And then there were four…

After big seasons, the Dockers and Roos are no more, and the Pies and Dees head into the final four of the 2021 AFLW season.

Here are the Mongrel Reviews of both Qualifying Finals.

 

 

MELBOURNE 5. 10. (40) DEFEATED FREMANTLE 3. 5. (23)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

Funny how it was only a couple of weeks ago that both Melbourne and Fremantle were squaring off on a Sunday afternoon in Perth – many were expecting it to be a finals preview of sorts, but for the Demons, they were just fighting to stave off the challengers outside the top six.

That afternoon delivered a beauty of a contest and with high stakes in this one – the winner advancing to the preliminary finals and the loser not coming back next week – Casey Fields once again played host to what was another ripping showdown in the making, albeit in hot and windy conditions – the city of Casey sounded more like my own personal idea of what hell on earth might sound like.

Putting my own personal opinions on the City of Casey aside, Melbourne have played the conditions and the ground of Casey extraordinarily well this year and by full-time the Demons would keep their unbeaten record at home intact, setting up a big clash next week with the Adelaide Crows in South Australia.

As for Fremantle, more will be explained in depth below, but this past month has seen them take a bit of a fall from grace. Premiership favourites at the start of the season after an unbeaten 6-0 record in 2020, the criticism that Fremantle can’t beat the sides around them hasn’t been put to bed. Sure they beat Adelaide earlier in the year, but losses to Brisbane, North Melbourne and Melbourne – twice will leave coach Trent Cooper and the players searching for answers heading into 2022.

But in the meantime, let’s break this final down as much as we can.

 

GOALLESS QUARTERS… AGAIN

Out of ten games this year, Fremantle have gone into quarter time goal-less eight times…. Eight times! Once or twice might be okay – it happens to the best of teams, but eight times is not even an underlying issue, it’s a bloody massive issue. Is it a mental thing? Do they need to be metaphorically slapped in the face by their opposition to get themselves going?

Fremantle are at their best when they’re being challenged, when they’re angry and take that ‘take-no-prisoner approach. But this year it seems to take them until half time to really do something about it. Melbourne made them pay a few weeks ago and seemingly not much difference has been made.

It’s made all the more disappointing when you take into account that Fremantle were kicking with the breeze in the opening term and not only didn’t do anything with it, but they conceded a goal to Melbourne in the process, which is basically a cardinal sin in a game of windswept football.

It should be a credit to the Dees though, because they’ve been playing at Casey Fields enough times to know how to play to the conditions, not sure how blustery Fremantle Oval gets in the West, but the Dockers in that first half really failed to play to the conditions, and that largely plays a part in their first half being that poor.

Just some little notes for reference, Fremantle had only one goal-less last quarter in 2020 from seven matches and five goal less quarter all up. In 2021, Not only have Freo had eight goal less first terms, but 15 goal less quarters all up.

 

JUST CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS IN THE FIRST HALF…

I took a screen cap of the players that had really struggled to get involved in the play in the first half of footy – mainly because I was at work at the time and wasn’t going to get back to watch the replay until later, but still, some of these numbers are very concerning.

The first that stands out is 12-2 tackles inside attacking 50 in favour of Melbourne. It stems back to the Demons’ ability to lock the footy up and deny Fremantle any easy access or use of the footy out of the defensive half – 24 inside 50s for Melbourne to Fremantle’s six. The Dockers did this so well last year, but now that the Dockers are now one of those teams to beat, it becomes a little bit easier to analyse and study how they play.

Which leads to the main issue and that is the players struggling to get their hands on the footy. They had a hard enough time getting it in their forward half and it showed – Roxanne Roux and Sabreena Duffy had only one disposal each, Ashley Sharp the two disposals and the pair of Gemma Houghton and Gabby O’Sullivan had three touches each.

I don’t want to accuse them of not working hard enough, but when the ball is camped down the other end, they needed to be more active in making sure the Dees didn’t get repeat inside 50 entries, which did happen.

They also got very little from the likes of Kara Antonio and Hayley Miller. The Dockers employed Antonio as a more leading forward option at times this year, and at times it’s come off looking good, but they missed having a strong body around the stoppages a lot. Miller didn’t get a disposal at quarter time, despite laying tackles.

I’m not sure what Trent Cooper had in mind with Bianca Webb in the first half – I saw her match up with Karen Paxman around the ground and not only did Paxman have an influence, but she failed to introduce herself to the leather product once in that first half. Miller was switched on to her after half time.

 

THE LAMP THAT LIGHTS THE CAMP

Somewhere – mostly in an alternative timeline –  Brick Tamland would’ve been watching this game and would just continue to blurt out to his news team that he ‘loves lamp’.

Well in this timeline, I am enjoying watching Sarah Lampard play her footy – wouldn’t necessarily say I love her like I would…. say Cathy Svarc or the entire Bulldogs team, but what I do love is the comeback story she’s putting together this season. It was towards the abrupt end of last season that she had suffered a season-ending ACL injury – not the first time either she’s suffered a knee injury either.

But coming back into this team, she adds so much for the Dees across half back and in the past few weeks in particular has looked so prominent creating run, dash and creativity out of the defensive half – 11 of her 13 disposals were kicks and also laid the three tackles, highlighting that she wasn’t afraid to get into the gritty stuff either.

She was good early when Freo attempted to make the play into the forward half, but the way she rebounded back out was swift and easy.

 

MAGEE ON HOUGHTON

I didn’t exactly notice this until the second half, but Lauren Magee’s last few weeks have been super impressive to say the least.

When she made her debut, I made the note that she looked a little out of her element, but given the defence has been under siege at times this season, they’ve really added another player that is going to cause problems for opposition forwards – that’s the main job of a defender after all right? Libby Birch made a name for it in the early goings when she was still a Dog, Gab Colvin’s jobs this year have been underrated and Shelley Heath and Sinead Goldrick have been wonderful in lockdown roles too without getting a lot of the footy this season.

Given that Fremantle only went inside 50 six times in the first half, it was pretty hard to get a read on Houghton’s game up until then. But with Fremantle going with the wind in the third term, she was one of many that needed to lift. Aside from the late goal in the third term, which saw Magee drift towards the ball carrier, I thought the Irishwoman did a very solid job on Houghton and won quite a few 1v1 contests.

Houghton only had the nine touches, like most of the other forwards, kind of drifted in and out of games. She had a shot in the opening term which saw the wind take it left. But for what it’s worth, the Demons look like they’ve plucked another solid role player here.

 

WAS THIS MADDI GAY’S BEST GAME?

If it isn’t then it comes bloody close, because she was just in the thick of it in a consistent four-quarter effort.

Interesting to note that she was starting deep as a forward, which probably would’ve been where Daisy Pearce starts if she hadn’t got injured. But the way she leads towards the footy, you would have thought that she’d been playing forward all her life as opposed to playing in the midfield. The only downside was that she finished with 1.2 with that one goal not coming until the last quarter – their only goal for the quarter after peppering shots in the last term.

I actually found myself saying that she bloody deserved one, because she had worked so hard both offensively and defensively that it would be a criminal injustice if she hadn’t kicked a goal. She laid a few tackles on Phillipa Seth that were so strong and so vicious, but such was the nature of her pressure on the defenders – she didn’t allow her opposition much room to breathe.

All in all, she laid nine tackles all up and combine with stints in the middle, she also had the 19 disposals for the match.

Experts will point to Karen Paxman’s game, and with good reason, because she was again very good, but Maddi Gay’s game needs all the applause and then some. She was terrific, consistent across the board and was involved in the play a fair bit.

 

TURBO TERRIFIC

You just know what you’re going to get from Kiara Bowers right?

And so do the coaches – after being named the Coaches’ Association Player of the Year, Kiara Bowers went back to work and did exactly what she does best and that’s to extract footy at the source and then apply the defensive pressure. The difference between her and the next best player for the Dockers was chalk and cheese.

She notched up 20 disposals – equal leader alongside Karen Paxman, but the one thing that I noticed when she had the ball is that she was able to find time and space to use the footy really well. Sometimes it came off great guns, and others it was sort of her mates that let her down, but usually the in-and-unders like Bowers win the footy and hack it on the boot – Bowers backs her strong body to break out of congestion.

And then her tackling. For a while there it looked like she was going to give Cathy Svarc’s 21 tackles a real run, but still 17 tackles in a game of footy is bloody impressive for any one player, but Kiara Bowers just does this for fun.

I’ll be listing off my top 50 AFLW players for this year very soon, and given that Bowers has been in the top five the past two seasons – including being at number two last year – is 2021 going to be the year that she tops the list?

 

OTHER BITS

I thought Mim Strom played her best game for the Dockers in this one. It’s not easy playing against Lauren Pearce, who will be in All-Australian considerations this season, but she worked hard around the ground and used the footy really well – had 12 touches, 12 hitouts and six tackles.

Shelley Scott kicked two goals in the second quarter, both of them caused by Melbourne playing long and direct into the wind. Her first one she read the ball out the back of the contest and soccered it through. The second one was a sheer roost of the footy from outside 50 with no one in the goal-square – got a good bounce as well.

A few Defenders from Freo can hold their head high and say they did everything they could – Ange Stannett was defending at times like a woman possessed, Matilda Sergeant was in thick of it early and Philipa Seth battled on, especially when she had Maddi Gay right up alongside her – they had a few exchanging of words in the second quarter.

Would you rather play Kate Hore close to goal or further afield? Last year she looked so good close to goal, but she looks even better up the ground, finished with 12 touches, her composure and use of the ball setting up a number of scoring opportunities.

Steph Cain is another player that I thought worked hard across the four quarters, does her job on the wing, but found herself in amongst the congestion and the hard stuff as well – finished with 14 disposals and five marks – an underrated season from her.

Tyla Hanks and Eden Zanker had the 11 and 10 disposals, which speaks a lot about how potent Melbourne are heading into the last two weeks of the season – Lily Mithen the 17 disposals, another outstanding inside game from her.

How good are Melbourne’s kids going to be? Eliza McNamara on the wing had nine touches but just looked so composed often and Alyssa Bannan kicked the goal against the breeze in the opening term. Just imagine them in five years’ time when they get a full grasp on the level of AFLW footy.

Conversely, I thought Roxanne Roux had a very disappointing game in this one, hardly got anywhere near it – a bad case of the second year blues for her.

Whilst neither Antonio got their hands on the footy much, their defensive pressure was good – Kara laid the eight tackles, second behind Bowers and Ebony had the five to go with her nine touches.

Lastly, I thought Jackie Parry’s game was quite unheralded. Presented herself as an option further afield and was playing that half-forward role of linking up between the middle of the ground and that 60-70 metre zone in the forward half. Had 12 disposals and four marks to her name.

 

 

 

COLLINGWOOD 7. 8. (50) DEFEATED NORTH MELBOURNE 7. 2. (44)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

It was an unlikely, yet completely deserved win for the Pies to progress to the final four in the 2021 season, knocking over a North Melbourne team that fought their way back into the contest and looked like winners at three-quarter time.

But I guess that’s the thing about this North Melbourne team in 2021 – they looked like winners a lot of the time, but fell over when it counted.

The Magpies had big last quarter lifts from Ash Brazill, who was switched to defence to provide stability and drive, and the returning Jaimee Lambert, who hit the last quarter on a mission after being shaken up and tested for concussion in the third.

Collingwood overcame a 14-point deficit at the last change to run out six point winners and book a date with the Brisbane Lions in the Preliminary Final.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

 

BRAZILL BACK DOWN BACK

Was this the move that swung the game?

I am pretty sure it was a large part in giving the Pies the rebound and structure behind the footy that enabled them to launch several attacks, and for that, both Brazill and Collingwood coach, Stephen Symonds should be commended.

The self-assurance of Brazill as she met any incoming North attacks gave the Pies a steady springboard from defence. With Ruby Schleicher identified by Ben Crocker as the weapon the Pies most liked to use from half back, and coming in for plenty of defensive attention as a result, Collingwood were left without a potent rebounder.

But Brazill’s presence soon fixed that.

In the role she played so well before doing her knee, she was just what the Pies needed to correct the ship, and with her settling presence behind the footy, the Pies attacked with flair.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

THE MOLLOY GOAL

That was ridiculous.

Firstly, there is just no bloody way Molloy should have been able to collect the footy, and I am sure the fact that the footy somehow landed in her hands inside fifty, with four North Melbourne defenders to contend with, only for one to bounce off her and the other three to stand around watching, will haunt Darren Crocker long after he watched this review and puts this season to bed.

But the fact is that Molloy made a bee-line for the footy, took it cleanly, wore the contact from Aileen Gilroy and snapped around her body. She did everything she could up until that point – from there, it was up to the ball to work some of its oval magic.

And boy… did it ever work.

Bouncing at almost right angles, the footy deviated and bounced over the line, leaving North defenders pondering whether they should have pushed back harder, attacked her body, or at least communicated with each other.

The answers to those questions are yes, yes, and yes.

In the end, Molloy kicked a goal to pull the Pies within a kick and from there, it was Tarni Brown who ran in and kicked the goal to give the Pies the lead (after running into an open goal and slotting one for the Roos earlier in the game).

 

THE DAVEY TRAIN

This was the game of a leader.

Sensing that her time had come early in the first quarter, Davey was the catalyst for the Pies’ all-out attack that had the Kangaroos on the back foot.

She collected ten first quarter touches with Emma Kearney getting attention on the bench and generally ran riot through the middle of the ground. Bigger, stronger and I reckon a little meaner than those she was matched up against, Davey bustled her way through tackles like Mark Mifsud trying to get to the tuck shop before everyone else at recess, circa 1984 – believe me, he cut a swathe through that tuck shop line to be first to buy a hot dog (like they were gonna run out, Mark… settle down!).

Davey’s power was on display when she was caught in tackles multiple times and simply waded through them to release the footy. Even when she had Kearney hanging off her like a koala on a gum tree, Davey was able to extract the footy, work her arms free and dish to an opponent. It was an impressive feat, given the quality of the opposition.

Davey played like a woman amongst girls, and looking at the upcoming fixture against the Lions, you have to wonder what the plan is to stop her? Do the Lions throw blocks at her to attempt to prevent her from getting to the contest? If she does collect the footy, should they be trying the old tactic of one tackle to restrain and the second one to take her down, throwing two players at her each time? It may be something that Craig Starcevich will have to ponder as he weighs up her importance to this Collingwood team.

 

A TALE OF TWO HALF-BACKS

Is it fair to compare the improvement of Ruby Schleicher to that of Anne Hatchard at Adelaide a couple of years back? Hatchard started to take her footy seriously and worked into incredible shape to be the best version of herself she could – it paid marvelous dividends as she basically ran past or through anyone who dared oppose her.

Now, we have an enormous leap by Schleicher in 2021 that has seen her go from 5.5 touches per game in 2020 to over 16 this year. Her intercept work and rebound ability was so good that North had to throw a combination of Beth Lynch and Grace Campbell at her to limit her impact.

Down the other end, Aileen Gilroy probably gave North the biggest boost off half back they’ve had all season. She was steadfast in defence, with her timely intercepts and ability to cleanly take the footy making her stand out in a game that got a little messy at times.

Gilroy’s attack on the contest was excellent all day, and it was unfortunate that as the clock ticked down in the last quarter, she was the one that had the opportunity to put Chloe Molloy on her backside when she collected the footy in a 1-4 situation. Gilroy kind of bounced off Molloy, allowing the Collingwood forward to snap one of those goals that, as stated above, had no right to go through.

 

THE KEARNEY INJURY

How much did this hamper the Roos in the first quarter? Well, you probably only need to look at the production of Bri Davey to realise that Kearney’s absence left a huge void to fill in the North midfield.

The Kangaroos possess a balanced on-ball unit, but of all their weapons, Kearney is the one that, when removed, throws the collective midfield potency into disarray. She is the midfield bull in the team to play the same role for them as Davey plays for the Pies…

… only she wasn’t there.

With Kearney on the bench, Davey went to town, racking up ten touches in the first quarter and setting the Pies up. North’s other mids – Ash Riddell, Ellie Gavalas and Jenna Bruton simply do not have the physical strength to match it with Davey, and even when Kearney did return, she has trouble stopping the Davey Train’s momentum.

Kearney worked her way into the game, and was integral in the Kangaroos’ surge through the middle of the game, but you have to wonder whether the Pies could have got the jump on North had she not been off the ground for an extended period in the first quarter.

 

RIDD-ALL-AUSTRALIAN

I’ve been banging on about how good Ash Riddell is for a couple of seasons now, and she just continues to get better. She reminds me of the female version of Andrew Gaff – she is not going to win a sprint, but if you run 100 sprints, but about half way, she’ll start to get on top, and in the last 30 sprints, she’ll be running at the same pace she was in the first ten. She is an endurance beast and her work around clearances in the third quarter gave the Roos a heap of drive.

Her numbers for 2021 are right around the same as her AA 2020 season, and given how much this Kangaroos team has relied on her consistency, she deserves her second AA selection.

 

LAMBERT BACK IN ACTION

Jaimee Lambert hit the last quarter like a woman possessed, crashing in after returning from a concussion test and 20 minutes on the sidelines. As much as I talked up the efforts of Ash Brazill and Bri Davey, Lambert’s all-or-nothing attack on the footy played a huge part in the Pies bouncing back and claiming the lead.

It was Lambert’s tackle on Jas Garner that started the momentum in the last quarter and her spin out of traffic after winning a clearance to get the ball to Sarah Rowe was absolutely brilliant. Tarni Brown was swamped after slotting that goal, but I hope a few got to Lambert as well, as without her efforts to get the footy moving Collingwood’s way from half forward, the footy never gets anywhere near Brown.

Lambert has been one of the more consistent performers over the last couple of years at Collingwood, and with Davey now taking on some of the heavy work, she has been able to work more of an inside/outside role, punishing teams that do not have someone standing shoulder to shoulder with her at stoppages.

 

OTHER BITS

Sophie Alexander picked a nice time to have her first two-goal game of the season. At times this season, she has looked all at sea as a key forward (namely against Adelaide, Richmond and Carlton) but she more than made up for those quiet days with her effort in this one. Two goals in a seven goal game are priceless.

Big finish to the game from Maddie Shevlin, who really put her nose to the grndstone and went to work in the last quarter.

Ditto Sarah Rowe, who knuckled down in this game and won a fair bit of contested footy along the way.

Ellie Gavalas was North’s best mid in the first half before completely evaporating in the second half. Is that due to her tank, or did Ben Crocker actually pull her off the ball at some stage?

And finally, Stacey Livingstone was a brick wall again for the Pies in this one. Mrs Mongrel became interested in what was happening last in this game and when she saw Livingstone, she remarked that she was “not that agile.”

She was spot on – agility is not the strong suit of Livingstone. Her best comes when she positions her body between her opponent and the footy. The Mick Martyn of AFLW does not play what anyone would call an attractive brand of footy, but what she does is contributes to a winning brand, and you cannot ask for any more than that.

 

Great win by the Pies, but North had this game in their back pocket. The Pies needed three in the last to pinch the game and they got them. They won this game, but North will go down as massive losers here 0 they had every chance to be playing in a Preliminary Final next week, but it will be the Pies, die to a great coaching move, an inspired burst from Lambert, the bullocking work of Davey and a wonderfully lucky bounce from Molloy.

Bring on the Prelims.

 

And before I go, I just want to thank Alex Docherty for his tireless efforts and wealth of AFLW knowledge this season – he has been the backbone of our coverage of the women’s game, and I am in his debt – HB

 

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