The Swans were put to the sword by the Crows, whilst the upstart Cats held on against a fast-finishing Dees.
Here are The Doc’s likes and dislikes from week two of the AFLW finals.
Adelaide vs Sydney
Football can be a funny game sometimes, and when I look at Anne Hatchard’s season, I immediately think that whilst she has been a great contributor again and will put her hand up for another All-Australian, the eye test feels like the impact is neither here nor there.
But that’s the thing. Hatchard has dominated over the last three or four years on this Adelaide side. It’s almost as if we’re accustomed to seeing her go out there, strut her stuff, and watch the Crows pile on the wins.
The stats indicate career highs all across the board: disposals, tackles, clearances, goals and score involvements. Maybe we can take these kinds of players for granted sometimes.
Not so much on Saturday night, when it was clear that when the Crows got the whips cracking, Hatchard was the one who orchestrated such a clinical assault on a Sydney side that made big waves on their development.
Hatchard’s 36 disposals set a new record for most disposals in an AFLW final, but on top of that, she recorded 10 marks, six tackles and kicked two goals, highlighting just how damaging she can be.
She and Ebony Marinoff (26 disposals and 14 tackles) are the gold standard of one-two punches in the AFLW. One’s so good and clean in tight, and the other is so damaging and has a nearly unmatched work rate.
“Wildcard” Jess Waterhouse
I know Jess kicked two goals late in the game, but the inclusion this week made a lot of difference in the forward-half structure, and she looms as the wildcard for next week and beyond, should they get to the Grand Final.
I’m not sure how Jess Waterhouse was left out of the side last week, but with her defensive pressure and her game sense, you can see that she’s a player capable of holding down a spot in the Adelaide forward half.
She had 14 disposals and three marks – two of which were taken inside 50. She also scored six involvements, level with Ebony Marinoff at the Crows; only Eloise Jones had more at Adelaide with seven.
Not only does she offer another player that can contribute to the scoreboard, but as a mid-sized forward, she offers strong leading patterns and is so handy as a connector type, which was what the Crows missed last week.
Waterhouse, Bonner, Ponter, Jones and Gould – this forward unit kicked six goals between them on the weekend, and it was all so evenly spread, which poses a dangerous sign for the North Melbourne defence next week.
Adelaide’s got a pretty good defensive unit of their own
Next week will probably be an ugly, down-and-dirty slug fest between North’s impenetrable defence and a Crows defence that looked impossible to beat in this game.
Sydney only recorded 14 inside 50s this game, which is the lowest return from the Swans this year and the third-lowest of any side this year. It’s been an impressive year, but you cannot underestimate how strong the Crows were in locking it down and generating repeat inside 50 entries.
The Crows recorded 18 tackles inside 50 from 48 entries; considering Sydney had just five from 14, it’s an impressive display of forward pressure, and the press applied further afield. Teah Charlton (five tackles inside 50) had a terrific bounce-back performance, and the pressure from Caitlin Gould (three tackles inside 50) suggests she wanted it this week.
But the intercepting work from Zoe Prowse (eight intercept possessions) was a big highlight. Further, it cemented the claims that she will be an elite key defender if we’re not already witnessing it.
They’ve got a defensive unit that’s now stabilised with Chelsea Biddell, Sarah Allan and Kiera Mueller. The likes of Anne Hatchard (10 intercept possessions), Stevie Lee-Thompson (six) and Jess Allan (five) showed that the buy-in defensively is there.
Seeing it in place next week in Victoria for a spot in the Grand Final will be the biggest challenge yet.
Lesson for Montana Beruldsen
It’s just nitpicking for the Swans because, let’s face it, it was always going to be an uphill battle against a side that is still a firm favourite to win the premiership, and they’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations this year.
But for someone with limited experience at the senior level, Montana Beruldsen’s fifty-metre penalty is something she needs to learn. It was careless and thoughtless, and she didn’t even check where the umpire was and what the call was. She thought it was an excellent opportunity to swoop in and kick a goal that would’ve put them just 11 points down heading into halftime and still in with a chance.
Instead, it was an easy exit for Adelaide and Zoe Prowse, and the Crows managed to go from the last line of defence to kick the goal right on the halftime siren in about 30 seconds.
Regardless of the opposition, that’s a coach-killing, 12-point play for the Crows; they took them out to a lead of 23 points and then stormed away in the second half.
It’s a don’t come Monday moment for some, but for a player like Beruldsen, who’s still a developing player and has a lot of upside on offer, it’s just something that she’ll have to cop on the chin when the Swans do their review.
What’s next for the Swans?
There’s no doubt that the Swans are going places beyond this year, but, unfortunately, they came up against an Adelaide side hell-bent on making amends after a disappointing last quarter last week.
Defensively speaking, the work rate was solid; they recorded more tackles than Adelaide. But once the Crows got the ball out of the congestion, they looked a class above for much of the game.
The Crows generated 22 scoring shots to five for the game, outworked the Swans in the contested ball; +48 and dominated clearances +12.
Without Ally Morphett, the Crows did what the Suns failed to do last week, capitalising on the ruck advantage. Bella Smith is a good player, but she’s not the woman who will lift the midfielders around her.
Which makes the task of keeping Morphett for next year all the more critical for Sydney. There’s talk that she’s seriously entertaining a five-year offer put forward to her from the Western Bulldogs after such a significant breakout year.
The Swans grew remarkably from some of their younger players and their first-year players like Tanya Kennedy. Still, they must persist and find another scoring option or two because they can’t be too reliant on Chloe Molloy and Bec Privitelli to get it done for them.
Melbourne v Geelong
Was that the most incredible last quarter in the AFLW?
Up until three-quarter time, the question was asked about Geelong by how much, after they blew the game wide open in the opening three terms, putting six goals past Melbourne and only keeping them to just one goal.
Being five goals down is often an impossible position in the AFLW, but given how Melbourne has run out of games this year, it certainly wasn’t beyond them to make one last push in a high-stakes game.
It was looking likely until Aishling Moloney beat Libby Birch in a one-on-one contest at the top of the square and sent it home to put the Cats three goals up with three minutes and change to go.
Then Melbourne again got back on the tools, with goals in quick succession to Eden Zanker and Aimee Mackin, and it was a six-point game with two and a half minutes left.
It was then left with a Lauren Pearce kick out of a ruck contest inside 50 that went through the wrong side of the big sticks, propelled the Cats to their first (actual) preliminary final, and sent Melbourne out in straight sets (not for the first time this season).
It was a last quarter that was suspenseful beyond belief. Eden Zanker’s three goals in the last quarter were immense, Tyla Hanks had seven of her 17 touches in that last quarter alone, and Eliza West felt her presence throughout the game after being dropped last week.
The Cats nearly coughed up the unlosable, but Moloney’s goal in the last quarter was the difference in the end.
Remember what I wrote about Geelong’s midfield unit last week? The best thing about it is that you can’t simply defend and attempt to negate a midfielder on this Geelong side because the others will come out and bite you.
That’s precisely what happened in this game: Georgie Prespakis had just 18 touches but 13 tackles in a strong performance. Amy McDonald kicked two goals from forward 50 stoppages but still provided a solid hand in the contest without playing a starring role.
But the star was Nina Morrison, who lifted around the contest when the Cats needed someone to. It brings a tear of joy to my eye when I watch Nina kick the footy around after having a couple of lengthy injury setbacks with her knee.
It feels so good to watch her back out there, not just playing footy but consistently being among the best five or so players.
She led all players on the ground for clearances with 10 in this one but also led all players with 18 contested possessions in a dominant display.
She started the year playing wing, but as the Cats launch themselves into the final four, Morrison is finally realising her potential as a midfielder, with a clean run of health and the team flourishing around her.
Time to acknowledge Tahlia Gillard
Some might have raised an eyebrow seeing Tahlia Gillard’s name popping up as a member of the AFLW All-Australian Squad last week.
Those who know, study and watch the game religiously will know what’s up and say it’s a well-deserved nomination. But for casual fans who don’t know, let me humour you.
The two best key defenders this year in terms of winning one-on-ones are Jasmine Ferguson and Gillard. I’ve waxed lyrical about Ferguson a lot this year, but Gillard has lost just two contests from 36 this year. Her 36 one-on-one contests are second in the comp only to Libby Birch, but a 5.6 per cent rate is an astronomical number.
For the record and transparency, Ferguson has had 30 contests for four losses this year.
For three quarters, she was engaged in a sensational battle with another rising star, albeit a mature-aged one, in Aishling Moloney, who did manage four goals the last time these two sides met.
Until the last quarter, when she had to play further up the ground due to just trying to get back into the game, Gillard held Moloney to two behinds from nine touches and two marks to three-quarter time.
Granted, it’s a double-edged sword move from Mick Stinear; whilst the Demons responded to the changes, Moloney kicked the lone goal for the Cats in the last quarter to keep them in front at the end of the game, but that’s an aside.
The point is that Gillard, in just the span of two seasons, has emerged as one of the premier lockdown defenders in the competition. It’s a disappointing end for the Demons, but a positive that they can get the best out of their younger players for a while to come.
Leaving it late
Unfortunately, you can’t win games on the back of one-quarter of football, and for three-quarters of this game, Melbourne was second to the ball, squandered their chances and lacked accountability around the ground.
It would’ve been a travesty had they won this game because their fitness base was there as they ultimately stormed home against a Cats side that threw everything at them. Because, plain and simple, they didn’t deserve it.
They haven’t deserved it for three weeks now, and it’s a frustrating scenario for Mick Stinear, who now has to ask questions about this side and the program. Did they run out of legs compared to the better sides in the competition?
I don’t think it’s a lack of desire or hunger; the contested possession numbers were to the good of the Demons last week, and were +4 against the Cats this week.
However, concerns remain about the connection between the forward line and the midfield. Geelong took 18 intercept marks at three-quarter time, 11 of which were in their defensive 50.
Liv Purcell, Blaithin Mackin, Eliza McNamara – all of them went below 40 per cent disposal efficiency, and that’s not good enough for players who are prolifically sufficient at finding the footy.
Except for Eden Zanker’s three-goal haul in the last term, the forwards again failed. It was up to Maddy Gay to get them off the mat before halftime, and Tyla Hanks had to carry the forward half in the last term.
It was a very disappointing end in their quest for back-to-back flags.
Where’s Alyssa Bannan at?
Since kicking five goals against the West Coast in round seven, Alyssa Bannan has only kicked one goal from her last five matches and has averaged just over six disposals per game in those last five matches.
In the season’s opening month, she had kicked seven goals and averaged just under 10 disposals per game.
There’s no doubt that many of Melbourne’s forwards are underperforming on the scoreboard, but this is by far the biggest disappointment. Because we know for her age and what she has already produced at the top level, Bannan can be a much better player than this.
I wonder if she has had an injury niggle over the past month that has hindered her influence significantly? She only had 69 per cent of game time on the weekend against Geelong.
There’s no doubt that when she’s up and about and firing goals through at a rapid rate, the Demons are up and about,
It’s not just on her, though; are other players who have struggled the past month: Tayla Harris is one, Paxy Paxman hasn’t looked the same player since coming back from a hamstring strain, Lily Mithen was kept well quiet again and captain Kate Hore has only kicked three goals in the past month, granted, she’s playing more up the field.
Maybe the girls spent all their petrol tickets early in the season, but I have no doubt it will be a long summer for the Melbourne coaching staff trying to rectify what went wrong at the back end of the year.