The Doc has cast his eye over AFLW proceedings and come up with some things he likes and some things… he liked a lot less.
The MCG delivers another cracker
There have been conversations about hosting doubleheaders over the years and it’s certainly gathered some traction again when the competition decided to move the Melbourne and North Melbourne game to the MCG as a curtain-raiser to the Melbourne and Sydney final. And it may happen more in the following couple of weeks too. I hear the argument from some to not feature it as a prelude, which is understandable for a lot of reasons.
But I liked what I saw on Friday night between the Roos and the Demons; not just on the field but in the stands. The roar when Alyssa Bannan broke clear inside 50 and snapped it through the big sticks is enough to send shivers down your spine. It was a tight contest from start to end and whilst the Demons can count their blessings that poor kicking in the second quarter didn’t give them their first loss for the year, the Roos showed that they’re not going to be easy pickings for the top three teams in the competition this year.
Have we unearthed the next big Irish thing?
I recall that there were big wraps on Orla O’Dwyer when she was initially signed up by the Brisbane Lions at the end of the 2019 season and fast forward to today, she’s the best winger in the AFLW. However, I think we’ve found the next big star in Erika O’Shea after this game, which is a bold claim when you consider that this was only her second game of league football.
At 20 years of age, O’Shea has already emerged as a star on the rise back in Ireland, and there were plenty of bright spots in this game for North Melbourne fans to get excited about; she’s remarkably quick, doesn’t take a backwards step towards a contest and she is adapting to a different game remarkably quickly. Was quiet against the Suns last week, but was impactful across the defensive half for the Roos: Nine intercept possessions from her in this game, it was the most of any North player and equal-first for the game alongside Libby Birch, who has been one of the top percentile of defenders for some time now.
Amy McDonald is really good at contested footy
The Geelong of 2022 have been a real stubborn side for many, and it starts from their engine room. In an era where the likes of Ellie Blackburn, Kiara Bowers and Alyce Parker hold themselves as the household names of midfielders, Amy McDonald still flies under the radar for many. You’d probably assume it’s because it’s the Cats and they haven’t won a lot of games since coming into the competition.
Well McDonald is currently the reigning two-time best and fairest winner at the Cattery and her start to season seven has her well on the pace for the three-peat. She is the classic definition of a blue-collared player; nothing fancy to her game, but she puts her head down and bores in to win the footy and she was absolutely magnificent in this regard: 29 disposals, with 19 of them being contested – she had 19 contested possessions in their last game of season six against the Giants.
McDonald averaged over 13 contested possessions per game last season and is so far averaging 16 in her two matches this season.
Alyce Parker has found her next level
Never have doubted Alyce Parker’s ability as a football player, but there are definitely times over the last couple of years where you look at her and you look at other superstar-calibre midfielders and you immediately question: Is she impacting enough for the Giants to make a serious impact? Parker is one of the best contested midfielders in the game and the media pundits make a big deal of it, but they also tend to overrate her as a player.
My one drawback of Parker is that she doesn’t hurt you on the scoreboard. Well in just two games so far this season, she’s found the goals on both occasions. Whilst she nearly got the Giants over the line last week against the Dogs, the Giants were completely overpowered by Brisbane this week, but Parker’s influence could be felt around every contest and stoppage. She had 12 contested possessions, eight clearances and six tackles from 27 disposals, but she’s also quickly finding a lot of space; seven marks and 16 uncontested possessions from her too.
It’s a small sample size so far, but we’re quickly finding her next gear en route to being one of the game’s greats.
Emily Bates is still the number one player
A lot of South Australians were up in arms about Anne Hatchard not being my number one player when I released my top 50 after the conclusion of season six. It’s not a consolation, but between her and Emily Bates, it was the barest of margins in it. What got Bates over the line was that she was an unanimous improver in the midfield, impacted contests, had a hand in scores, won all the individual accolades there were to be won and even though the Lions failed to get to the Grand Final, it was through no fault of her own, because she was doing her darndest to get the Lions over the line.
Brisbane were shellshocked in the opening quarter against GWS on Sunday, but Bates was having none of it and over the next three quarters, was one of a handful that found an extra few gears that the Giants – admirable as they’ve been – just can’t reach right now. She kicked two goals in the third quarter, but also finished with 20 disposals, six tackles, four clearances, four marks and six score involvements.
There are a few players challenging for the number one spot – but as Ric Flair once said, ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.’
The Saints are 2-0 to the start the year, granted both wins have come at the expense of the expansion teams, but you can only deal with who’s in front of you and maybe these sorts of wins can help instil some extra belief to this Saints side, who looked at times earlier this year that they were going to struggle to win at all, but the tail-end of season six looked as if the girls bought into Nick Dal Santo’s game plan.
Aside from their opposition, there are many other factors that have the Saints unbeaten to start the year, but their forward line I think has been one of their biggest improvements so far this season. Last week against Sydney, they annihilated the Swans on the back of defensive pressure, this week they had one less inside 50 entry than Hawthorn, but registered 13 more scoring shots and won by 53, should’ve won by more.
Kate Shierlaw kicked four last week against the Swans and backed it up with 2.2 to take her up to six for the season so far, the most she’s kicked in a season was six back in 2021 and it took her nine games to get her there and after just two games, she is currently leading all goalkickers.
The most underappreciated player in AFLW
Most AFLW neutrals might not bat an eyelid at Alison Drennan, but for mine, she is not only one of the most hard-working midfielders I’ve seen, but also one of the most underappreciated in the competition. There is very little fuss about how she goes about her work, she digs deep and finds a way to win the footy almost anytime she gets near it.
It was a resounding win by the Suns after a very poor effort last week and it was set up through their clearance work around the stoppages: +13 to be exact and the big driver of that was Drennan, who had seven clearances for the game. She also kicked 1.1 and had a hand in two others – one of which was a direct goal assist – and also featured as the top Gold Coast player in tackles, with nine for the match.
This will be Charlie Rowbottom’s midfield in due course (she was very good in this game too), but for now, I need you to start giving this woman her dues, she’s been consistently solid for the Suns since arriving from the Saints.
Jordan Membrey kicking on
Whilst on the subject of underappreciated, Jordan Membrey’s accuracy in front of goals over her journey has been nothing short of spectacular. After missing the entire of last season due to a knee injury sustained in the tail-end of the 2021 season, she returned last week in the Pies’ win over Carlton and got through unscathed and backed it up with a strong performance against the Swans: nine disposals, five marks and two goals
One of the biggest things about Membrey is that she hasn’t registered a behind in her AFLW career to date and her two goals on Sunday took her up to 15 goals without a blemish. Goals in AFLW can be few and far between, but she is about as crafty and clever of a forward as they get. She often finds herself with space to either lead into or for her teammates to spot a kick to her and often doesn’t let them down in getting the maximum result.
There are a few Pies that they will be hoping can stay on park this season and Membrey is one of them.
Bad to worse for the Dockers
I said last week that it could get worse before it got better for the Fremantle Dockers, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that they would be the new record-holders for the lowest score in AFLW history. One behind from 20 inside 50s in four quarters of football says all you need to know about Fremantle’s performance in this game.
I also made mention last week about their availabilities, well Trent Cooper also spoke of the fact that Hayley Miller and Kiara Bowers both went through interrupted pre-seasons as well and you could almost say those two are their most important players. But the buck shouldn’t end with them. The forward line structure looked a mess at times and the connection from mids to forwards certainly doesn’t help the cause either.
Britney Gutknecht’s leg injury
Well for one, I’m glad that Fox Footy showed the replay countless times without seeing the leg twist and break in the action, but I can’t help but think what the family would be going through having that played on replay over and over again. It was a bad scene at Alberton when Abbey Dowrick’s attempted smother caught and crunched Gutknecht’s right leg instead. Nothing malicious in the attempt – sometimes in football, you can be incredibly unlucky.
Her teammate, Sarah Hartwig was in tears, an ambulance came onto the ground to take her off. I’m not going to pretend to be a medical expert, but you’d suspect that this will be a lengthy stint on the sidelines for Gutknecht and history indicates that players come back from broken legs and were hardly ever the same player. Nathan Brown of 2005 is the first example that comes to mind and Michael Barlow really struggled to get himself back to the heights of his stellar 2010 debut season.
Wishing Britney all the best in her recovery.
Bec Miller’s five minutes of horror
Richmond are incredibly unlucky to be 0-2 but just the same, in both games, there have been howling moments in which they deserve to be. This week was Bec Miller in not one, but two horrible miskicks that resulted in Adelaide goals, both of which landed in the chest of then coming off the boot of Abbie Ballard. And the kicker for the Tigers fans was that for three quarters, they had the measure of the reigning premiers. They dominated territory, they had control of the ball through their forward half, they just lacked the poise to really put them away.
We can easily direct ourselves to Miller’s two clangers as the reason the Tigers lost this game, but it goes beyond that. Adelaide kicked 2.5 in the final quarter on the back of 10 inside 50s to three. They finally asserted themselves in the contest and when that happens, the Crows are a hard team to stop. Richmond also recorded 35 inside 50s in the opening three quarters to Adelaide’s 10 – The Tigers are showing something, but the sides like Melbourne and Brisbane put teams away with those numbers.
Carnage at Box Hill
In the space of five minutes, Hawthorn lost both Tamara Luke and Louise Stephenson to what looks like serious knee and ankle injuries respectively, and as far as Hawthorn’s list goes, the last thing they need is veteran heads going down with long-term injuries. This was then dealt the other end at St Kilda with Jayde van Dyk going down with what looks like another serious knee injury during the second quarter
But whilst the Saints battled on without van Dyk, the Hawks looked rudderless at times against the Saints and too much was left to too few. Tilly Lucas-Rodd is a star and was in and under everything (21 disposals and 13 tackles), but not many followed her into the wars. Loved Tamara Smith’s game again and the likes of Lucy Wales, Aileen Gilroy, Jasmine Fleming and Kaitlyn Ashmore gave it a crack, but too few of the senior Hawks stood up when they needed people too. Kate McCarthy had four disposals, Tegan Cunningham was beaten up by Caitlin Greiser and Sarah Perkins was held goalless.
Why are the kids standing up at Port?
It was a poor weekend with the expansion teams. Between Hawthorn, Sydney and Port Adelaide, the aggregate total was 4.9.33 – many feared about the gap between the best teams in the competition and those that came into expansion later in the piece, but it could even get uglier than that by the end of the year. Sydney were always going to struggle with their list; too many inexperienced state-league players and their AFLW signings aren’t exactly shining bright either, there were a few concerns that Hawthorn’s ‘bottom six’ players in their 21 on any given weekend would prove to be their weakness.
But there has been a sense of optimism with Port Adelaide at the prelude to this season kicking off and so far it’s been very disappointing. Two losses to start the year and they would’ve been eyeing them both off as winnable games. Against the Dogs, Port were annihilated in the statistics: -19 in inside 50s, -16 in contested ball, -70 in uncontested possession and the tackles count was only +5 in their favour after smothering the Eagles for three quarters last week.
Leading the way was not Erin Phillips or Hannah Dunn or Gemma Houghton or Ange Foley. It’s the likes of Alex Ballard, Hannah Ewings and Abbey Dowrick – all of which are playing their second game of AFLW. Plain and simple, the veterans are not leading the way and if they’re not leading the way, Port are going to have a hard time doing much this season.