Tag: North Melbourne AFLW

2021 AFLW Preview: North Melbourne Kangaroos

PERENNIAL premiership contender, North Melbourne will be hoping to bounce into consecutive finals series’ after its promising 2020 run was cut short. The Roos managed to maintain much of their strong core heading into this season and have added even more quality – not just to the overall squad, but also to the starting lineup with a star returnee. Under new head coach, Darren Crocker, expectations will be high at Arden Street.

2020 RECAP

A shock opening round loss to Melbourne could have derailed North Melbourne’s season before it even started, but instead served to emphatically kick the Roos into gear. The Roos got on the board with a steady three-goal win over GWS in Round 2 and never looked back, notching three victories of over 40 points among a fearsome undefeated run heading into finals. After finishing top of Conference A at 5-1, North was very nearly handed another upset loss in the postseason, but narrowly accounted for Collingwood to qualify for the would-have-been preliminary finals round. Skipper Emma Kearney was named vice-captain of the All Australian squad, joined by fellow midfielders Jasmine Garner and Ash Riddell in the side as outstanding individual performers. Kaitlyn Ashmore finished as leading goalkicker with 10 goals, one major ahead of Garner in the most potent side competition-wide.

NEW FACES

A handful of draftees were joined by emerging former-Richmond midfielder Grace Campbell in finding their way to Arden Street, adding some spark and plenty of potential to the Roos’ squad depth. 25-year-old Campbell is a raw talent who brings plenty of speed and tenacity to the engine room, making the squeeze for spots all the more tight after five appearances in her debut AFLW season.

Bella Eddey headlined the Roos’ draft haul at pick 13 and is aptly nicknamed ‘Silk’, credit to her wonderful skill on the ball. The 18-year-old will likely start forward alongside fellow NAB League graduate Alice O’Loughlin, but both have the potential to move through midfield in future. Also among the fresh faces are surprise father-daughter selection Amy Smith, VFLW coup Georgia Hammond, and Tasmanian Brooke Brown. North VFLW product Katelyn Cox was also given a chance through unlisted free agency after Elisha King‘s season-ending hamstring injury.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Fans of all clubs will likely be looking forward to seeing what Jess Duffin can produce upon her return in 2021, with the former Magpie ready to add to her seven outings in the blue and white during 2019. An All Australian that season, the 31-year-old is far from finished in the top flight and will slot straight back into the Roos’ defensive setup. Her clean skills will only aid North’s ability to move the ball efficiently via foot, only raising her side’s potential to hurt the opposition going forward. With stars aplenty already littered across the Roos’ starting side, Duffin looks primed to serve a reminder of her own talents.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

Kearney, Garner, Riddell, Jenna Bruton – the list goes on. This North Melbourne side is stacked through the midfield and as has already been showcased, the Roos are as lethal as any side going forward. Dominating out of the middle goes a long way to doing exactly that on the scoreboard, which is the most significant factor in North’s premiership potential. Kearney and Garner can find the goals, there’s Emma King rotating forward through the ruck, Kate Gillespie-Jones standing tall, and the dynamic duo of Ashmore and Daisy Bateman inside 50 – all of whom prove that North has the stock to capitalise on its engine room prowess.

QUESTION MARK

It is difficult to find a fault with this North Melbourne side on paper, but one may ponder whether the Roos have missed the boat. 2019 may have been their inaugural season, but the Roos missed finals despite looking like a top two contender. Their run was cut short last year through no fault of their own, so can they maintain that level of performance for a third year running? Other teams like Fremantle and Carlton are only getting better, while Adelaide will be hungry to bounce back from a down season. The Roos have the stock and have only added to that, but the pressure will be on.

FINAL WORD

One of the competition’s powerhouse teams will surely accept nothing less than another finals win in 2021, with the chance for a maiden AFL Women’s premiership beckoning. The Roos’ stars are aligning and there are very few weaknesses to be exploited across the ground, making Crocker’s side one of the teams to beat once again. A tough early-mid-season fixture will truly test North’s credentials.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

2021 AFLW 10 under 10 to watch: #2 Ash Riddell

IN a unique series for the lead-up to the 2021 AFL Women’s season, Draft Central will look at 10 players who have played under 10 games to watch this year. Whilst it would be easy to pick those who finished high in last year’s Rising Star, or top picks this year, we have opted to look at players who have been around at least two seasons but have only managed to play nine games or less. We continue the countdown at number two with North Melbourne’s Ash Riddell.

It is always satisfying when researching the list and finding a star player that qualifies by just one game. North Melbourne’s Riddell is just that, having played nine games since coming to the club in 2019. Unfortunately after a star debut in Round 1 of that season, Riddell only managed a part game in her second before missing the rest of the season with an ankle injury.

In case anyone had forgotten just how good Riddell was in the 2019 debut, she had a starring season, averaging 21.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 4.6 tackles and 3.9 inside 50s, finding her place in North Melbourne’s star-studded midfield. Having finished third in North Melbourne’s best and fairest behind Jasmine Garner and Emma Kearney, Riddell showed she belonged at the top level, having missed out when she was in her teenage years. Instead, it took until she was 22 for her to be picked up by North Melbourne.

She has not wasted any time since then, and while she had that interrupted debut season, her 2020 season was superb and she ranked 11th overall in the Draft Central Top 50 Rankings for the season. Given that was effectively her first full season, it is exciting to think of what she is capable of in 2021 and beyond, and just how far she can reach having been overlooked for a number of seasons prior to North Melbourne coming into the league.

A natural ball winner, Riddell showed time and time again she was far too good for state league level, winning ridiculous amounts of disposals at VFL Women’s level, and being a hardnut at the contest, whilst spreading well and creating plays down the field. A real consistent player across the board, Riddell will only be strengthened by the return of Jess Duffin as North Melbourne remains a huge contender for the AFL Women’s flag.

Unlike most players on this list, Riddell could no longer fall into the category of “underrated”, and is easily amongst the Top 20 talents in the league on her day, and will be looking to continue her 2020 form into 2021.

Picture credit: AFL Women’s

2020 AFLW Draft review: North Melbourne Kangaroos

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with North Melbourne, one of the title contenders who finished top of their Conference in 2020 and will look to be among the premiership favourites again in 2021.

#13 – Bella Eddey (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#22 – Alice O’Loughlin (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#44 – Georgia Hammond (Darebin Falcons VFLW)
#49 – Brooke Brown (Launceston)
#55 – Amy Smith (Aberfeldie)

North Melbourne has beefed up its forward half with the 2020 draft, including a mix of talls, mediums and smalls with its selections. The Roos have also added mature-agers to their list including a basketballer and the daughter of a high-flyer.

The selection known prior to the draft was Aberfeldie’s Amy Smith who would have played with Williamstown in the VFL Women’s this year had the year not been cancelled. As a versatile player who can play through the midfield or out of defence, Smith has some great upside and is able to provide some great depth to that part of the field.

Another mature-age VFL Women’s player was Georgia Hammond who has strong hands and can be a leading target inside 50. As someone who could play in other positions around the ground, Hammond is someone who knows the club well, as a train-on player in 2020. A Darebin Falcons talent, Hammond is a popular player and one who has certainly earned her spot on an AFL Women’s list.

The Roos’ top selection in the draft was talented forward-mid Bella Eddey who is class personified. With silky skills and an ability to create something out of nothing, Eddey does not need a lot of touches to do a lot of damage. She will likely play inside 50 roving to the tall targets, but can play further up the ground and use her speed and run to work off opponents on a wing.

Alice O’Loughlin does not have the experience that some others have had, playing just the two games of NAB League football over three years due to rowing commitments and an ankle injury. She does however have serious talent, being an impressive player in Round 1 this year kicking three goals in a big win, and just stands out on the field for Oakleigh Chargers.

The final selection and second last on the night by the Roos was Brooke Brown who comes in from Tasmania having played NBL1 with Launceston Tornadoes. Still only 23-years-old, Brown has shown quick development in her transition playing with Launceston in the football, where the 184cm talent could slot in anywhere as a key position player. With her potential upside, Brown could be one to watch come through the program.

Draft Central 2020 top 50 players: #1 Jasmine Garner

WITH the AFL Women’s 2020 season officially coming to a close now the awards are done and dusted, Draft Central looks back on our Top 50 Players of season 2020. This countdown purely looks at the 2020 season so does not look at past performances and will not include injured stars such Erin Phillips or Chelsea Randall.

In the final edition of the countdown and taking out the Draft Central Top 50 Players crown, it is no surprise that Jasmine Garner takes the cake after a formidable year in the blue and white stripes. The North Melbourne star had a phenomenal season winning the AFL Players’ Association most valuable player (MVP) award for her efforts while also being named in the All-Australian squad.

#1 JASMINE GARNER

AVERAGES: 20.1 disposals, 4.6 marks, 4.1 inside 50s, 4.7 tackles, 1.1 goals

2020 proved to be the season of Jasmine Garner with the midfielder taking the competition by storm with her brute strength mixed with her finesse. She was simply unstoppable with ball in hand, able to hit a teammate lace-out time and time again and was a real barometer for the side. Garner was a key reason for the Kangaroos’ success throughout the season, guiding them through the challenging moments and most importantly standing up under pressure when it counted.

Constantly hungry for the footy, Garner’s eyes would almost light up when a contest was near, sniffing out the challenge and inserting herself in the battle, often winning the footy and disposing of it effortlessly. Garner was a real workhorse across the ground, not afraid to put her body on the line to win the pill, making her presence felt in every situation possible. Her general football understanding was second to none able to position cleverly to either elicit an attacking foray or drop back to help in defence.

Garner was constantly on the move and looking ahead to create the next play or be the link in transition, often resorting to her solid and sturdy kick to do the damage. She averaged an impressive 20.1 disposals per game credit to her high level of endurance and ability to stay on-ball for large amounts of time. Not only was she clever by foot but so too by hand, able to fire off a handball under pressure or flick it to a teammate in space showcasing not only skill but her spatial awareness.

There is no denying that Garner was a threat in all aspects able to hit the scoreboard with ease averaging a goal a game. She was incredibly crafty inside the forward 50 able to lead up at the footy and take a mark testament to her strong hands while also able to crumb off the ground and find her way to the big sticks. The North Melbourne star proved to be a handful for opposition teams often bursting out of the pack leaving them behind while she ran rampant across the ground.

Her chemistry with teammates Ash Riddell, Emma Kearney and Jenna Bruton also allowed Garner to play her game and help direct traffic whether it be in the middle or at a throw-in. The former Collingwood player has well and truly cemented herself as an integral cog in the Kangaroos outfit as shown in Round 5 where she blew Adelaide out of the water with her explosiveness. Garner shone true in that clash racking up an impressive 24 touches, seven marks and four tackles while nailing two majors to cap off what was a stellar performance by the Draft Central number one.

Draft Central’s 2020 Top 50 AFLW players: #4 Emma Kearney

WITH the AFL Women’s 2020 season officially come to a close now the awards are done and dusted, Draft Central looks back on our Top 50 Players of season 2020. This countdown purely looks at the 2020 season so does not look at past performances and will not include injured stars such Erin Phillips or Chelsea Randall.

In this edition, we enter the final four with one of the competition’s most decorated players, and a leader who continues to set the benchmark as she pushes for a second AFLW premiership.

#4 EMMA KEARNEY

7 GAMES AVE: 20.6 disposals, 3.4 marks, 4.4 tackles, 4.1 clearances, 4.1 inside 50s, 2 rebounds 50s, 0.4 goals (3)

Coming off a premiership and league best and fairest award in 2018, there would have been no better player to choose to lead an incoming AFL Women’s side than Kearney, who continues to perform as one of the competition’s elite midfielders. In 2020, that is arguably still the case. At the forefront of North Melbourne’s second campaign, she would lead the Roos to their maiden finals appearance and victory after they finished top of Conference A at 5-1.

The Kangaroos were the preseason premiership fancies and more often than not lived up to the lofty standard set, in large part credit to the consistency of Kearney and her unmatchable on-ball brigade. The skipper did not lead her side in any key statistic this year – an absolute rarity – but was right up there across the board, impacting each game with help from the likes of Jasmine Garner, Ashleigh Riddell, and Jenna Bruton.

Kearney twice achieved a disposal high of 26, dropping below 20 just twice across her seven outings. Even in her season-low effort of 12 touches in Round 3, she managed to prop her stats back up with three goals to prove her well-roundedness, and that you simply cannot keep a good player down.

All Australian honours came Kearney’s way for the fourth consecutive year as one of three Kangaroos in the final side, and the decorated veteran also took home some silverware come North Melbourne’s awards night. The gun midfielder placed second in her club best and fairest, but was also recognised as Shinboner of the Year and Best Clubwoman, proving her value extends further than pure on-field brilliance.

It seems there is plenty left in the tank for one of the league’s pioneers, with a flag for North Melbourne surely at the forefront of Kearney’s upcoming goals. The depth and maturity of her side suggests it is well within the premiership window, and it would only be fitting if she could lead the Roos into the history books.

Draft Central’s 2020 Top 50 AFL Women’s Players: #11 – Ash Riddell

WITH the AFL Women’s 2020 season officially come to a close now the awards are done and dusted, Draft Central looks back on our Top 50 Players of season 2020. This countdown purely looks at the 2020 season so does not look at past performances and will not include injured stars such Erin Phillips or Chelsea Randall.

In this edition, we look at number 11 in our count, a midfielder whose 2019 season was curtailed by injury but made up for it in a big way in 2020.

#11 ASH RIDDELL

7 GAMES AVE: 21.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 4.6 tackles, 3.9 inside 50s, 1.0 rebounds, 1 goal

Having finally earned her chance after spending time in the VFL Women’s program with Melbourne University, Riddell has played some impressive football in her first nine games at AFL Women’s level. Picked up by North Melbourne in 2019 and making her debut, Riddell burst onto the scene quickly for one of the league’s newest sides.

Unfortunately that dream debut would only last another week, as Riddell would suffer a long-term injury to rule her out of the rest of the 2019 AFL Women’s season. With a strong VFL Women’s season behind her where she averaged 27.6 disposals, 4.2 marks, 5.8 tackles and booted six goals in 10 games, Riddell would enter 2020 fully fit and raring to go.

It showed in her performances as she not only came back where she left off in 2019, but went to another level. Alongside unbelievable talents in Emma Kearney, Jasmine Garner and Jenna Bruton, Riddell held her own and more as one of the side’s premier ball winners all year. After only playing less than two full games in 2019, Riddell featured in all seven of the Kangaroos’ matches to average 21.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 4.6 tackles and 3.9 inside 50s working hard in the midfield.

Her season earned her a spot on the 2020 AFL Women’s All-Australian team bench, and she finished third in North Melbourne’s best and fairest award – just five and four votes off Garner and Kearney respectively. Her lowest disposal count for the season was 18 against the GIANTS in Round 2, and finished each game with remarkable consistency, including averaging 23 disposals, 4.8 marks and 6.2 tackles in the final three games of the season.

At 24-years-old, Riddell has plenty of improvement left in her, and while the youth coming through are some of the best talent in the league, it shows that before the pathway system were fully developed, there were still plenty of stars biding their time in the state leagues.

2020 AFL Women’s season review: North Melbourne

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%

RESULTS:

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.

THE UTILITY:

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.

VERDICT:

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.

AFLW premiership race opinion: What were the options?

UNFORTUNATELY the hasty end to what has been a terrific AFL Women’s season through a COVID-19 pandemic that no one prior to the season could have seen coming, has forced the league to scrap an end result from the books and leave 2020 as a blank line. In this AFL Women’s feature, we take a look at the options that were on the table and the reasoning behind each one.

Option 1 – No premier awarded

This option was the one ultimately chosen by the league in fairness to the four competitors left. The league was left in a lose-lose situation with both Conference leaders having a right to demand the title in different ways, and even the other two remaining finalists also having a stake in the say. When we say they were left in a lose-lose, had they opted for the one-off Grand Final then they would have been hounded by fans of the second placed clubs who had deserved to reach the finals that were originally put on the table. If they had opted for the original finals series, then it was heartbreak for the two fourth placed teams remaining in the running, especially Collingwood who had knocked off two of the teams quite convincingly that had made it in a tough draw that would have seen them face two sides – Geelong and St Kilda – who in fairness to those sides, the Magpies would have been favoured to beat and sneak into the top three. Ultimately once the finals system was chosen, there was nothing that could be done if the competition was stopped. In saying that, was this a safe way of not upsetting any clubs by ruling them out of finals and denying them a chance that had been outlined at the start of the season for finishing in the top three?

Option 2 – Fremantle awarded the premiership

This option is one of those options Fremantle fans certainly felt they deserved and I think most fans would be in the boat of “yeah I get that, but it’s not entirely fair” in a begrudging kind of way. There is no doubt if they had to award a premiership, Fremantle was the obvious option – six wins from six games, undefeated on top of Conference B which was the stronger conference, and smashing Gold Coast in the first final to show why they were deserving premiers. The knock on the Dockers – and I think this is why they simply could not award them the flag – is because they did not play any of the three teams remaining. In the final two rounds they had Calrton and Melbourne to come, and had we been in the same boat say week one of finals and the Dockers had defeated both those sides, then I would say we’d be looking at the 2020 Premier. But having been denied the chance to face them – through not fault of their own – as well as North Melbourne, the Dockers winning the premiership would have left some question marks given the other clubs had all had to play each other.

Option 3 – One of the other teams awarded the premiership

This was never really an option and would create mass uproar, but the reason we have put this option in here is to show why they could not have given it to an individual club. North Melbourne was in a similar boat – they had only played Melbourne and actually lost – though that was way back in Round 1 and while they beat up on every side along the way, again you could not simply award them the flag having not beaten one of the top sides. The Dees could have had a great argument having actually beaten North Melbourne, but then got toppled by Carlton in the final round of the home and away season to slide to third. That would rule the Dees out of winning it, while Carlton only had the one loss – but that was fairly comprehensive to Collingwood. The Magpies pushed the Roos all the way in the semi-finals, so you could not have handed the flag to Carlton either. Basically, if it went to an individual side, it had to be Fremantle or bust, and realistically the unknowns given the draw meant the Dockers could not have been an option without some kind of query from opposition clubs and fans.

Option 4 – They play out the season

This is the option that makes the most sense but was not utilised. Player contracts and the off-season moves obviously make it difficult, but there is no reason why they could not bump it back, especially for three games. They have four sides across those three games which could all make it, and with an entire AFL season pushed back, it seems strange not to have at least had a contingency plan to put the remainder of the season on ice. This option is the only option that all four clubs – and indeed the entire supporter base – would be happy with. Now no one would say put the sport ahead of public health, but with the AFL looking to come back in June – keeping player contracts in mind and surely in this unprecedented time we could make it work – they could fit in three AFL Women’s games to conclude the season and put a full stop on the 2020 season. It will not happen now the league has ticked off the “no premier” option, but it just seems a bit strange having picked the eight-team option to keep all realistic clubs in the running of finals happy, to then pull away the chance for a title.

Summary:

In my shoes I would play out the season. If you can fit 17 rounds of AFL (which again looks doubtful based on everything else going on around the world) in for the rest of the year, you can fit three games of AFL Women’s. In fact, they realistically should have been given priority to finish if anything, because no AFL club could expect to be awarded a premiership just a round into the season. An option that could have been looked at was like an old fashioned finals series where teams might play two games within a week – the semis are played back-to-back followed by the final a few days later. I would host the series in Western Australia, handing Fremantle the deserving home ground advantage as the top team, and all sides could remain bunkered down for the week and just get it done. That way, it answers all the questions, results in a premier and there aren’t four sets of supporters who wonder ‘what if?’. If the Dockers did win the flag, they were deserving, if they got knocked off in the semi-finals by Melbourne, then the final would be at a neutral venue anyway – problem solved. Playing out the finals series was the obvious option and one that I’m sure could have been done even if down the track, or if it had been acted upon fast enough. Now as AFL Women’s fans we’ll never know, and I can understand the distaste from Dockers fans because of all the teams they did not have a blip on the radar. But I can also understand the logic of the other three sides supporters, whom would not have got a crack at the premiership, or argue that they were never tested by a top four side. But now we have been denied of a result and there will always be a question mark surrounding 2020.

Roos hold on in thriller against determined Magpies

A JASMINE Garner intercept mark in the last 15 seconds of the game at half-back has helped North Melbourne survive an epic fight from Collingwood to keep the Roos’ premiership hopes alive with a 5.4 (34) to 5.2 (32) semi-final win at Ikon Park.

Both teams were hot early on, providing plenty of pressure on the opposition ball carrier with the Roos’ slick kicking helping them kick an early goal through Daisy Bateman. It came from an uncharacteristic error from Stacey Livingstone who kicked straight to Garner who hit up Bateman just 20m out from goal. Moments later Livingstone again kicked it out on the full under pressure and the Roos had a chance for another, with loose checking from the defence seeing Ash Riddell take the free kick and deliver to Emma Kearney who found Sophie Abbatangelo in the pocket. The Pies were able to defend the ball over the line but North controlled the tempo.

Despite’s North Melbourne’s elite kicking above 80 per cent early in the game, the likes of Brit Bonnici and Brianna Davey refused to give in and worked their side back into the contest. Indeed it was a Bonnici tackle that helped set up the Pies for their opening quarter goal. She ran down Jess Trend whose head unfortunately hit the turf. Bonnici found Maddie Shevlin who had a crack but fell short, though a terrific tackle from Jordan Membrey allowed the former Brisbane player to kick a set shot goal from 15m out and bring the margin back to just a point at the first break. Collingwood was winning the contested ball against the Roos’ strong inside brigade, while North Melbourne was equally as surprising winning the outside ball against Collingwood’s runners.

It only took a couple of minutes for North to get an important major in the second term with Kearney creating some run through half-forward to kick to a vacant goalsquare. Kaitlyn Ashmore was the first on the scene and booted a goal from metres out and the lead was back out to seven points. Ashmore was involved again not long after, dropping inside 50 to take an uncontested mark and then putting it lace out to Brittany Gibson against the lighter built Butler, though her subsequent set shot missed. Ashmore was not done though, laying a huge tackle on Sarah Rowe to have a set shot that was deadeye, but unfortunately for the Roo forward, the only player tall enough to reach the set shot – Sharni Layton – was on the line and punched it over.

The game was back on even terms in match play with both team’s defences having an impact. Rebounding off half-back, Ashmore was again involved in the forward half kicking inside 50 but Livingston was back there and reliably rebounded to safety. That effort led the Pies to run it down the field and Mikala Cann got on the end of it with a clever snap around her body to put one through and the margin was just three points. Then came one of the plays of the season courtesy of 2018 Rising Star, Chloe Molloy. The talented utility won the ball at ground level at half-forward against three Roos, sidestepped one and managed to find her way through traffic to deliver it to the open goalsquare to bounce through and the Pies were in front for the first time.

It was a black and white wave at Ikon Park as Collingwood’s prime movers kept the pressure high, and soon it was Jaimee Lambert who at ground level just 15m out from goal kept the ball alive and it ended in the hands of the smart Sarah D’Arcy who put it on her left and slotted it through to hand her team a nine-point lead with two and a half minutes left. Everything was going right for the Magpies as Davey laid a bone-crunching tackle on Garner and Rowe ran down Trend with the defensive measures as impressive as the offensive ones. With 63 seconds left, Nicole Bresnehan did not get low enough for Lambert close to goal and the Magpies star had a chance to pile on another, but her set shot from a tight angle went to the right. A moment of madness saw the Pies almost kick a fifth goal with Molloy reading a play and intercepting it off the bounce but her next kick was well smothered in the dying seconds to ensure the top side only head into half-time with a 10-point deficit.

Layton’s return to the side was proving fruitful with back-to-back tackles on Kearney and Kate Gillespie-Jones to win a free and pump the first ball inside 50 of the second half. The former Diamonds netballer was dominant in the ruck which was a key reason for the Magpies’ dominance since quarter time with Gillespie-Jones replacing the taller Emma King in there for North Melbourne. Garner had the first chance on goal of the second half but opted to pass inboard and the short kick was dropped by Riddell and the Magpies got it to the boundary.

Midway through the term neither side had been able to impact the scoreboard with the arm-wrestle continuing through the middle, though North had more time in the forward half. Abbatangelo almost created some magic by keeping her feet from a forward 50 in a pack of four but missed to the right. From the kick out though, Sarah Wright won a 50m penalty for Eliza Hynes stepping over the mark and the former Carlton VFLW player got on the board from 15m out.

With the Roos now with the momentum, the work of the younger Magpies was crucial. Alana Porter won a great one-on-one at half-back and Cann laid a huge tackle to win the ball back on the wing. Sensing the tide turning, Molloy dropped into defence so each team had an extra number in the back half. With 30 seconds left, Rowe took a sliding mark 30m out from the defensive goal but then went for a short kick and turned it straight over to Gavalas who put it over the goal umpire’s head and as if the whole game had changed, the Roos were now up by three points.

The news went from bad to worse for the Magpies at the final break with best on ground, Bonnici coming off for a concussion test at a time when the underdogs needed an extra push on the inside. Another Collingwood turnover, this time from Layton who kicked to a one-on-two, led to the Roos running it down with an extra number and Abbatangelo marked right on the boundary line to snap and goal with a well-placed banana kick. A minute later the combination between Layton and Membrey was much better with Membrey taking a great contested mark off the boot of Layton and her unbelievable accuracy continued with another deadeye set shot goal.

The Membrey goal broke a three-straight run of majors by North Melbourne and the deficit was back to three points. North was holding up the defence to stop easy outs from the back half for the Magpies, but a strong couple of plays from D’Arcy, Molloy and Davey ensured the line was forced back. There was almost a fitting moment when Davey found a loose Bonnici who had returned to the field without the Kangaroos realising the hardnut had returned to the field. The shot fell short and a Lambert snap missed. Less than two and a half minutes remaining, the margin was just two points in favour of the Conference A winners.

With Pies fans hearts racing, captain Steph Chiocci found Molloy inside 50 who marked but her set shot fell agonisingly short. The ball was still in the Magpies’ forward half with a minute remaining on the clock. Most players were inside Collingwood’s forward 50, but North got it clear and were able to get it back into their half with seconds dying down. One last role of the dice saw the Magpies kick to a Layton-King one-on-one but it was Garner who came over the top to take a match-saving mark and win the game for her side by just two points.

Riddell picked an equal game-high 22 disposals for the Roos, as well as five marks and six tackles, while Garner (15 disposals, five marks and five tackles), Kearney (17 disposals, four tackles) and Gavalas (13 disposals, three marks, six tackles and a goal) were all impressive. For the Magpies, Bonnici was the best-on with 20 touches – all kicks – three marks and three tackles, while Lambert and Davey both combined for 44 disposals, 11 marks and 10 tackles in the loss. Membrey was he only multiple goalkicker on the day as the teams both spread the scoreboard impact around.

NORTH MELBOURNE 1.1 | 2.3 | 4.4 | 5.4 (34)
COLLINGWOOD 1.0 | 4.1 | 4.1 | 5.2 (32)
 

GOALS:

North Melbourne: S. Abbatangelo, S. Wright, K. Ashmore, E. Gavalas, D. Bateman.
Collingwood: J. Membrey 2, M. Cann, S. D’Arcy, C. Molloy.

ADC BEST:

North Melbourne: A. Riddell, E. Gavalas, E. Kearney, J. Garner, J. Bruton, K. Ashmore
Collingwood: B. Bonnici, B. Davey, J. Lambert, S. Chiocci, C. Molloy, J. Membrey

Dees celebrate upset win in front of home fans at Casey

MELBOURNE has claimed a huge scalp in the opening round of the AFL Women’s 2020 season, downing one of the premiership favourites in North Melbourne at Casey Fields. In a see-sawing contest, the Demons scored the final goal of the game courtesy of Eden Zanker, in a low-scoring and blustery affair to win 3.4 (22) to 3.2 (20).

A warm and windy day at Casey Fields not only welcomed the return of AFL Women’s to the south-eastern suburbs of Victoria, but also the return of Melbourne captain, Daisy Pearce. The Dees’ skipper was playing her first competitive match since 2018, and started at half-back, winning an intercept possession straight off a clearance and getting in the thick of it early. Young gun, Tyla Hanks set the tone with a great tackle in the opening minute at half-back, but the going was tough early with both side’s defences standing up with the blustery conditions doing plenty to impact the inside 50 entries.

It took until the fifth minute when Kaitlyn Ashmore mowed down a Melbourne opponent close to goal and won a free kick 15m out on a 45 degree angle. The breeze did not pose a problem for the talented utility who slotted the first goal of the match. The Roos might have surprised a few by recruiting mature-age Western Bulldogs VFL Women’s recruit, Ellie Gavalas with their first pick, but she showed exactly why they brought her in with some great tackling ability, as did Melbourne Uni recruit, Tahni Nestor with a huge run-down tackle on Zanker to win a free kick. Ashmore’s forward work was looking good with a strong lead and mark about 35m out, but opted to pass which was spoiled.

With only their third inside 50, Melbourne’s Tegan Cunningham took a big contested mark, but her kick got caught in the breeze and fell short. An end-to-end play by the Roos saw Daisy Bateman mark on the 50m line, and knowing the distance was beyond her, looked for options. Luckily though, her opponent took a step too far on the mark, and Bateman was awarded a 50m penalty, converting the major from the goal square to put her side 12 points up with the quarter into red time. The home team was attacking fiercely late in the term, but back-to-back 50m penalties for mark infringements brought North Melbourne back to within goal-scoring range. The kick on goal fell short, and Gavalas nearly got her first major with a quick snap but missed to the right and the siren sounded with the Roos 2.1 (13) to Dees’ 0.0 (0).

Now with the wind at their backs, the Dees could start to mount an offensive themselves. A huge moment came in the sixth minute when Kate Hore produced a perfectly timed run-down tackle as her opponent went to clear the danger out of defence. The ball never connected with her boot and Hore converted the subsequent set shot from straight in front 30m out. Melbourne was on the board just over 20 minutes into the match.

The game was predominantly being played in Melbourne’s half, with the Demons constantly putting pressure on the Kangaroos’ defence. It worried the visitors into giving away a stoppage free to Elise O’Dea in front of goal, but her set shot drifted to the left courtesy of the strong breeze. Melbourne’s ‘Old Firm’ of O’Dea, Pearce and Karen Paxman were standing up and leading the side across the three lines, while the the speed and excitement of Hore and Shelley Heath inside 50 was piling on the pressure for the home side.

Hore was best-on for her impact in the game, pressuring an opponent to force the ball out of bounds and win a free kick deep in the pocket. Her set shot missed, but she would soon put her side in front with the last meaningful play of the quarter, after Zanker’s dribble attempt fortuitously bounced away from the goal, but also a North Melbourne opponent and bounced straight into the arms of the running Hore who converted from point-blank range.

Melbourne had a simple task against the wind – try to clog up the scoring to avoid North Melbourne holding an unassailable lead heading into the last term. For the first four minutes, nothing was able to penetrate past the last line of the Dees’ sturdy defence. With so much experience back there, they were able to work the ball out of the danger zone time and time again. Though the first meaningful chance came via a holding free to Emma King about 35m out straight in front. Her shot looked on target for the most part, but drifted to the left for one behind and levelled the scores.

While Pearce might have been the headline return story for the match, North had one of its own too, with Ash Riddell returning for just her third game after missing the rest of last season after going down in Round 2. She was in the right spot at the right time goal-side to receive a quick handball from Jasmine Garner to snap around her body and put it through with a celebration worthy of a vital match-turning goal. The Roos would need at least one more and now allow the home side to get one on the board of their own if they were to hold enough sway to restrict the opposition in the final term.

The match had shades of last year’s thrilling encounter, and while Cunningham had the chance to put her side back level with a tight shot from the boundary, it went to the right.  Melbourne was attacking fiercely in the dying minutes of the third term to try and get one against the flow, but North kept repelling time and time again, including a potentially match-winning tackle from Bethany Lynch inside defensive 50. The Roos led by five points at the final break, but the Dees would have the all-important win to try and reverse the 2019 result at this venue.

While North did all the attacking early in the fourth term, it was Melbourne’s ability to run and find space that was the difference in the end. Every player was in the Kangaroos’ half and it led to an end-to- end play by the Dees for Zanker to be all alone inside 50 to run into an open goal and put the Dees in front by a point. Melbourne had multiple chances to really ice the game over the next few minutes, but could not seem to put through the final dagger as the North defence stood up time and time again.

The Kangaroos kept trying to pump it long out of defensive 50, but the Demons set up behind the ball so every kick down through midfield was being picked off by the experienced Demons defenders. Both teams were desperate and the Roos coughed up another free kick and with 20 seconds remaining, the Demons were able to lock the ball up enough to win the game by just two points in a thrilling contest.

The 2018 Most Valuable Player (MVP), Emma Kearney finished with 20 touches and nine tackles, shaded by Riddell who was arguably the best on the ground after quarter time, racking up 20 disposals, five tackles and booting that timely third quarter goal, while Jenna Bruton laid 11 tackles and was fierce throughout the four quarters. Aside from Hore (13 disposals, two marks, three tackles and two goals) who was outstanding in crunch moments for the Dees, Paxman and O’Dea (both 15 disposals) and Pearce (12 disposals) were terrific.

MELBOURNE 0.0 | 2.2 | 2.3 | 3.4 (22)
KANGAROOS 2.1 | 2.1 | 3.2 | 3.2 (20)

GOALS:

Melbourne: K. Hore 2, E. Zanker.
Kangaroos: K. Ashmore, D. Bateman, A. Riddell.

ADC BEST:

Melbourne: K. Hore, D. Pearce, K. Paxman, E. O’Dea, S. Heath, T. Hanks
Kangaroos: A. Riddell, E. Kearney, J. Bruton, E. Gavalas, D. Hardiman, K. Ashmore