to get six points on the board in one go instead of stringing it together with consecutive behinds and hoping we could keep the other side out. The story of our footballing lives was played out again when all the struggle was cancelled out by Brisbane kicking a goal against the run of play. I thought the men had a lot of stereotypical plays, but adjusted for shorter game length the women have well and truly got them covered.

Ironically after being downplayed at the start of the quarter, Cunningham turned out to be our saviour. With a second goalless quarter 90 seconds away, a long bomb by Shelley Scott dipped at the last minute and fell into her hands uncontested. From a slender angle she made it look difficult but converted. The glory was short lived, seconds later she had a head clash with a Brisbane player that left her sprawled on the turf, wearing the old crimson mask and probably thinking she was back in the WNBL.

Cunningham was never seen again, but nor was the Brisbane player who'd also necked herself in the contest. Given our struggles to kick a goal through a tall forward set-up them losing a defender was probably a better deal for us. She may have come in handy for stopping our first goal of the last quarter, created by Elise O'Dea cannoning through an opponent after a ball-up to clear space for Kate Hore to quickly snap one out of a pack. If you love crumb, this was the game for you. If you're keen on teams putting the opposition away when they had the chance, keep walking.

That goal extended the margin to 15, and if you thought we were home from there you've never watched a Melbourne team play. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the killer blow was lacking here, two premiership matches ago you saw them fail to rack up handy percentage against Brisbane when given the chance. The handy points slowly disappeared, before the margin was cut to six by a series of escalating debacles. First Brooke Patterson - who otherwise played her best game yet - crossed the line while kicking in, then at the bounce our ex(hibition game player), and 2017 Casey Fields tormentor Sabrina Frederick-Traub legally shoved her opponent away, grabbed the ball and kicked a training drill goal.

That left us trying to defend a one goal lead for several minutes while clearly out of gas. Not surprisingly the ball spent most of that time camped in Brisbane's attack, as they tried to find the draw that would effectively seal their Grand Final spot at our expense. A desperate defensive effort, and one golden chance where the player didn't connect with her kick, kept them at bay.

The siren went with Daisy (who else?) trying desperately to get over the line while making it look like she wasn't trying desperately to get over the line. As she crossed it with approximately one second left a Brisbane player charged through and knocked the ball out of her hands while trying to tackle. She may have had a case for holding the ball - and a shot from an obscure angle after the siren to draw - if the tackle had connected, but the umpire denied her and was rewarded with a look that suggested she was going to shank the umpire with a broken bottle. I couldn't agree with myself more:
2018 Daisy Pearce Medal
5 - Daisy Pearce
4 - Elise O'Dea
3 - Brooke Patterson
2 - Karen Paxman
1 - Lauren Pearce

Apologies in the one vote space to Hickey, Hore, Scott, Newman, Smith and Guest.

And then there were the big three. Assuming for now that we've only got two games left to play, the line of doom makes its first appearance for the season and it will take something outrageous for Cunningham et al to get in the mix. It's not so much that they have to get maximum votes, the trouble is keeping the other three out of them.

14 - Elise O'Dea, Karen Paxman
12 - Daisy Pearce
6 - Tegan Cunningham
5 - Richelle Cranston
4 - Laura Duryea, Bianca Jakobsson
-------- Abandon hope ye below this line --------
3 - Mel Hickey, Brooke Patterson, Shelley Scott
2 - Meg Downie, Lily Mithen
1 - Erin Hoare, Lauren Pearce, Katherine Smith

Banner Watch
Brisbane didn't have one, so we could have had the players run through a roll of Sorbent with a slogan written in texta and still won. Dees recover from a sticky patch to go 3-2 for the season.

Commentary Corner
Against all odds I don't mind Leigh Montagna as a rookie caller, but he'll never get anywhere in this industry without littering his call with some catchphrases and/or hysterical screaming. Look at Jason Bennett, reduced to providing a solid, insightful call of VFL games while the likes of Brayshaw, Taylor and Zempilas go off like they're strapped to the electric chair. Speaking of Dwayne, I think Kate Sheahan might be his daughter not Mike's. Both of them bring to mind that line from The Simpsons, "do you ever think anything you don't say?" And for all the "oh no, I'm not complaining because she's a woman" anxiety when she called an AFL game years ago, Kelly Underwood is fine. Your views may vary, why not start a blog and tell everyone about it?

My review of the commentary is based on the final three quarters only, because for the first their audio mix was so out of whack that you could have had Darryl Eastlake yelling through a megaphone and he'd still have been drowned out by the crowd effects. With not a word of a lie I had my back turned at the first bounce, and when a spectactor starting banging together what were presumably those inflatable orange dickhead sticks I thought somebody was vigorously knocking on my front door.

Crowd Watch
Football fans, just because somebody offers you an inflatable plastic orange stick it doesn't mean you need to take it. More importantly, you're under no obligation to whack it together like a trained seal. Kids love it, but they also try to stick forks in electrical sockets unless you educate them properly.

Meanwhile, are you the person with the number 35 banner hanging over the fence that says #fansnotfriends? If so, could you explain what that means in relation to Cat Phillips? Is it some sort of obscure frisbee in-joke? Otherwise it just looks like overt stalking that will end in a restraining order.

Next Week
Carlton are (at the time of writing) 2-2 with a percentage of 55.7, and are likely to lose to Adelaide on Saturday night. We are now within striking range of Brisbane, and can get our destiny back in our own hands going into the last round with a big win. If that's not a recipe for disaster I don't know what is.

Late-breaking scheduling shenanigans pending, I should be making my AFLW live debut. Time to slap on an asbestos suit and see if they still have a washing machine sitting at the bottom of a staircase. Maybe a dodgy Asian betting syndicate will cut the lights to influence the result. Will anyone notice the difference?

As far as team changes go I can't see them messing too severely with a winning lineup. The only considerations for me are that I'd still rather Duryea in defence than Cordner, and Whitford didn't do much on debut. You wouldn't think they'd need to alter much to beat Carlton, but if we'd beaten sides that

Final Thoughts
Life goes on in AFLW land, and the great escape remains on if we do the sensible thing next week. The problem is that I'm almost certain Brisbane aren't going to make the same mistake that we did against Collingwood, and will most likely spread them from one end of Queensland to the other. Unless we finally click in attack and kick shit out of the Blues it might all be for naught. Watch this space.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

More of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff

Two days into our season the 2018 'Beat North in Every Format' redemption campaign is 66% complete. Now to rumble them by any means necessary in Round 3 and we can get on with having a realistic ping at the eight. To paraphrase that classic 90s banner - 'first beat North, then worry about the good sides'. Given that they've been good, bad and mediocre in the last 11 years and they've still beaten us every time I'm willing to take it.

In an abridged pre-season there's no room for messing around, so we went in with much of our best side. The only absolute certainties missing were former Demonbracket winners Viney and Jetta, plus Garlett, who might want to think about a Tonya Harding style clobbering for Bayley Fritsch during the week. On the other hand, nobody but enthusiasts know more than a handful of North players at the best of times so it's hard to tell whether their side full of workmanlike homebrand unknowns was anywhere near the best XVIII. That usually doesn't matter, they could donate one of their 250 different commemorative jumpers to a team of raffle winners and we'd spontaneously combust.

I spent the last week steadfastly refusing to accept that the season was about to start. Life was easier - but ultimately less rewarding - when you turned up in February expecting to see shite. Now I've been curled up in terror in all summer worried that we're somehow going to nobble ourselves and miss out on the much anticipated great leap forward. There was an amusing reaction to Mark Robinson suggesting we wouldn't make the eight, with people whirling into full siege mentality mode and hurling abuse at him. What right do we have to assume anything after last year? The underrated angle was him doing it in a video sitting next to David King, who famously told us to stop worrying and enjoy footy midway through last year. Various demonstrations of why we won't be comfortable until we're standing under a premiership flag were not far behind.

The traditional pre-season nerves hit me just as the coverage was about to start, only for Fox Sports to extract the piss violently by opening with a Round 23 'highlights' package about our great choke. Somewhere David King was realising exactly why the Veil of Negativity still clings to us like napalm. As much as I could have done without a reminder of what happened that weekend, it did focus me on what needs to be done this season. Batter sides that need to be battered, and always be hunting the opposition. Given our 10 Years of Terror against North (notwithstanding victory in a Kick-and-Clap picnic tournament), it would have been better viewing to spin a video of all the times they've stitched us up by margins big and small. Still, until we make up for the no tackles in 10 minutes game we deserve to be reminded of it at every available opportunity. You know you'd have a bad run when you're scarred by not having the chance to be Elimination Final cannon fodder.

Where better to start the climb back towards the eight than at the Casey Fields of the South, a windswept suburban park with the none-more-pre-season name of "Kingston Twin Ovals". For the purposes of historical record, could somebody confirm if we were playing on Twin Oval A or Twin Oval B? There was probably a Little Athletics meet going on at the other one. Either that or a swap meet, because the announced crowd was a flag year 1957, which would be our lowest pre-season turnout since 1200 idiots (including yours truly) watched us beat Richmond at Princes Park in 2007. Either it was a typo or the people of Hobart aren't as interested in the Roos as I thought. (Update - those in attendance suggest that even 1957 seems generous. I guess I'm just conditioned to expecting that people care about practice matches. Apparently not in Hobart.)

The suggestion that North weren't serious about winning was furthered by Brad Scott handing over the keys to somebody else and instead lurking around the back of the box menacingly. He'd already set up the novelty move of playing Majak Daw at full back against the Sizzle/Hogan Twin Towers, and spent most of the game sitting on a Bunnings plastic chair watching the chaos unfold. It wasn't the worst experimental move of all time, and his extendable hands bashed away a few inside 50s, but it showed the difference in where the teams are at. The most experimental thing we did was letting Clayton Oliver show up with a humorous haircut.

It hardly compares to the start of Round 1, but any anticipation for the start of the pre-season went out the window when the first bounce went violently askew. It was quite the anti-climax when I was all keyed up for a low-intensity rematch of the epic Gawn vs Goldstein World Heavyweight Championship contest from Hobart two years ago. Who are the knobs trying to shorten the length of play in a game when so much time is wasted re-doing horrible bounces? I'm usually against changing things for alleged spectacle improvements, but the bounce has had it. If everyone's so desperate to cater to consumers, theatregoers and wankers in Sydney, how are you meant to explain the wild bounce/recall scenario? Either that or just let the thing fling off in random directions and good luck to whoever gets an advantage.

After a second false start courtesy of an anti-Gawn free from the ball-up, the two put on another solid ruck clash. Goldstein is not the titan he used to be, but it was still a tough battle and by the end Max had won a decisive victory. Where are the joyless entertainment fanatics who want to abolish stoppages when this sort of fantastic battle is on? If you don't enjoy two enormous humans grappling for supremacy you may not have a pulse. Maximum was back at full strength, his taps and second efforts were a masterclass for aspiring ruckmen, and if he keeps doing that for the rest of the year uninjured it's going to give us a tremendous leg-up around the ground. We got away with not having him last year, and played some really good footy at times when he wasn't there, but a performance like this shows the difference between a competent backup and a master craftsman.

I've got plenty of respect to people who can properly tune out of pre-season games and not care what happens, but alas I'm not one of them. Not going to anything until Round 1 is as close as I'll get to being cool about the warm-up games, and when North went forward straight away the pessimist in me (and how could you not be one considering our most recent outing in a game of actual Australian rules football?) thought "oh Jesus, here we go again, we're going to lose to North here as well". If I was in a disaster movie I'd be the panicky idiot who runs around screaming "we're all going to die!"

Other than a few moments of light concern during the first half there was no need to be dramatic. Alex Neal-Bullen started the game like he was Alex Dustin-Martin and kicked the first goal, before turning provider for a dreamy lead by Sizzle Sr. The Bullet's pass was nice, and McDonald's finish was solid but it was the lead that made me quiver with ecstasy. Imagine teleporting back to 2013 and telling your past self that in five years' time you'd be as excited about Tom McDonald (under siege key defender, zero career goals) playing forward as Jesse Hogan (next big thing, great white hope, future injury victim). Old you would call the authorities and report a lunatic on the loose.

After looking much more dangerous than his attacking partner in the opening quarter, Sizzle went back to being a highly-functioning cog in the wheel as Hogan tormented a backline full of project players and nobodies. He still does quirky, alternative things that will surprise and baffle for years to come. There was one set shot so close he could have almost leant back and dinked it through with the lightest of touches, but instead took a run-up so excessive that he nearly had to catch the Spirit of Tasmania back. Then you look beyond those two behemoths and find Christian Petracca outmuscling champion rig owner Daw, see Bayley Fritsch running riot in senior company, factor in Mitch Hannan and Jeff Garlett and start to think that maybe things are going to turn out ok. If we can get the ball down there enough, and don't enough up getting scorched on the counter unless we score.

We looked the better side, both on-paper and on-field, but it wasn't all good news. The first Roos goal came after a clearly flubbed kick by Lewis, which somehow failed to factor into what was announced as a 100% disposal efficiency at quarter time. You'd have thought one of the commentators would have questioned it, but like newsreaders they will follow whatever's written on screen. One day on Sydney radio a lady dutifully read out text that finished with the phrase "like a bowling ball" (and you can guess the rest) because that's what the paper said. You could quite easily pull off the same prank on a footy commentator.

Lewis wasn't bad in the first quarter (before being packed away due to a minor injury concern), but I wouldn't bet my house on both he and Vince making it to Round 23 in the same backline. One of them fine, but somebody get out of the way for Neville Jetta and let's tighten things up instead of sending everyone up the ground to attack and being clocked whenever we lose the ball. My one game sample of Jake Lever since I started to pay an interest in him suggests he loves to wander up the ground as well, so I look forward to Nifty being called upon to rush back and try to stop his opponent several hundred times this year.

Vince did kick a goal, from one of those infuriating free kicks where the player crunches a perfect tackle but runs a fingernail across the other player's back and is penalised, but I hold significant concern for his chances of getting to the end of the year without a stint at Casey. I respect what he's done up to now, but given that we're developing a side with depth at last there's no need to drag two fading stars along for the ride. Lewis has an extra year on the contract so barring any injuries or radical changes of heart from him he'll get preference.

North's defence might have been about as fearsome as the one we once put out featuring Tom Gillies, but it's hard to deny we looked good going into attack. The problem was that in the most traditional Melbourne FC fashion we were terrifically vulnerable to quick kicks the other way catching us out, and were so ropey after turning the ball over that the preposterously named Billy Hartung's ability to run quickly scored him a nomination to join the Kent Kingsley Klub pre-season training squad.

The difference this time to most games, is that when we copped an end-to-end lightning speed goal in the last minute of the quarter we didn't just pack a man behind the ball to make flappy motions with his arms and try to stem the bleeding - we burst out of the middle and responded through the unusual duo of Maynard and Bugg. Swings and roundabouts. As long there's more (whichever is the good one) than (the bad one) we're heading in the right direction.

You couldn't argue with six goals in a first quarter, but more important was the way we got them. It wasn't just hit and hope stuff that was almost accidentally bundled through (and after intently watching four weeks of our AFLW team that was quite the relief), we were making them with solid, attractive play. This was with Oliver and his rude haircut being relatively well held, and Nathan Jones so quiet early on that I didn't think he was playing. At last there are options, and I pray to the footballing gods that we can stay fit enough that most of them aren't needed. Oliver did bust free of the shackles after half time, and some of his handballs in traffic were eye-watering. No matter how hard the tag is, they will never fully guard against him finding the ball in the middle of a pack and instinctively knowing exactly which direction to handball in and how hard. He is a mastermind.

Because the commentator was the erudite and sensible Anthony Hudson rather than a Dwayne Russell style shrieking banshee, the abolition of the nine point goal (somewhere Paul Wheatley wept) was treated as an irrelevant side-note to the game and only mentioned when somebody had a long shot. In contrast, Dwayne did the next game and mentioned it about 30 seconds in as if it was the biggest news since Cyclone Tracy. He must be in charge of the AFL website, they're still running a score box hopefully showing a column with zeroes as if they may come back at any moment. Mind you, they're also advertising games at possibly fictional grounds called LDV, MTB and TVL so who knows what's going on. I'm surprised they didn't put us at MTB just to set up Mt. Buller gags for tedious dickheads. Some poxy betting company Twitter account tried to do a snow gag and suggested we'd be calling off our September trips to Aspen, which would be fine if that wasn't still in the US summer. Aspiring Twitter comedians, know your limitations.

Nine goals in the first quarter was reminiscent of the shootout on the day of the original Gawn vs Goldstein battle, except that this time the side kicking into the breeze didn't spot the other a 40 point lead before having a go. In fact our goals were barely aided by wind, and it wasn't until the second quarter when the legally mandated raging Hobart gale to one end started up. It slowed down our scoring, just as the game was threatening to become a tribute to the NBL's late Hobart Tassie Devils who used to play just down the road. North certainly improved with the benefit of it, but only to the tune of cutting nine points from the quarter time margin. I hope for the sake of their fans (but ultimately don't care) that they had good players out, because I don't much fancy their chances of escaping the bottom four in this state.

What looked early like a Reverse Stranglewank, where we jump out to a big lead then collapse, was kept reasonably calm courtesy of a late goal by the impressive Harmes. And it was a lovely goal too, he started the attacking chain on the half-back flank, and charged down the other end to be on the end Bugg's centring pass. The Master of Buggery hasn't been given much credit since he lobbed that ill-advised haymaker against the Swans, but without his persistent efforts to keep the ball from going out of bounds the goal never happens. That was a theme of the day, other than the usual suspect North nutters like Cunnington and Ziebell we always wanted it more, he could have very easily let the ball roll out for a throw-in and made it somebody else's problem but was rewarded for fighting his heart out to try and keep it in.

Given the increasing strength of the wind it was no surprise that we improved our position at the start of the third quarter, most notably from a McDonald kick to Hogan in the square which suggests that if they stay fit it will be a lethal forward combo. Even if they were playing against a no-name defence the essentials of a great combination were there. Hulk was still content to hang out the back and try to strong-arm the opposition, but having one up the ground and one in front of goal on a rotating basis is going to be a great help.

North had one last gasp left in them, indirectly kicking a goal against the run of play courtesy of (SURPRISE!) a player standing on his own inside 50. By now the wind was blowing sideways, so he missed everything with the set shot, but from the resulting throw-in Lever was pinched holding the ball and they managed to convert at the second opportunity. I knew men's footy was back when that cut the margin to 19 and I was already fretting about who how we were going to go defending into the wind in the last quarter. Enter Max Gawn, putting a hit-out down James Harmes' throat for the reply goal not long after. That prompted North to declare their work was done, Hannan and AFLX Hall of Famer Melksham goalled immediately after and we were home with time to spare. Milkshake's goal came from a perfect ruck tap from Total Football Tom McSizzle, and my nerves reduced to a sensible pre-season level.

The sixth goal of the quarter came from the impressive Anal-Bullet (to the sound of somebody in the crowding saying "wow!" into an effects mic), and the Chris Sullivan Line was breached late by Bayley Fritsch. Whether the line should be extended when defending into a raging gale in the last quarter or not is debatable, we don't get that far in front often enough to perform situational testing. With all appropriate caveats for North's weakened team, it was pleasing that we did it without Oliver or Jones particularly prominent. Instead the unheralded XXX combination of Anal-Bullet and Long Dong Harmes were running riot. There is also an NQR nickname for Fritsch, but like Cameron Pedersen this is a family program so we're not getting involved in it.

I enjoyed how many of our scores punished North mistakes. Here's to that translating to the real stuff, our nufty disposal has fed percentages up and down the league for years and now I want to take revenge one team at a time. Our first goal of the last quarter was created by Mr Intercepts himself, but this time Lever gathered a loose ball to set up future Round 1 starter Fritsch and insulate us against a collapse. Shortly after Lever was left flat-footed by a quick kick over the top that led to a goal, but even though he looks like a lost member of My Chemical Romance you'd expect based on this that we'll get our money's worth out of him.

The game was dead after Fritsch generously gave a goal away to Gawn after a mark at the top of the square, and all that was left was to get to the final siren without anyone being seriously injured or reported. At one point a close Michael Hibberd pursuit caused Ziebell to go over the fence in comic fashion, but replays proved he was just being dramatic and Hibberd had nothing to do with it.

All in all, a solid hitout that only partially counts as a win over North. If we turn up in Round 3 and are five goals down at quarter time none of this will matter. I look to the big picture in hope.

Due to the lack of games to choose from - unless we throw in a random intra-club - the intention was not to award the Paul Prymke Plate for Pre-Season performance. However, I've had an unpredictable change of heart, and as long as no more than two players are tied for the lead after the second practice match we will name a winner(s).

Part of the glory of pre-season votes is that players randomly disappear for quarters at a time, so while you often get real games where there's unanimous verdicts on the bests (I have even been known to pick the card occasionally) good luck finding two people who have the same view on a practice match.

5 - Alex Neal-Bullen
4 - James Harmes
3 - Max Gawn
2 - Christian Petracca
1 - Bayley Fritsch

Apologies to Oliver, Hogan, Melksham, Bugg and Salem.

Banner Watch
After last week's AFLW fiasco where the industrially printed thing fell to bits before the players appeared, it was nice to see straining crepe paper barely holding together by the skin of its teeth. No North banner was shown, so I'm just going to assume they didn't bring one and give the Dees a win. 1-0 for the pre-season.

Uniform Watch
I'm not entirely keen on the way the black Zurich box sits on the jumper, but if they've got truckloads of money (until some massive natural disaster puts them on their arse) I'm willing to live with it.

The week after next
St Kilda at Casey. Given that it's a Thursday night I sure as hell won't be there. In fact given the Demonblog Towers are now located in the outer suburbs (and are not Towers) and I'd almost have gotten to Wangaratta quicker than Cranbourne, I can't see myself ever going to Cranbourne again. We will be providing our usual level of in-depth analysis off the TV, but if you want to chip in with crowd watch observations get in touch via the usual channels.

If both teams bring their best sides, and I wouldn't be surprised if the AFLX players are utilised sparingly, this will be a better test of where we're at. I'd say they are a notch below us due to lack of star power (my god, how nice is it to write that?), and Riewoldt taking a well-earned break from his life of MFC torment, so a comfortable win would be a good sign before Round 1. And if we lose meh, as long as nobody's hurt and nothing exceedingly demoralising happens it's not going to hurt us in the long run.

Final Thoughts
We have no God-given right to make the finals, and considering our brutal run home I still think it's mad to assume the best, but this is definitely the collection of players who should at least give us a decent swing at joy in the next five years. If they don't I'm giving up on footy and moving to Micronesia.