The first week of finals is in the books, and Alex Docherty is all over it.
Here are his Likes and Dislikes from the four games.
ADELAIDE V BRISBANE
The best of being the underdog
How many of you wrote Brisbane off this weekend against Adelaide? I don’t mean that you tipped Adelaide to win a close one, but really had Adelaide winning and winning convincingly?
Alex Miller and I have been banging on about it for the last week or so on the A3 Footy Podcast; you cannot count this team out of anything, and now, after looking down and out in Moorabbin, the Lions are once again, a step away of reaching the Grand Final and grabbing an opportunity for a second premiership cup.
The Lions lost a lot of key metrics in this game, but they have once again turned to their old reliability, and that’s their tackle pressure: 89 tackles the Lions laid in this game and were +25 on the Crows in this game.
And you could see how it rattled the Crows; they made uncharacteristic errors by both hand and foot, and their inside 50 entries were left wanting in the last quarter when they had every chance to take the lead back.
I know she hasn’t had the scoreboard impact this season, but Courtney Hodder’s impact at ground level is just unbelievable. She has excellent closing speed and has never been afraid of getting her hands dirty.
I loved Cathy Svarc’s game as well – despite just the 11 touches, it felt like she was superb in powering away out of stoppages and had a license to surge forward at all costs. Orla O’Dwyer and Jade Ellenger on the wings were on fire, Ally Anderson was rock solid, and Dakota Davidson was huge for the down the stretch.
If Craig Starcevich can get them to a flag from here, he could be the league’s greatest coach.
It’s not often that I put someone from the losing team in the Likes section, but Eloise Jones was solely responsible for keeping Adelaide in this game throughout the day.
We know she is capable of kicking goals for fun in her earlier years, but she’s also adapted on the wing in recent times, utilising her speed and her run to the team’s advantage. But this year has felt so different, it feels like it’s a license to push forward and be a headache for the opposition’s defence.
We saw a lot of Jones working up the ground to provide a link in the chain, but the fact that she could still score four of Adelaide’s five goals is a real testament to her talent. She has so much potential to be a big-game player and take it upon herself to get the Crows over the line.
On top of those four goals, she put up 17 disposals, four marks, four tackles inside 50, five intercept possessions and five score involvements.
Watching her kick one of those goals from long range when there is a player streaming back demanding the ball kicked to her – is it selfish? Maybe it is, but finals are built for heroes to emerge.
The Crows will need some next week if they are to put away the Swans, because even now, Sydney won’t be a pushover for anyone in the top four, not if their belief has anything to say about it.
But this performance is a good momentum-lifter for Jones next week because they’ll need her firing up around the forward half if they’re to get past them.
We’ve seen it often in the AFLW, and Adelaide is no exception. But they proved themselves costly at various moments in the last quarter when the game was there to be won.
Caitlin Gould had a few opportunities to mark inside 50, go begging when she fumbled the mark and forced a behind or a stoppage. For all the nonsense he sputters, David King was onto something a while ago when he said in the men’s game that fumbles kill you and your momentum.
We’re starting to see that emerge here in the women’s game. Teams are working hard to crucify their opposition off the turnover, and if you can’t make the most of your opportunities in front of the big sticks, you’ll get burned big time, especially if you’re up against a side in the top four.
The Crows had many of the statistics in their favour in this game: +64 in disposals, +11 inside 50s, +26 in the contested possessions, and +3 in the clearance count.
So, to lose to the Lions for the second time in a month would be something that has to burn in the stomach of everyone involved at Adelaide, considering how good they’ve been throughout the competition this year. But goodness me, we’ll be in for a belter next week against the Swans.
The debate reopens
I’ve read some comments post-match about the weather conditions in Adelaide. On Friday, the temperatures reached 41 degrees, and it was lucky that we didn’t get the game played in that heat because I thought this was exactly what the league were trying to get away from.
So with that comes the suggestion to once again try and push for the competition to run the AFLW side-by-side with the men. It sounds plausible, considering this game is a winter sport, and they shouldn’t be running in sweltering heat.
But the AFLW needs to continue having standalone time, and I’m not sure having the double-header with the men works either, as many casual fans may not bother turning up.
The timeslot it’s in now gives those who love and appreciate the game some time to get down and watch their club do what they do and not be faced with a choice of which league they want to go, watch and support.
At least for now, continue to give this league the timeslot and let them continue to grow because, from what I can see, at least the skills, the athletic attributes, and the crowds this weekend are growing.
Build it, and they will come to AFL; it’s as simple as that.
GOLD COAST V SYDNEY
Why not us?
Momentum and belief are tremendous in football. That’s a timeless quote in football, and the Swans have all the momentum in their favour and walk into next week’s semi-final against Adelaide with the challenge ahead of them.
You look at the form line, and I wouldn’t blame you if you immediately dismissed the Swans’ chances in this game, but you need to be in it to win it, and the Swans are indeed in it to their eyeballs.
Gold Coast had more inside 50s, more contested ball and won the clearance count, but the Swans hustled, bustled and forced the Suns into submission with their tackle pressure and work rate.
Rebecca Privitelli’s first goal was on the back of a disallowed mark. Instead of going to the umpire, she went back. She hunted the ball and forced Lauren Ahrens to turnover, and Brooke Lochland’s second and third efforts to keep the ball hemmed in the forward half, which led to Lucy McEvoy’s first of two goals in the opening term, are examples of the Swans’ hunger and desire for the ball.
The Suns were made to rush their decisions, and the Swans capitalised on their turnovers quickly. They laid 106 tackles in this one, with four players registering double figures. Sofia Hurley, with 16, led the way, but Tanya Kennedy, Montana Ham and Laura Gardiner all recorded 10, and that’s a huge statistic to hang your hat on ahead of a big semi-final next week.
Speaking of Gardiner…
Many people will be talking about Chloe Molloy’s chances of being an All-Australian this year, considering her fantastic back half to the year. In doing that, I think people have taken what Laura Gardiner’s done this season on the back burner and have forgotten about it, maybe just a fraction.
Laura Gardiner is just as deserving of an All-Australian blazer this season, especially if you consider that Gardiner had Lucy Single following her nearly every step of the way on Saturday night; it just makes that stat line all the more impressive.
She’s a workhorse with a fantastic sidestep that helps her escape the congestion. We’re getting to that stage in the AFLW where you need something athletically elite to make it on top of the skills you do have.
On top of the 10 tackles she had, Gardiner had 30 disposals, 17 contested, seven clearances and five intercept possessions in a masterclass performance on the inside.
Up next, one-on-one with one of the best inside mids in the game in Ebony Marinoff.
I also want to give a special shoutout to Tanya Kennedy in this game. Her development over the last 10 weeks has been nothing short of phenomenal. She plays and attacks the contest nearly every week as if it’s her final game, and that’s the sort of contest-hungry mentality encapsulating the Swans right now.
Disappointing Up Forward
You’re in an excellent position to kick a winning score when you put up seven more inside 50s than the opposition.
Except for Tara Bohanna, who produced a fantastic captain’s knock of four goals in this game, the forward line unit of the Suns faltered when it mattered the most.
Jamie Stanton only had three disposals and no score in 76 per cent of game time after being a significant factor in many home and away season games. Jaq Dupuy managed a goal in the third term in a cheapie out the back but couldn’t make an impact for the rest of the match, only putting up one mark for the game.
But here’s the thing about the Gold Coast: if you take those three away, who’s next to stand up for the Suns in the forward line? I can’t see anyone in that 21 who has yet to make that leap when the leaders are down on influence.
There’s hope for Niamh McLaughlin, who had a solid opening year for the Suns, and I’d like to see another year out of Ella Maurer. But until they can find some good role players to accompany the trio of Bohanna, Dupuy and Stanton, then the Suns will stagnate.
They missed Charlie
Last week, it was Claudia Whitfort who got it done and cemented the Suns into a home final.
This week, the Swans midfield, led by Kennedy, who had the match-up on Whitfort for a lot of that game, kept her to just 14 touches, negating Whitfort’s ability to hit the contest as usual.
It was a good game from Ali Drennan, who put up 20 disposals and four clearances. But the Suns would’ve loved the big body of Charlie Rowbottom in there to help combat the Swans midfielders.
Does she reduce that three-goal deficit alone? Potentially. Rowbottom has proven in her first two years that she can be a game-changer, and the Suns had enough of it through the stoppages to beat them; they didn’t have the composure when the chips were down.
There’s no doubt that they’ll learn from it, but they need to capitalise on scoring through their hitouts and work in the centre clearances. Lauren Bella dominated in the ruck with 42 hitouts, and the Suns won the centre clearances 9-3.
To lose from that and go down after what has been an awe-inspiring season, you’d suspect from the Suns rooms, they won’t take it lying down next year.
GEELONG V ESSENDON
They call her that over at the Cattery, and it’s not hard to see why. She wears the number 45 and has red hair. It’s not the first time a ‘Lingy’ wearing the number 45 in the Geelong hoops has commanded a football game.
She’s been the x-factor in the Geelong forward line this year, and considering that Chloe Scheer is in serious doubt for next week with a shoulder injury, she could be the Cats’ most important player in that forward line.
It’s been a terrific opening season thus far. Suppose this is a sign of what’s to come from the 25-year-old from County Tipperary. In that case, we will be blessed with one of Ireland’s finest players to play AFLW, which says a lot, considering Orla O’Dwyer, Sarah Rowe and Niamh Kelly are some of the better Irish players. For some time, Cora Staunton was kicking goals for fun over at the Giants.
She kicked 2.1 from eight score involvements and had eight marks – six of which were inside 50, and two contested marks – from 18 disposals and 327 metres gained.
“It was the first time it felt like she played the game naturally on instinct; you could see that she was running and launching for the ball… off a limited pre-season, next to no pre-season to be fair, and then 10 weeks of practising and playing, the penny is beginning to drop.” Dan Lowther said in his post-game presser.
Moloney averages just under 10 touches and three marks per game while kicking 6.11 for the year. It’s not a bad first-up effort for someone with a limited pre-season.
The engine room is purring
The Cats have an awesome foursome consisting of Georgie Prespakis, Nina Morrison, Amy McDonald and Becky Webster. Prespakis is an all-around star. McDonald is the old reliable in the contest. Morrison is the outside polish, and Webster is the metres gained star.
But all of them are bloody good at football, and they showed it in this one.
Prespakis, Morrison and McDonald combined for 18 clearances and were three of the top four clearance winners on the ground – the other was Georgia Nanscawen, who put up eight clearances in a strong display.
But for three quarters, the Geelong on-ballers completely bullied the Bombers, and the forward line put it on the scoreboard with such monotonous regularity.
What they also did well was that they managed to lock it in their forward half and keep it in there for prolonged periods. Up to three-quarter time, they had 18 scoring shots to three, and by full time, the ball was in Geelong’s forward half 64 per cent of the match.
Tackles inside 50 is a stat in the women’s game that I’m high on, and high pressure in the forward half significantly bolsters your chance of a win. Geelong were +8 in tackles inside 50.
Darcy Moloney led the way with three tackles inside 50 and eight tackles all up. She’s played such a pivotal role as a half-forward-pressure forward hybrid over the past couple of seasons, and that kind of work rate gets them to where they are right now.
When sides get outdone in the uncontested ball, it’s a sign that they got caught out a fair bit. Essendon was outworked and outran for three-quarters of this match by a fitter Geelong side and was -40 in the uncontested ball by full-time.
There’s a lot to work with after Nat Wood’s second year in charge of Essendon has given them a finals berth. But now it’s on both the coach and the players to work towards making steps to progress even further in 2024.
What I didn’t like about this game from the Bombers is only eight players registered double figures in disposals: Maddy Prespakis, Georgia Nanscawen, and Bonnie Toogood are players everyone expects to rack up quickly. Ellyse Gamble, Sophie Alexander, Jacqui Vogt, Paige Scott and Georgia Gee were the others.
For some transparency, Geelong had 12 players who recorded double digits in disposals.
It’s clear that while the Bombers have had an impressive season, they have stumbled at the end of this season, losing four of their last five games, including this one. That suggests the team has no fitness to run out the season.
And that’s where they can start to improve on next year.
Still not a lot of assistance up forward for Bonnie
Bonnie Toogood will most likely be an All-Australian for the first time this season and had another excellent game in this one. She kicked one goal and missed a few other shots on goal, but it only does feel like she sometimes takes the responsibility on herself in the forward line.
She had four shots on goal alone, along with 19 disposals and seven marks, three of which were inside 50. The rest of Essendon’s team had five shots on goal. Considering Essendon had 24 inside 50 entries, that’s a very pathetic return for getting looks on goal.
Daria Bannister is usually a reliable shot on goal, but she’ll be out for most of next year with that knee injury. Jess Wuetschner is now officially retired, and after being cleared of HIA when she was stretchered off in the first term, Amber Clarke still looks a bit hot and cold.
Sophie Alexander had one of her better games and proved to be a good marking presence in this game, so I think the talls are there, but I have no idea about their small forwards. Are there any?
Georgia Gee can play that role but was higher up the ground in this one. But as well as enhancing the fitness base, securing some genuine small forwards for next year would have to be at the top of the wishlist.
MELBOURNE V NORTH MELBOURNE
The best defensive team does it again
We can perhaps shut up for now about North Melbourne’s hoodoo against the big three. In the lead-up to this game, North were 2-16 against the big three of Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.
But none of that mattered. From the first bounce, North Melbourne was switched on, tackled, harassed and forced the Dees to submit under pressure, but had many of us neutrals sweating on North’s score of 1.4 at quarter time, expecting a response from Melbourne in the second term.
But the Dees failed to fire a shot until the last quarter. North flexed their defensive muscles, tackled them to submission 104-80, and they’re now firming themselves as a genuine shot of going all the way.
Jasmine Ferguson’s job on Eden Zanker should solidify her as an All-Australian full-back. Zanker kicked 20 goals in her 10 games of the home and away season, but for the first three quarters, she was only kept to just one mark and one kick.
Her understanding of the game and her one-on-one abilities are second to none, and it almost feels outrageous that she nor Sarah Wright, for that matter, gets recognition from mainstream media outlets.
But well, they got the monkey off their back now, and they have a home preliminary final, with everything to play for now. The winner of Adelaide and Sydney will be in for a tough time in week three.
The cream always rises to the top
Jasmine Garner, take a bow.
By the opening minutes, we got a good indication of whether we’d see the rematch of Shelley Heath and Jasmine Garner, fresh off being announced as the Coaches Association player of the year during the week.
And this is why she will rarely have her colours lowered by the same opponent twice in a row. Seven disposals and three tackles in the opening term as she commanded the stoppages again like she was taking a Sunday stroll through Hobart.
On top of that, she looked like a woman on a mission when North didn’t have the footy to win it back and was sensational, finishing up with 12 tackles for the match and 26 disposals. While she had the three clearances, she still was strong around the contest to impact North.
She was well supported by Ash Riddell and Mia King, both of whom were in superb nick in the Kangaroo engine room, whilst I thought Jenna Bruton was industrious.
What the hell was that?
Mick Stinear said it best in the post-game:
“We think we’re right in there with the best in the competition. Obviously today’s not good enough, and a performance like that isn’t going to be good enough next week against Geelong either… we need to have an edge and come out here with a much better performance next week.”
North’s best offence is their defence, and the Dees got exposed on the transition at times, mainly through the third quarter, with four of their seven goals launched from outside of their defensive half.
Ferguson beat Zanker convincingly in this game and gave away an unnecessary free kick out of frustration in the second term. For 80 per cent of the game, Alyssa Bannan got shut out against the Roos for the second time this season.
There were reasonable efforts from Tyla Hanks (23 disposals and five clearances) and Liv Purcell (23 disposals, six tackles and six clearances), but few players stood up when the whips got cracking.
Paxy Paxman looked a bit underdone coming back into the side, Lily Mithen was kept unusually quiet, and Kate Hore was forced to move up the ground to try and get the ball rolling for Melbourne, for very little return up forward.
Who’s got to lift next week?
Many of them need to lift next week if Melbourne is to avoid what happened to their male counterparts earlier in the year.
Tayla Harris was a bit of a non-factor in this game; even when she was thrust into the ruck in the second half, it felt like she was not quite dialled in. Blathin Mackin was another one who I was disappointed in, considering how good she’s played at times this season – seven touches won’t cut it.
I’m not sure about Georgia Campbell. She looked overwhelmed in her first final to her short career to date, and maybe the Dees will look to go smaller heading into next week. Jordan Ivey is another player who I’m just not getting at the moment. She only had five touches, and I’m not sure what exactly her role on the side is, and I’m not sure about Maeve Chaplin’s standing on this side, either.
But perhaps the most significant lift is the forwards. We know Zanker is much better than what she produced this week, and Bannan is one of the more dangerous forwards in the competition on her best day.
The Dees are in trouble next week; they’ve lost their last two games by 25 and 41 points to fellow top-four sides.
The Doc is the heart and soul of our AFLW coverage. He pours himself into it to provide the best in the business. If you come here for AFLW stuff and enjoy what he does, please consider buying him a coffee for the work he does by clicking the link below. I’m sure he’d greatly appreciate it.