The final round of the 2021 AFLW season saw the last finals spot up for grabs, the two positions and a week off up for grabs, and some of the young guns of the competition looking to make one final statement.

Let’s jump into the Mongrel Reviews for Round Nine.

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS 7. 3. (45) DEFEATED RICHMOND 5. 2. (32)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

It’s been an impressive season for both the Western Bulldogs and Richmond, but the reality lies in the fact that neither side will feature in the Finals this year. Having said that, it felt like both sides headed out to Whitten Oval on a Friday evening with much to prove.

After going through the first season winless from six attempts, the Tigers have shown massive signs of improvement under Ryan Ferguson, competing in large patches with the likes of Carlton and Collingwood and recording good wins over Gold Coast, Geelong and more recently West Coast last week.

I would’ve expected the Dogs to win only just two or maybe three games at best this year, but even looking at a professional set of eyes, this side has amazed me with their ability to compete with the better sides this year. Last week against Adelaide I’ll put down to a case at being at the wrong place at the wrong time, considering they got shown up by Melbourne in Casey the previous week.

In their first meeting ever between the two sides, it was the Bulldogs on the back of a strong start to the match that withstood the challenge that Richmond threw at them after half time to hang on 13-point winners to end the season at 5-4, which is something Bulldogs supporters should be happy about heading into 2022.

Richmond supporters should feel optimistic too, despite finishing with a record of 3-6, with a lot of their veteran players showing a massive turnaround in form, and continuous improvement from some of their other players.

 

LAMBY PARTY

With Ellie Blackburn rolling her ankle in the opening term, there was going to be a bit more of an emphasis on Kirsty Lamb to stand up in the midfield in this one. Credit does have to go to the Bulldogs’ skipper though, because she came back and still gave it a red hot crack and finished with 20 touches for her troubles.

But the maximum votes go to Lamb in this match, because she was standing tall across all four quarters, consistently winning the footy from the source and her final quarter was a large part of why the Dogs got over the line in this one –  23 disposals, seven tackles, four marks and four clearances from her in this one should see her poll votes come the league best and fairest night.

But I want to touch on her last quarter just briefly. One passage of play saw her sit under a high, up-and-under footy and she stood there and embraced the contact that was coming from the Richmond player behind her, but still took the mark all the same.

A little while later, she got on the end of a kick in the forward pocket and thanks to the Richmond player overcommitting to attempt to spoil and then ran into the open goal with a bit of an inside-out banana like kick. It’s just a massive sign in how far she’s come in her development as a player. I don’t think she would’ve been prominent as a forward option two years ago.

 

THE CONTI JOB

There’s no secret that Richmond’s fortunes at the source lie with their best midfielder in Monique Conti. If they could clone two or three of her, Richmond would be nearly unbeatable. A lot of people notice her ability to work and generate run out of the stoppages, but the things some people don’t see is her ability to actually win it from the source.

Nathan Burke must’ve put a circle around Conti’s contested work and told little Lizzy Georgostathis to stick to her like glue. She’s had a few run-with jobs over the course of the season – she was hanging around Georgia Patrikios at the start of the year and I reckon she was running with Karen Paxman for a little bit during the encounter with Melbourne, so Burkey’s not shy of putting her on a midfielder if there’s a chance of shutting down an opposition midfielder of note.

Georgostathis has shown plenty around the coalface as a defensive stopper and loves a tackle and Cathy Svarc has shown at numerous times this year that if you can stick with a player and get your tackle game on early, it’s definitely going to have an impact on the contest.

Well, this is exactly what happened here. Every time Conti was around the footy at a stoppage or a centre bounce, Liz was there with her. She laid just the five tackles in this one, but even if she wasn’t laying the tackle, she was putting the pressure on, letting her know with every breath she takes and every step she takes, she’s right there with her.

Conti had eight touches to her name at half time and barely unsighted. She got more involved in the third term as Richmond began to make a serious run at the Dogs, but as the momentum shifted back towards the Dogs in the last quarter, Conti’s influence around the contest was once again quelled.

 

KB FOR THREE

I’ve been a big Katie Brennan critic since her defection from the Doggies to Richmond. Unashamedly, a little bit of it comes out of sour grapes being a former captain that bailed on her club for ‘greater opportunity’, but most of it comes from the fact that as captain, you are required to stand up, deliver good footy and lead from the front. Last year she did none, if not very little.

But you got to give credit where it’s due, because she’s absolutely delivered a brilliant season. Maybe there’s a spot in the AFLW All-Australian side up for grabs and Top 50 I think it’s a lock. Remember how last year she was playing more in the midfield? Well this season just about puts that notion to bed, because she looks more of a natural player in the forward 50.

Having Eleanor Brown for company for most of the evening, Brown got a bit of a lesson defensively against Brennan. She leads, double-leads and gets into the right spots as a forward. I thought Brown tried hard, she always does and the fact that she laid six tackles should attest to her efforts. But her inexperience got exploited just a little bit with Brennan playing the more focal point and finished with three majors as a result. Didn’t help as well that Brown’s kicking was quite poor under pressure, many of them resulting in turnovers.

She currently is equal-leader of the league’s goal kicking this season, with 14 goals, joining Darcy Vescio (Edit: and Gemma Houghton after Freo’s game Saturday), and unless the unthinkable happens, Vescio goes goalless about the Giants and we get co-winners of the goal-kicking award, Brennan should still be proud of the season she’s just had. Both the club and her needed this too much.

 

CORDNER ON HUNTINGTON

This was a pretty mouth-watering clash on paper. Harriet Cordner can stake a claim on being one of the recruits of the year in the AFLW. If she’s not intercepting forward 50 entries, then she’s taking on some of the game’s best key forwards and doing the job so well. I’ll be releasing the AFLW All Australian side at some stage during the week, but this is one player that I think has rightfully earned her spot.

Case in point was the match up between her and Huntington, who is another that is being strongly considered for a spot in my All-Australian side. It’s common knowledge that her strength is in the air, but Cordner made sure that there would be no easy touch for you Izzy. Come back, one year.

But seriously, full props to Cordner, because anytime Huntington had a chance to take a grab, it was expertly met with a Cordner spoil and it rendered her pretty ineffective for most of the match. She did kick a goal, but it came on the back of a bit of stiff free kick from Sabrina Frederick, who was literally in the contest as well and sort of just fell on her when they came to ground. She had the front spot, but somehow Izzy was paid for front-on contact? I’m not sure about that.

On top of keeping her to just five touches, Cordner picked up 15 touches herself. I did notice a few times that her Richmond team mates sold her into a bit of trouble, and sometimes it resulted in a turnover, but I thought in large part, she was a very steady hand in that Richmond defence.

Also just a quick shoutout to Bec Miller, who I thought picked off quite a few forward entries with some confidence and looked quite good coming out of the backline as well.

 

THE ‘ALMOST’ GAME?

They dubbed it as an ‘Almost Game’ on Fox Footy quite a number of times, but I thought Nell Morris-Dalton actually played very well in this one – certainly amongst my best players. She was sort of in and out of the team a bit this year, but it’s more games than she got last year, so I certainly can’t complain.

She was playing predominantly around the forward half, she led well at the ball, her hands were quite strong in the air a couple of times and could’ve got hands to a few more as well – but I think she’ll get to that stage soon in her career. She was getting into a lot of good positions to receive the footy and use it well, which is a real bonus for a tall player. Just makes me even more excited to see her play more footy in 2022.

She also kicked her first career goal too, which was pretty neat – a nice little snap around the body from about 25-30 metres out. Could’ve had two, maybe it can be argued that it should’ve, but apparently Miller got a finger on it as she kicked it. Kate McCarthy raised the point straight after about employing the score review for the women’s competition as well as the men’s?

I’m 100 percent on board with that call, It’ll only enhance the competition and who knows, the lack thereof may just cause a result in the Finals, which will only cause more uproar within the AFLW community.

 

OTHER BITS

I feel like every Bulldogs game I review doesn’t go without a Brooke Lochland mention here. Arguably one of the most consistent players in this team this season. Finished with a game-high 23 disposals on the wing and kicked her first goal of the season in the opening quarter. Been a bloody good revelation this season and also good to see her get through without an injury this season.

On the other side of the wing, we’ve got Richmond’s Kate Dempsey, who I thought played herself a very fine game in her own right – 15 disposals and four marks. Her composure and skill with the ball in hand has been a real highlight with her game. She’s had a pretty good year herself.

I thought Isabelle Pritchard in game four showed a lot of positive signs with the footy in her hands. She had the 10 disposals, but at times looked really neat with her disposal and had quite a bit of composure as well – needs to be in the 21 come round one next year.

Richmond’s control in the middle in the third term, some applause also need to go to Maddy Brancatisano and Sarah Hosking – The former was very prominent in the third term, but I thought Hosking overall had a very solid inside game.

Naomi Ferres off the half-back line played one of her best games since her arrival. Always plays with a toughness that goes overlooked, but looked so aggressive whenever she picked up the footy and always looked to run with it – finished with the 17 disposals.

The battle of number one and number two – Lots of eyes on both Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald in this one. McKenzie played a really nice game – 13 disposals and four marks, including a mark that will win mark of the year. Fitzgerald was a little quieter, still had some nice moments throughout the game, but McKenzie took the honours.

Probably one of the best games I’ve seen out of Sophie Molan since being drafted by the Tigers. Had the 14 disposals, 10 of which were handballs, but her work rate was really good to just get into the right positions to win and receive the footy.

Watch out for Gabby Seymour as the dark-horse for All-Australian ruck next year. She’s another Tiger that I think has improved leaps and bounds and has made that ruck position her own – easily accounted for Celine Moody in the hitouts and also had the nine touches, four tackles and three marks. I did love her going back with the flight into the behind post – takes a bit of guts to do that.

Lastly, I reckon Bonnie Toogood will be in for a massive 2022. I’ve loved how she leads towards the footy and her marking hands over the past few weeks have noticeably been an improvement. Had the 12 touches, three marks and kicked 1.1 – No pressure Bonnie!

 

 

NORTH MELBOURNE 4. 6. (30) DEFEATED FREMANTLE 4. 5. (29)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

Was it guts? Was it determination? How about luck?

North Melbourne played with fire in the dying moments of the game after snatching the lead back late in the game as the result of a free kick to Daisy Bateman.

Jess Duffin made the interesting decision to try a floating handball from full back with a minute or so remaining that opened the door for the Dockers, but some desperation and tough work from Grace Campbell were enough to drag them over the line.

 

THE POCKET ROCKET

Overlooked, overlooked, overlooked – that’s been the story of Ash Riddell in the league, but can she still be overlooked when she is playing this kind of footy?

To emphasise how underrated she is, there were three occasions where Riddell won the clearance for her team, but the commentators decided to state it was someone else. I’m happy for you to go back and watch to determine for yourself, but Riddell won the footy and dished it out to Garner twice and Kearney once and the bloke commentating decided to say “ Garner clears” or “Kearney gets the clearance”.

It was neither of them – it was Riddell doing what she has done every single week for this team, and whilst Garner and Kearney are important to the team, the time to sleep on what Ash Riddell provides is well and truly over.

With a massive 33 touches, and some considered, composed delivery under pressure, she was the best player on the park int his game, and it is time she was recognised not just as one of the better players on her team, but one of the best in the league.

 

GARNER THE MVP SMOKY

A couple of weeks ago, people were talking about the MVP award and the contenders. Amazingly, the name of Jasmine Garner was left out of the mix.

She has had a monster season once again, with her marking, clearance work and ability to continually find the footy amongst the best in the game. She added another 25 touches and a goal to her tallies in this game, and whilst the consensus seems to be that Kiara Bowers will be crowned the league’s best player, the fact that people have left Garner out of the conversation at times indicates that she is a victim of her own high standards.

She clunked a mark on the line in this one, and but for not having a goal line camera in use, could have had two contested grabs in that vicinity.

 

THE SHUTDOWN

Gemma Houghton came into this game as the potential difference maker, and once Tahlia Randall – one of the best defenders in the game – went down with a rolled ankle, it seemed as though her window of opportunity may have opened a bit wider.

However, the North defence was excellent in shutting her down. Keeping someone goalside at every opportunity, the combination of the hobbled Randall, Danielle Hardiman and Nicole Bresnehan tightened the screws to nullify Houghton’s pace and attack on the footy.

North did a really good job of ensuring Jess Duffin remained the deepest defender and had Aileen Gilroy getting back quickly to cover her as well. It was possibly the best performance by the North defence all season because they were finally able to get things right against another contender.

 

FINALS, HERE WE COME

All season, North have been unable to beat another contender. Check the records – they have flat out sucked against good teams, consistently coming undone under pressure. The equation here was simple – you either win, or you risk missing finals.

North attacked the contest like a team determined to get a win on the board against a good side. Their pressure around the contest was excellent, and their willingness to match it in the clinches with Bowers saw them emerge victorious in contested possessions.

Kearney, though wasteful at times, was great in terms of her work in close. She wanted the footy and made it her objective irrespective of who or what confronted her.

 

SHE’D LIKE THAT MOMENT AGAIN

Kaitlyn Ashmore was prominent through the first half, but a half-hearted effort late in the game allowed the Dockers out and gave them an opportunity to run the length of the ground. Some hard work in the contest from Kiara Bowers managed to get an inboard kick to the running Ebony Antonio at half forward. She then found Tiah Haynes about 30 metres out with the chance to pinch the lead back.

Her kick was wayward, and in missing, she let Ashmore off the hook. It was her effort, or lack thereof at half back, stopping and propping and not committing her body to the contest, that allowed Fremantle to push forward, and it should be a moment in the review where she drops her head.

Without a dog in the fight, I thought North’s effort combined with a very good run from the umpires late in the game, but it would sting like hell for everything to fall into place, only to cost your team the game because you just didn’t go hard enough.

Ashmore’s run and carry throughout 2021 has been vital to the Roos, but one act of not going when she absolutely had to go, almost cost her team the season. The pain of being crunched might hurt for a while, but the agony of costing your team a finals chance… that would linger for years. Luckily, Haynes missed, and Ashmore should think herself pretty lucky that she did.

 

OTHER BITS

What was going on with the camera work in the first half? It was as though there was a work experience kid on the panel as they continually missed the play to focus on an individual who had released it a few seconds before. It made following the game really difficult at times. Perhaps the limitations of Arden Street?

It’s the first time I’ve watched Hayley Miller and come away a little disappointed. She had a few moments through the third quarter where she looked as though she may have been ready to help lift her side, but nine touches in a game is a season-low for her and when she tried to matchup on Riddell, the North player left her in her dust.

Not sure if Freo wasted the talents of Ebony Antonio in this one. Playing on the wing, she did well not to get sucked to the contest, but her teammates failed to get enough clean ball to use her talents to their maximum potential.

It seems as though Emma King’s interaction with Kiara Bowers may be looked at, but her contested marking inside 50 against Mim Strohm was a highlight for North.

Sabreena Duffy was close to unsighted in this one. With finals on the doorstep, she needs to get invlved defensively if she cannot get involved with the ball in-hand.

 

MELBOURNE 6. 2. (38) DEFEATED BRISBANE 6. 0. (36)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

Okay, seriously what have the locals down at Casey do to deserve marquee match-up after marquee match-up? Whatever they’ve offered the Footy Gods up there, must have been something amazing, like a Caramilk bar, or a coffee after an early morning wake up call.

They’ve taken on the likes of Adelaide and North Melbourne up there and have taken the spoils on both occasions. Last week, they held off a fast-finishing Fremantle outfit who, despite their slow starts, are not to be slept on by any means, because they can run out games so well.

But this was a massive test for the Dees, who have hit peak form at the right time of the season – against a Brisbane team that have basically put the league on notice with resounding away wins over the likes of Fremantle and Collingwood.

This was a test that had major ramifications for both sides. For the Lions, a top two spot had been sealed up essentially, but a chance to seal top spot was on the line if they won this contest. For the Dees, the loss to Fremantle earlier in the day meant that a win could see them book in a home final in the first week if they’d got up.

And oh man, didn’t we get something awesome here. Both sides throwing everything they had to the table in conditions that I can only describe as wacky. Casey Fields is known for conditions that sort of chop and change whenever and we got a bit of everything weather-wise.

At the end of the day, it was Melbourne that clung on in an epic encounter. Every week when we review the AFLW round on the A3 Footy Podcast, it feels like there’s a game or two that always lays claims as ‘match of the year’ it gets thrown around a lot like a cheap beer. But this had a Finals feel to it and the intensity showed from start to end.

 

WHO NEEDS DAISY WHEN YOU HAVE SHELLEY?

You just have to feel for Daisy Pearce in this one. Over the past couple of weeks, she’s been trialled up forward after a pretty… I wanna say difficult time in defence? In 2020, she just looked so assured picking off forward 50 entries and rebounding in an elite manner, but this year, opposition coaches have worked to make her accountable. Libby Birch is another that was so good last year, but has had a tougher time this year doing it.

So Mick Stinear moved the magnet and it worked, she hit the scoreboard both against Adelaide and Fremantle and if it’s giving them another scoring option, bugger it – why not stick with it? Unfortunately she went just five minutes, probably not even five minutes, before she was tackled and her left knee was caught in a bad spot.

Good news is that it may not be that serious, despite what the knee brace suggests. Bad news is that she was out of the game, so there goes an avenue to goal and a rotation down.

Shelley Scott laughs and says ‘get on my back ladies, I got this.’

After winning the club best and fairest last year, Scott’s year has been a little strange. Not that she’s been bad at all, she’s had a few good games – kicked 2.1 on North, had 16 disposals on the Dogs, but it feels like she hasn’t had a year as strong as last year. But this was her best game bar none this season.

In some trying conditions, she handled the footy like it was the easiest thing to do and was able to snap the ball from some tough angles. To say she’s an important player for the Dees in the next few weeks would be a critical understatement. Goals are going to be at a premium more so than the regular season in the upcoming weeks and the Dees need all forwards on deck.

 

SVARC ATTACKS!

Oh man, just when I thought it was not possible to love how Cathy Svarc goes about her football, she just goes ahead and pulls out probably one of the best two-way performances a midfielder has ever gone and done in the AFLW.

She was matched up on Karen Paxman around the stoppages and centre bounces for most of this game, and had probably kept her to around eight or nine disposals up to quarter time – her impact on the contest was very limited. It showed in the final quarter, when Paxy decided to get very feisty with Svarc, shoving her a stoppage in an act of frustration.

That’s probably not the best part of Svarc’s game individually. It should be noted as well that Paxman did come alive in the final quarter and finished with 18 disposals for the match. Don’t think that doesn’t go unnoticed here. She was huge, as was a number of her team mates in the final term.

But for the first three quarters, Svarc had absolutely dominated her, covered her well around the clearances and managed to win her own footy as well, finishing the day with 15 disposals – most, if not all of them, being contested possesssions and winning her fair share of clearances, and that’s not even the best of it.

Defensively, she was massive, laying a whopping 21 tackles – 14 of them coming in the second half and if you were watching it on the TV like I was, you just knew that it was Svarc laying them at every opportunity. If we were doing Supercoach points, or if Champion Data were doing ranking points, I’d say she’d be scoring very highly.

 

THE ZANKER EFFECT

Eden Zanker playing middle is a touch of genius from Mick Stinear. Last year she had to shoulder ruck duties a fair bit with Lauren Pearce missing a lot of footy last year with a knee injury. I think she also spent some time the year before as the back-up for relief.

To the outsiders, it might seem a bit strange to give a player that has predominantly played as a key forward for most of her time minutes in the middle, but the one thing that has impressed me about Zanker is her tank. She’s capable of running along with the best of them and is able to win the footy at the coalface, as the first quarter indicated.

Out of her 25 disposals for the match, 14 of them came in the opening quarter, with nine of those being contested possessions. It just shows how hungry she wants to get the footy, and with Paxman being occupied with the beast that is Catherine Svarc, there had to be someone that stands up and Zanker answered the call.

The downside is that in her following three quarters, she only managed a further 11 touches for the match, so the Lions obviously were looking at making sure that she got a bit of attention after quarter time, and she looked noticeably frustrated as the game progressed.

But if you’re the Melbourne coach, you’ve got to be happy with seeing someone capable of destroying a game on the back of contested footy the way Zanker showed in that first quarter in particular.

 

ORLA AND RUNNING

Unless your name is Alex Catalano, in which case Orla O’Dwyer is your favourite Irish winger, I think outsiders are seriously sleeping on what she can do in this Brisbane team.

It’s great to see Sophie Conway on the other wing get some recognition for her elite running capacity and work rate to be able to push back and help out and then push forward and help create a scoring opportunity. But Orla is providing as an outlet for the defence and then proceeding to generate outside run and carry – perhaps the best I’ve seen from her since coming into the side last year.

She had the 17 disposals, 11 of those being kicks, and was also featuring defensively, laying the six tackles too – one of a few Lions to register five tackles or more – Svarc laid the 21, then a good spread, with Conway, Tahlia Hickie, Courtney Hodder, Greta Bodey and Ally Anderson also putting in very solid tackle numbers.

Could her and Conway be the best pair of wingers in any one side? Kangaroos have Ashmore, but who’s their second? Freo have Steph Cain. Melbourne have a very likely type in Eliza McNamara – really rated her game in this one – Not sure if the Crows have a prominent winger and the Pies like the look of Chiocci and Lin run the wings there.

It’ll be interesting to see how opposition combat these two, because they are very lethal weapons if you allow them enough of the footy.

 

DEMONS ON THE DEFENSIVE

Just a quick one here on a few Demons that, whilst they didn’t feature heavily on the stat sheet, I thought stood up really strong in the last quarter – particularly after Tyla Hanks kicked the goal to get them back in the lead, because that was when the Lions began to really push.

Lauren Magee – only the five touches, but her first and second effort to stop Jess Wuetschner from being able to score was pure desperation and instinct. As soon as she smothered the attempt on goal, she went right back and locked the ball up – superb effort. Did a bit of that through the game, which is pleasing signs of progress.

Gab Colvin gave away a really silly 50-metre penalty in the second term, which saw her put Lauren Arnell on her backside – that saw her bolt off and find Dakota Davidson on the chest, which resulted in a goal. More than made up for it in the last 90 seconds when it was her one-on-one with Taylor Smith. Just denied Smith first-use to the footy and saw it over the boundary line.

And lastly, Shelley Heath had a very good battle on Courtney Hodder for most of the game – I’d say both players had moments all through out the game – Hodder’s individual effort on the wing to lead to that goal in the second term was just ridiculous. But Heath’s biggest moments were when she went back against the flight to take a strong mark – followed a few minutes later with a  big tackle on the wing.

 

OTHER BITS

Whilst on Hodder, laid the eight tackles, which is terrific for a small forward. On the win, you’d give the honours to Heath, but Hodder made sure she did everything she could. Also had 10 touches to go along with it.

Really enjoyed watching Lily Mithen and Ally Anderson go head-to-head in who could be the most blue collared midfielder for their side – Mithen had the 23 touches and Anderson the 22, both won a good amount of clearances and were very good on the spread.

Lauren Pearce’s game in the ruck isn’t making my selection problems for the All Australian team any easier. Soundly beat Hickie in the hitouts, and also picked up 17 disposals and looked very clean at ground level, perhaps the best ruck in the league to do that.

Don’t think Hickie’s efforts should be discouraged, found plenty of the footy herself and was also laying tackles, with six for the game. Thought the two rucks both played very good games around the ground.

I thought the defensive efforts of Nat Grider and Bre Koenen were just simply brilliant. Probably didn’t pick off many defensive 50 entries, but they did as good a job as they could at repelling it outside of the defensive half.

They’ve got a player in Indy Tahau in defence. She positions herself pretty well in the defensive half and given a few years to really develop in an elite system in Brisbane and I think she could be an heir apparent to Kate Lutkins – no pressure at all.

No goals from Kate Hore this week, which was a little disappointing, but what we did see is her get her hands on the footy and show composure, which is not an easy thing to do in a high-pressure game. More often than not, it came off really well – finished with 18 disposals and four marks.

Great to see Meg Downie in the side for the first time this season after missing all season with an ankle injury. Looked a little rusty with her nine disposals, but she’s going to play such an important role for their defensive structure next week and possibly beyond.

And lastly, got to feel for Greta Bodey’s shot after the siren. The distance was always going to be a bother, but she gave it a fair old crack – fell short by about five or so metres (give or take) after kicking it from 45 metres out. Played a fair game as well, showed plenty of pressure.

 

GEELONG 6. 5. (41) DEFEATED 3. 6. (24)

REVIEWER – BRETT HODGSON

 

Saturday evening saw the battle of the two win-less teams in AFLW with nothing but pride on the line. With the season coming to a close both teams wanted to break the hoodoo and have something to show for the year. Let’s take a look at Gold Coast vs Geelong from Metricon Stadium.

Geelong managed to climb off the bottom of the ladder and leave the Suns win-less, recording a 17 point win 6.5 (41) to 3.6 (24) in a fiery, physical encounter at Metricon stadium.

 

GOOD START

Geelong got off to a flying start, kicking the first three goals of the contest. Opening up a handy margin at quarter time, the Suns started to clamp down yet were unable to chase down the start they gifted the Cats. The Geelong forward line were afforded too much time and space to operate and the reliable defence of Predeji and Ahrens were almost non-existent. Alison Drennan was fighting a lone hand early, but then the Suns started to rattle the Cats with a bone-crunching attack on the footy. The Cats were helped with a largely undisciplined Suns outfit who conceded 11 free kicks in the opening quarter

 

TURN UP THE HEAT

Down by two goals with very little time left in the first quarter, the Suns midfield duo of Maddi Levi and Elle Hampson decided to change tact and employ some physicality on the Cats midfielders. The problem was that their timing was costly. Levi decked Rene Caris with a bone-crunching tackle after the siren in midfield, gifting the Cats a free kick. Unfortunately, there were some remonstrations and it appeared Elle Hampson may have been overzealous and instigated a 50m penalty. Caris kicked truly after the siren to move the Cats lead to three goals. From that point the act seemed to fire up the Suns, who went the rest of the game attacking the ball-carrier at every opportunity. Full credit to Geelong for weathering the pressure and keeping the focus on the game. Led by Levi, Drennan, captain Hannah Dunn and Bess Kearney the pressure was immense.

Not to be outdone Geelong put the clamps on the ball movement as well, forcing the Suns to hurry their disposal and often get caught when they were able to break through. A crunching tackle in the attacking 50 on Lauren Bella by Madisen Mcguire was arguably the highlight of the match. McGuire stalked the young ruck as she received a handball and looked to clear the danger, McGuire made up 20m of space and nailed Bella in an absolute rib-tickler.

Renee Garing and Laura Gardiner were damaging on the outside when the game opened up, their impact was crucial as often they were able to get clean ball to open up the contest.

 

MARQUEE MATCHUP

I love watching two gun players go head to head…

No Taggers…

No Tactics…

May the best player win.

That’s exactly what we saw with Amy McDonald and Allison Drennan. The two ladies fought to an absolute standstill, leaving it all out there trying to will their respective teams on to victory. Drennan was particularly prominent early with 12 first-quarter disposals. It took a little while for Amy to make her mark, yet ironically it happened as the physicality rose and the rest of the Suns started to help Drennan out. Game high 23 touches for the likely Suns Club Champion, though she rarely found space her work in the clinches was invaluable as always. McDonald found a bit more space and was more damaging with her 17 touches and also added 7 tackles for the game.

 

THE WALL BREAKS

For the first time all year, the Suns back-line pillars lowered their colours. The efforts were never wavering, yet the impact the Suns rely on was not there. Lauren Ahrens and Jade Predeji do so much for the Suns it was only a matter of time that it was going to happen were they got beaten. Phoebe McWilliams and Olivia Barber played the perfect foils, constantly getting the Suns defenders out of position and making them have to be completely accountable. Their unselfish play also allowed others to come into play.

The combination of Rochelle Cranston and Julia Crockett-Grills were the match-winners for the Cats. Crockett-Grills in particular relished the physicality and it seemed to play right into her strengths. She is not the flashiest or most talented player, but she is as tough as a two-dollar steak and is the first Cat to throw herself into harms way for the good of the team. Cranston’s goal in the dying stages of the third quarter was a thing of beauty, charging out on the lead she gathered the ball at 50m, turned towards goal and sold some candy to Predeji before unleashing a bomb from 40 that rolled through to open up an 18 point lead.

 

THAT’S A BOLD STRATEGY, COTTON

I must admit there was an absolute head-scratcher of a tactical error made by coach David Lake. With the Suns pressing the action in the second half he opted to use veteran Leah Kaslar as a ruck deep inside 50. The move didn’t make much sense, with the Suns possessing the physical Maddi Levi to partner the AFLW leading hit-out winner Bella. They had virtually no chance in the forward 50 stoppages and the Cats were able to clear and lock in the ball. I understand wanting a spare number behind the ball, but the decision was questionable as the Suns needed to score.

 

NEW YEAR NEW ROLE

It’s safe to say, Kalinda Howarth will not be a permanent forward in 2022. With an increased engine I can see her being used as a midfielder that can push forward and punish her opponent. Its ironic as the move may not have been known if she was in the same form this season compared to 2019 when she took the competition by storm. Each week she looked more comfortable in the middle of the ground and is always a danger forward of centre. Throw in another preseason, the increased chemistry with Drennan and the return of fan favourite Jacqui Yorston I think the Suns midfield could be one to watch. Not to mention the likely impending selection of top Queensland talent Teegan Levi. Howarth showed the damage she is capable of with 13 touches, two goals and six marks. We also learnt no less then four times that Buddy Franklin is her idol. If she studies up, she could well be the AFLW version of the superstar.

 

QUICK TAKES

Special congratulations to Cat Aasta O’Connor and Sun Sally Riley who both announced their retirements. O’Connor in particular will be remembered for her cannon of a right foot, which was thankfully pointed out by the commentary team with EVERY DISPOSAL… Her long bomb from outside 50 to set up a contested grab by Barber was her calling card. She thoroughly deserved to go out on top.

The courage of  Carly Remmos stood out to me. Twice she stood under the high ball and got crunched, not knowing what was coming. Acts like that, especially for a struggling side are even more inspirational.

The major thing missing from the Suns side is a lack of awareness. That might be able to be improved by just natural progression. But if they are serious they must consider getting some sessions in with the mens midfield. Lucy Single in particular has all the talent and skill to be the most complete player in the competition, the problem is that her lack of awareness is a major thing that is holding her back.

I’m calling it right now… The most improved player in AFLW for next season will be Sophie Van De Heuvel. She flies under the radar and I think a more permanent move to the middle or the wing will open up her game.

The Suns need to find out the right positioning behind the ball for Lauren Bella. In the ruck she was absolutely dominant with 32 hitouts, but is very hit and miss with her defensive positioning. I will attribute that to youth as Bella is still very young and despite having some ways to go in her football, she is off to a great start. The sky is the limit for her

 

 

ADELAIDE 4. 7. (31 DEFEATED COLLINGWOOD 2. 5. (17)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

There was a heap up for grabs in this one, with the winner securing a home prelim/grand final double if they make it and the loser missing the week off and having to front up next week against tough opposition.

And you could tell.

It was wild and willing at times, with both sides throwing their bodies into contests. Bri Davey was huge for the Pies in the first half, not just with her physical pressure, but with her crisp delivery. She was matched on the other side by Anne Hatchard, who continues to hustle and bustle her way to contest after contest.

The Crows managed to stifle the free-flowing possession game of the Pies, and ran forward with purpose. Once they did, it seemed that Matt Clarke had done a little bit of homework on how to beat the Pies defenders, and we had a unique matchup at full back, with Ash Woodland having Stacey Livingstone for company, whilst at the other end, the returning Dana Cox made the acquaintance of potential matchwinner, Chloe Molloy.

Some people will look at the scoreline here and think 31-17… not a great game. I assure you, you could not be further from the truth. This was a cracker, with the Crows flexing their muscles in more ways than one.

After three years of these teams not meeting, they were well and truly up for the contest, just like we’re up for this review. Let’s jump into the highlights and lowlights.

 

RACHELLE MARTIN IS A BEAST!

Is it weird that I have started both reviews of the recent Adelaide games I’ve covered by lavishing praise on Martin?

Are you silly enough to argue that it is undeserved?

People, Rachelle Martin has the type of tenacity you want ti impart to those who play for you. She plays in a team with Ebony Marinoff, who has this amazing CV when it comes to tackling, but right now, there is no one in this Adelaide team that attacks the body of her opponents with the intent that Martin does.

Big or small, short or tall… she could not give a rat’s arse! She throws herself into her role with a reckless abandon, and as a small forward, to finish with ten tackles is simply outstanding. Add to that her wonderful clean hands at ground level and you have close to the best pressure forward in the caper.

I loved her game this week – absolutely loved it, and in a team featuring the player many feel is the goat (Phillips), another who is highly regarded as a top ten player, all-time (Randall) and a midfield pairing that crash and bash their way around and through opponents (Hatchard and Marinoff), it is Martin I enjoy watching most. She is the combustionable element in this Adelaide team that can ignite a fire in all of them. Her last two outings have been tremendous, and if you haven’t had a look, I would wholeheartedly recommend you give her game a bit of a once-over. She is a star!

 

THE ALL-AUSTRALIAN HALF BACK

You’d be hard-pressed to find a player that has jumped out of the box this season more than Ruby Schleicher.

Already in string AA contention, Schleicher has elevated her game over the past couple of weeks, averaging 22.5 touches to run the Pies out of trouble and become a great interceptor as teams attempt to exit their defensive fifty.

She was arguably the Pies’ best in this one, repelling multiple attacks with her intercepting ability, and all but wrapping up her spot in the All-Australian team.

 

WOODLAND V LIVINGSTONE

This was a lot of fun to watch.

Is Stacey Livingstone the Mick Martyn of AFLW? There is certainly no bullshit or flashiness about her – she is a straight at the footy kind of full back, that loves to hit the contest hard, and if you happen to get in her way, well… she is not going to be responsible for what occurs next.

But in Ash Woodland, she was not facing your regular full forward. Woodland didn’t fall into the trap of going body-to-body with Livingstone, as so many have done in the past. She stayed on the move, beat the full back to the fall of the ball and used her agility to keep the lumbering Livingstone off balance. The result saw Woodland become one of the most influential players on the park in the first half as the Crows established their lead.

Whilst Woodland would finish with just one goal from eight touches, she was elusive enough to keep Livingstone busy, while her little acts of desperation enabled teammates to get into scoring positions – her tap to Anne Hatchard for her goal in the second quarter after fighting through tackles was a great moment for her.

Woodland has looked impressive this season, but in a very specific role, she was able to do exactly what Matthew Clarke hoped she would – stay dangerous, draw Livingstone away from the help defence, and create for others. She should be walking tall after this game.

 

THE DAVEY TRAIN

I have a confession.

Last year I watched Bri Davey, and I may have given voice to the fact that I was unimpressed. If I did state that, I am sorry. If I didn’t state that, and just thought it, then I cannot be considered guilty for what goes on in my mind – let’s face it, I would be serving several life sentences if that were the case.

Davey was huge in this one. Particularly in the first half when her bullocking work, and her ability to make the right decision to bring the ball back inboard gave her team some form of stability as the Crows rampaged against them. She was hard at it, stood in tackles and, unlike half the players in the game, didn’t handball to the feet of teammates – she genuinely winds up with those handballs and makes sure they get to her teammates so as not to put them under increased pressure.

The Pies were beaten in the contests in this game, but not due to the effort of Davey – she has really elevated her game this season and is one of the best the AFLW has to offer.

 

SLT GOES… BANG!

Not to glorify someone getting absolutely poleaxed, but in many ways, the clash between Stevie Lee Thompson and Sophie Casey was indicative of the way this contest went.

SLT took a mark on the wing and turned, to play on. Casey was bearing down on her and it appeared as though Thompson prepared to stop. Casey, unfortunately, did not have that luxury, cannoning into her opponent resulting in what looked like a head clash, or running into the point of Thompson’s shoulder.

Casey hit the deck hard, perhaps doing as much damage as she hit the turf as the initial contest. Thompson stayed upright, and continued to play the game.

It was a huge hit and we wish Casey all the best… but how hard is SLT!

 

 

TEAH CHARLTON’S GREAT GOAL

The Crows’ prized draft pick proved her worth in this contest, kicking one of the goals of the season.

You can keep your running banana kicks, your over the head snaps, or your soccer goals out of mid air – yes, they’re spectacular, but I love the blue collar stuff, and that’s exactly what this goal was for Charlton.

Hustling to keep the footy in, she sprinted back to the goal mouth and tapped the ball back into play behind her. As her opponent, Ebony O’Dea, took her time getting back to her feet, Charlton swooped back into play, collected the footy, fought through another tackle and dribbled a great goal.

This was the point in the game when the Crows really stretched the lead against the Pies, and more or less put it out of their reach. What a goal for the youngster.

That said, you wouldn’t want to have that on your highlight reel if you were O’Dea…

 

COX-ING IT UP FOR MOLLOY

Chloe Molloy has had moments in 2021 where she looked like the most dangerous forward in the competition, and it is no secret that when she is up and about, the Pies usually play good footy.

Well, returning to the Adelaide side today was Dana Cox, and Matthew Clarke decided that it’d be a good idea to give her the role on Molloy and see what she could do.

The answer was emphatic – she could do plenty.

Molloy may have hit the scoreboard late in the game, but the early work of Cox was exemplary defence, as she played the angles and beat Molloy to the right spot on several occasions.

Cox did receive great support from Ang Foley and Sarah Allen as she worked diligently to prevent the Collingwood star from having an impact, but largely, it was her efforts that shut Molloy down and with her, so went the Pies’ chances of kicking a winning score.

 

OTHER BITS

I feel like I’ve left out a heap here – but I also feel as though they are the usual suspects that get a wrap each and every week. Hatchard, Marinoff, Lambert, Randall, Chiocci, Bonnici… all have been afforded a heap of attention this season. I chose to focus on some more unsung heroes as part of this review.

Nice game from Justine Mules – she has really lifted her workrate after having a poor one in R7.

Ash Brazill did a pretty good job on Erin Phillips after halftime, keeping her quiet, but she was moved forward in the last to give the Pies a legitimate target.

Interesting ruck battle, with the duo of Metcalfe and Gould getting the better of Norder. Their touches had much more impact than anything Norder was able to accomplish.

Finally, the dangerous tackle on Erica Fowler was not dangerous at all. Just because someone gets injured in a tackle does not automatically make it the fault of the tackler.

In this case, Chloe Scheer was the tackle and Fowler clearly had an arm free to brace herself. She did, and that is when the injury occurred – to her shoulder! She didn’t sling her on her head, didn’t ship her to the ground… we have to be very careful that umpires are not pinging legitimate tackles as dangerous just because someone starts writhing in pain following it. Scheer can think herself very stiff to be called for that – it was the action of a panicky umpire. She was probably closer to a dangerous tackle with the one she landed on O’Dea than the one on Fowler.

Great win by the Crows – enjoy the week off.

 

CARLTON 4. 8. (32) DEFEATED GWS 4. 7. (31)

REVIEWER JB EDDY

 

Wrapping up the home and away round was Carlton vs GWS in what was a pretty exciting match, despite the dead-rubber status. Carlton went into the game knowing that North’s win over Freo removed any chance of April action, and if any GWS fans thought they were still mathematically a chance, then they should probably take Year 12 maths again.

A perfect day at Blacktown stadium played host to the match, with the rolling hills of the outer unfortunately quite empty, which might be a reflection of the fact that the Giants’ men’s team was playing shortly afterwards at Optus stadium, or it could just be that no one trusted Sydney public transport on a Sunday.

The game was fairly tightly contested for most of the day, and a fast-finishing Giants surge nearly saw them take the win, but some smart tactical choices by Daniel Harford saw the Blues hold on and claim 7th spot, just outside the bubble.

 

VESCIO’S SECOND CROWN

Since the inception of the AFLW, Darcy Vescio has been a one-woman highlight package around goal. Last week, her five goal haul saw her surpass Erin Phillips as the AFLW’s all-time leading goalkicker. Her pace and goal sense is keener than ever, and she went into this match knowing that she was on a four-way tie with Gemma Houghton, Chloe Molloy and Katie Brennan.

A single goal was all that was needed to bring home the award for the second time, and you could see the Carlton bench rise to their feet every time she was near the ball in their forward 50.

She teased a couple of times, and GWS Defender Pepa Randall seemed resolved to deny Vescio her crown, rarely straying more than arms-reach from Darcy, frequently wrapping her up as soon as she took possession of the ball.

Unfortunately for Randall, she suffered from the Defender’s curse of doing everything right for much of the game, and just a few moments of play were all Vescio needed to make her pay.

She opened the account for the blues late in the first quarter by pushing off Randall in the goal square to take a nice sliding chest mark from a quick entry into the forward 50. A Ben Brown-esque run up from 60 to kick the goal from 30 saw players from all over the ground flock to her in celebration.

Randall kept up the pressure at every contest while she was on Vescio though, and the only thing to match her physical efforts was her vocal output, a stark contrast from the fairly quiet Vescior, Pepa seemed constantly talking and yelling to her teammates. A little reminiscent of Heath Shaw, which I don’t mind at all.

Georgia Garnett moved onto her after half time, but Vescio moved further back to play a loose intercept role. She copped a big knee from Beeson as she backed into a marking contest to intercept a klick in the Giants forward 50, but as is her way she just got up with minimal fuss and went about her business, picking out a target in defence nicely. She then ran all the way forward to be on the end of a chain of possessions to get goalside of the Giants defence and kick her second of the day.

If you are a young woman looking to make it as a forward in the AFLW, bookmark that play and watch it again and again. She shows toughness, coolness under pressure, speed, daring and just sheer willingness to make it happen for her side. Actually, not just the women, most lads could do well to show that much too.

 

STAUNCH STAUNTON

I’ve often lamented that we never saw the best of Cora Staunton in the AFLW. I mean, sure she’s an all-time great as a Gaelic footballer and I doubt she’d be willing to trade that for anything, but her mobility, evasion and goal sense is absolutely top notch, and a selfish part of me wishes the AFLW had come a decade earlier just to see her do her thing for longer.

Staunton’s opener was textbook play for her, contesting a mark, bringing it to ground in front of her, collecting and snapping across her shoulder for a clean major.

In the second quarter, she had Vaomua Laloifi move onto her, but some clever bodywork to bring the defender under the ball gave Cora a chance to run into space and stay just far enough out of Laloifi’s grasp to slot her second.

As Carlton put on three goals over the second and third quarters, it should have given them the momentum to finish off GWS. Laloifi had finally managed to cage Staunton, and the dangerous Giants midfield was having trouble with their transition from defence to attack, that is until young gun Tait Mackrill took charge.

She was extremely busy for the whole second half, but it was her running snap late in the third quarter that saw her gather the ball on the bounce as she ran across goal to put a nice snap though the middle to spark the Giants into action, and almost steal the victory.

 

THE MIDDLE

Death, Taxes and Alyce Parker playing well. You can rely on these three things. She was well backed by Beeson and Eva too, with both getting lots of the ball, but for the middle of the match, struggling to find space to work with.

Britt Tulley and Ellie Bennetts joined in, but struggled to have an impact. Well, except for when Tulley was cleaned up several times. It wasn’t going to be her day when she lined up Lucy McEvoy who was trying to collect a loose ball. You could almost see Tully bare her fangs as she approached at speed, but McEvoy showed remarkable awareness to see Tully steamrolling towards her, plant her outside foot and brace into the contact, dropping Tully hard to the ground.

Everyone watch that play. That’s hard footy. Protecting yourself while gathering the ball, and still coming out on top well enough that your opponent is thinking about just staying down for a bit of a breather. Absolutely delightful.

Tully’s day got even worse when a quick kick from the boundary saw Tayla Harris give her a fair shove as she was kicking the ball to crash into the ground. The commentary team was suggesting a free should have been given, but to the naked eye it looked like she still had possession when pushed in the side, so I’ll allow it. Plus, it was about as close as Harris got to the footy all night, so I’d feel bad taking that moment from her. She had more TV ad appearances during half time than she had possessions. Ouch.

For Carlton, Maddie Prespakis was an absolute beast. Her work in the middle was far more influential than the stat sheet suggests, as she battled with a Giants midfield that was often getting such good ruck service that in the last quarter it seemed Carlton had simply given up contesting the ruck to just rove Jessica Allan’s tap work.

Prespakis is a once in a generation talent, and her development will be the key to Carlton’s success. Her work in and under was augmented by her ability to link chains of possessions and move her team from defence into attack. Her link-up work with Half Back Flanker Kerryn Harrington (11 interceptions) was exactly what you want to see in a transition game. Harrington knew to look for Maddie at every opportunity, and Prespakis knew when to make space to be the option.

GWS had plenty of the ball in the hands of their mids, and great tap work from Allan and McKinnon, but they would often struggle to find enough space to work with as Carlton shut down the passing lanes and corralled them to the boundary.

 

THE FINISH

This was real edge of the seat stuff. It was the sort of script that Hollywood seems to love to recycle. A promising start, followed by the game seeming beyond reach, only for a big comeback and a final moment decision determining the winner of the contest. OK, so maybe Hollywood wouldn’t do that movie about seventh playing ninth, but maybe they could take some liberties with the film adaptation.

Mackrill backed up her earlier work with another play in the closing minutes of the match as she gathered a ball spilt from a tackle at her attacking arc, gave a nice 1-2 off, then chased up her own kick to gather from an opponent and snap truly to put GWS within a point.

Mackrill managed to gather another nice one and make another great snap with a shot that seemed destined to bounce on the line and through for a goal that would put the Giants in front, except for one thing.

A shrewd tactical move by coach Harford saw Vescio swing back and play the goalkeeper role late in the match. In this play, she tracked the ball back and marked bare centimetres from the line, knowing that even conceding a point wasn’t acceptable.

Usually, when a forward goes into defence, the defender on them is willing to just let them go chasing kicks, but in the dying moments of a match, it could be argued that someone should have been right with a player of her abilities.

Then again, she’s good enough to shake her opponent, run the ground and kick another couple, so what can you do?

The game was then largely played between the arcs as both teams pushed their tired legs to each contest, willing themselves onwards as a matter of pride in their guernsey and themselves. Nothing was dead about this games finish.

The match went right down to the final play, with a boundary throw in, deep inside GWS’ attacking 50. Jessica Allan perfectly executed a back tap to Alyce Parker who found just enough space to fire off a shot at goal with just 22 seconds left, in what would have been an amazing match-winning goal, except for once again, Darcy Vescio marking on the line.

Vescio sucked up a few precious seconds of time, before just dumping a long kick towards the skinny side boundary, with GWS running out of time and the Blues claiming the win.

Coaches may not often get the credit, but several tactical moves suggest Daniel Harford is a cut above the rest. Aside from Vescio going back, the roving of GWS’ ruck work rather than contesting allowed them to block any quick stoppage goal shots from within the contest, as well as some very smart zone defence that made GWS go wide and put the ball to a contest when they entered their forward 50.

It worked so well that GWS did not score a single set shot goal for the entire match.

Come 2022, Carlton will no doubt be up and about and once again offering their supporters good reason for optimism, but if they fail to deliver I don’t think it can be laid solely at the feet of this coach, at least for his game day work.

 

CALLING IT A DAY

There is always something about being one of the foundation members of a group, especially in something as impactful as the AFLW. Taking a punt (pun intended) on becoming a (semi) professional footballer in a newly created league is no small risk for many of these women, and those that contribute and grow with the team become role models and idols for younger teammates and young women with a Sherrin in their hands all over the country.

Katie Loynes and Alison Downie called time on their careers, and were chaired off by teammates with more than a few tears shed.

Katie and Alison both made their debut in the inaugural AFLW match against Collingwood at Ikon Park in round 1, 2017.

Downie played as a mobile ruck and her durability and reliability saw her shoulder that load by herself for many of her games. She was recognised for her efforts with a nomination in the 40-woman All Australian squad in 2017.

Loynes Co-Captained the side since 2020, with her leadership and in-and-under style inspiring the team. Her appetite for the hard ball and ability to bring other players into the game saw her win the Blues best-and-fairest in 2018.

Both will leave knowing they helped lay the foundations for the future of the Carlton women’s team, and I’m sure the next generation of players will be proud to wear their numbers onto the field.

 

OTHER BITS

One thing I’ve enjoyed about the coverage is the commentary. Actually, let me clarify there, it’s not the broadcasters, but the commentary provided from the fans so close to the box. One GWS fan must have been grinding his teeth down to stubs as he growled and roared his way through the match. I appreciate the passion, and hope we see a lot more of it.

The play has definitely been faster this season, and the players are hitting each other harder than ever. In the early games, some umpires seemed to think they were adjudicating a junior game, and award free kicks just because players looked roughed up. In later rounds, they seem to have let the players play some hard, tough footy. I hope this continues into next year, as treating these women like they’re fragile things does nothing for the game. Keep letting them put their body on the line, and show their heart.

 

NEXT UP

With both teams done for the year, Carlton will reflect on some patchy early form, though it must be said that the only non-finals team they lost to was the Bulldogs. Had they won that match, they’d be booking a spot against Collingwood next week. They had more than a few people tipping them for the flag at the start of the season, though it may be a sign that AFLW has officially come of age when the Blues dash the hopes of their fans just as their men’s team has for so long.

GWS will have to have a look at their list as they consider where to go from here. They have some excellent young guns, particularly McKinnon, Allan and Parker, but still rely heavily on Heatherington (35) Stack (34) and Staunton (39). While all three have more than earned their spot every week, there will likely be discussions on whether to bring in some developing talent to try and lift the squad out of the mid table, especially as we are now seeing new cohorts of young women who have played football continuously from a young age, rather than have to choose other sports in their teens.

Dropping experienced players can definitely be a double-edged sword though, and having some hardened bodies to protect those youngsters will be vital as the game evolves further and speeds up yet again.

So the only thing remaining for the players to do is work hard on their Mad Monday celebrations, as well as get set for the AFLW awards. Will there be the sort of booze-fuelled revelry and long-winded speeches that we see at the Brownlow? Probably. Maybe one of the Blues players will step up and take the mantle from Fev, though I doubt it.

 

ST KILDA 11. 10. (76) DEFEATED WEST COAST 3. 2. (20)

REVIEWER – JASON IRVINE

 

Despite these teams being out of finals contention, the final home and away game of the 2021 AFLW season saw the Saints rally strongly to end their season, disposing of the Eagles by 56 points at Mineral Resources Park. The 76-20 win to St Kilda was its first win on the road and the Saints score was their largest in their two seasons at the top level.

Even though the home team lead at the first break, a four-goal-to-none second term created a nice buffer to the advantage of St Kilda. Storming home with a five-goal final quarter, the Saints were helped along by Jessica Matin who kicked three goals while Georgia Patrikios hit 30 disposals – a career-high. Grace Kelly played well for two goals for West Coast while Mikayla Bowen was the only Eagle to register above 20 touches.

 

A BAG OF THREE FOR MATIN

In just her third AFLW game, and after kicking the first goal of her career last weekend, Jessica Matin kicked a bag of three in a dominant display. A strong mark, the Saint will surely become the club’s next big forward and this performance at the end of the season will see her take the momentum into the off-season to train hard in the pre-season and replicate the form in 2022.

Matin scored her first in the second term, crumbing a pack that had formed in the goalsqaure, responding to a quick snap from Georgia Patrikios. Her third came from being in the right place at the right time too, a double-fisted attempt from her opponent to get the ball away landing in Matin’s hands and finding an open goal. Matin was everywhere she needed to be to create a chance, gather a loose ball or capitalise on a West Coast error.

 

EAGLES INJURY CRISIS BEFORE THE GAME

The Eagles were dealt a blow before the first bounce as Parris Laurie found herself in a bit of strife, suffering an ankle injury and unable to be replaced. Laurie started in the ruck but didn’t contest, instead staying grounded and moving slowly so as not to put pressure on the injured area.

She again tried to take the ruck contests throughout the first half but was always cautious until it got the better of her in the third term and she was helped off by the trainers. Without their first-choice ruck, the Eagles couldn’t find a match for the Saints at stoppages which also allowed the visitors to gain enough clearances through tap work.

 

KELLY SISTERS COMBINE

A sight that would be normal for them, Grace and Niamh Kelly were riding high right from the start when they combined for the opening goal of the game.

After receiving a free kick on the wing, Melissa Caulfield looked to go inboard hoping to put the ball out in front of Kate Orme. Molly McDonald was in quick pursuit and actually gathered the ball but it fell loose again to be collected by Mikayla Bowen. Bowen handballed to Niamh who went on a run inside 50 while taking a bounce, handballing over the top to Grace while calling for the one-two. Grace though took it upon herself, also darting inside with a run and bounce to square up from 25m out.

Grace kicked a second goal in the third quarter, strolling into an open goal after crumbing a forward 50 ball that the Eagles got moving from the wing through handballs from Brianna Green, Alicia Janz and Laurie before Kellie Gibson kicked inside 50.

The two speedy sisters displayed that pace today and always looked lively, taking the game on. They got caught a few times in tackles but Nimah herself laid five, an equal-best for the Eagles in this game and continued to one-percenters with a few smothers.

 

G-TRAIN DOMINANT

Caitlin Greiser kicked two goals to half time and while she didn’t kick another for the match, she was just as dangerous. Her marking ability is one of the strongest in the competition, today taking 10 which bettered her season-best by seven. Greiser also had 16 disposals, her best for the year – her previous best being 11 in Round 1.

The Saint kicked her first who slotted a goal from directly in front from a Patrikios kick. Repeated efforts on the half forward line from the Saints ensured that goal was possible. Greiser got her second in the second, too strong in the goalsquare against Courtney Guard, marking and playing on to slot the goal.

Lining up on Isabella Lucas for most of the afternoon, Greiser’s aerial ability and strong overheard marking capability, combined with a grunt and strong lead at the footy makes Greiser a great component of the Saints team, not only forward but also when pressing up to the wing and helping make chances as she did with a Matin goal in the fourth quarter.

 

ERRORS FROM BOTH TEAMS RESULT IN GOALS

The Saints didn’t need a downfield free kick within the last minute to go against them but late contact from Katelyn Pope on Kellie Gibson resulted in a Melissa Caulfield shot at goal within the last 30 seconds of the first quarter. Tilly Lucas-Rodd had marked unopposed after the kick away and could’ve held it up in the defensive 50 for the remaining time. Instead, West Coast took the lead after Caulfield converted. It all resulted back to the Eagles resilience to hunt the ball as on the wing, Belinda Smith, Brianna Green, Grace Kelly, Smith again and Gibson combined with the handballs before Gibson bombed it inside 50.

From the Eagles end, Amber Ward played on from a kick in after a Shierlaw miss but attempted to chip it up to a teammate. The ball landed in the hands of Guttridge who chipped the ball too, but to Patrikios. It didn’t go the required distance as she reacted quickly with Matin getting the goal in the end. The costly turnover put the Saints into a double-digit lead, right when the Eagles were still in the game.

 

EAGLES NOT REWARDED FOR REPEATED EFFORTS

The Eagles may have jumped out to an early lead and finished the first quarter with a four-point lead, but it was all down to repeated efforts, which they couldn’t match in the second quarter.

During the first quarter Niamh Kelly laid a smother, Kellie Gibson tapped it to teammates advantage and Ashlee Atkins handballed into space while being tackled – all this within one play. It resulted in a free kick to Hayley Bullas who wrapped up Poppy Kelly. Kelly got the ball to Mikayla Bowen who spotted Chantelle Perera but Darcy Guttridge was there to spoil and the Eagles couldn’t get it forward.

The Eagles usually had the numbers to cover themselves in defence, playing a loose woman in the area which limited the Saints ability to score. But it was a back-and-forth affair with the Eagles really needing to stick to control in the middle to get it forward.

 

SAINTS LOWER THE EYES AFTER QUARTER TIME

A large part of the Saints inability to capitalise on the scoreboard like they did for the rest of the game especially in the second and fourth quarters was that in the first term they were more often than not just bombing it inside 50. Even though West Coast were playing a spare in defence, regardless, the tactic wasn’t working for the Saints even if Shierlaw and Greiser could take a contested grab.

The Saints movement forward transcended into goals and the players were fighting to keep the ball alive. In the third quarter Bianca Jakobsson tracked the ball along the boundary line and composed herself to kick it to a large pack. From that pack St Kilda got away through Isabella Shannon who looped to ball to Shierlaw only to find it in her hands again as she continued running, chipping it to Matin deep inside 50.

St Kilda never truly over-used the ball and weren’t pressured too much which is why they were able to spread well and use each other to get forward. Molly McDonald scored her first goal of the season as the Saints went coast-to-coast, using the free player and looking across the ground and not just at the goals.

St Kilda capped off a dominant output with three goals within the first two minutes of play in the final quarter, the Saints clearance work working wonders through minimal handballs and run and carry. The lowering of the eyes allowed the forwards to run onto the loose ball or run into empty space which is how the Saints were able to kick their goals.

 

TYANNA SMITH IS ONE TO WATCH

In her first season, Tyanna Smith will be one player to keep an eye on next season. She was lively this game, her best output for the year, collecting 24 disposals including 12 in the third quarter alone. She moved the ball well, was involved in crucial plays to set up goals and was a presence around the ground.

She capped off a brilliant game with an equally brilliant goal in the third quarter, controlling the ball well by palming it down so it wouldn’t get away from her. This allowed for the ball to bounce back up to her cleanly, resting in her hands as she ran on an angle and evaded a diving tackler to drop punt while still running on the same angle, the ball sailing through for six points.

Smith is a Rising Star nominee for her Round 4 efforts and has improved more and more since then and will be a handy addition to the St Kilda lineup in 2022.

 

 

To finish up, I just want to thank the writers at The Mongrel Punt for taking the time to cover each and every game of the AFL Home and Away season with as much passion and in-depth analysis as they do the men’s version.

Alex Docherty, JB Eddy, Jason Irvine and Brett Hodges have really pulled together to make this happen this season, and I am both thrilled and proud that we have been able to provide coverage the league deserves. Thanks, fellas – HB.

 

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