A massive couple of prelims went down to the sire to set up the Lions and Kangaroos in the 2023 AFLW decider. As always, The Doc followed every kick, handball, and tackle of the action. Here’s what he liked, and what he didn’t.
Brisbane v Geelong
Big time Belle
We’ve said it several times on the A3 Footy Podcast this year, but Belle Dawes loves a big-time game.
Once again, in this one, she proved herself to be an incredible force in the midfield for the Lions on an evening when Geelong threw everything at them around the contest. The clearances were nearly dead even, and the Cats weren’t too far behind them in the contested ball.
As was said by many at the start of the year, Belle Dawes was tipped to be one of the league’s better improvers with more minutes in the midfield this year.
Statistically, others may surpass her in terms of improvement, but in terms of impact, I don’t think there has been much better than what Belle Dawes has produced, not just in this game but all season.
She had 21 disposals, but 18 of them were contested. She had eight clearances, seven of which were from stoppage play. She had 14 tackles, four score involvements and 405 metres gained.
It was an inside midfielder’s masterclass from Dawes in this one, and that makes it all the more exciting to watch her duke it out with some of the game’s best clearance players in Ash Riddell and Jasmine Garner next week in the Grand Final.
Orla O’Dwyer has had some excellent games throughout her AFLW career. Still, very few of them yielded such importance as this one, which says something because she’s already a premiership player and an All-Australian.
Her impact with the ball in hand in this one was huge. In how these big-time games are played, especially this year, she understands the one motive – to surge the ball forward.
Her 560 metres gained led all players on the ground in this game and also joined Belle Dawes at the top of the leading disposal-getters with 21 for the match. However, her run and speed on the outside were so valuable in this game, considering Sophie Conway had an off-night in terms of getting hands to the ball (she only had six touches).
Her goal in the second quarter was terrific: she split through the pack at full tilt to gather the ball and then sent it home from 15 metres out, and looked as dangerous in front of goal as anyone else out there on the night.
She’s a workhorse and one of the game’s best running players. It gives North’s outside players something to think about for next week.
Would I like to see Taylah Gatt get the match-up on her? Yes, please.
Gun for hire
I’ve got to put something here for Shannon Campbell, who will become a much more critical player next week than she usually is, but that’s provided Dakota Davidson does not get up from that knee injury.
It will be a miracle if she gets up because she struggled to hobble up on the three-quarter time siren.
But that means we’ll likely see Shannon Campbell line up in the forward line next week. Starcevich hasn’t been afraid to swing one of his gun key defenders into the forward line and has been a serviceable target up forward throughout the year.
Until now, she has not kicked a bigger goal than the one she kicked on the weekend. In the final quarter, the Cats were in front, and it was there for the taking.
This week, She was the hero for a Brisbane team that isn’t light on for them. She was on a reasonably tough angle, about 30 to 35 metres from the goal and slotted it efficiently and precisely.
If Davidson doesn’t get up for this week, you have to suspect Campbell, who won the best-on-ground medal in last year’s Grand Final, will need to play the game of her life once more for the Lions to get the job done against North’s stingy defence.
I try not to make much of the umpiring because we know they’ll make mistakes every week, but this week felt a little more egregious considering this was a preliminary final, and there was a spot in the Grand Final up at stake.
Many have criticised the umpiring in the last quarter, and even just watching the last 90 seconds of this game, there were perhaps three or four free kicks that should’ve been paid to Geelong.
The Georgie Prespakis tackle on Ally Anderson should’ve caught dead to rights, holding the ball. Not too long after that, the ball was deliberately tapped over the boundary line by a Brisbane player. There should’ve been a free kick there too.
I won’t go as far as to say Geelong should’ve won that game because that would be disrespectful to the players from Brisbane who busted their ass off to get them to another Grand Final.
It would be disrespectful to Craig Starcevich, who had to flip the magnets at three-quarter time when his star full forward went down with what looked like a bad knee injury, and the move to pull Shannon Campbell forward worked, as she kicked the goal that put the Lions ahead and eventually into the Grand Final.
There were calls to bring the score review system again after Courtney Hodder’s goal in the opening term looked touched off the boot.
With that said, the better side won on Saturday night, that’s it. If you’re going to put the whistle away for a big final, that’s fine, but the ones that are there… bloody pay them!
That was agonisingly close for the Cats
Umpiring aside, there was nothing to be ashamed of for the Cats, and I think those who want to see fresh teams up there this year were rooting hard to see them home.
Unfortunately, they looked spent in the last quarter, and whenever they did get the chance to move it forward, it was on first instinct: bring it on the boot as far and as deep as you can, and that played well into the hands of an organised Brisbane backline.
This game confirmed Geelong’s legitimacy heading into next year. They’ve got the forward line power and the midfield power, and I think the defensive unit has been solid all year.
Has Erin Hoare got another year or two in her? I thought her contribution to the side, just in terms of getting them some hitouts this year, got better as the year went on – she beat Tahlia Hickie 33-24 in the hitouts, so that’s something positive.
There were some concerns about the Meg McDonald/Dakota Davidson match-up – too often did it look like Davidson could get some metres of separation. But I think she’s got another few years left in her.
You’d hope the Cats find another level in their fitness ahead of 2024. If they can do that, then the sky is the limit for this team.
North Melbourne v Adelaide
Two down, one to go
Ahead of the finals, the narrative from many was that North Melbourne couldn’t get it done against the ‘big three’ sides of the AFLW.
Well, they’ve disposed of two of those three sides in the finals, and Brisbane, the one side they have never beaten in the AFLW, will await them next week at Ikon Park.
Time will tell if North can complete a sensational finals campaign, but everything they have done in the finals this year has been nothing short of incredible.
Against Adelaide, they set the tone early around the contest. In the early goings, they relied on their aerial presence inside 50 and found plenty of targets inside 50, and they really should’ve had them up by more than a couple of kicks.
That came back to get them as Adelaide took the lead seven minutes into the third term when Danielle Ponter kicked her third goal of the afternoon.
But this Roos team has found resilience beyond belief in this finals series, and next week will serve as their ultimate test against a side who have repeatedly defied the odds.
What got them this win was their work around the contest. North Melbourne got out to a fast start with their contested game and, by full time, beat them convincingly: +23 in contested possessions and +12 in the clearances – 11 of which were stoppage clearances.
The fourth musketeer
We know North Melbourne’s midfield is stacked, and we’ve talked ostensibly about what Jasmine Garner and Ash Riddell can do. I’ve sung the praises of Mia King enough this season that she’s the third midfielder in line.
But we haven’t talked about Jenna Bruton’s game yet, which should be discussed.
Whilst the three mentioned above all put in solid performances this week: Jasmine Garner had 22 touches, five clearances and kicked a goal; Riddell had 25 and six tackles, and Mia King had 19, five tackles and five clearances – it has to be said about Bruton, and her work-rate was first-rate.
She has seen time on the wing in past seasons and credits Darren Crocker and the coaching staff at North Melbourne because they’ve managed to give all four of these players minutes in the midfield, and all of them do their bit to help contribute.
Her 28 disposals in this one were a game-high, and she contributed seven tackles and five clearances. She also recorded 414 metres gained,
There was a sense of desperation with the game in balance with Bruton, and she was one of several players for North that dug deep in the third term with 13 disposals and did her best to fend off the Adelaide challenge.
She was one of a few players who stood up in a struggle for ascendency in the final term when the result could’ve gone either way.
The ever-reliable skipper
Emma Kearney is one of those players who, as a fan of women’s football, either love her or you don’t.
As a Dogs fan, I’ve enjoyed being on both sides of the fence, but this week was nothing but respect for her performance when she was not 100 per cent fit. Darren Crocker confirmed that in the post-match.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Emma Kearney and how she can find a way. She’s been a little bit sick late in the week and probably wasn’t feeling 100 per cent today… she’s so important to us off half-back, the way she sets up, the way she mops up, and for her to find a way to get out there and win, is all credit to Kearns.”
From minute one to the end, Kearney showed intensity and composure, as a good leader should. She fought through adversity both personally and with the opposition.
Whilst 19 disposals won’t jump off the page for someone who plays the half-back, Kearney went at 84 per cent disposal efficiency, with 15 of those 19 disposals being kicks. She also garnered a lot of territory, putting up 445 metres gained.
She also recorded seven intercept possessions and five marks. Not bad for someone who had been crook late in the week.
Expect she’ll be right to go for the Grand Final, and that’s something for the Lions to focus on: shut down her drive from half-back.
Did they miss a trick with Chelsea Randall?
Last year, we saw Chelsea Randall play significant minutes in the midfield, and it was to the benefit of Adelaide at various points of the season. She proved she could extract through the stoppages, win clearances and provide another tough head in a talented midfield.
Last year, her percentage of attending centre bounces was 59 per cent. This year, it is less than 20 per cent, with Matthew Clarke opting to play her more as a key forward target this season.
She had the ten touches but just one mark, as any time Jasmine Ferguson was in the vicinity, she got blanketed entirely, and it makes you wonder: would it have been wise to push her up the ground a little more and have her around the contest a little more?
Especially when you look at the numbers that Adelaide got utterly beat around the contest and were behind in stoppage clearances.
Danielle Ponter has had more minutes in the midfield this year, and Ashleigh Saint’s departure has forced a significant rejig regarding key talls: Randall and Caitlin Gould being the pair up forward.
Regardless of how fit she is, physically and mentally, it wouldn’t have killed the Crows to put her on for even a five-minute burst in the opening quarter to get some momentum rolling.
After North Melbourne had control of the territory battle in the opening quarter, Adelaide dominated the inside 50, counting 14-5 in just the second quarter of Footy.
In my opinion, this is where Adelaide lost the game. I lost count reasonably early in this match how many times the Crows went to target a player via a kick, and it either fell a foot short of the intended player or the kick hit a target, only for the player to drop it and let North Melbourne in with the chance of completing the turnover.
With an inside 50 count of 14-5 in the second term, Adelaide should’ve been in front and front by a couple of goals at best. Instead, they were left to rue missed opportunities and poor decision-making going inside 50 and kicked 1.5 in the opening half.
They did tidy it up relatively well in the second half from their opportunities. The fact that they fell a point short in a bloody tight game shows that even 15-20 minutes of lousy footy in this competition will kill you.
That second quarter killed Adelaide’s chances of going for a fourth flag in eight years.
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