AFLW – The Doc’s Likes and Dislikes of Round One



Bri Davey playing footy.

It’s been one year and eight months between football games for Bri Davey, but she returned on Friday night and returned in a fashion that will have the rest of the competition on notice. By quarter time, she registered 11 disposals to her name, and after a dominant start by Melbourne when the game was clearly on their terms, her work around the contest and her drive propelled the Pies to kick the game’s following four goals.

The Pies fell away after half-time, but the work of Davey never really wavered. Like the side, her impact diminished slightly after half-time, but the work rate remained. She finished with 35 disposals, 23 of which were contested, but also 11 clearances for the match and a goal in the second term to cap it all off. I said by half time, we’d missed seeing her play footy because her best is among the top tier of the competition.


Still the best

Bang, Bang, Bang… we’ve heard this one before!
Melbourne looked slow and ineffective in front of goal in the opening half, but that all changed by three-quarter time. They put the Pies to the sword with a five-goal third term that was dominated on the back of pure gut running from the mids, elite work around the contest and polish inside 50. The talls of Eden Zanker, Alyssa Bannan and Tayla Harris are as cohesive as possible. They all pushed wide, stretched the defence, and left the Pies in one-on-one contests, and that’s an irresistible proposition if you’re a Melbourne forward.

Zanker got the points on Livingstone by full-time; it could’ve been emphatic had she kicked straighter. Harris had some decisive moments, and Bannan had a massive impact in the early goings.

There’s so much to talk about this Dees side. Kate Hore was the catalyst in the third term; if she wasn’t a target up forward, she was significant in helping them move it there. Shelley Heath was moved onto Bri Davey after half-time and kicked a couple of goals, and Blaithin Mackin’s run and gun out of the defensive half is gutsy but incredibly attractive to watch because she pulls it off more often than not.


The Buck starts here

Very few were big on Carlton, with a bit of a turnover to their list. But when captain Kerryn Peterson was ruled out during the week with a knee injury, everyone started asking, ‘ Suns by how much?’ Well, this young Blues side didn’t pay attention to the question and for three quarters, they ran, took the game on, excited many with their ball movement, and pressured the Suns into turnovers.

The fourth-quarter disappearing act will be a cause for concern, as will the fact that the Suns had three more scoring shots. But what Mathew Buck will be happy with and what Blues fans will be chuffed with is the effort and intensity they brought to the Suns for most of the afternoon: 91 tackles, 21 of which were inside 50. Keeley Sherar (16 disposals and 12 tackles) was an impressive figure in the VFLW earlier this year and has translated that to the top league. Marianna Anthony (14 disposals and 11 tackles) was outstanding on debut.

But the elder heads were brilliant. Darcy Vescio was lively in attack and finished with three goals– so exciting to watch when allowed the space to run into. Jess Dal Pos (19 disposals, nine tackles and four clearances) played perhaps her best game for quite some time, and Harriet Cordner, the chase-down tackle on Kalinda Howarth in the last quarter, typified the effort the Blues had for about 80 per cent of this game.


Niamh Kelly

It took them a half to get clear of the arch-enemy, but the Crows flexed their muscles on a Port Adelaide side that looked tired towards the end of the game. But that said, the Power will surprise some sides this year.

The Crows were served well by some of the usual suspects: Ebony Marinoff (31 disposals, five marks, a goal and 533 metres gained) was instrumental. Anne Hatchard’s 29 touches were blue-collared, Yvonne Bonner played as if she never left the competition, and the move to send Chelsea Biddell to Ash Saint –the standout in the first half – in the second half was genius by Matthew Clarke; Biddell blanketed her influence for the rest of the match.

But Niamh Kelly showed so much in this game. During her first season at the Crows, she had a dislocated shoulder and games where she struggled to introduce herself to the leather product. There was none of that this week; it was a brilliant two-way running effort that involved excellent extraction, brilliant run and terrific poise with the football. She finished with 28 disposals, 10 contested, six clearances, five marks, 376 metres gained, six score involvements and one goal.


Georgie’s set the pace

If you thought you were impressed with Georgie Prespakis’s first year in the AFLW, she might blow you away this year because her game has gone up another few notches.

The Dogs mids – sans Ellie Blackburn – were comprehensively beaten, and the Georgie led the way. Offensively and defensively, she looked a class above, tackled anything in her close vicinity, covered the ground so effortlessly, and could’ve been handed that goal because the replay showed very little to suggest it hit the post. It was a night for Georgie, and I reckon we’re about to see the start of an extraordinary run.

It should go without saying as well, Amy McDonald was again sublime in the contest. These two go hand in hand in the midfield and proved a handful last season. Any doubts about where the Cats are heading this year can quickly be erased; they’re keen to get there on the last day of the season.

Georgie had 34 disposals, beating her best of 32 against North last season, and a career-best 641 metres gained, 12 tackles, 10 clearances, 17 contested possessions, six intercepts and six inside 50s.

Yes, she is very good at footy.


Bonnie’s Too Good.

By quarter time of Essendon’s game against Hawthorn, all the flowers had gone to Maddy Prespakis and her ability to notch up disposals. Then the Hawks responded and challenged and threw what they had at them. Maddy was crunched in a massive hit and looked seemingly out.

She played out that game and still had the influence in games we’ve come to love her for. On the other hand, the game from Bonnie Toogood was from the top shelf. The Bombers co-captain delivered one from the top shelf.
She kicked two goals – one of which was an all-important settler in the second half to get them back a lead that they never relinquished from there on in, but 23 disposals and eight marks from a key forward target suggested her work rate and ability to lose her direct opponent up the ground is going to go up another level or two.


J. Garner… three votes

I had the privilege to fly down to Tasmania and be on the special comments for this one, and the consensus among the commentary team was Jasmine Garner should be getting the three votes in this one.

She kicked proceedings off with a goal in the opening 20 seconds of the match. By quarter-time, she had 10 disposals and four clearances, and she finished with 29 disposals, 11 clearances and seven tackles for the game. The influence was dipped in the third term when Hannah Priest was sent to her around stoppage, but dusted herself off at three quarter-time and just continued to run roughshod on a hapless Saints midfield.

I’ve been on record saying that Jasmine Garner gets very little respect for her standing in the competition, which needs to stop. She’s a quintessential player: great aerobic capacity, good goal nous, terrific competitor and highly consistent. It baffles me how she polled as few votes as she did in the best and fairest night last season.

There should be no such issues this time around.


Backing it up

Sydney coach Scott Gowans had some choice words ahead of the Sydney derby this weekend, highlighting how GWS have been the most underwhelming team out of the eight foundation sides. With talk like that, you had to have your players revved up and ready to go for this game, especially when your side hadn’t won a game to date.

The Swans were down by as much as 25 points midway through the third term, but heroes emerged from the doldrums and helped deliver their first win in the AFLW. North Sydney Oval was in raptures, and so were the Swans.

Chloe Molloy (13 disposals, six tackles, four clearances and two goals) was inspirational in her first game as a Swan. Brenna Tarrant took… I want to say three crucial intercept grabs in the last quarter; Ella Heads was also prolific in defence. Ally Morphett (29 hitouts and 18 disposals) showed her true potential as a ruck option today and stood out against aspirant Fleur Davies. Laura Gardiner (18 disposals, 12 tackles) stood up around the contest, and Lucy McEvoy showed her worth as a marquee signing in the defensive half.

The Swans may not win many more games this year, but at least they can look back on this one with great fondness.




The Eliza James injury

I was going to go after Sabrina Frederick playing ruck against Lauren Pearce, but it feels like low-hanging fruit at this point… and the Pies still have no ruck to work with, so realistically, what’s the list manager doing over there?

There is also another issue. God help the Pies if Eliza James sits out for a long stint with this ankle injury. Not that she had much of the footy when she was on the ground, but the Pies certainly could’ve used her as a circuit breaker when they were caught lacking behind the Demons in the second half.

But in a new-look forward line, the Pies looked solid for a half; they sliced through Melbourne’s very stout defence; Ash Brazill looked the goods, and her ball placement inside 50 was fantastic. Tarni Brown had some flair to her game in the forward half, as did Nell Morris-Dalton in her first game as a Pie. But there’s no one there that looks capable of taking a game by the scruff the manner James did last season.

But the season is still young and will probably always take some time. And I think the more important thing is, if this game showed anything, it’ll take some doing to beat Melbourne this year. They ran this game out magnificently – the Pies ran out of steam in the second half.


Sloppy Suns

Pressure can make or break sides, and the Blues pressure broke the Suns. They had plenty of kickable shots only to butcher it. Jac Dupuy would be kicking herself post-game for a miss that was 20 out with minimal angle to speak of. But that summed up the Suns game; they were frantic, rushed, and showed little care when they possessed the ball.

Very few got cracking when the whips started going. Charlie Rowbottom got compared to Bri Davey a few times during the broadcast, and with a stat line of 25 disposals (20 contested), 12 tackles, 11 intercepts and nine clearances, it’s straightforward to see that she’s going to be the next big thing in the AFLW. I’ve taken a shine to Claudia Whitfort’s inside craft (23 disposals, 10 tackles) – gets very little recognition here in Victoria.

But some of the disposal efficiency numbers from their leaders are alarming – Bess Keaney, Dupuy, Lauren Ahrens, and Tara Bohanna were all using the ball below 50 per cent efficiency. Bohanna was probably the most disappointing, and she struggled to make a massive impact on the scoreboard until they began their run.

We’ve seen this last year with the Suns – a lacklustre start and then a bit stop-start throughout the season. This game was one that they should’ve put in the wins column, and instead, they’re going to be playing catch-up once again.


Dirty Night for the Dogs

Half-time at Kardinia Park, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to WARF Radio making its radio debut on the big stage. Big props to Peter Holden for getting it all together.

Pete was on commentary for this match and boldly claimed it was time to put the line through the Dogs. And there’s not much evidence there you can argue against that claim. It was only one half into their season, but as good as the Cats were, they were about as putrid as it has been since Nathan Burke took over from the club in 2020 and with a small saving grace that was their third term, it was a horrid night as the Cats took over to stomp home eight goal winners.

The midfielders were comprehensively beaten around the contest, the Cats showed great width and hung outside while all the Dogs sucked in around the ball and did nothing, and then when they did have the ball, most of their entries inside 50 were utterly wasted. Too often were, the ball put to the advantage of the likes of Abbey McDonald and Claudia Gunjaca.
And then the knee injury to Elle Bennetts right on the stroke of halftime in what was her 50th game. Bennetts is one of the more mature heads in this team, and to have her go down (and likely out for the rest of the season) is the last thing this side needs.


Is Hawthorn still a way off?

They threw the kitchen sink at Essendon in the second term, the Hawks, but they were still comprehensively outworked by a Bombers side who remained the better of the two Victorian expansion sides. The inside 50 count at one point read Essendon up by nearly 20. This game would’ve been a completely different story if that were Melbourne or Brisbane.

They’re a tight-fisted, hand-to-the-grindstone sort of team, Hawthorn – between Emily Bates, Tamara Smith, Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Jas Fleming, they had 47 tackles. But the thing about Hawthorn is that they are still unsettled in the forward line. Aine McDonagh looks a likely tall forward target, but not much else is around her.

Greta Bodey (seven disposals) was a pretty disappointing first-up. Tahlia Fellows only had two touches of the football, and Sophie Locke didn’t trouble the scorers either.

It may be a long season ahead for Bec Goddard and her Hawks unless something happens with their forward line set-up.


The Saints

It’s not entirely on Jesse Wardlaw, but that was about as bad a performance as you can get from a prized recruit for a club debut. Late in the last quarter, she dropped what would’ve been an easy chest mark about 70 metres out from their goal. It about summed up the Saints’ afternoon at Bellerive Oval.

North Melbourne dominated the Saints at half time in every facet of the stats sheet, but the most alarming was 11 scoring shots to Zilch. Two things Nick Dal Santo and the Saints can count their blessings on: North only managed five goals out of it, and two, the Saints led the tackle count at half time, which meant the effort was there.

The Saints had problems elsewhere. They were ill-disciplined at times; they were caught sucked in around the contest many times; when they won the ball from the contest, their forward cohesion was non-existent, and when they didn’t have the ball, they were cut to ribbons by North Melbourne’s kick-mark game, which suggests they’ll be the ones who will challenge Melbourne early on.

Who was more disappointing for the Saints – Jesse Wardlaw or Jaimee Lambert? Wardlaw was supremely beaten by Jasmine Ferguson, while Lambert, who gave away a disgraceful 50-metre penalty late in the first half, finished with just nine disposals.


The Curse of Springfield

There’s a bit to say about Richmond at the moment; a win away from home against a team that made the Grand Final last year is something to hang your hat on. The Lions kicked the opening three goals, the Tigers responded brilliantly with the next four, and then it became an arm wrestle with the Tigers in front at the right time courtesy of a 40-metre pearler from Caitlin Greiser.

You have to wonder a bit about Brisbane just a tad. It might be a bit harsh, but they wouldn’t have pictured having zero wins from two starts at their new home in Springfield.

The Tigers won the key stats, but they weren’t by much – -2 inside 50s, -6 in contested ball, -5 in clearances, and Brisbane – renowned for their pressure game – were +23 in the tackles against the Tigers, and they led for 41 minutes on Sunday.

Do we put it down as a minor blip? Maybe Richmond has overtaken them. It’s hard to tell so early in the season. But with Port Adelaide, Sydney and Hawthorn all to come next month, they must win these games because they also play North Melbourne in Tasmania next month.
Anything less than 3-2 at the halfway mark, and serious questions will be asked of this side.


So close, but yet so far

The derby was a weird one, but Fremantle continued their winning against the Eagles, who were very game at numerous stages in this game.

West Coast will be pondering what if from this game; they had two more scoring shots than the Dockers from 14 fewer inside 50 entries. Efficiency inside 50 read 47.8 per cent to Fremantle’s 27 per cent.

It’s harsh to pin it down on Ella Roberts, who tried so hard to will her team over the line in this game to the point she was named the best on the ground in the derby. But you wonder if she had converted even one of those two behinds she kicked into a goal. They weren’t overly tricky shots to nail either, but that’s the harsh reality of this game. Lack of cleanliness with the ball kills sides, and the Eagles were 0.6 at half time to Freo’s 3.3 – that one will leave them smarting.

But that said, there were positives that the Eagles were in the right direction. Freo had no Bowers in the team, but you only deal with what’s ahead of you. The veterans were firing; the kids will continue to develop, and one would have to suggest things will click and the wins will come along sooner rather than later.


(And quickly, apologies for the horrible pic of Chloe Molloy in the main image. It’s a shocker, but there just is not many around in a Swans kit – HB)


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