The AFLW roared back into action on Friday evening, with Carlton and Collingwood adding another chapter to their storied rivalry. Sadly, it was not a great chapter. Unfortunately, it read a little less like a riveting story than you'd like.
A shade under 20,000 fans packed Princes Park to see the Blues emerge victorious in a low-scoring, fumbling affair.
In the weeks leading up to the season launch, defenders of the women’s league were very vocal about the AFL’s lack of promotion for the code. If they tuned in to the season opener, they’d actually know why the AFL decided to save their money.
The women’s competition is in its infancy, and observing the skills on display at the beginning of year-two, it is still a way off being something worth showcasing just yet. The endeavour cannot be doubted, but the skills, and even the basics at times were lacking. Severely lacking at times.
Fans arrived with high hopes. They left with little more than a couple of low scores. Carlton ran out winners despite kicking only 3 goals for the entire game, and even when the ball was hacked into the Collingwood forward line repeatedly late in the last quarter, the lead felt safe. An eight point lead was safe. Let that sink in.
It wasn’t all bad, however. And all that was bad wasn’t ugly. Still, there is a nice assortment of the good, the bad and the ugly to get through.
You simply cannot knock the physicality and the commitment to the contest of the players. If there is one thing the women have going for them it’s that they go hard at the ball, and their opponents. I even saw a couple of players take their eyes off the ball and line up a member of the opposition. I have to admit… I liked that. It's good to see a little bit of biff.
Had the commentators not rammed the fact that she led the league in contested marks last year down my throat every time she touched the ball, I may have been even more impressed with her contested marking. Her mark to kick the Blues’ second goal of the game was sensational - a beautiful one-grab overhead mark in a pack. She looks like she will be a dominant factor in the air for quite a while yet.
She accumulated the ball with ease, playing deep in defence and running up the ground later in the game. Looks like a player and made a few patient, well thought-out decisions when coming out of defence. Did not looked panicked at any stage.
Managed to leave her smaller, quicker opponent flat-footed late in the game.
In a scene reminiscent of Taylor Walker in the grand final, Hope let her opponent off the hook at one stage. A mis-kick saw her defender with hands above her head, completely exposed as she attempted a mark across Collingwood’s Centre Half Forward line. Hope was positioned behind her and could’ve made the contest. She should’ve made the contest. If she couldn’t get the ball, she could’ve got her body. Instead, the marking attempt was uncontested. It won’t be something she’d like watching on replay.
For all the pushing and shoving in the first quarter, and all the half-hearted bumping into each other at a stoppage, Mo Hope had the opportunity to make a physical impact on the game. She didn't.
Kicking for goal
There were some absolute shockers tonight. Whilst we can’t expect the women to be bombing them from fifty, we can expect a little better when they’re twenty metres out. It was as though Lindsay Thomas and Percy Jones had babies and they were the ones kicking for goal at times in this game. Even the first two goals of the evening saw the goal scorers creep perilously close to the mark. I would not be surprised if we see defenders smother set shots for goal in the coming weeks unless this is rectified. The forwards gave them every opportunity to this week.
The report of Sarah D’Arcy
After being knocked onto her back, Sarah D’Arcy lashed out with her foot, connecting with the groin of Sarah Hosking. The impact lifted Hosking off the turf and into the air. It’ll be difficult for D’Arcy to defend the action; the only semi-reasonable defence is that she pushed her with her foot rather than kicked at her. Still, it will incur a hefty penalty if it is to come under the same scrutiny as a kick to the groin would in the AFL.
For mine, 4-5 weeks.
When you’re trying to promote a product as action packed and exciting, two teams combining for five goals will not cut the mustard. There is often soccer, or ice hockey games with more goals scored than that.
One passage of play summed the night up for me. In the last quarter, two Collingwood players ran into the forward fifty. One clean possession would mean that they would score a goal and be within a kick of the lead. Instead, we saw Caitlyn Edwards fumble first as she attempted to pick the ball up. Eventually she managed to fire out a handball to teammate, Jasmine Garner. She also fumbled. The Carlton defence got back just in time for Garner to handball back to Edwards. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, another fumble. It was sloppy. Put it down to fatigue or nerves if you like, but in a two on one, with space, the Collingwood girls completely botched their opportunity. A goal may have changed a game that hung in the balance.
In conclusion, we come back to marketing. The AFLW will take quite a while to reach anywhere near the heights of the AFL. Many of the women playing currently were denied the opportunity to refine their skills in competitions past Under 12 standard. With this in mind, the AFL’s softly-softly, patient approach to the development of the competition is the right one. Give the product as a whole time to develop. Give the players time to learn and refine their craft. Give the kids watching now a chance to get out in the back yard, the local park, at Auskick, or at school and boot the Sherrin around. Only then will you see the standard raised to a point where your marketing dollars are justified.
“But you need marketing and promotion now to promote the gane and generate interest,” say the AFLW’s supporters. That may be true, but had I turned on the TV tonight expecting the things I'd seen in highlight packages, I’d have turned it off pretty quickly. You can only market something once it is genuinely marketable. This isn’t Danoz Direct. I want the AFLW product to be more than just the sizzle that is a highlight package. There’s got to be a nice juicy porterhouse steak attached. Right now, it needs substance.
The AFL are already subsidizing admission to games – that, in itself, is promoting the game. Once it’s worth paying good money for, and starting to pay its way… the AFL may throw some more dollars back in the form of marketing.
Until then, enjoy AFLW for what it is – a competition finding its feet, and at the moment, losing its feet and fumbling the ball when the pressure’s on.
I'll be watching the Grand Final rematch with interest.
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