I thought for my column this week, I’d try something a little more different and a little more fun to write about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to analyse and critique how both men’s and women’s football is being played to the best I can, but sometimes, it can get a little bit taxing – I know I don’t do myself any favours stretching it out to 2000 words a review either.

But over the weekend, if you’ve read the reviews, you’ll know that I was rather chuffed with the work of many players. As I was writing the Melbourne/Giants review on Saturday night – something figuratively hit me.

Favourites… I must have a lot of those running around in the AFLW this season.

You would’ve read my two pence on Shelley Heath and how I think the world of her as a player. Elizabeth Snell from the Bulldogs was another one that demanded attention on Sunday evening for her efforts, and I spared no expense sharing my thoughts about her game on Twitter either.

Playing favourites for coaches is a dangerous thing, and after about 20 minutes compiling a list of AFLW players I absolutely love watching, I can confirm that it is also a very dangerous thing for writers, this one especially.

Does a list of ten work for this column? No, no it doesn’t. But then the idea came about of compiling the ‘All-Favourites’ team.

I’ve listed 22 players (in the traditional 6-6-6 format) that I am just massive fans of – for one reason or another. I will stress enormously that it doesn’t have to be about out-and-out football talent. Some are in here purely because their abilities on the field have made a believer and a fan out of me, others are in here for their work both on and off the field.

However, with the special exemption of one player, I’ve tried to avoid naming some of the more ‘household’ names of AFLW – Otherwise, I’d just have 22 Ellie Blackburns in this team, and we’d have a short column piece.

Anyway, enough harping on. Here is my ‘All-Favourites’ AFLW side.

 

The Defenders

Shelley Heath (Melbourne) – I’ll start with this one, mainly because everything I wrote about her from the review on the weekend was true – for a small defender, there is no backwards step with how she plays, there’s a ruthless aggression to her one-on-one work that keeps me coming back to watch Melbourne games every week – her efforts against a much bigger opponent this past weekend makes her one of the most unsung heroes at Melbourne.

Kerryn Harrington (Carlton) – This is the one exception I was talking about earlier, Kerryn is a star defender and a tremendous leader. What you might not know is that she also has helped me on a University Assignment a few years ago and was one of the first guests on the A3 Footy Podcast. A great morning that, Alex Catalano slept in and missed the show, whilst Miller and I had a wonderful chat with the Carlton captain.

Jasmine Ferguson (North Melbourne) – My first experience watching Jasmine play was for Collingwood at the Whitten Oval last year, my first night on special comments for WARF Radio – admittedly she didn’t see a lot of the ball considering the fact the ball was camped down the other end for most of it. I’ve seen her play a few times since then before she was drafted and knew she was something special – she is a player willing to put her body on the line if it means getting it out of defence.

Mimi Hill (Carlton) – After missing an entire year of football, she put over three-quarters of the Carlton team to shame by with a massive effort against Adelaide the weekend prior to last and backed it up against Freo this past weekend. However, if you frequent social media, you’ll see that she’s a bit of a character as well and when you put the two together, you’ve got yourself a youngster that has nothing but a bright future ahead… providing she doesn’t do another knee again (I’m praying!)

Katie Lynch (Western Bulldogs) – I had a lot of appreciation for Katie Lynch last year when she came across from Collingwood and solidified herself as that intercept marking centre-half back option. But when you hear that she had a limited pre-season and no football up until the Dogs’ return to footy against GWS, you would’ve been forgiven if you said that maybe it’ll take her some time to get going. Turns out she’s got other ideas, has been incredible for the Dogs in defence – More of a rock than Dwayne Johnson.

Jade Ellenger (Brisbane) – Yes, she’s been in the competition a bit longer, but I first took notice of her during Brisbane’s premiership campaign last year and she played a lot more as that dogged defender, which she showed that she can really compete with some of the game’s better small forwards. However, she has since managed to push herself further afield and with her speed, has become more of a dangerous weapon in several areas around the ground.

 

The Midfield/Followers

Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane) – Well, it seems like my colleague Alex Catalano’s infatuation with Orla O’Dwyer running down the wing has rubbed off on me. I’m not complaining though, because she’s a very fine player, a sub-zero player if we’re basing it off Top Gear’s ‘The Cool Wall’. I say this because she’s hardly breaking stride to receive the ball and her ability to just power down her wing with the ball in hand is just such a joy to watch – her kicking isn’t too bad either. In actuality, anything she does isn’t bad.

Kirsty Lamb (Western Bulldogs) – Ellie Blackburn was too easy to put in here, but I was quoted as saying on the weekend that I will literally worship the ground both Blackburn and Lamb walk on, simply because of their gut-busting work in the midfield. Lamb’s rise to the elite midfielders is right within reach, having come so far from being just a pure inside midfielder in her first couple of seasons. Not only now does she barge through congestion, she’s kicking absolutely freakish goals on a near-consistent basis.

Steph Cain (Fremantle) – Who doesn’t love a redemption story? Cain was delisted by Fremantle after the first season of AFLW, she was then re-listed with their first pick in the AFLW Draft the same year. What sounded like a weird decision at the time, has actually proven to be one of the better selections in Fremantle’s draft history. It’s also worth reminding that she did a season-ending knee injury in round one of 2020 but came back in 2021 by finishing runner-up to Kiara Bowers in Fremantle’s best and fairest.

Celine Moody (Western Bulldogs) – Well her twin sister Breann gets all the accolades for her ruck craft and follow-up work, so I’m going to give Celine her props, she posts some very elite content on Instagram from time to time – the picture where she puts her head over a player taking a specky and her twin’s head over the player who acts as a stepladder is just brilliant. But credit to where it’s due on field, Celine’s actually been playing some incredible football – rucking well, pinch-hitting up forward and playing as a spare behind play, she’s well on her way of going stride-for-stride with her twin sister.

Cathy Svarc (Brisbane) – She really came into prominence last season when she played a good defensive midfielder role on some of the game’s best ball-winners, it was a big reason why she was in my All-Australian team for the Mongrel last year. Not only is it her body work around the stoppages that wins me over, but it’s also the tackles she brings to this team – she’s had a few games where she’s recorded well over double figures and she’s got the arms of a god, it’s as if she could bench press the combined weight of her teammates.

Hayley Miller (Fremantle) – She’s in a similar position to Kirsty Lamb, in the sense that she’s right about there in terms of breaking out into the elite category of midfielders after being in the competition from day dot. Her work on Twitter currently is great and loaded with banter between her, Airlie Runnalls (who was stiff to miss in this team) and Trent Cooper. On-field, the captaincy has elevated her game to the point where she can extract the ball out of stoppages beautifully and make the difficult shots on goal seem effortless (Not as effortless as Ebony Antonio though)

 

The Forwards

Shelley Scott (Melbourne) – This year has been slim pickings for Shelley Scott, due to Kate Hore, Daisy Pearce and Tayla Harris all featuring prominently on the goals’ column weekly, but Scott’s work rate in past seasons playing as a high half-forward, her kicking skills – both in terms of setting up her teammates and finishing in front of goal – have been just as exquisite to watch. I love the characters in football, but I’m also a fan of the quiet and unassuming types that are just lethal when you give them half a chance, and Scott has taken full advantage of these chances over the years.

Tara Bohanna (Gold Coast) – Similar to Ferguson, I first caught wind of Bohanna’s form for the Southern Saints midway through the season and didn’t get a chance to watch her live until the last game of the home and away season – she dominated that game and finished the year averaging some very strong stats as a key forward. When the Suns finally signed her on, I was one of a rare few that knew that she was going to pay off handsome dividends and six games into her AFLW career, she’s given them plenty.

Kate Surman (Gold Coast) – It feels like a lifetime ago that Kate Surman rose up the favourites board quickly by stealing the microphone off Dayne Zorko after a Suns’ game (might have been the QClash Draw?) and answering the question, but that will forever go down as one of the funniest things in AFLW history. Surman’s work as a footballer isn’t too bad either. When she’s not burrowing in and under to win the football or harassing opposition defenders, she’s finishing up goals in a manner I can only describe as super smooth.

Nicola Xenos (St Kilda) – Considering she’s only just come back from a knee reconstruction, Xenos is currently doing some very good things in the forward half for the Saints. I can recall first watching Xenos when she was running around for Collingwood’s VFLW side prior to being drafted and having a lot of say around the forward half. I watched her final against the Southern Saints that year and said to myself that whoever drafts her will have a good player on their hands. Fun useless fact, Xenos was one of my first interviewees when I started my journalism course a couple of years ago.

Tahlia Randall (North Melbourne) – There may be better key forwards out there, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Tahlia Randall up forward for North Melbourne this year. Before that, she was an uber-reliable key defender both at North and up at Brisbane, but every time she goes up for a grab up forward, she looks like she’s ready to kill someone. She attacks the footy in the air with such malice. Some might not like it, and fair enough, but I’m someone who applauds the key forwards for sticking the knee in the back of a player filling the hole – make them earn their keep.

Greta Bodey (Brisbane) – Greta Bodey came onto Brisbane’s list in the off-season of 2019, but didn’t make a splash until last season, where she started off the season with seven goals in four games – three of those featured her kicking a pair of goals in each. Her speed is something I consider to be underrated when you consider just how much freakishly talented players the Lions have up forward. Bodey’s goal sense has developed so rapidly over the course of the past 18 months, it makes her impossible to ignore her as a favourite player of mine.

 

The Interchange

Aine Tighe (Fremantle) – In the span of seven games, Aine Tighe has won me over for a few reasons – the first is the most obvious, for a tall player to come back from the adversity of two serious knee injuries in her first two seasons at the club, that’s just big. But it’s what she does following that wins me over, she would’ve learned so much on the sidelines in those two years and to see her apply herself in so many areas around the ground is why she has got a spot on the bench here. Her mobility for a tall is excellent and her confidence to back herself in, no matter what position she plays, makes her a must-see player.

Jess Fitzgerald (Western Bulldogs) – I referenced her a few times last year – both on the Mongrel and on A3 Footy Podcast – as Jess “Freakin” Fitzgerald (ashamedly, yes I’m still following wrestling at 28) because she was able to kick match-defining goals and stand up as a first-year player. This year she’s doing a lot more work around the stoppages, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed with me that she’s adding a lot to the midfield and easing the defensive pressure on both Blackburn and Lamb. Oh, and her videos on Instagram of her scaring her mum are just the best, sorry Mrs. Fitzgerald!

Jamie Stanton (Gold Coast) – It was close between her, Ali Drennan and Kalinda Howarth for this spot, but Jamie agreeing to come onto the A3 Footy Podcast just before Christmas last year got her over the line. This year, we’ve seen Stanton take up whatever role that is placed in front of her by Cameron Joyce and has just knuckled down and got to work as best as she can, in another team, she could be the star midfielder, but she is really willing to sacrifice herself to play a team role, and I can’t respect that enough.

Sarah Lampard (Melbourne) – I’ve ummed and ahhed about this last selection, but I needed a defender on the bench to complete my team and I’ve turned to none other than Sarah Lampard. I should actually credit Alex Miller for this selection, because he’s a big fan and his constant chatter finally got me to properly watching her individually and from that night on, struck a delightful chord with me. Lampard has had history of bad knee injuries, which makes her form at the present time even more impressive. Libby Birch gets a lot of credit, but Lampard quietly slips under the radar of many.

 

Special Mentions

So, some players that just missed out, because there are some that I wanted to put in but found no room. I’d say the emergencies, but there are too many players that I’ve missed, just to name four players.

I mentioned Drennan and Howarth before; Drennan’s work since coming over from St Kilda has been extraordinary, as well as her antics off-field, like seriously, she asked who Andrew Gaze was on national radio the other week as a piss-take and that was seriously funny content.

Howarth won me over in 2020 with her innate goal sense and silky skills, only to disappear from this Suns’ team completely a year later, but credit to her, she’s finding consistent form across several positions this year.

I wanted to put in Elizabeth Snell for her efforts on the weekend and throughout the season in general, but I couldn’t find any room for her, plus I didn’t want to be too bias towards my Bulldogs – which I’m pretty sure I’ve failed anyway, but who cares, this is my team.

Aimee Schmidt from the Eagles was close, mainly because after giving me grief for her kicking for goal at GWS, she’s turned herself around into a more dangerous player in the blue and gold – the kicking is still somewhat of an issue, but at least she’s consistently threatening now.

I also would’ve liked to have put in Bella Lewis, after winning the Eagles’ best and fairest in her first season. I just love her toughness around the stoppages, I’m a fan of the blue-collared midfielder; nothing flash, but rather just grit and determination.

No room for some of the other guests we’ve had on the A3 Footy Podcast, Nina Morrison and Sophie Molan. Would’ve loved to have put Tyanna Smith in the side as well if she hadn’t done her knee on the eve of the season – she would’ve been a lock otherwise.

 

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