Here are The Doc’s Likes and Dislikes as we head into the finals
The inspirational captain
It’s interesting listening to Western Bulldogs’ coach Nathan Burke in his post-match press conference speaking of Ellie Blackburn, citing that the Bulldogs captain has had some injury niggles that nearly forced her out of the game. She finished with two goals – including the go-ahead, game-winning goal, as well as 23 disposals, nine clearances, seven tackles and 570 metres gained.
When you take that into consideration of her performance, how do Bulldogs fans not love a player any more than Ellie Blackburn? The Dogs’ chances of playing finals this season were on the ropes when the Blues led by 11 points at three-quarter time. In all honesty, the Blues should’ve been up by more; they dominated the quarter – six scoring shots to one – but a paltry return of 1.5 kept the door ajar for the Dogs in the last term.
The door with which Ellie Blackburn barged her and the team through. Whether the Dogs go far in finals is irrelevant, but they’ve got some really good pieces to take them far into the future and there’s no doubt that the Dogs’ captain will be at the heart of it. She reminds me of Brad Johnson in the sense that when the chips are down, she’ll move heaven and earth to get the Dogs where they need to go.
I mean look, it’s not called the Coleman, but I thought that rolled well off the tongue. Nonetheless, Jesse Wardlaw has been the best key forward all season long and will be a thoroughly deserving winner of the goal-kicking award, having finished up on Friday night with 19.5 in 10 games, at least kicking a goal in every game.
It’s interesting looking back on Wardlaw’s career to date and at 22, she’s yet to reach her ceiling in the competition. She was drafted initially as a ruck, but with her speed off the mark and strong aerial presence, she found her niche playing up in the forward line. After a (somewhat) breakout 2020, her statistical progression stagnated and tilted slightly backward, but after kicking 9.10 in season six earlier this season, it’s pretty obvious that she has done the work over the off-season to rectify the solution.
She is playing with a swagger that very few players can back up, and the Lions’ forward line looks a much more powerful unit when she gets on song. Well, she hasn’t been off-song much this season, the Lions are playing brilliant football and are the heavy favourites for the flag as we approach the finals.
Melbourne’s statement game
The Dees wanted the minor premiership on Saturday, they needed to win by 80 points whilst keeping West Coast to a low score and they fell short by a couple of points. They’ll still take a home final and a double chance, right? Melbourne’s last month (past four games) have been as follows: They’ve conceded a total of 3.10, have had winning margins of 64, 49, 41 and 78 and have kicked an aggregate total of 37.38 – if any team is a worthy challenger to the Brisbane Lions, it’s this team and they’ll run them deep in the Grand Final if we get what is expected this finals series.
A lot of their top-line stars are firing at the right time; I’ve been singing Liv Purcell’s praises a lot, Eliza West has had a breakout year, Libby Birch is as strong in the defensive half as ever, Karen Paxman is still doing Karen Paxman things, Eden Zanker has kicked nine goals in her last five games, Tayla Harris is solid as the secondary ruck without having to be a star and Lily Mithen continues to fly under the radar.
But it’s Kate Hore has been the one I’ve been most impressed with this season, she kicked two goals and directly was responsible for four others but has been the one this season to stand up when the Dees need goals in a hurry; 16.11 for the year and averaging over five score involvements per game this season too – both are personal bests for her.
Geelong’s statement game
This team has had a tremendous arc this season. After three games, we were wondering about where the forward potency was coming from and two months later, they become the second team to drop 100 points in a game. If you need any indication that Geelong are going to be serious threats in the finals, you need to look no further than this game.
By half time, the Cats had recorded 9.6 and their record score set in round five against the Saints, was under serious pressure. We talk at length about the impact Georgie Prespakis and Amy McDonald have around the contest, but it’s the run and dash from Rebecca Webster, Nina Morrison and Mikayla Bowen that have made the Cats so irresistible through the middle of the ground – Morrison and Webster combined for two goals and four goal assists from 32 touches.
Chloe Scheer’s four goals will catapult her to All-Australian considerations in the forward half – since round five, Scheer has kicked 13.11 and that’s just from six games. She’s found a wealthy swag of confidence to her game and her ability to utilise her strength in a one-on-one is so invaluable to this team, but with players like Shelley Scott, Kate Darby, Jackie Parry and Rachel Kearns (welcome back!) alongside – the Cats have now got a forward line that will give the top four sides a real shake.
Farewell to a couple of stalwarts
Saturday night was a brilliant game between Fremantle and Hawthorn, but it also gave us a chance to farewell two players that have been in the competition from day one: Jess Duffin and Kara Antonio – both of which have forged out brilliant careers over the seven seasons.
It was nice to see both chip in with goals – the pair kicking two each to finish with a combined total of 4.4 – I especially loved seeing Kara hype up the crowd after kicking her first goal of the match in the third term – you know she’s a favourite among the Fremantle faithful. Also in true nature of football theatre, Jess Duffin kicking the last goal of the match with 20 seconds to go to bring the margin back to within a kick was a nice twist to what was an intense game of football.
But I suppose as well, it’s worth mentioning the result. Fremantle were down by as much as 17 points midway through the third term. But the individual brilliance of Aine Tighe (four goals, 14 disposals, six marks) and Kiara Bowers (34 disposals, eight clearances and 22 tackles) were incredibly vital to getting the Dockers a win to round out what was a pretty bleak season. Bowers will be a lock for All-Australian this season on the back of her second half of the year. Since round four, she’s averaged 23.4 disposals, 7.1 clearances and 17 tackles per game – phenomenal in every sense of the word.
Ash Van Loon
Non-Essendon supporters will ask the question of ‘who?’ but I’d like to talk about more of the ‘what?’ I’ve kept some tabs on Ash Van Loon back to her Geelong Falcons days over the past 12 months and everything that I have read about her was brought to bear when the Dons defeated Port Adelaide at Alberton after a few lean weeks.
RookieMe Central describes Van Loon as clean for an inside midfielder and is influential with those hands and her defensive pressure. She may not be an A-grade midfielder, but Van Loon has played every game for the Bombers this year and has been situated in the defensive half and has taken on some big jobs in negating forwards. She went head-to-head against Erin Phillips on multiple occasions and not once did she shy away from a contest.
The conditions at Alberton on Sunday suits a player of her style; she’s relentless and is steadily building upon her craft as a defender. Her nine tackles were second of anyone on the ground and first of all Essendon players. She also featured with seven intercept possessions – the most of any player on the ground.
A match befitting of a spot for top four.
With three spots cemented in the top four, and Geelong doing all it can on Saturday to give themselves last spot in the top four, it came down to North Melbourne and Richmond at Arden Street and a packed crowd said all you needed to know about this game – big ramifications at stake and if there’s one thing us footy fans love, it’s high stakes games.
Richmond simply needed to not lose – even a draw would’ve been enough to send them into fourth, whilst North Melbourne needed to win by at least two goals to propel themselves into the top four. And what we got was a cracking game of football, both teams throwing their bodies on the line for top spot, we often say in draws that neither side deserved to lose this game and this game certainly fits the saying.
Some can argue that North Melbourne shot themselves in the foot in the third term, when they dominated possession but could only muster 1.5 for the quarter. But they worked immensely hard to absorb the pressure Richmond threw at them in the first half and were outstanding to work back a 10-point deficit against a Richmond side that had not lost a game since round two.
There were a lot of players that impacted – to rattle off some of my favourites: Mia King overcame a hard knee to the back to feature prominently in the midfield, Ellie McKenzie was at her sublime best. Jasmine Garner and Monique Conti had to work hard to overcome hard tags from Meg Macdonald and Amy Smith respectively. Vikki Wall was superb in the absence of Kim Rennie as backup ruck and Emelia Yassir’s pressure in the forward half was second to none.
More love for Georgia Garnett
There may not be a more underappreciated player in this competition right now than Georgia Garnett, and you don’t need me to wax lyrical about her wanting a move to the forward line at the start of the season, because that’s been flogged to death already. But what I will say is that no one gave the Giants a lick against the Gold Coast Suns in what was a dead rubber game. If the Dogs had lost on Friday night, then the door was slightly open, although the Suns would’ve had to smash them by a considerable margin to have a sniff.
It’s been a yo-yo year for the Giants, one week they’re playing well, the next week they’re getting flogged by 40-50 points (or in the case of Adelaide, 96 points), but there’s positives to look at next year for the Orange team. The forward line – with or without Cora Staunton – is going to look ominous with Garnett, Haneen Zrieka, Zarlie Goldsworthy and Izzy Huntington who is still working her way back from an ACL injury.
On the game of Garnett, she kicked three goals from 14 disposals and seven marks in this game. At the completion of round 10, Garnett is the competition leader for marks, averaging 6.4 per game – the next best is Katie Lynch, who averages five per game. This has been one of the best tactical changes of the season of anyone in the competition – Garnett is a natural in terms of her leading lanes and her marking hands are among the best in the competition: she’s not overly tall, but she still manages to average just under a contested mark per game.
I’d guarantee that if she were at a Victorian club, she’d be getting all the praise, and then some.
Carlton choke again
It hasn’t been the first time that Carlton has let a lead slip from their grasp. They were in front against Richmond, they took the lead late in their draw against the Dockers and had their opportunities against the Giants. Carlton will finish this season in 13th and if you ask the people inside the four walls at Ikon Park, they’ll tell you it’s not nearly good enough.
Coach Daniel Harford was given a two-year contract extension back in April, but even then, a few of us folks in the media questioned the motives for that. A lot of the side is still young, which I can understand, but my argument has been that there has been a combination of both lack of leaders on field and ones at the helm aren’t doing enough.
Every week it’s Kerryn Peterson, Breann Moody and Abbie McKay. Darcy Vescio has started to come good in the defensive half now, I think they’ll be seeing more minutes next year in defence and Elise O’Dea played one of her better games as a Blue, but she’s been horribly sporadic. The Blues for over 49 minutes on Friday night and had the Dogs beat in a few key statistical categories, but until they can find a mental edge between the ears, the Blues will remain in the mid-tier.
Nervous times for the Pies
The last two weeks from Collingwood have seen them spiral out of the top four and a cutthroat elimination final looms for them – and to be honest, have they got the power up forward to beat whoever that may be? The last two weeks have seen them lose by 32 points to North Melbourne and 45 to Brisbane.
Against the Lions, they weathered the first 10 minutes of the game, but once the Lions kicked their first goal, the Pies were struggling to keep up with them and it wasn’t until Jaimee Lambert kicked a goal in the 15th minute mark of the final term, that the Pies got their first of the match. Brisbane suffocated them with their tackle pressure: +35 in tackles and comprehensively beat them in the centre clearances; 8-3.
The Pies will have Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici back in the team next season and when they do, the Pies will look like an entirely different force altogether, but the past two weeks indicate to me that they will be also-rans this finals series. They need to get a stable forward line – if Chloe Molloy isn’t kicking the goals, then who is down there?
Whilst Brisbane and Melbourne made statements over the weekend, Adelaide barely struggled to get past a St Kilda side that have flip-flopped massively this season. I’ll put it like this, if it wasn’t for Danielle Ponter getting the Crows off the canvas in the second half, then they would’ve lost this game.
The Saints dominated the first half – 22 inside 50s to Adelaide’s eight, but St Kilda’s lack of polish and connection inside 50 was what done them in a few times over the course of the season and the thing about the good sides is, that they’ll still find a way to win. Chelsea Biddell surely will have to be an All-Australian, she has been consistently solid across the half back line all season long and just has a level of composure that not many others have.
As it currently stands, Adelaide will play Melbourne in the first week of the finals and if the past month is any indication, round one’s defeat to the Dees will sound like nothing compared to what Melbourne might have in store for them.
Interviews during games
It’s been a bugbear of mine all year and on Saturday during the Fremantle v Hawthorn game when Will Schofield, Fox Footy’s resident extra-terrestrial, was tasked with asking the questions to players on the boundary whilst the play was going on and twice that happened during big moments when goals were kicked.
Now it’s not Will’s fault, he’s just out there doing his job, I just tend to disagree with a few of his opinions on Twitter, but I just dislike the concept altogether of grabbing a player – who is most likely spent from busting her ass for how many minutes just to put on a headset. I get it, it’s all about getting insight and as much in-depth value right from the source as possibly can, but surely, we can do without that, let them get on with their game without having to worry about what questions are going to get thrown their way and get some of their ‘experts’ to employ some deeper statistical analysis of the game.
…And don’t get me started on the broadcast quality.
Let me ask you this question – would it be acceptable in the AFL men’s competition if the camera was rain-sodden and you could barely see the action because of the raindrops on the lens? No, so why are the broadcasters turning a blind eye when it happens during their matches. It was extremely difficult to watch Port Adelaide and Essendon at Alberton in the opening stages due to the rain and for some reason they just allowed it to keep going.
This isn’t the first time it has happened this season and I dare say it won’t be the last time either. I mean surely, don’t they stick blankets over the camera to prevent this? Or even some form of shelter? This is simply bush-league stuff here and understandably; fans of the game have had enough over the lack of standard in broadcasting. It’s bad enough having to listen to the dribble of Nigel Carmody every weekend, but then having the rain affect the broadcast is enough to make any human insane.
Flat end for the Suns
That’s two seasons this year, that the Suns will be asking the question of ‘what if?’ on their season. But if we’re in the business of being honest, not many people had the Suns in the window of finals this season, given there was a sizeable list turnover due to expansion.
The thing that will hurt them the most from this game is that they out-hunted the Giants in the contested ball and the clearances, but the Giants out-tackled them by 16 and the uncontested ball was +21 in favour of the Giants too – in layman’s terms, the Giants burned them with their run and carry. And with this, Cam Joyce must ask the question of where to from here?
Well, I think they can play finals next year. The spine is quite good if it can stay healthy. Lauren Bella is a top-five ruck, Tara Bohanna is fast establishing herself as a star up forward, Jac Dupuy has emerged as a great second foil/backup ruck and Courtney Jones will get better next season. Viv Saad has come from nowhere to be one of the top five interceptors of the competition. They should get back Jamie Stanton and Jade Pregelj from injury – both of whom are certified best 22 players and Alana Gee will add another exciting layer to the midfield of Rowbottom, Drennan, Hampson and Whitfort.
And if the game of Ashanti Bush is anything to go by, then the Suns will continue to be an exciting side on the up. But they must be banging down the door of finals.