And then there were two…

The Crows and Demons are set to face off in the 2022 AFLW Grand Final after despatching Fremantle and Brisbane respectively. As always, The Doc performs his autopsy on the week’s AFLW contests, and eyes the big one next week.

Melbourne vs Brisbane

Our first-ever game in the history of the competition at the MCG, and weren’t we treated to something special?

These two sides played off in an epic encounter back in February that went down to a kick after the siren and this was a sequel that backed up that performance.

The conditions in Melbourne meant that this was going to be an intense and contested affair and even though both teams could only manage one goal each on the scoreboard by halftime, the hard-hitting nature of the game failed to disappoint.

As the game opened up in the second half, the Dees found themselves firmly in control and ran out to a three-goal lead at the start of the last quarter, but as you’d expect being the reigning champions, the Lions found ways to peg back the deficit to a single kick with half a minute to go.

A free-kick for a 5-6-5 infringement in the middle of the MCG should’ve put the result beyond doubt, but Lauren Pearce was forced into a turnover and allowed the Lions one last chance, but the Demons held on in a classic, to book their place in the Grand Final, their first in the club’s history.

With respect to the Lions, who have been great all season round, the Demons have found that next level in their game and deserve their place for the year they’ve had. Only one team stands in their way now between them and a second cup to put in the Melbourne trophy cabinet in six months.

 

BANG BANG BANNAN

It’s funny with these young players, that there’s a certain game that we – as writers, journalists and observers – like to pinpoint as a player’s transition from promising to a bona fide star.

We might’ve seen just that kind of game from Alyssa Bannan in this one. She must enjoy coming up against the Lions, because she kicked two on them the last time they met – only that performance was overshadowed by the performance of a young lady by the name of Tayla Harris.

However, with Harris being well held by both the conditions and Phoebe Monahan, Bannan looked to have been the player to get the ball to when the Dees were running it through to the forward line, and she came through with the goods and then some.

It’s smart coaching by Mick Stinear, because when you look back at Bannan’s last two goals, they were on the back of utilising her speed and allowing her to run onto the ball and she backed herself in against some of Brisbane’s finest defenders.

Nat Grider was very solid in this game and deserves her props, but not even she could’ve beat Bannan on pace when the ball was put out into the space.

Three goals in a game where only nine were scored is a big return, any which way you’d like to spin it and it’s scary to think about when you realise that Bannan is only in the second year of her career – she’s going to be causing many problems for defenders in the years that come.

 

THE RUCK BEAST

All throughout this game, this was a bloody enjoyable ruck battle to watch, I’m sorry Tahlia Hickie but the points in this battle are going to Lauren Pearce, she was bloody enormous.

It’s not going to surprise anyone when I say it, but Lauren Pearce is going to be the All-Australian ruck this year. She’s got a really good knack of when to palm it down to her mates and when to just grab it out of the contest and slam it forward.

Before this game, she leads all Melbourne players for clearances, averaging just a smidge under five per game, which is crazy when you think about the plethora of stars that are able to run through the Melbourne midfield and extract the ball themselves.

The thing with Pearce is that she identified that it’s not going to be a game for smooth operators, and just took it upon herself just to gain territory and meterage. She had nine clearances in this game, and even got herself a goal out of one of them, it was brilliant use of the body just to throw Hickie out of the way and then take the couple of steps to steady herself before the kick.

I’ve sung the praises on Hickie this year, I think she’s a great tap ruck and 33 hitouts in a game that had many stoppages is nothing to sneeze at, and I do think she is steadily building on her role outside of the contests, but these are the kind of games that separates the elites from the also-rans.

Unfortunately for Tahlia, she’s still got some work to do to outshine the players like Lauren Pearce.

 

MASTER OF HER DOMAIN

Last week I mentioned in Brisbane’s review that Orla O’Dwyer is the best winger in this competition, for she has been consistently dominant in her role as the running player who loves to link up, and has got on the end of some good scoring chains too.

Well, I reckon someone down at Melbourne had a read of that, showed Karen Paxman and got her all mad and riled up, because from the opening bounce, these two went head to head and Paxman’s work rate and use of the ball blew Orla away.

Melbourne won out in the clearances by nine but lost both the inside 50 and the contested possession count by relatively small margins, I’m not sure how much of that you have to take into account for Orla to have such minimal impact in this contest.

It’s as if Mick went to Paxman and told her to make her accountable for your work. Because we all know that she can win the football that consistently, you’d be forgiven if it was just a Sunday kick-to-kick down at your local park.

Seeing the likes of Hanks take full rein of the midfield, as well as the arrivals of both Eliza West and Olivia Purcell, means that Paxman can be more of a free-wheeling player, allowed to utilise her run more without the added nuance of trying to bust her backside winning a contested possession.

O’Dwyer was kept to just five possessions, whilst Paxman in her 50th game put in another 20-disposal performance that basically outlines just how classy and consistent she has been all throughout her football career – not just in the AFLW, but down at state level too.

 

THE PRESSURE GAUGE

If there’s one thing I’ve preached about this Brisbane team this year, it is that their pressure is as good as anyone’s in the competition.

Currently, the Lions are third in the competition for tackles, averaging over 67 per game. Only Geelong and Fremantle average more tackles per game. Against Melbourne, they laid 99 tackles – +26 on Melbourne.

Between the pair of Emily Bates and Cathy Svarc, they had 31 tackles between them. The conditions early in the game meant that it was always going to be suited for the tacklers, and I even sent a message to my A3 Footy Podcast colleagues that the conditions were tailor-made to break an AFLW tackles record, referring to Svarc’s six tackles by quarter time.

Svarc had the job this week of checking Tyla Hanks and kept her very quiet up to halftime – Hanks registered just the four disposals to that point. Hanks got off the leash a little more in the second half and contributed to a few of their scores, but that didn’t stop Svarc from crunching anyone who had the footy and was near her.

She finished with 17 for the game – four shy of her personal best of 21, which she set against Melbourne in their contest last year.

Bates had 14 tackles for the game and was largely responsible for getting the Lions up and about in the last quarter as they made their final push to overrun Melbourne, finishing with 20 disposals, 13 of those being contested possessions.

There’s no doubt that she will be first in line for the best and fairest this week and there’s a pretty clear reason why she was named as the coaches’ association MVP. Because she’s got an incredible work rate and such an amazing consistency rate of impacting games both in and around the contest and forward of the ball.

 

SHUT DOWN SPECIALISTS

Apologies to the Brisbane fans here for what is a more Melbourne-centric review here, but I can’t go without applauding a few Demons players who helped shut out some of the more dangerous Brisbane players.

Those that have heard me wax lyrical this year, both on the podcast and on here, will know that I have basically thrown myself to Shelley Heath’s defensive performances this year and this week was no exception, being handed the role of minding Courtney Hodder.

Whilst Hodder was defensively a presence, laying seven tackles in this game, her impact with the ball in hand was significantly impeded by Heath’s defensive work. It was also nice to see Heath pick up 12 disposals was also very good, because it means that her offensive craft is steadily building.

Another player I want to give credit to is the work of Sinead Goldrick, who was often matched up with Greta Bodey, a player I went on record this week of the podcast and said was the most dangerous Brisbane forward.

Bodey kicked a goal late, but basically up until then, she was struggling to get into the game. Yes, she should’ve got a free kick for that hold early in the game, but then again, the umps missed a few of those.

Goldrick has always been one of those players that has flown under the radar due to the success of the players around her, but she has always been a very solid player with her speed and defensive pressure key points of interest in her game.

Both Heath and Goldrick had six tackles each – only Purcell and Maddy Gay had more tackles for the Dees.

 

OTHER BITS

Some more love here for Isabel Dawes, who led all players on the ground for contested possessions, with 14 of her 15 disposals coming from contested situations. I can’t wait to see her further her game next year.

Loved the hands from Dakota Davidson in this game. The wet conditions did the forwards no favours, but I thought she was the best key forward in this game. Took some big grabs outside the forward 50 and snapped home a great goal at the start of the third term.

Not sure how I feel about Sophie Conway’s game – got a bit of the footy but was very fumbly with her disposal and got caught with it a couple of times too. Not the worst on the ground, but she was far from the best.

Shannon Campbell’s third goal in as many matches – Starcevich does love throwing her forward for something different hey? It works though because she’s finding the scoreboard every time it happens.

Indy Tahau had some good moments in this game, trying cut off the opposition’s entries at the knees – she’s going to be a very good player sooner rather than later.

Maddy Gay’s intensity towards the contest never ceases to astound me. There is no compromise with how she attacks the ball, and it is very good to watch when she’s not hurting herself. Laid 10 tackles in this game.

Wasn’t a big game from Shelley Scott but she had a big smother in this game that exemplified just how much was on the line, she’s taken so much of the back seat this year but has still come up with plays to help the team out.

Lily Mithen gets a bit underappreciated for her work rate and her game in this one is no exception. She puts kilometres on the board, but also gets in and under as well and takes a lot of hits. 12 contested possessions – second of all Demons in this statistic.

There was the news of Eden Zanker battling a quad complaint in this game, I thought she was solid without playing a starring role in this game. Presented well at the ball at times and was strong in the contest when called upon.

In response to Starce’s comments about expansion, post game; louder for those of us down here at Whitten Oval! The Dogs are staring at the barrel of losing their top-line stars once again and chances are that the Lions will probably have a few players being targeted themselves. The whole process so far has been a mess and it probably won’t get any better.

But with that said though, that’s this preliminary final wrapped up. Well done to the Demons on breaking through for their first Grand Final, amazing to think that given how well the side has performed over the six years that the competition has been in existence.

Commiserations to the Lions for falling short but considering that they were one of the first couple of clubs hit with Covid and forced on the back foot, they were mightily close of doing the double, fingers crossed they can keep all the players together – this is an incredibly good team.

 

 

Adelaide vs Fremantle

I’ll put my cards out on the table here, and Crows fans are probably going to hate me for saying this; but I really wanted your girls to drop this game to Fremantle.

There is the supporter in me that wants to see two new teams go head to head for the ultimate glory next week, but the truth really is I wanted to see a Grand Final at the MCG next week – don’t put that down to Vic-bias, now.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get my wish, but who cares about that – the Crows are through to their fourth Grand Final in six seasons and that’s something magnificent. Head coach Matthew Clarke will be in his third AFLW Grand Final since taking over in 2019 and that also is worth an amount of praise and then some.

Because he’s added layers of brilliance in this team that extends way beyond the regulars that lead the way. He’s managed to get good footy out of players like Stevie-Lee Thompson, Montana McKinnon, Ashleigh Woodland and many others.

They were top of the ladder this year for a reason, they’re defensively outstanding, they’ve got good pressure around the ground and have got the forward line potency to really put the score on the board in a hurry.

Fremantle gave it a red-hot crack in this game, and thoroughly deserved their standing of being in the final four, but the might of the Crows proved too strong by the final siren.

 

HANDY RANDY

Be honest with yourselves here – this competition is better off with Chelsea Randall healthy and playing football.

It’s been a tough year for Randall, who has battled hamstring complaints all season long, and we even extend that back to the Grand Final last year, in which she missed due to concussion – no such thing this year, unless something freakish happens at training.

She set the tone early with her intercepting and willingness to go back with the flight. That’s Randall to a tee and that’s why she’s leading this Adelaide side – nothing to fear and will do everything she can to ensure her team gets over the line.

Even without her, the Crows’ defensive unit has been outstanding this year, but with Randall in this side, it allows the players around her to narrow their focus toward a specific role or shut-down job. Randall will be the one who reads the play from a kick behind play and 12 intercept possessions from her in this game outlined her ability to cut off anything the Dockers were throwing to the Adelaide defence.

It got to a point where Freo had to throw Emma O’Driscoll down forward from defence to try and hold her accountable, and even though she got a goal out of it the damage that Randall had done to the forwards had already been done.

Also makes you wonder what the forwards were doing in this game; Mikayla Hyde had three disposals, one of those being a goal, Tuhakaraina had the one disposal, looked overawed by the occasion and Roxy Roux – who played on Randall for most of this game – looked like a complete passenger.

 

EASY ERIN

It felt like as this game was progressing, there was a sense that Erin Phillips had this game by the scruff of the neck, but, she only kicked one goal and had the ball a dozen times.

I found it interesting to see her matched up on Janelle Cuthbertson when she was playing forward, however, Phillips outworked and brushed her aside on a handful of occasions and brought her to ground a couple more.

Cuthbertson had some good moments in this game, but that felt like it was the wrong match-up, but I’m not sure who else you could’ve gone with. Jess Low maybe? The defensive collective needed a bit of a spell from Trent Cooper in the first term for allowing Phillips to waltz through three players before snapping the ball on her left for a goal.

Not sure what was going on with the goal that was eventually awarded to Ashleigh Woodland, but that should’ve been 100 percent Phillips’ second goal as the ball practically bounced on the line and back into play, I suppose that’s great game awareness by Woodland, to identify that nothing had been called by the umpires.

Phillips’ impact up forward can’t be understated, if she’s not kicking goals, the ball is still being played through her and she’s involving her teammates in the play, averaging over 5.5 score involvements per game this year.

 

THE AMAZING ANTONIOS

No Mark Sodastrom you blithering idiot, they are not sisters, they are wives. I actually didn’t listen to the channel Seven commentary, because it’s been lame all season, only to be informed by the social media crowd during the game.

I think Kara has had her praises sung by me this season, but continues to get overlooked by the mainstream media, I only assume it’s because she plays for a Non-Melbourne club and is not named Kiara Bowers or Hayley Miller, such is the lack of respect this team gets.

Again, Kara was instrumental in the forward half, playing the role as the half-forward type who gets her forwards into the game, in a way, it reminds me of Tom Lynch when Adelaide were in their prime five years ago, Kara’s the glue of the forward line who connects up really well, and often pops up with a goal per game as well.

However, it’s Ebony’s game that was most impressive. We’ve seen her play multiple roles this year, from key forward to being thrust up onto the wing and even through the middle at centre bounces.

It was her gut running on the wing in this game that should get some recognition and praise, because it was just a simple, blue-collared game. Her play to set up Kara’s goal was brilliant; twisting, turning and drew three Crows players to her before releasing to her wife to put home the goal – never seen better cohesion in a married couple.

Ebony finished with 22 disposals, 10 contested, along with four marks and eight tackles in a game where the Dockers struggled for winners around the ground.

 

GOING (MARIN)OFF

How good is the midfield battle going to be next week?

The clearance and the contested numbers were quite even and whilst Fremantle had Kiara Bowers and Hayley Miller working hard trying to will their side over the line, the Crows had Hatchard doing things as she usually does.

But Marinoff has quietly put together such a strong year, that it would be ignorant to not consider her for the league best and fairest. Her evolution as the tackling sensation as a teenager into the balanced two-way midfield ace has been well and truly documented here at The Mongrel.

So why am I here telling you guys again? Because it would be criminal if I didn’t document her work in this one. Marinoff led all Crows for contested possessions with 14 – between her and Hatchard, they had 25 contested possessions together.

But it’s Marinoff’s sheer power running through the congested spaces that see her importance over Hatchard in this team. Hatchard’s spacial awareness is critical, but in the games where scoring becomes a premium, especially in finals, Marinoff’s work in the contest bears more of the importance, well that’s my two cents anyway.

Her clearance work is vital too. Bowers had six clearances for Fremantle and did her best to get the Dockers over the line. Marinoff was up to the task with six herself and whilst tackle wise, she only finished with five (Bowers doubled that), there was enough slack picked up from the likes of Teah Charlton (six tackles), Rachelle Martin (six tackles) and Hannah Button (five tackles).

 

SUPER STROM

Full props to Mim Strom in this game, because she was doing so much in the ruck, in terms of impact she easily beat Caitlin Gould – it was her career-best game.

This is her third year in the AFLW, and it certainly hasn’t been easy, being basically thrust into the first ruck role right off the bat – but she’s finally finding the extra strings that the best rucks in the competition bring to the table. Lauren Pearce – see above as the primary example.

Strom is basically finding herself as an additional midfielder – capable of both finding the ball in the stoppage and setting herself up as the kick behind the footy, ready to intercept. The thing that’s impressing me with Strom now is that her use of the ball by foot is gradually improving.

There must’ve been a couple of instances in this game where Strom was in the forward half and was able to find teammates by lowering her vision and hitting the target with a precision you don’t often see with rucks in either men’s or women’s football. 17 hitouts and 14 disposals are great returns from the ruck.

What will also please Fremantle fans is that she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty on the defensive side of things either. Her eight tackles in this game attests to how hard she’s willing to work and improve herself as a player.

Here’s hoping that she’ll continue this form in the new season – we could use some rucks ready to step up to the old guard of this competition. Tahlia Hickie at Brisbane is knocking at the door – what about you Mim?

 

OTHER BITS

Chelsea Biddell’s work on Gemma Houghton in this game shouldn’t go unnoticed, her work in the one-on-ones were very special. Good to see her kicking abilities still top notch – best kick in the competition – bar none.

Laura Pugh needs to be doing more than two disposals a game – she’s too good to be not getting her hands on the football – gave away a couple of free kicks during the game as well – dirty afternoon in the office.

Brooke Tonon did some nice things in this game, her intensity was up at various points in this game, gave away a 50-metre penalty, but did hit the scoreboard for two behinds – even if she slots one goal, she’s done a good job in this game – I hope she plays in the Grand Final next week.

Gabby O’Sullivan was looking a bit hampered with injury – I think the people on radio were saying it was a calf issue – but did well to try and continue to move the ball forward at every opportunity.

Sarah Allan’s chase on Gemma Houghton in the second half was bloody brilliant. Knew it was going to happen too. She chased down I think it was Tuhakaraina when they last met about a month ago and that was brilliant too.

Bianca Webb is a player that I find intriguing. No doubt that she gave effort and busted her backside, but what does she do following that? I feel like that she’s more of a battler than a polished performer and Freo needed an extra couple of them in this game.

Stevie-Lee Thompson on the wing was very good in this game, played well in the Grand Final last year and looks firming for a big game next weekend following this performance – 15 disposals, eight contested, four marks, three tackles and a goal capitalised off a poor turnover in the second term.

I really hope Sarah Verrier polls well in the Rising Star voting, thought her rebounding and her defensive efforts in this game were again outstanding. There’s a bit part of me that tells me that she won’t get close, which is a shame, because she’s been consistently good for the Dockers this year.

Danielle Ponter tore Fremantle to shreds last time, but had only the five touches in this one. She did pop up for a goal in the third term, but was played well by Ange Stannett.

Aine Tighe went goalless, but I reckon she had a hand in multiple scoring shots for the Dockers in this game, her palm down to Airlie Runnalls in the second term was outstanding football smarts.

I liked Hannah Munyard’s pressure in this game – she looms as a player to look out for next week – I’ve long applauded her class with the ball during her days as a Western Bulldog, but it’s her mongrel that has been flying under the radar.

Another player who’s capped off a fine first year, Dana East – thought she gave in a red hot crack as well, but maybe needs another pre-season or two, because she got out bodied a couple of times by the bigger Adelaide midfielders in this game.

And with that said, that’s me done for this weekend, the Grand Final is set for the Adelaide Oval once again next Saturday, with the Crows playing hosts to Melbourne. Last time these two sides met, it was round four this season, when the Crows shut out the Demons, but a lot has changed between now and then.

Fingers crossed we get treated to a much closer affair this time around, and I reckon we will.

 

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