NORTH MELBOURNE was perhaps the side most unlucky to miss finals last year after a scintillating start to life in the AFL Women’s competition, but bounced back beautifully in 2020 to finish top of Conference A at 5-1. Coach Scott Gowans proclaimed his side was in the premiership window during preseason and the Roos’ mature-age heavy draft haul backed that statement up before another impressive on-field campaign. With four All-Australian squad members littered across a talent-rich side, the Kangaroos were one of the final four flag fancies before the season was cut short. Relive the highs and lows of North Melbourne’s second AFLW tilt, with a nod to its most outstanding players.
RECORD: 1st (A), 5-1 (1-0 finals), 227.2%
R1: lost to Melbourne by 2 points
R2: defeated GWS by 18 points
R3: defeated Richmond by 56 points
R4: defeated Gold Coast by 13 points
R5: defeated Adelaide by 42 points
R6: defeated Geelong by 46 points
SF: defeated Collingwood by 2 points
A shock Round 1 loss to Melbourne was far from the ideal start North Melbourne would have been after, but perhaps served as an omen given how 2019 premier, Adelaide also went undefeated after losing in its opening fixture last year. From that point, the Kangaroos were near-flawless in dismantling their next six opponents, with three wins over 42 points and only one side getting within a two-goal margin. North’s many avenues to goal made them one of the league’s most dominant attacking threats, with no score falling below five goals after Round 1 with service from a dominant midfield.
SEASON HIGH: Finals glory… just
It is not to say that North Melbourne was not made to earn any of its regular season victories, but having done so with such ease at times, the Kangaroos’ epic two-point win over Collingwood in their semi-finals clash had hearts racing. Down by almost two goals at the main break, the valiant Roos rallied to get the jump heading into the final break and held on in a nail-biting fourth term to win through to the would-be preliminary finals. An instant classic, against a foundation team no less.
SEASON LOW: The Round 1 boilover
With this the sole blemish on North Melbourne’s record for the year, it was a relatively straightforward choice to be the Roos’ low point. But if there is ever a good time to lose, it proved to be in Round 1 for the Kangaroos, with the entire regular season left to make up the points and fulfil their pre-season plaudits. After bouncing to an early lead and again snatching it at three quarter time, North were jumped in a tense final term as Melbourne proved it would also be a contender in 2020.
FIVE KEY PERFORMERS:
Jasmine Garner (20.1 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.7 tackles, 3.4 clearances, 1.6 rebound 50s, 4.1 inside 50s, 335 metres gained, 8 goals)
Earned the AFLW Most Valuable Player (MVP) award today after a career-best campaign where she led the competition for marks, and her club for contested possessions, score involvements, and inside 50s. Having levelled up her endurance, Garner made the switch to midfield and proved a game-breaker, able to find bucketloads of the ball and still hit the scoreboard as one of the league’s most damaging players.
Emma Kearney (20.6 disposals, 3.4 marks, 4.4 tackles, 4.1 clearances, 2 rebound 50s, 4.1 inside 50s, 354 metres gained, 3 goals)
The skipper was at her reliable best in 2020 and while she may have proven animated in the face of opposition attention, was supported well through the engine room throughout another strong season. Seldom is Kearney kept out of the contest, and even when she was not having her usual impact on the ball, found a way to have a say – as proven in her three-goal effort against Richmond. The one-time league best and fairest is going nowhere, and remains one of the true elites.
Ash Riddell (21.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 4.6 tackles, 4.3 clearances, 1 rebound 50, 3.9 inside 50s, 359 metres gained)
After suffering a long-term injury in just her second AFLW appearance last year, Riddell returned with a clean bill of health and had an enormous impact on North Melbourne’s midfield. An absolute ball magnet, the diminutive mover led her side for disposals, clearances, and metres gained from a host of capable teammates, earning All Australian squad recognition in the process. Proved she was more than just fold for Kearney and Garner in the engine room.
Jenna Bruton (17.4 disposals, 2.1 marks, 5.7 tackles, 3.7 clearances, 1.6 rebound 50s, 2.1 inside 50s)
Another zippy small among North Melbourne’s midfield brigade this season was Bruton, who despite her 158cm frame, brought the heat at stoppages as a reliable two-way outlet in the engine room. The fourth of North’s All-Australian squad members, Bruton covered plenty of ground in 2020 and impressively led the Kangaroos for tackles and intercept possessions in another consistent year – her third at the elite level and second at Arden Street.
Kaitlyn Ashmore (7.7 disposals, 2.3 marks, 2.9 tackles, 1.7 inside 50s, 9 goals)
The inaugural Brisbane Lions forward stood out as North Melbourne’s leading goalkicker in 2020 with a career-high haul of nine majors across all seven games. A dangerous figure inside 50 who simply makes things happen, Ashmore proved her nous around the big sticks with bags of three and four goals this year, but was rubbed out for most of the game against GWS with concussion. Has sticky hands and great goal sense, making her a pleasure to watch.
THE SHREWD RECRUIT:
Ellie Gavalas (13.3 disposals, 1.9 marks, 5.4 tackles, 2.1 clearances, 3 inside 50s, 232 metres gained)
North Melbourne turned heads by selecting the 24-year-old with pick 10 in last year’s draft on the back of just one (albeit outstanding) VFLW campaign, but the Tasmanian repaid the faith in spades with a terrific debut season. A round-ball convert, Gavalas steadily acclimatised to the Kangaroos’ midfield, becoming a reliable figure at the stoppages who possesses clean hands and a hard edge. Kicked her first goal in the final game of the season – not for a lack of trying – as great reward for effort.
Kate Gillespie-Jones (12 disposals, 2.9 marks, 4 tackles, 2.4 hitouts, 2.4 inside 50s, 3 goals)
Dominant key position players take time to develop, and after making great strides upon making the switch to Arden Street last year, Gillespie-Jones furthered her reputation in 2020. The 179cm utility was employed mostly as a forward target across all seven games, but enjoyed stints further afield and in the ruck to highlight her flexibility. Her three goals, all in seperate games, made for a career-best haul, with the tall’s work to follow-up her improving aerial efforts compounding her influence on games. Combined well with Ashmore and Sophie Abbatangelo inside 50.
The Kangaroos are an experienced and hardened unit which could well have taken out this year’s premiership. While we will never know what could have been, one thing that remains almost certain is that this side will remain a contender in 2021. Boasting one of the league’s best midfields and a forwardline with multiple prongs, there is a lot to like about the Kangaroos going forward.