We’re on the doorstep of the AFLW GRand Final, but before we get there, The Doc has his Likes and Dislikes from the Prelims.
BRISBANE V ADELAIDE
Wardlaw and Hodder
As you’d probably expect with these two sides – in what I’ll dub as one of the original rivalries in AFLW – the start of this clash was intense and physical and it left very little room to manoeuvre. It took 13 minutes until a score was finally kicked in the first quarter; a goal by Cathy Svarc, taking full advantage of a free kick inside 50.
We’ve seen this from the Lions before this season, particularly against the better sides, but we’ve also seen Adelaide get off to fast starts in the past couple of weeks. The Lions once again were at their physical best around the stoppages and once the first goal was kicked, they never looked back.
The second quarter was dominated by two players in the forward line – Jesse Wardlaw and Courtney Hodder, both of whom have been complete forces up forward this year and put the result beyond doubt with four goals in the second term. Wardlaw made history by breaking the record for most goals in a season, adding another two goals on this night to make it 22 goals for the season.
But it’s Hodder I’d like to talk more about. When she came into the league last year, She had a lot of traits that made her immediately stand out – she’s got great speed, she attacks every contest at 100 percent and she has a knack for kicking really good goals. She also had four tackles and five marks in this game, so it speaks of a more well-rounded game for a small than a standard game where she relies on tackles and ground ball gets.
It’s been a strong year – a personal best 11 goals for the season, one could argue it is perhaps even a bit more consistent than fellow small forward Greta Bodey.
Both sit equal second at Brisbane for goals with 11 each, but Hodder has kicked goals in eight of her 12 games this year, whilst Bodey has kicked goals in seven of 12. In the last three weeks, Hodder has kicked four goals, whilst Bodey has failed to register a score. But that’s the beauty of this Brisbane side – they are so dangerous that putting attention to one, will open the door for another.
The champ is back
It’s been an odd season for Emily Bates, who won the league best and fairest last year on the back of some elite work around the clearances and the stoppages. It hasn’t been an awful year by any means, but if we’re to judge this season and last, most of her stats this season are down.
This season’s Brisbane team hasn’t had one standout star, although we have discussed at length what Ally Anderson has done this season, and probably has been the best midfielder of a really good bunch. Cathy Svarc has been finding a lot more of the footy in recent times, whilst Belle Dawes and Courtney Hodder have had games where they’ve been thrust into the midfield and have performed dutifully.
But this was a classic performance by Batesy, who turned in one of her best performances of the season – 22 disposals, 10 contested, four clearances, six score involvements (including a goal assist) and 325 metres gained. It’s going to be a classic encounter next week between two midfield brigades that have been head and shoulders above the rest this season.
If you read anything I’ve got to say about this Brisbane team, I’ll often relay back to them being a supreme tackling team. The Lions were -7 against Adelaide in the contested ball, but absolutely destroyed them on the tackles, recording another 64 this week, 19 more than the Crows.
Usually, you expect Cathy Svarc to lead the way on the tackles, given she is usually sticking to the opposition’s best midfielder, but this week it was her sister Ruby that led the way with 10 tackles for the game. It’s been an intriguing journey watching Ruby’s career over the past couple of seasons.
When she was initially drafted, there wasn’t really a spot for her in the team, despite her blistering speed. She’s had moments of frustration where she nearly commands a game with her speed and tenacity, only for a simple error to unravel all of the work. But this season has felt like there has been more of an emphasis on more of the gritty work and less of the bedazzlement aspect of her game.
She has played a variety of roles, but in recent weeks, she’s been stationed more up as a half-forward, and it’s worked well. The Brisbane forwards recording another double-figure tally in tackles inside 50 on Friday night with another 10, and with her and Mikayla Pauga continually working hard, it’s kept the brilliant Zimmie Farquharson out of the side and wondering what she’s got to do to get back in the team?
The decision to host the Grand Final.
My issue is not with the Brisbane Lions or the new Springfield facility. By all accounts, the facility looks great and the Lions girls can’t wait to get stuck into their new home for the foreseeable future. The Lions have earned their home final this year and some things just go out of their control – good sides don’t matter where they play anyway, they care about getting it done.
Facts state that it only holds 8,000 people and approximately only 600 of that is seated, plus there’s not a lot of shelter around, and with the turf just laid on, we’ll see in due time just exactly how it holds up in a Grand Final.
My issue here is with Nicole Livingstone and the AFL for such a half-assed approach to this season. When it was announced that the league was considering another season to kick off in August, I knew this was going to be trouble, and I doubt I’m the only one who thought that. In fact, I know that a lot of people had concerns and voiced displeasure of a second AFLW season.
Majorly, I was concerned with the players’ fear of being burnt out from juggling two jobs over the course of the year, but there would’ve been some that cited clashing schedules as another, despite Gillon McLachlan and the buffoons at AFL House trying to give the competition ‘free air’ – let’s be real. It has competed with the AFL men’s Finals, the circus that is the men’s trade period and the cricket.
And now, the AFLW Grand Final, the pinnacle of women’s football, is being pushed to a ground that’s just opened, because Guns ‘n Roses are playing at Metricon Stadium and the Gabba is being used for the cricket. Simply put, Nicole Livingstone and those that surrounding her failed to see where the league sits in the grand scheme of things.
That’s even before we mention the debacle last week where Richmond clearly should’ve played at Ikon Park to maximise as much crowd attendance as possible, but the AFLW body sheepishly turned a blind eye and allowed fans in the thousands to miss out on a quality game. There are plenty of good mystiques about the AFLW and for a while, it used to be that home ground advantage sides would have for a high stakes game like a Grand Final.
It’s time for the competition to start to adapt with the men and have the best grounds available for the best games. Period.
Much like Adelaide in the second half of this season, Ebony Marinoff’s finals campaign has fallen a bit flat. When the Crows are pumping, they often look to her to get the ball running and she’s one of the best in the business at moving the ball from end to end, making it look so effortlessly at times.
Defensively speaking, there’s not an issue to speak of, she averaged 11 tackles per game across all three of her finals. It’s the offensive stuff that has got me asking questions. Marinoff recorded just 14 disposals in the round one loss to Melbourne but went over 20 disposals in every game up until the finals.
This week felt like it was more of a non-factor and it didn’t exactly look like there was a specific tagging job on her like last week, when it was Aishling Sheridan that kept her to just 12 disposals. It was a collaboration of Cathy Svarc, Ally Anderson and Emily Bates in either the centre bounces or around stoppages and Marinoff just couldn’t get it going.
In her three finals, Marinoff has averaged just 15 disposals, three clearances, 208 metres gained and 8.6 contested possessions per game. And the problem for Adelaide is that aside from Anne Hatchard and at times, Chelsea Randall, nobody stood up in the guts for the Crows when it mattered.
MELBOURNE V NORTH MELBOURNE
The old guard
It wasn’t a direct match-up at times, but I genuinely enjoyed watching Karen Paxman and Emma Kearney lock horns all throughout this game. But it’s good coaching to identify exactly where the source of North’s running is coming from. I think back to the game earlier in the season that saw Melbourne get to their maiden Grand Final, and Paxman was given the job on Orla O’Dwyer and was successful in shutting her out of the game.
This wasn’t so much a successful job, but in an era of women’s football where the young guns are firing and finding new ways to leave an imprint on the game, it’s good to see these two continue to define elite football well into the twilight of both of their careers. With both of them at 33 years of age, you’d suspect that there isn’t a lot of time left for either of them in their football careers.
But try to tell them that. They’re still uber-competitive and incredibly crafty with how they play. It was solid shifts from the both of them – Paxman had 19 disposals, five clearances and seven tackles, whilst Kearney had 17 disposals, five marks and 10 intercept possessions. These two have had some great battles over the years and at this stage, it’s just a treat to watch them go head-to-head with another again, while we still have them on the field.
The new guard
We may not have those two around for much longer, but we have got a player like Tyla Hanks around for at least another decade. It was quieter games from both Eliza West and Liv Purcell this week, which meant that it was Hanks’s turn to stand up and deliver and she delivered in spades.
It hasn’t been as spectacular of a year as other midfielders in the competition, but it’s still been a pretty good one for Hanks. With West and Purcell being more of the attacking mids, Hanks has been playing more as a defensively-minded midfielder – in the qualifying final, she was matched up with Anne Hatchard after quarter time and she was kept pretty quiet.
At times she had the match up with Garner and whilst she had 24 touches and 557 metres gained, Hanks had 20 and 12 tackles in a strong game, and in a final with a spot in the Grand Final on the line, I think she’s saved up her best game for this one – For her sake, hopefully next week she’s even better.
I’ve held off writing about this young lady for most of the season, but she’s been a revelation for the Demons this season. Every year we talk about the Irish girls that come across and take this game like a duck takes to water but for her to slot into this Melbourne side and play consistently well week in and week out is a true testament to her as an athlete and the Demons as a recruiting entity.
In this game, she was providing a lot of run and dash across the ground – 10 kicks at 60 percent and 298 metres gained is a good return. There were moments of brilliance where she was running circles around North players and there were times where the lack of awareness brought her down a peg, but you’d love to see more players take the game on.
Fellow Irishwoman Sinead Goldrick is a great example of players that only have one gear and the gear is run the ball as fast as you can, and she’s a very pacey player. She’s a good asset to this side and it will be interesting to see what Mick Stinear does with her come next Sunday.
The Tayla Harris shoulder injury
Well, after sustaining a shoulder injury early in the game in an innocuous incident, she played out the game and by all reports, she will be set to go for the Grand Final.
But make no mistake about it; this entire week – from a football standpoint, at least – is as big as it gets for one of the competition’s most marketable players. She’s had a very good season playing as the back-up ruck to Lauren Pearce and has had good moments all throughout the season where she can still command a spot in the forward line.
My concern is that injury cloud though. It’s one thing to say you’re fine and you’ll go about it, it’s another thing to back that up and anything that bothers your shoulder is liable to hold you as a non-factor in any game of football. I’ve played in games where I’ve hurt my shoulder and it renders you next to ineffective in the air.
But I guess we’ll see what the week ahead holds. The Dees have got coverable depth – Zanker has played ruck before, Maggie Caris could perhaps be utilised as a secondary ruck and allow Bannan and Zanker to play as the keys, but for now, this will loom as a massive story in the Grand Final this week.
What if for North?
Earlier in the year, it was North Melbourne’s inefficiency in front of goal that was their downfall, and whilst it improved a fair bit this season, this game showed that it’s still some ways to go to match it with the best teams in the caper.
North recorded 10 more inside 50s than Melbourne in this game – 36 for the match to Melbourne’s 26, but recorded an efficiency percentage of 22.2 percent, whilst Melbourne went at 34.6 percent. They’ll look back on that third quarter as the one that got away – North recorded 18 inside 50s alone, half of their entries for the entire game came in the third term and they only managed just two behinds.
Some of it was through the exceptional defending by the entire defensive unit – between Tahlia Gillard, Shelley Heath, Libby Birch and Sinead Goldrick, they had 32 intercept possessions between them, but also take into consideration North Melbourne’s lame use of the ball going inside 50.
I know our own JB Eddy has had his grievances with Darren Crocker and his style over the year, but a large core of the list has plenty of time left to grow and gel with one another. Next year will see some significant pressure put on Crocker if there isn’t any growth within the younger brigade of players and if the gap on the leading teams isn’t closed up.