The Doc has been huge this preseason in preparing us for the AFLW 2021 season. Here are the last two teams of his extensive preview.

 

Geelong

From the first day they stepped into the AFLW, Geelong have made it pretty clear that they’re building their side from the ground up.

Sure, they took in a few players from other clubs when they arrived: Mel Hickey, Phoebe McWilliams, Aasta O’Connor to name a few, but they have mostly drafted kids and mature-agers from around the Geelong area, which is actually pretty wholesome the more I think about it, fair play to the Cats.

The first couple of seasons have been pretty rough though to say the least. They made the final four in their first year, but a bit like Donny from The Big Lebowski, Geelong were absolutely out of their element when they got to the post-season and Adelaide made sure that they knew it too, completely obliterating them out of contention.

Season 2020 saw better signs from the Cats, even though they only won twice and that was against the two expansion clubs in Richmond and Gold Coast after they lost their first three games of the season. They were quite competitive against Fremantle and were well and truly in the fight against Adelaide for most of the game.

Season three will see continued improvement from within. How far they go in 2021 remains to be seen, they’ve got a new captain, fresh faces and another preseason for the side to continue to gel and work on their chemistry for the year ahead.

 

O Captain, My Captain!

Well, I just mentioned this, so I might as well keep it rolling hey?

With Mel Hickey announcing her retirement at the end of last season, the Cats needed a new leader and no one player fits this role more perfectly than Meg McDonald. It only feels like the other day I was sitting in the stands at Ikon Park and watching her play up forward for the Western Bulldogs in season one and her presence in the air was special. Makes you wonder how and why she was let go right?

Well, I have no answers for that, but what I do know is that it was one of the best things that could ever happen to Geelong, because she has been even more solid than your neighbourhood rock, she was literally holding down the fort at Geelong. She was All-Australian and won the Cats’ best and fairest in 2019.

It probably could’ve been a real possibility for two in two had it not been for a broken finger in the eve of last season. What should’ve seen her miss at least half the season, saw her actually miss a couple of weeks and was back in the side by round three. She still managed to average over 14 disposals, four marks and eight intercepts per game – good luck finding an argument against having her as captain pals.

 

Can They Fill The Nina Morrison Void?

I can still remember that fateful night at Kardinia Park, and what made things worse is that it would ultimately be the last game of Geelong’s 2020 season, it just isn’t fair sometimes. Nina Morrison was actually the first-ever guest we had on the A3 Footy Podcast, and she was bloody lovely to talk to, so forgive the sentiment there.

To answer the question, it would be very tough to say. The Cats brought in two young Geelong Falcons that will see plenty of time in 2021, mainly because Nina will still be recovering. Laura Gardiner averaged video game-like averages in just a couple of games in the NAB League in 2020 and Darcy Moloney also averaged healthy numbers, so I expect them to debut sooner rather than later.

They need some players to help out Liv Purcell this year because she elevated herself as the number one midfielder in Geelong’s team after an extremely hot 2020 campaign in which she led the team in disposals, contested possessions, clearances and was second in Geelong for goals. For a second-year player, that’s really scary stuff.

I suppose one player to watch out for this year is Julia Crockett-Grills – great name, but equally as great on the footy field. She loves a tackle and doesn’t mind taking the footy and running with it as far as she can, being ranked in the top four for metres gained last season. Also Amy McDonald averaged over eight contested possessions in her debut season, that’s another one that could find more midfield minutes in 2021.

 

Going Forward

So in season one, Geelong were statistically the worst-scoring side in the AFLW, averaging 22 points per game, yet somehow managed to win three games. Yeah, bugger me right?

However, they were much better in season two, averaging 35 points per game and were second behind North Melbourne in conference A for points for. Overall, they were the fifth-best scoring side, which is considered a massive improvement. Even better is that they spread the goals around. Rocky Cranston led the way with five goals and then four players kicked four goals: Liv Purcell, Georgia Clarke, Danielle Higgins and Phoebe McWilliams.

They do need a key forward for the future and as much as I like Phoebe McWilliams, the reality is that she’s gonna be 36 in August and time is running out in her career. Luckily, they addressed this need in the AFLW draft with Liv Barber. She’s already a much taller prospect at 185cm, and whilst still a bit raw in terms of overall skill set, she attacks every contest she can and has popped up on the scoreboard quite consistently in her under-18s days – she’s going to be a player to watch out for.

Also, keep an eye out as to whether or not Steph Williams gets a run early on this season. A small forward that just has this innate talent to be a dangerous player: She’s quick, got great marking hands and is a more than handy finisher in front of goal. She’s a player I expect that will feature at some stage this year, if not round one.

 

But The Defence Needs Work

I touched on Meg McDonald’s influence in the defensive half just before, and as brilliant as she was when she returned to the side, the facts will state that the Cats were actually one of the worst defensive units in 2020, conceding an average of 43 points per game. Only Richmond conceded more points than the Cats last season, meaning West Coast, the Bulldogs and the team they just finished above in conference A – Adelaide – all conceded less.

Maybe it’s just the change in game style, but they’ve got to find the perfect balance of scoring power and having a really stingy defence. Alongside the newly-appointed Geelong captain, Maddy McMahon is a player that I consider a very reliable defender. Strong in the one-on-ones and great on the intercept. Feels like a lifetime ago that she was named in the All-Australian squad of 40 and that was just shy of two years ago now.

Maddy Keryk is another player that I’m quite fond of, led the Cats in rebound 50s last season, averaging nearly three and a half per game. But they need a little bit more depth and assistance in the defensive structure this season. Millie Brown is a player that I rate a lot, and it would be great to see her go up another level in 2021. In her first season, she averaged eight touches, half of those being intercept possessions and two rebound 50s per game, which is a solid starting point.

Who else they find to help combat this problem of leaking scores is going to be up to Paul Hood and the coaching team.

 

The Doc’s Best 21

B: Millie Brown, Meg McDonald
HB: Rebecca Webster, Bec Goring, Maddy McMahon
C: Darcy Moloney, Amy McDonald, Nina Morrison
FOL: Aasta O’Connor, Olivia Purcell, Laura Gardiner
HF: Richelle Cranston, Phoebe McWilliams, Danielle Higgins
F: Jordan Ivey, Olivia Barber
INT: Julia Crockett-Grills, Georgia Clarke, Sophie Van De Heuval, Maddy Keryk, Renee Garing

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs North Melbourne (H)
Round 2: vs Brisbane (A)
Round 3: vs Richmond (A)
Round 4: vs GWS (H)
Round 5: vs Collingwood (H)
Round 6: vs Fremantle (A)
Round 7: vs St Kilda (A)
Round 8 vs Carlton (H)
Round 9 vs Western Bulldogs (A)

 

The Prediction: 11th

It’s a very tough draw for the Cats, having to play North, GWS, Collingwood and Carlton all at home, combined with away games against Brisbane, Fremantle and even St Kilda and the Bulldogs later in the year is going to cause them a few problems. It might just be another year of getting the games into the kids and hope for some continuity in a few of their older players.

I mean last season wasn’t a bad year for the Cats and I’d like to think that they actually competed well in most of their clashes. The game against North Melbourne last year, well they actually had the jump on the Roos, kicking the first three goals of the match – before North kicked all of the remaining 10 goals of the contest. Also how they work their defence will be interesting – remember, they conceded seven goals to a Richmond team that were absolute garbage last season!

But the point here is that the Cats have proven that they are capable of matching it with better sides, but the questions remain about how long they can sustain the fight over four quarters. I don’t think they’ll be hanging around with the better sides this season

 

 

Richmond

This might be harsh to some, but if 2020 was a football club in the AFLW, then it would be the Richmond Football Club.

I mean come on everyone, if you looked at the word ‘ClusterJam’ (I’m keeping it PG, but if you know, you know) in your local dictionary you’d find a photo of Katie Brennan ‘leading’ from the front. Not sure what it is exactly she’s leading, but we’ll go along with it.

As if not winning any games in 2020 and then setting the record in the final game of the season for the lowest score in AFLW history was not enough egg on the face, the club then went ahead and sacked Tom Hunter after one season – the same man that led Richmond’s VFLW team to a Finals series in 2019. Yeah not sure about that one.

And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they then went ahead and canned their VFLW program because – and I’m not making this up: Covid-19 has forced them into cost-cutting measures. What a genuine slap in the face for sides like Essendon and Hawthorn, who have been working their backsides off fielding a VFLW team in hopes they can get an AFLW one up in the not-so-distant future.

Funny how Covid hasn’t exactly impacted North Melbourne and St Kilda’s VFLW programs and Richmond are one of the more financially stable clubs in Australia, I mean 100,000 members can’t be wrong, right? Yet it is them that are going to affiliate themselves with a VFLW team in 2021 – go figure that one out, but as the old saying goes: “It is what it is”.

My Dad also had a saying of: “It can only go up from here” and he’d often whip that one out whenever he saw a 10 year-old me cracking the sads every time the Bulldogs were found down 30 points or more. Point is, that the only way Richmond can go from here is up. They had a busy off-season, recruiting some AFLW experience, something that was sorely lacked and they also picked up the best kid in the country in Ellie McKenzie.

There might be a long road back for the Richmond faithful here, but at least in a recruitment sense, they’ve got their act together – season 2021 will be one where I hope that they can compete and not just be the side that was overrun weekly.

 

Assistance For Mon Con

Well, let’s start with one of the rare things that went right for Richmond last season and that was the individual brilliance of Monique Conti. As a Dogs’ fan, it is still quite heartbreaking to see her leave the club, but I still feel happy that she’s made that on-ball brigade her own, she averaged just under 20 disposals per game in 2020, and also averaged solid numbers of 3.7 clearances and just under five tackles per game in what is just her third season.

However, the Tigers didn’t have a lot of midfield power other than that last year. Grace Campbell was doing a solid job before she got shipped off to North Melbourne for some ungodly reason, Katie Brennan was underwhelming as a midfielder and top draft pick from 2019 Sophie Molan had a rough initiation but got better as the season progressed.

The recruitment of Sarah Hosking was probably one of the better decisions the Tigers made in 2020, and I can see her playing right alongside Conti come round one. I like Sarah Dargan a lot too, she’s one that thrives on contested ball, averaging nearly six contested possessions per game in 2020 when she was at the Pies.

And then, of course, you’ve got the future. Molan will continue to play on the ball and you’ve also got Ellie McKenzie, this big-bodied but incredibly classy player that can win both the footy and finish it off in front of goal.

It’s a long road back, but this Tigers midfield has the potential to be an exciting one in the next few years.

 

Phoebe Monahan

Actually here’s another big positive from Richmond’s 2020 campaign and that was the stark improvement of Phoebe Monahan. In her last season at the Giants in 2019, Monahan only averaged seven disposals, two tackles and just over a rebound 50 per game. She was also averaging under 43 metres gained per game.

In her first season in 2020, Monahan’s averages absolutely skyrocketed up en route to a career-best year. She averaged 17 disposals, 6.8 rebound 50s, five intercept possessions and just under three tackles per game. Also, she led the club in metres gained, averaging a whopping 433 metres gained per match, leading the competition.

The Tiges didn’t get much right, but they nailed bringing Monahan over. She’s one that works endlessly on being the best footy player she can be and at 27 years of age, she’s well and truly in the prime years in her career – there is actually every chance she could get a better year this year and that is pretty scary to think that.

 

Their Forward Line

I’m still not quite sure what to make of their forward line here, because I’m worried that it might actually be a bit top-heavy.

The recruitment of Sarah D’Arcy is good, because it gives the Tigers an avenue to goal, but she’s a good height at 172cm – they’ve got a few tall units down there: Courtney Wakefield is 180 cm, Sabrina Frederick is 182, Katie Brennan 175. Is it too tall? I thought Christina Bernardi was a tall player, but it turns out that she’s 167cm, but sometimes she can play a bit taller than that height.

Fair to say that there’s a bit of rejigging to the forward line. Brennan might not be there again this season as she pushes up to the midfield. Frederick looks to be in better shape this off-season and Wakefield will benefit from the experience last season. They’ve also got players such as Tayla Stahl, Laura McClelland, even potentially use someone like Kodi Jacques and Maddy Brancatisano down forward as resting options.

If they can somehow put it all together, then it’s not actually a bad forward line. All it will come down to is how often the midfielders can get it down there and whether or not they can lock it down.

 

Tessa Lavey – The Great Unknown

This is without question going to be one of my favourite developments coming out of the Richmond camp this season, because it will be very interesting to see where Tessa Lavey plays in 2021.

Coming from a successful basketball background, having represented Australia in two FIBA world championships, the Commonwealth games in 2018, where the Opals won gold and also represented in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Lavey was one of the big draft shocks, when the Tigers took her with the 43rd pick in last year’s AFLW Draft.

We’ve seen players from basketball backgrounds come in and bring able to have a significant impact on games – you don’t need to look far to see what Mon Conti is doing and has been doing for a few years at least. Or if you want to venture outside of Punt Road, Carlton’s co-captain Kerryn Harrington came from a basketball background similar to Lavey and she’s now regarded as one of the best defenders in the competition.

Where she plays though will be a mystery. She’s a decent height at 173cm and with her fantastic aerobic ability and given her IQ as a point guard in basketball, the scope is there to be a mainstay in the middle, but could play either end to start with. It’s a bit exciting to see what to make of this in 2021.

 

The Doc’s Best 21

B: Akec Makur Chuot, Harriet Cordner
HB: Phoebe Monahan, Rebecca Miller, Illish Ross
C: Kodi Jacques, Sarah Hosking, Sophie Molan
FOL: Alice Edmonds, Monique Conti, Sarah Dargan
HF: Tayla Stahl, Katie Brennan, Sarah D’Arcy
F: Christina Bernardi, Sabrina Frederick
INT: Ellie McKenzie, Alana Woodward, Sarah Sansonetti, Maddy Brancatisano, Kate Dempsey

 

The Fixture

Round 1: vs Brisbane (H)
Round 2: vs West Coast (A)
Round 3: vs Geelong (H)
Round 4: vs Western Bulldogs (A)
Round 5: vs North Melbourne (A)
Round 6: vs Melbourne (A)
Round 7: vs Gold Coast (A)
Round 8: vs Adelaide (H)
Round 9: vs St Kilda (H)

 

The Prediction: 13th

It’s a season of improvement, and maybe the prediction of 13th might not reflect on it. But I expect the Tigers to compete a little bit harder with other sides and also for longer in 2021. The fixture doesn’t exactly do much favours for them, having to travel interstate three times this season, but they do avoid Grand Final fancies Fremantle and Carlton and also avoid showdowns with GWS and Collingwood.

There are a few games they’ll be eyeing off as winnable games: They’d love to go right off the bat against Brisbane at home to start the season, but also games against West Coast and the Bulldogs in the first month are tantalizing opportunities. However, I think they’d love to get at least two wins on the board this season and set the foundations for 2022.

 

Edit – Just want to thank The Doc for his in-depth analysis and thoughtful look at the upcoming AFLW season. He will be providing plenty of coverage week-to-week as the season kicks into gear in a couple of weeks. WE hope you enjoy it. – HB