FINALS fever finally hit the NAB League Girls competition and in an exciting day of action, there were certainly plenty of standout performances on the big stage. Here are Michael Alvaro‘s opinion-based scouting notes on a mix of the most outstanding players on the day, and others selected in the Victorian sides for this year’s National Championships.
Northern Knights vs. Eastern Ranges
#3 Nell Morris-Dalton
The Knights’ forward focal point continued her scintillating end-of-season form, booting over half of her side’s goals to finish with a bag of four. Morris-Dalton’s competitiveness inside 50 both in the air and at ground level played a big part in allowing Northern to make the most of their forward entries, while also locking the ball in. The Fitzroy junior’s marking overhead has greatly improved, and she was simply on form in front of goal with clinical finishes on her left boot. While she prized a couple of goals out of nothing in open play, arguably her best came on the run with a booming kick, and she claimed two of her goals in the all-important third term as the Knights pulled away.
#6 Alyssa Bannan
Bannan is a constant threat in the forward half with her pace and smarts over the back, and while she was quiet at times, this game proved no different. Unable to consistently find her trademark forward run from half-forward, Bannan spent a lot of time inside 50, where she took a nice overhead mark in the third quarter and slotted the resultant set shot – which proved to be the difference between the sides. Bannan’s best moment came with a couple of running bounces through the corridor which made the crowd stand up.
#11 Maykaylah Appleby
One to watch for a couple of years’ time, Appleby was terrific for the Knights on the wing. At still only 15 years of age, Appleby looked more than up to the level – as she has proven in her previous eight games to date. The bottom-ager provided great forward run throughout the day and constantly looked dangerous with ball in hand. Caught the eye with a sensational running goal in the second term and loves a celebration.
#18 Sarah Sansonetti
Sansonetti’s role was always going to be important against Eastern’s tall timber, and she well and truly stood up to the task. By no means had a high-disposal output, but the key defender did most of the defensive things well while looking to thwart the influence of Serena Gibbs for large chunks of the game. Really came to life in the fourth quarter with some physical showings around the contest – tackling hard up on the wing and pushing the Knights forward with presence from one-on-one wins.
#21 Ellie McKenzie
Talk about weapons, McKenzie is one of those players coaches wish they had two of. Snapped the first goal of the game starting one-out at full-forward, and had another opportunity to hit the scoreboard in the third term, but missed her shot on the run after rounding an opponent. Proved a match-winner in the second half with a move into the midfield – seen intercepting twice on defensive 50, winning crucial clearances from the centre bounces when the Ranges were pressing late, and slowing the game down in the final two minutes with composure beyond her years. Will again prove vital in the grand final, and stands out in high-paced contested games as her clean hands allows for more time on the ball and better decisions.
#22 Britney Gutknecht
Gutknecht was an absolute bull at the stoppages, burrowing in to prize out contested possessions and tackling hard all day. The versatile midfielder-forward spent all of her time in the engine room, providing great drive with clearing kicks and short runs out of traffic. Had an outstanding second half where she seemed to be involved in everything, accumulating key possessions at important times to prove her worth as part of Northern’s star midfield trio.
#23 Gabby Newton
It is unlikely that much more can be made about how good Newton is, and she was outstanding once again here. Playing her usual role in the midfield, Newton toned down her use of handballs and belted the Knights forward on multiple occasions early on with clearing kicks from centre bounces. Accumulating at her normally high rate across the day, Newton led from the front in a consistent display. The Northern skipper’s smarts in more of an extracting role proved crucial, with Newton’s ability to keep her hands free allowing her to escape traffic and dispose of the ball effectively. Newton’s overhead marking was again also a feature, forming a one-woman wall across the forward 50 arc. A prime example of that was when she marked from an Eastern kick-out, cleverly shifting to one side before charging back into the open space to intercept and frustrate the Ranges coaches. A step above.
#21 Olivia Meagher
Meagher played an absolute blinder for the Ranges, showing true heart to almost drag her side over the line from midfield. Hard to miss in her helmet, Meagher caught the eye in a different way on this occasion, providing scintillating run from the stoppages and in open play. Showed her intentions early in that sense with a two-bounce dash from defensive wing, with the rest of her breakaways coming through traffic and ending with a kick forward. Won her fair share of contested ball, but was also a danger across the forward 50 arc – finding the goals on the back of a 50-metre penalty in the second term, and assisting one of Madeline Di Cosmo’s two in the second half. Her defensive plays were just as important, laying a big tackle on Ellie McKenzie to set the tone late on, while also affecting a smother which would start the chain for Riley Hall’s goal to cut the margin to six points. A great overall effort, and we can look forward to more next year.
#26 Tarni Brown
It was by no means Brown’s most prolific day, but she started on the right note. The 2020 Collingwood father-daughter prospect was good alongside Meagher in competing against a stacked Northern midfield, winning clearances and proving tough in tackles. She would lay a few of her own too, but her best moment came with a smart steal as the ball was in dispute, which she ended nicely with a clearing kick to enter forward 50. Another we will see more of next year.
#33 Tess Flintoff
Very unlucky to miss out on being named in Eastern’s best for mine, but Flintoff has another two years in the system to rack up the votes. The midfielder is one of the best marking players in the competition, and showcased her skill in that area with phenomenal reading of the play and positioning. Often employed a kick behind the ball in open play, Flintoff had a purple patch in the third term with a series of intercept possessions, while also taking an impressive diving slips catch to show off her highly-touted junior cricketing skills. Flintoff’s clearance game was also strong – particularly when you consider her opposition – and she accumulated well throughout the day.
#39 Laura McClelland
It was not a huge day out of McClelland, but she started well in her usual post at half-forward. She helped the Ranges move forward well, acting as a link in the chain towards forward 50 – often collecting the ball on the arc and wheeling around to boot towards goal. McClelland did so twice in the opening few minutes, and popped up again in the third term with some nice work up the ground.
#41 Tahlia Merrett
One of Eastern’s many tall prospects, Merrett provided good value at either end of the ground. Starting at full-forward and later pitching in through the ruck, Merrett was an important part of the Ranges’ structure and helped to keep the Knights’ defence on its toes. Missed a long-range set shot in the third term but found the goals earlier on, and was later thrown down back to show her versatility.
#46 Serena Gibbs
Touted as a key player before the game for her ability to consistently find the goals, but Gibbs was unable to do so in this game. While she was limited at times by Northern’s Sarah Sansonetti, Gibbs competed well and looked to stand up in the closing stages with a big tackle and terrific overhead mark as the Ranges surged home. The over-ager also took on some of the ruck duties inside forward 50 and looked comfortable there as well.
Geelong Falcons vs. Calder Cannons
#12 Laura Gardiner
Gardiner capped off a fine middle-age year with another solid display, mixing time between her customary wing position and the inside. While she got her hands on the ball well at stoppages, her usual clearing kicks forward went lateral at times, somewhat limiting her damage. Undeterred, Gardiner competed well all day and is one to keep an eye on for next year.
#18 Darcy Moloney
The middle-ager had a quiet opener but built into the game nicely, spending time on half-forward and up on the wing. Moloney became influential in the second half, starting with a nice intercept mark on the Falcons’ forward 50 arc. While she missed the resultant set shot, she followed up the kick well and was unlucky to miss again with another shot on goal – this time though a snap. Moloney’s luck continued to go against her as a long shot on goal which was on target took an unfortunate bounce in the goalsquare, but her ability to create those three chances was hugely promising. Has obvious midfield credentials, but looked very good forward of centre.
#21 Abbey Chapman
Chapman again found herself in uncharted territory as the Falcons defence came under siege, and she again stood tall despite the defeat. Her mopping up deep inside defensive 50 early on was composed, but Chapman came up short on one occasion where she spilt a mark and gifted Alana Barba her opportunistic goal. Bounced back in the second half to save another Cannons goal with a clutch tackle, and followed up with a perfectly placed kick to find touch. Will be a key part of Vic Country’s campaign in the upcoming National Championships.
#24 Mia Skinner
Playing her typical half-forward role, Skinner tried her level best to manufacture the usual chances she would get to pepper the goals. While she worked hard up the ground to provide an option and link inside forward 50, Skinner’s best work came within the arc. She converted Geelong’s only goal with a set shot in the second term, had two quick-fire chances smothered, snapped one shot out on the full, and missed another. Skinner is great at getting dangerous positions and finding the ball in all the right areas, it is just unfortunate that on this occasion, she was hardly given a clean look to duly finish off her hard work.
#38 Lucy McEvoy
The Falcons’ skipper again led from the front and was simply outstanding. Won the first clearance of the game and launched a couple of huge kicks forward as she sought to set the tone for her side through the midfield. She has shown her ability to play just about anywhere, but took it to another level in this game with stints in the ruck after quarter time – playing more like a fourth midfielder at the centre bounces as the Falcons looked to thwart the impact of Calder’s firing midfield stars. McEvoy also tackled well and rose to the occasion with some fantastic overhead marking. Her positioning behind the ball while it was inside the Falcons’ forward 50 was effective, but McEvoy also ventured inside the arc and almost scrounged a goal with a snap out of congestion. Can hold her head up high, great performance as Geelong’s clear best.
#39 Renee Tierney
Tierney started brightly, tackling hard to win a holding the ball free kick which she used to punt inside 50. Given time in the midfield, Tierney won a couple of nice clearances to set Geelong forward and got involved well in a slightly different role. Went on to spend time all around the ground and will be one of Geelong’s better top-agers next year.
#2 Felicity Theodore
Named at half-forward, Theodore took on a role in the back half on this occasion. The top-ager competed well in defensive 50 and swept up the scraps well at ground level throughout the day. While her kicking was a little shaky in the first half, she showed her ability to hit targets more effectively in the second, finding Emelia Yassir well from a free kick. A solid performer in the sturdy Calder defence.
#3 Emelia Yassir
Yassir put in an incredible performance to be named the Cannons’ best as part of a trio of promising Calder bottom-agers. After finding the goals in the first term as her side broke to an early lead, Yassir never looked back. The bite-sized forward played well above her height, marking strongly up the ground and becoming a key link into the forward 50. Played out of her skin, but could be one to keep an eye on in the coming years.
#4 Kasey Lennox
Another outstanding Calder bottom-ager on the day, Lennox was a rock in defence. The Calder back six collectively stood tall to intercept a wealth of high balls which entered their own 50 arc, and Lennox played a key part in that factor. The 15-year-old looked unfazed by the challenge, and is already a good height to play as a key defender.
#11 Alana Barba
Barba played a fantastic game as the third prong in a dynamic Calder midfield, and made arguably the best start to the game of all three. After a previous dribbled effort fell short, the top-ager cleverly snatched a spilled mark off her Falcons opponent and snapped truly, lifting her side with a big celebration to boot. While she did not find as much room to move after half time, Barba won some nice clearances and played her role well.
#21 Georgia Patrikios
Patrikios is an out-and-out leader, and stood up when it mattered as arguably the most skilful player on the ground. Winning clearances and providing a wealth of run, Patrikios delivered the ball aptly on both sides and was one of the more effective short passers by foot on the day. She is just so clean on the ball and her searing pace means she is hardly caught in possession – if ever – making her such a damaging player. Patrikios used her pace well in a particular passage along the boundary, skipping past players as she soccered the ball forward for some valuable meterage. She also proved her smarts with a holding the ball tackle on the back of a 50-metre penalty against the Cannons, and proved tough in contested situations. Missed the chance to hit the scoreboard in the final quarter and cap off a big day, but should be proud with her effort to lead Calder to their unlikely win.
#38 Laura Cocomello
‘Coco’ was combative on the wing, helping the Cannons to both break forward and keep the ball inside attacking 50. Cocomello’s overhead marking was impressive at times, with one from behind over the smaller Elise Vella a particular highlight. The middle-ager’s ability to keep her hands up allowed her to escape tackles well, and she was usually impactful with ball in hand. Had the chance to find the goals with a long-range set shot in the final term, but fell short.
#41 Georgie Prespakis
We are running out of superlatives to describe how scarily good Prespakis is at just 16 years of age, and she looked to have thrived in the finals atmosphere. Hard to miss in her standard long-sleever, Prespakis was the anchor at each centre bounce for the Cannons, bursting forward on multiple occasions and slicing through traffic with ease, while often finishing with a long roost inside 50. Laid a huge holding the ball tackle on Geelong star Lucy McEvoy the second term to further prove Calder’s intentions, and was an unstoppable presence around the ground all day. She was simply damaging with almost every possession, and has the ability to make opponents look silly in open space as she looks to deliver forward. Is the leading prospect for 2021 at this stage, and is more than living up to her pedigree.