Though few would admit it, AFLW supporters would look at the North Melbourne v Carlton game this afternoon and thank their lucky stars.
After two games where the critics of the women’s league began firing their shots, the competition hit back with North Melbourne demonstrating the kind of skill and ball movement that befits a professional sports team, and a good one.
The same, sadly, cannot be said for Carlton.
Again, I’m going to steer clear of the ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ format that works for the men’s game, and instead focus on some of the aspects that jumped out at me as I watched. What I will do, is add a little note of the team name in parenthesis next to the intial mention of a player. And before you get grumpy, it was at the request of a reader – pretty fair request, I thought, and it’d help anyone new to AFLW
First and foremost, I loved the game of Ash Riddell (NM). Some players just know how to find the ball, and she is one of them. More than that, she uses it well, and gets her hands on it at clearances. I reckon she may have spent most of her petrol tickets in the first three quarters, as after the first couple of minutes on the last, I barely saw her, but her work was done early, and it was done well.
There’ll be others who had better stats on the whole, but Riddell’s ability to gather, change direction, and choose a good option had her standing out from the pack today. With Emma Kearney subdued early (and though the stats at face value will say differently, she was pretty ineffective all game), Riddell, along with Jenna Bruton (NM), stepped their game up to make up for it.
Riddell finished with 16 touches and four tackles in a best on ground performance, and that is saying something, as several North players could’ve taken the mantle as the best player on the park. For mine, Riddell did it when it mattered, and was THE driver of the North midfield early.
The second contender for best on ground was Emma King (NM). Look, I am no expert on AFLW in terms of the history of the players. I don’t follow it religiously and know the ins and outs of where players have been and what they’ve done, but when one of the commentators stated that king was All-Australian in 2017, I just nodded. You could see why.
She took marks, gave North first use at stoppages, and did what rucks are not supposed to do – she laid tackles.
She, too, drifted out of the game, but she was great when it mattered. That said, her first goal came via a really soft free kick when it just looked like her and Kirby Bentley (C) made a small amount of contact and she simply fell over.
Mrs Mongrel half-watched the game with me. She more snickers at funny sounding names, or makes observations about how a player looks, or runs, or falls over, but the name “Gillespie-Jones” grabbed her attention. However, once she realised that her name was Kate Gillespie-Jones (NM) and not just Gillespie Jones, she lost interest.
I didn’t, however.
Gillespie-Jones was wonderful through the first three quarters, and looked great both in the air and on the deck. As a matter of fact, most of the North girls looked a cut above when collecting ground balls. They also seemed to hit targets short so much more often than their Carlton counterparts, with only one or two exceptions.
One thing I noticed with Gillespie-Jones was how fit she was. For mine, it is the little things that stand out when talking about endeavour or fitness, and it was her actions after she laid a tackle at one point in the third quarter that grabbed my attention. Instead of taking her time to get up, sucking in the big ones, and buying a few seconds, she leapt to her feet and was immediately looking for what was next. Where was her direct opponent? Where was best for her to position herself at the stoppage. It’s those kind of things that would make her a great teammate, and I’m sure, a pleasure to coach.
Oh, but I’m not done with the North Melbourne praise just yet.
Tahlia Randall (NM) was resolute in defence, and matched up a lot of the time on Darcy Vescio (C), she had her work cut out for her. To say she split the contest with Vescio would probably be a little unfair to her, but given the lack of clear ball for Vescio on the day, simply saying she beat her isn’t fair to Darcy, either.
Vescio has beautiful hands. If you allow her an inch of space, she’ll hurt you, and late in the third, Randall knew just that. As the long ball went to Vescio, a desperate lunge allowed Randall to get a fist on the ball and make the clean spoil. It was a great defensive effort, however Darcy… hands out in front to mark when you’re on the lead, mate. Going for the chest mark probably cost you an arm-chop free kick and an opportunity to go deep into attack.
Thank you Captain Hindsight.
Jasmine Garner (NM) was another who seemed to play all over her opponent, and would probably be the choice of quite a few as best on ground. Finding the ball with apparent ease, she did what many in the comp simply don’t do, and that is look inside and find a target inside forward 50 when pressured on the boundary. Her creativity was responsible for several scoring chances for the Roos, making her one of the most dangerous players on the ground.
Am I remembering incorrectly, or was there not some disharmony between Brianna Davey (C) and Carlton last year? I could’ve sworn I read somewhere that Davey wanted out. Anyway, she is wearing navy blue, and is still one of their prime movers. That said, at one point in the past quarter, you had Davey, Vescio and Tayla Harris all inside the Carlton attacking 50.
Ummm, who is going to get the ball to them?
Tough ask for Jess Edwards (C) to have to run with reigning MVP, Emma Kearney (NM) on debut, but that first quarter was an excellent display of accountable midfield football. Not only did she restrict Kearney to one touch, Edwards was able to sneak forward and kick the Blues’ opening goal.
I think I found my favourite North player. Jess Duffin (NM) is one of those reliable half backs that just finds the ball, looks like she has time, and then does something with it. I thought she had ripping first and last quarters today, and watching her play, you get the sense that she is an actual footballer. Not an athlete, not someone who is trying a new sport – Jess Duffin is a natural footballer.
Also, I reckon she looks a bit like Martin Sheen when he was on the West Wing… I liked that show.
Actually, where was Bob Irwin during this game? She looks a fair bit like him, too.
You ever seen the movie Apocalypto? It was made by Mel Gibson after his infamous anti-Semitic rant, and therefore got little attention. Also, it may have got little attention because all dialogue in the film is Mayan.
Anyway, at one point, a tribesman tries to kill one of his captors, and he is close to achieving it. Ultimately, he fails to do it and his captor gets nice up and close to him and tells him that from now on, his name is ‘Almost’. I kind of loved the way he’d rub that into him for the rest of the movie.
So where is the relevance, I hear you think? That was Tayla Harris (C) today – Almost. She almost took a big mark early on. She almost had a physical impact when taking players on. She almost kicked a goal right at the end of the game.
But she didn’t. She was a bit underwhelming, for mine. Almost…
Mind you, I know she does some sort of fighting art, so having written that, I am now a little scared.
I liked the look of Sophie Abbatangelo (NM). She was lively early, and looked to create opportunities at ground level. It was her long ball to the square that allowed Emma King to jump from three deep to mark and goal.
The play of Brittany Gibson (NM), running forward from defence, and slotting along goal in the last quarter would’ve brought a smile to the face of any old defender. They’ll tell you – they can all do it, right?
Mo Hope (NM) – there was a point last season where I was wondering why I’d see her name all over the place, but in a couple of instances today, she showed some real class with the ball. Her spin out of trouble as she gathered the footy in the second was an indication that she still has a footy-brain, and when things click, she looks like a million bucks.
Some positives for the Blues?
First gamer, Madison Prespakis (C) was excellent, and would be well within her rights to look around and wonder where her midfield support is going to come from. She finished with 13 touches, but was one of the few collecting touches when the heat was on earlier in the game.
Brianna Davey (C) tried hard, but 12 months removed from a knee reconstruction, she can’t be expected to move mountains this season, particularly mountains with 12-13 others sitting on it, not helping.
Katie Loynes (C) was probably best for the Blues. With 18 touches and a couple of marks, she gave the Blues drive from half back and provided some stability with her ability to intercept and win contests.
Onto a few more random thoughts.
A lot of the women get found out when handballing to a teammate as their own body is moving in the opposite direction. It’s obviously a power-thing, and not being able to get significant purchase on the ball whilst moving away from the intended target. It’s something that’ll keep happening, as it has occurred in both games I’ve watched this weekend (small sample size, I know), but an intelligent team will address it quickly.
Also, the amount of handballs, particularly early, that sold a teammate into trouble seemed abnormally high. I get that it is bringing a teammate into the game, but a floating handball that takes that extra half second to get there… that’s dangerous.
You reckon Carlton has considered using only one Hosking twin, but actually having both play? So swap one out at half time for fresh legs and don’t tell anyone? At one point, one of those twins… I’m going to say Sarah Hosking (C), had 20 metres on her nearest opponent. Now, the kick wasn’t great, and she had to run to gather, but she just couldn’t do it. I have no idea how she couldn’t make that ground, and at least get a quick releasing disposal. Instead, by the time she got there, and stuffed around with the ball, the North defence closed in and actually cleared the ball. I’m guessing she is the evil twin?
And so, what did we learn today?
Expansion teams in AFLW will perform well given the nature of the competition. Could we have imagined both GWS and Gold Coast winning their respective debut games when entering the AFL?
Carlton is top-heavy, with too many players who can’t get near it.
North have an abundance of talent, and if it all gels, they should contend… unless Carlton are really just so poor that they made North look good?
North Melbourne-Tasmania is a silly concept if North Melbourne eventually moving to Tassie isn’t going to happen, which it isn’t from all reports. It leaves this North-Tassie Kangaroos team as a bit of an in-limbo team.
Teams can play good, attacking, and ATTRACTIVE football in AFLW.
Darcy Vescio is wasted on her current team.
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