Tag: stacey livingstone

Lions claim Grand Final appearance in thrilling win over Magpies

A HARD-fought contest is what you want to see in finals footy, and that is exactly what AFL Women’s fans got in the second preliminary final on Saturday afternoon, with a see-sawing contest eventually seeing Brisbane claim an excellent four-point victory over a tough Collingwood outfit 7.3 (45) to 6.5 (41).

Brisbane was under fire from the get-go, unable to break through the heated Magpies midfield brigade as a dream start saw Jaimee Lambert and Ruby Schleicher hit the scoreboard early, with the hosts unable to get going. A couple of errant Ash Brazill attempts up forward proved the Magpies would not be kept quiet early as they were last week, but a maiden inside 50 for the Lions resulted in its first goal too, as Jess Wuetschner dribbled it through to reduce the lead midway through the term, as the footy went from coast to coast with the two sides worked to establish momentum. 

Ally Anderson and Emma Zielke were proving crucial early hunting for the footy and looking dangerous inside 50, whilst the tight head-to-head battle between Cathy Svarc and Bri Davey early on was a testament to how much was on the line. What was a hot start from both sides saw an extended period with little scoring, as the two sides settled into the contest and a midfield stalemate emerged with the visitors leading 2.3 (15) to 1.1 (7) at the first break.

A huge second quarter began with a Dakota Davidson mark and goal to get the Lions within a couple of points, as Greta Bodey snapped true to take the Lions’ first lead of the day, but the contest would not let up as youngster Tarni Brown piled on the pressure with an excellent running goal. The Magpies had the numbers back limiting scoring chances for the Lions, however a Lions flood through the middle saw neither side able to find clean hands to the footy. But Orla O’Dwyer snapped truly to break through the mess and retake the lead, breaking the defensive stalemate as Davidson booted a second to extend the margin to 10 points. What had been the Magpies’ footy in the first saw the momentum switch and a clear scoring end emerge, with Brisbane’s four straight goals to Collingwood’s one setting up a huge second half of action.

The Magpies needed a quick goal to start the third quarter, and whilst it did not come easy a Sophie Alexander bomb from outside the 50m arc did the trick. A Sharni Norder major put the Magpies back in front by just two points as the momentum swung once more, as Davey broke free of her tight tag to pile on the pressure across the ground. Anderson continued to wreak havoc but was lacking effective backup, as the final quarter came down to confidence and which side could retain momentum.

The final quarter was as tight as could be with an early touched behind from the Lions taking it to a one-point ballgame before a Bodey toepoke in the square saw two straight scores for the home side as the Lions stole back a five-point lead. A shanked kick from Davidson resulted in a Stacey Livingstone mark but sloppiness off the foot saw the Lions claim the footy through Tahlia Hickey and another chance for Davidson, who slotted her third to extend the margin to 11 points. The tough contest continued for the remainder of the match as bodies were sent flying, with both defence-lines holding strong and Brazill booting her maiden goal with 21 seconds on the clock to give the Magpies a sniff, trailing by just four points as the clock wound down to the tune of a Brisbane victory. 

For the winning side, Anderson was hugely influential with 24 touches and six tackles, whilst eight tackle efforts from Svarc and Bodey paid off in the tough affair. Davidson managed three goals from her 12 touches and  five marks, whilst for the Magpies it was surprisingly Brazill who came away with the biggest score for the black and white with 1.2 from her 16 touches and five marks, as her five fellow goalkickers all booted one apiece. Whilst she was held well early by Svarc it was Davey who led all comers with 23 touches, as Britt Bonnici and Schleicher also proved influential.

The Lions will travel to Adelaide next week for their second AFLW grand final appearance against the Adelaide Crows, looking to knock the minor premiers off their perch on home turf.

BRISBANE | 1.1 | 5.1 | 5.2 | 7.3 (45)
COLLINGWOOD 2.3 | 3.3 | 5.4 | 6.5 (41)

GOALS:

Brisbane: D. Davidson 3, G. Bodey 2, J. Wuetschner, O. O’Dwyer.
Collingwood: J. Lambert, R. Schleicher, T. Brown, S. Alexander, S. Norder, A. Brazill.

BESTS:

Brisbane: A. Anderson, D. Davidson, C. Svarc, G. Bodey,
Collingwood: B. Davey, A. Brazill, B. Bonnici, R. Schleicher

Pies last quarter flurry steals victory after Roos mid-match turnaround

COLLINGWOOD has survived an epic qualifying final at Victoria Park, defeating North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos by just six points to advance through to record its first ever finals victory. Twelve months ago these sides went hammer and tongs at each other for four quarters with the Roos getting up in a thriller at Ikon Park, but fast forward 12 months and it was the black and whites – in front of fans at the Magpies’ spiritual home – that saluted, 7.8 (50) to 7.2 (44). The match had a case for one of the games of the season considering the stakes and the topsy-turvy nature. The Magpies took the early ascendancy, then the Roos looked to run away with it, kicking five consecutive goals – and six of seven – only for Collingwood to storm home in the final term and boot the last three goals of the match to record the most memorable of wins and advance through to next week’s preliminary final against Brisbane.

Key forward Sophie Alexander got the home team up and about early with a goal in the third minute, only for former Pie, Jasmine Garner to counter that with a major of her own five minutes later. It already meant the Roos had more goals on the board than their last match against the Magpies when they could only manage eight behinds in a disappointing loss at Etihad Stadium. Soon Chloe Molloy made her impact known with Collingwood’s second, and by the time Jaimee Lambert hit the scoreboard, the margin was out to 14 points and the crowd was excited. Both these teams were backing themselves to run and move the ball quickly, turning defence into offence. A couple of early behinds for the Magpies in the second term was punished by the Roos through Beth Lynch and Sophie Abbatangelo in the space of 90 seconds, cutting the deficit to just three points at the main break.

Whilst the half-time break might have been long enough for teams to reset, for North Melbourne it was just rolling on from the second term, as Abbatangelo kicked her second within 90 seconds, and the Roos were in front for the first time in the match. Lynch converted a second to match her teammate with a clever snap following a free kick, and then Ash Riddell made Sharni Norder pay following an error through pressure with the tackle, as the tightest of set shots proving no problem for the pocket rocket. With Riddell’s goal, it meant the Roos had slotted five consecutive goals in effectively 20 minutes and were out to a 13-point lead with just a few minutes remaining in the third term. Creating something out of nothing, Alexander got boot to ball in a stoppage off a Molloy kick forward, but no sooner had she cut the deficit to seven points, it was back out to 14. Emma King let the home team off with a missed shot 25m out straight in front, but Daria Bannister was not going to make any mistake from point blank range when she crumbed the ball off a pack in the goalsquare.

The largest margin of the game was 14 points, with the Kangaroos now holding a firm advantage in the match and had one foot in the preliminary final. The Magpies needed something, and it came off the boot of Kristy Stratton, who slotted a crucial major less than four minutes into the match. Molloy missed a chance on goal on the run, but the Magpies were trying to play on at every chance, whilst the Roos were trying to control the tempo with possession football. What no one expected was for Molloy to dig deeper than even she had before, pulling out a trick that was unbelievable, snapping quickly under pressure and a right angle bounce that went over the head of the last Roos defender to bounce home and cut the deficit to just one point with 10 minutes to play. North Melbourne rushed it to the Roos’ end, but the Collingwood defence was up to the task and instead got the visitors on transition, booting it to Molloy inside 50, and her presence forced two Roos to spoil, and fortunately for the Magpies, the second black and white player was Tarni Brown who crumbed the ball and ran into an open goal to slam home a major and put her team in front.

After hilariously snapping a goal up the wrong end earlier in the match, Brown made sure she was headed to the right end when she crumbed it cleanly, ran into the open goal and put her side five points up. Alexander had a chance to make it a double-digit lead but missed with a couple of minutes left, making some wonder if the six-point difference might result in a draw. Luckily for the timekeepers it did not, as the Magpies desperately held on despite the Roos’ efforts to move the ball quickly, and Collingwood enjoyed its first finals win, and at Victoria Park to advance through to the preliminary final against Brisbane next week at the Gabba.

Brianna Davey had a ridiculous game, with 31 disposals, four marks and nine tackles, a clear best afield in the match. Despite a quiet first three quarters, Brittany Bonnici worked into the game in the final term with some great one-on-one contests to finish with 16 disposals and three marks, whilst Lambert shook off a knock in the third quarter to return to the field in the final term and end the game with 15 touches, two marks, three tackles and a goal herself. The usually-accurate Aisling Sheridan booted three behinds from 13 disposals and seven marks, whilst Stacey Livingstone (13 disposals, three marks and two tackles) and Ruby Schleicher (11 disposals, three marks) were steady as always in defence. Brown (12 disposals, three tackles), Ash Brazill (11 disposals, two marks and two behinds) and Alexander (10 disposals, three marks and two goals) were amongst the best for the winners.

Riddell was the standout Roo with 22 touches, three marks, three tackles and a goal, as her partners-in-crime, Emma Kearney (19 disposals, three marks and three tackles), Kaitlyn Ashmore (17 disposals, two marks and two tackles) and Jenna Bruton (13 disposals, three marks ad three tackles) were all busy. Garner (16 disposals, five marks, nine tackles and a goal) was right up there with Riddell, having an enormous impact on the game, whilst Ellie Gavalas (11 disposals, four marks and three tackles) and Vivian Saad (11 disposals, two mark s and seven tackles) brought the heat around the ball. Unfortunately for North Melbourne though, the loss meant the end of 2021, and the Roos will begin the planning for 2022.

COLLINGWOOD 3.2 | 3.4 | 4.6 | 7.8 (50)
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.0 | 3.1 | 7.2 | 7.2 (44)

GOALS:

Collingwood: S. Alexander 2, C. Molloy 2, J. Lambert, K. Stratton, T. Brown.
North Melbourne: S. Abbatangelo 2, B. Lynch 2, J. Garner, A. Riddell, D. Bannister.

DC BEST:

Collingwood: B. Davey, C. Molloy, S. Livingstone, R. Schleicher, J. Lambert
North Melbourne: A. Riddell, J. Garner, E. Kearney. K. Ashmore, J. Bruton

Picture credit: Getty Images

AFL Women’s finals preview: Melbourne and Collingwood to host qualifiers

NINE huge rounds of AFL Women’s action has culminated in the closest finals race of the league’s history, with the 2021 season proving hugely exciting with more and more developing players making their mark and the entire competition kicking up a notch this year. With a tight finish and the first six-team finals series in the competition’s five-year history, hopes are high with realistically all six clubs in with a chance of taking out the trophy this year. With minor premiers Adelaide Crows and runners-up Brisbane Lions handed a week off credit to finishing within the top two, just two matches will play out on Easter Saturday.

Melbourne vs. Fremantle
Saturday April 3, 1:05pm
Casey Fields

Expect another huge clash between the Demons and Dockers to open the qualifying finals proceedings, with the two sides only just split the last time they met. An explosive first term from the Dees set the tone on enemy territory as the Dockers appeared stunned, struggling to connect up the ground or find the big sticks. But a scrappy second half from the Dees saw Roxy Roux lead the charge as Freo came knocking and booted 4.3 to Melbourne’s 1.0 to trail by just five points, with missed chances and the footy inside 50 on the siren telling the story of a disappointing game for Fremantle.

Realistically, both sides are more than capable of coming home with a win in this match, although the Dees’ first chance for finals footy at home at Casey Fields could be a real gamechanger given their continued dominance on home turf. They also have a 4-1 win record across the past five rounds, with four straight wins – a confidence-boosting 44-point blasting of St Kilda before downing fellow top six sides Adelaide, Freo and Brisbane – to complete the season. Comparatively, Fremantle’s past few weeks have not been much to be too excited about, with losses to Melbourne and North Melbourne, as well as a tight four-point victory over Carlton. However, a huge 11.9 (75) to 1.2 (8) victory over West Coast in Round 6 shows just how much the side is capable of, so there should be no discounting the Dockers when they get in the groove.

For the Dees, Daisy Pearce is a definite out for the Dees in a huge blow for the side after the veteran went down in the early stages of Round 9. Karen Paxman and Tyla Hanks have starred for the side this season through the midfield with Lauren Pearce‘s past few rounds proving just what she is capable of and Eden Zanker and Kate Hore always dangerous around the footy. For the Dockers, Kiara Bowers is the one to stop given her ability to impact the play whilst Hayley Miller, Steph Cain and Ebony Antonio have all impressed throughout the season. Gemma Houghton and Roux can spark their side into action in a split second.

Records:
Melbourne:
7-2 (4th)
Fremantle: 6-3 (5th)

Last 5:
Melbourne: 4-1
Fremantle: 2-3

2021 meeting:
Round 8
– Melbourne by 5

Most goals:
Melbourne:
Kate Hore (11)
Fremantle:
Gemma Houghton (14)

Collingwood vs. North Melbourne
Saturday April 3, 3:10pm
Victoria Park

Last time these two sides met, a crunching battle was expected with the results overturned by a fired-up Magpies outfit which rendered North Melbourne goalless for the first time in the side’s short history. The Kangaroos allowed the Magpies to get off to a stellar start, and whilst they limited the scoreboard impact in the second half it was not quite enough with inaccuracy and an inability to shut down the Pies’ plethora of midfield standouts. But expect a very different North side this time around, having learned from their mistakes and lost just one match since then – to fellow top side Brisbane in Round 8 –  while the Magpies narrowly missed out on the minor premiership with a Round 9 loss to Adelaide.

Like the other match, both side have plenty to prove coming into this contest and both are more than capable of flying out of the blocks and producing an epic win. Both sides boast a wealth of scoring prowess and viable options across the field, with star players scattered throughout and more than capable of stepping up in the big moments. Realistically, this match will be won and lost through the midfield, with North’s hardened types needing to serve ball on a silver platter up forward and evade the Magpies’ stellar defence, with the black and white leading the competition for the least points conceded. That being said, an even spread of forward firepower from the Roos could be hard to stop.

For the Pies, the trio of Bri DaveyJaimee Lambert and Britt Bonnici has been key throughout the season, able to all rotate across the ground and create forward forays, whilst Chloe Molloy is one to watch out for inside 50 and Stacey Livingstone is a consistent barricade down back. As for North, the combination of Ash RiddellJas Garner and Emma Kearney never fails to withstand pressure and will be a real match for Collingwood’s mids. Kait Ashmore and Emma King are up there for effectiveness with ball in hand, while the Roos will hope to welcome back Jenna Bruton following a one-match ban for rough conduct.

Records:
Collingwood: 
7-2 (3rd)
North Melbourne: 6-3 (6th)

Last 5:

Collingwood: 3-2
North Melbourne: 4-1

2021 meeting:
Round 4
 – Collingwood by 20

Most goals:
Collingwood: Chloe Molloy (14)
North Melbourne: Jasmine Garner, Daisy Bateman (8)

AFL Women’s Saturday wrap: Prespakis, Vescio inspire almighty Blues escape

CARLTON overcame a horror start on Saturday afternoon to ward off a roaring Richmond outfit at Princes Park, escaping five-point victors against its traditional rival. The Tigers got the jump with the first four goals of the game, before reigning league best and fairest Maddy Prespakis sparked the Blues to life with two second term goals to help claim an unlikely half time lead. From there, the Darcy Vescio show took full toll to help Carlton kick a winning score, eventually reading 8.3 (51) to Richmond’s 7.4 (46).

While still winless in the AFL Women’s competition, green shoots are beginning to appear for Richmond after arguably its best performance to date. The Tigers’ poor conversion and attacking penetration have been a lead story thus far, but that was far from the case on Saturday as they surged forward with ruthless pace and efficiency to catch Carlton unawares on multiple occasions.

The Tigers’ pressure and early midfield dominance were other key signs of their upside, before Carlton’s prime movers began to take the game over. Having started the season at 0-2, the Blues’ finals hopes are still kicking as they sit just outside the top six, but a much more consistent run of form will be required from here on out.

Much of the hype coming into this clash surrounded the potential matchup of twins Jess and Sarah Hosking, who would take little time to acquaint themselves as opponents at the first centre bounce. It marked somewhat of another new role for Carlton’s Jess, who has been utilised up either end of the ground, while Richmond’s Sarah was typically reliable in midfield.

The Hosking in navy blue finished with 19 disposals, while her sibling managed 15 touches to go with six marks and seven tackles despite missing a chunk of action through concussion protocols. The Prespakis tackle which put Hosking out of action was deemed dangerous at the time, and could see Carlton’s star midfielder face more scrutiny from the match review officer this season.

Richmond’s Monique Conti was busy as ever, leading all comers with 26 disposals and seven inside 50s. Skipper Katie Brennan looked lively in the front half, notching two goals among her 17 touches and five marks with strong work in the air and across the ground. Others to impress in yellow and black included Ellie McKenzie (14 disposals, four marks) and the forward duo of Courtney Wakefield (three goals) and Tayla Stahl (two), who helped materialise each of their side’s momentum grabs.

Prespakis dragged her side back into the contest with 19 disposals, five tackles and two goals, aided by the forward 50 presence of Vescio, who clunked six marks and booted 3.2. Grace Egan was excellent as the Blues’ highest ball winner (21 disposals), while skipper Kerryn Harrington formed a wall in defence alongside Charlotte Wilson with seven rebound 50s.

CARLTON 0.2 | 4.2 | 7.3 | 8.3 (51)
RICHMOND 3.0 | 4.1 | 5.1 | 7.4 (46)

GOALS:

Carlton: D. Vescio 3, M. Prespakis 2, N. Stevens, L. McEvoy, T. Harris
Richmond: C. Wakefield 3, K. Brennan 2, T. Stahl 2

DC BEST:

Carlton: D. Vescio, M. Prespakis, G. Egan, K. Harrington, J. Hosking, L. McEvoy
Richmond: M. Conti, K. Brennan, S. Hosking, C. Wakefield, R. Miller, E. McKenzie

credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Credit: Will Russell/AFL Photos

Dockers endure slow start to overrun Suns

FREMANTLE added another huge win to its premiership tilt as the Dockers overcame the Gold Coast Suns in convincing fashion in Perth, 7.13 (55) to 1.0 (6). Whilst the Suns got the early jump on the premiership contenders, leading for much of the first and boasting a close margin at half time as the Dockers failed to capitalise on opportunities, it was Fremantle that ran down its foes in an excellent six goal second half to maintain top spot on the ladder. 

In an opening term that was dominated by the underdogs, things began with plenty of excitement as an early goal from Leah Kaslar got the ball rolling with the Dockers seemingly unable to find purchase within a tight contest. But whilst Kaslar’s major was the only score of the quarter, it went on to be the Suns’ only major of the match as, from quarter time onwards, the footy was well within the home side’s grasps with plenty of intent and drive into attack. Whilst the Dockers were ultimately unable to provide the scoreboard danger to rival their offensive pressure, producing a 1.5 (11) to 1.0 (6) scoreline to marginally lead at the main change, a huge second half loomed with much of the momentum going the way of the Dockers with Ebony Antonio and Gabby O’Sullivan unsuccessful but proving dangerous inside 50.

The second half saw the match well and truly open up for Fremantle, as its pressing backline led by Janelle Cuthbertson gained further control and confidence to propel ball forward into its waiting forward line. Back-to-back majors from Antonio and O’Sullivan and a maiden goal from Sarah Verrier created a tough buffer for the Suns to crack as the scoreline extended to 25 points by the time the final change arrived. Despite being tagged for much of the contest, Kiara Bowers shone as the match opened up further, proving unstoppable as Suns’ Jamie Stanton worked up a storm for the opposition but to no avail. 

A huge final term saw the Dockers’ class complete their second half rundown of the opposition, piling on another three goals and six minors as O’Sullivan got her second on the board, whilst Hayley Miller and Ash Sharp piled on the offensive pressure. Another inaccurate term could have seen a huge margin from the premiership contenders – who have now won 11 straight – but the side will surely be content with the 49-point victory as they continue to lead the way atop the tables.

Despite being down in contested ball and clearances in the first quarter, once the Dockers stepped up their game there was no stopping them as the work-rate lifted with a whopping 73 tackles to 46, as Bowers stole the show with 15 tackles to go with her 17 touches (15 kicks). Bowers was only beaten on the possessions count by Stanton, who led her side with 18 and five tackles, while Lucy Single showed some glimpses of what she is capable of with a great tag on Bowers, completing the match with seven tackles as Lauren Bella dominated the ruck contest. O’Sullivan was the lone multiple goalkicker with two from her 16 touches, whilst Miller also showcased her ball-magnet ways with 17 disposals and six tackles to her name. 

FREMANTLE | 0.0 | 1.5 | 4.7 | 7.13 (55)
GOLD COAST | 1.0 | 1.0 | 1.0 | 1.0 (6)

GOALS:

Fremantle: G. O’Sullivan 2, R. Roux, H. Miller, A. Sharp, E. Antonio, S.Verrier
Gold Coast: L. Kaslar

DC BEST:

Fremantle: K. Bowers, J. Cuthbertson, G. O’Sullivan, H. Miller, R. Roux, J.Stewart
Gold Coast: J. Stanton, L. Bella, L. Single, K. Surman, K. Howarth

Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

Hot Pies down shaky Roos in ladder-leading encounter

It was a showstopper waiting to happen, with a fired up North Melbourne side looking to right the wrongs of their Round 3 loss to Melbourne and put another win on the board, coming in hot favourites against an improved Collingwood outfit. But it seemed that once again, the Kangaroos could not compete with a hardened side bursting through the midfield. The side was unable to contain the hot Pies who sit undefeated on four from four, with a low-scoring contest seeing the Roos rendered goalless for the first time, going down 4-4 (28) to 0.8 (8).

An impressive opening term well and truly set the tone for the match, as the Magpies piled on the pressure around the ground to negate any easy forward 50 forays from the Roos. With so many excellent targets within the Kangaroos’ grasps, an Aishling Sheridan goal was exactly what the Magpies needed to spur the side into action as the contest across the field continued to grow, pressurising the midfield as Chloe Molloy looked the goods with an early major to her name. Whilst the Roos forced a tighter contest in the second quarter, it seemingly was already too little, too late as the Magpies had all the momentum and ran with it. Three minors the way of the Roos did little to worry the Pies as Jordan Membrey kicked truly at the other end, with Bri DaveyJaimee Lambert and Molloy running rampant and well and truly outclassing the Kangaroos.

Inaccuracy and a lack of opportunity were the themes of the second half as neither side was really able to exit the tight contest, with North keeping Collingwood to just 1.2 in the second half after a stellar start but also failing to find the big sticks with five more behinds on the board well and truly putting the nail in their own coffin. Despite huge efforts from Jasmine GarnerKait Ashmore and Jenna Bruton, it was not enough as Molloy sealed the deal with a final goal in the last to propel the Magpies up the ladder with the 20-point victory.

For the Magpies, Davey and Lambert led all-comers, with 31 and 27 disposals respectively, whilst Davey racked up six marks and Lambert piled on the pressure with six tackles. Britt Bonnici and Steph Chiocci rang true with 21 and 20 touches, while Molloy’s goal sense saw her finish with two from her 12 touches, four marks and three tackles. Stacey Livingstone was a moving barricade down back with eight marks and seven rebounds. For the flailing Roos, Garner’s 19 disposals led the pack while Bruton (18 and five tackles), Ashmore (17 and six, one behind) and Emma Kearney (15 and five, one behind) also plied their trade.

NORTH MELBOURNE | 0.0 | 0.3 | 0.5 | 0.8 (8)
COLLINGWOOD | 2.2 | 3.2 | 3.4 | 4.4 (28)

GOALS:
North Melbourne: 
Nil
Collingwood: C. Molloy 2, A. Sheridan, J. Membrey

DC BEST:
North Melbourne:
J. Garner, K. Ashmore, A. Riddell, J. Bruton
Collingwood: B. Davey, J. Lambert, B. Bonnici, S. Livingstone, C. Molloy

Pies shock Blues on AFLW’s return

THE long awaited return of AFL Women’s for season 2021 arrived on Thursday night, with traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood shaping up at Ikon Park for a huge start to season five. A tribute to Jacinda Barclay opened the match with a moment of silence, before football returned at full throttle with Victorian fans treated to their first live match since mid-2020. While a slow start from both sides kept a full house of fans on the edge of their seats, a stagnant Blues outfit and a huge four-goal second term from the Magpies saw the tides quickly turn as fast-paced footy began, with the Pies running out six-point winners 5.3 (33) to 4.3 (27) to open the season with a bang.

While the match may not have started with the bang many fans were expecting from the two sides, it was a tight battle early with neither side willing to give through the midfield and very little going the way of the scoreboard. Both backlines worked in overdrive limiting movement, with the first score of the game – a behind – going the way of Jaimee Lambert, rendered inaccurate by the continuous efforts of the likes of Mua Laloifi and Charlotte Wilson, who tracked the ball well. But much the same was happening at the other end, with the Blues missing targets and Ruby Schleicher proving a ball magnet and rebounded with ease.

But things quickly switched into gear for the Magpies in the second, with Chloe Molloy moved forward and turned on the foot candy with two goals from right out in front. It saw the Pies pile on the pressure as the Blues remained scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2019. Where the Blues’ defence had held strong in the first, they scrambled in the second term with no answers for the combination of Molloy and Bri Davey out the front, while Aliesha Newman turned on the speed – later reported for a dangerous tackle – and Lambert continued to fire on all cylinders as the Pies went four goals up, looking dangerous as the Blues wasted opportunities. Maddy Prespakis was unafraid of the contest, throwing herself at the footy and at former Blue Davey, while all eyes were on the matchup between Stacey Livingstone and Tayla Harris as the game hit the midway point, with the duo matching in intensity and hunt for the footy.

A talking to from Carlton coach Daniel Harford seemed to do the trick for the Blues, coming out with a renewed sense of intensity and pressure after half-time, hitting back with three straight goals. Nicola StevensDarcy Vescio and Jess Hosking all put majors on the board – with the third coming from a pinpoint precise Prespakis – as a scoring end shaped up. While the Baggers showed a lot more fight, the Pies retained the lead with an excellent running goal from Aishling Sheridan, courtesy of Lambert, seeing the Magpies head into the final change with an 11-point advantage.

After a busy second and third quarter, scoring dried up in the last with neither side able to really break through the fierce defensive buffers down back. While the Pies missed a couple of early chances to extend their lead, Carlton had their own fair share of opportunities too with the footy locked inside their forward 50 for much of the last five minutes. While the last score of the match was a goal to Kerryn Harrington after the siren, it was a sombre celebration as the Magpies started off their 2021 campaign with the solid 33-27 victory and plenty of confidence.

On the stats sheet, Britt Bonnici led all comers with 22 disposals, five marks and four tackles, while Lambert (18 touches, five tackles) and Prespakis (18 and three) were not far behind. Abbie McKay proved she has more in her wheelhouse leading the tackle count with seven to go with her 10 touches, while two players from each side racked up six tackles apiece in the physical battle.

Both teams have just over a week to prepare for their next respective matches, with the Blues heading to VU Whitten Oval next Friday night to take on the Western Bulldogs, while the Pies host the Gold Coast Suns in their first home match of the season next Saturday afternoon at Victoria Park.

CARLTON | 0.0 | 0.0 | 3.1 | 4.3 (27)
COLLINGWOOD | 0.1 | 4.2 | 5.2 | 5.3 (33)

GOALS
Carlton: Stevens, Vescio, Hosking, Harrington.
Collingwood: Molloy 2, Sheridan 2, Davey.

ADC BEST
Carlton: Prespakis, Laloifi, Wilson, Egan, Hosking
Collingwood: Bonnici, Lambert, Davey, Molloy, Schleicher

2021 AFL Women’s: Round 1 preview – Traditional rivals to open the show in Thursday night blockbuster

AFL Women’s makes its long awaited return tonight, with teams hungry to make up for lost time and rectify the ‘what-ifs’ left in 2020. Traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood take the season-opening honours once again, with plenty of heat expected to come out of that clash at Princes Park. A fixture shake-up on the eve of season proper sees a few matchups altered, but Round 1 will still be stretched across a bumper four days of footballing action. We preview all seven games, capped with a prediction to (hopefully) aide your footy tipping campaign.

Note: All start times are as of AEDT

Carlton vs. Collingwood
Thursday January 28, 7:15pm
Princes Park

Carlton and Collingwood return to the season-opening slot in a clash which is sure to produce plenty of fireworks at Princes Park. The Blues are yet to lose to their fierce rivals in said fixture, but suffered a shock loss to the Pies on home turf in their Round 2 meeting last year. Carlton is a hot favourite to secure premiership glory in 2021, but will be tested by an emerging Collingwood side which went incredibly close to knocking off North Melbourne in last year’s finals.

The clash will be made all the more intriguing as Carlton spearhead Tayla Harris resumes hostilities with dour Collingwood defender Stacey Livingstone, who labelled the star goalkicker “useless” at ground level after their battle last year. Gun Pies utility Bri Davey is also set to face her old side for the first time, which she used to captain, poised to spend more time up forward. Chloe Molloy is another set to swing into attack, with both players capable of breaking Carlton’s usually sturdy defence.

Reigning competition best and fairest, Maddy Prespakis will inevitably attract plenty of attention in the engine room, but should have a good amount of support in the form of new recruit, Elise O’Dea. The former Demon is one of four debutants for the Blues, who will be without Lucy McEvoy. Collingwood father-daughter coup Tarni Brown is another debutant to watch, thrown straight into the senior side in her maiden campaign.

The Pies are a team to watch in 2021, but the Blues will be incredibly difficult to beat, especially with a point to prove.

Tip: Carlton by 10

St Kilda vs. Western Bulldogs
Friday January 29, 7:10pm
RSEA Park

The Western Bulldogs take on St Kilda once again in Round 1, with the Saints keen to make good on last year’s result. The expansion side brought football back to Moorabbin in its maiden campaign and exceeded expectations, while the young pups failed to register another win after its opening round triumph but spawned plenty of green shoots.

Youth promises to be a key feature of the clash, with number two pick Jess Fitzgerald poised to make her senior debut for the Dogs while St Kilda’s prime selection in Tyanna Smith could well run against her in midfield. Both are quick off the mark, have a terrific inside/outside balance and can find plenty of the ball, adding to either teams’ exciting young stocks.

Also pending selection is the debut of Saints father-daughter recruit Alice Burke, the daughter of Bulldogs coach Nathan. Having coached her and an abundance of other players set to take the field on Friday night, Burke will soon be on the other side. 2019 draftees Gabby Newton and Georgia Patrikios are also set to meet in midfield, while Saints leading goalkicker Caitlin Greiser could well prove a difference-maker in the closely matched contest and many eyes will be on Izzy Huntington, who is expected to swing forward with more frequency this year.

The Saints arguably turned out the better side last year and a season of experience will do wonders for them, but the Bulldogs’ potential is relatively untapped and could again carry them over the line here.

Tip: Western Bulldogs by 1

Gold Coast Suns vs. Melbourne
Saturday January 30, 3:10pm
Metricon Stadium

Melbourne will travel to face Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium in Saturday’s first fixture, making for a meeting between experience and emergence. The Suns were another expansion team to exceed expectations last year by qualifying for finals, but still proved a rung off the true premiership contenders. Melbourne’s hardened core carried it to a breakthrough postseason feature, which the Dees made good of with an epic come-from-behind victory over GWS.

The visitors have already named three debutants, with prized draftee Alyssa Bannan set to line up in the forwardline while Eliza McNamara and Megan Fitzsimon add some more youth to the starting side. Speaking of, Tyla Hanks is one to watch for Melbourne as she prepares to spend more time in the engine room having cut her teeth as an impact forward.

Gold Coast has plenty of youth to boast as well, but also added a good amount of experience in the off-season. Former Saints Sarah Perkins and Alison Drennan are both quality players and leaders; with the former slotting straight into her new side’s leadership group and the latter set to provide another reliable figure in midfield. Scoring looks a key area of improvement for the Suns, and these two should aid that with presence inside 50 and forward momentum respectively.

Gold Coast rattled a few of the top sides last year and have the youthful exuberance to do exactly that to Melbourne on home turf, but the Dees are always a tough team to beat and should have enough prime movers to seal victory.

Tip: Melbourne by 5

West Coast vs. Adelaide
Saturday January 30, 5:10pm
Mineral Resources Park

West Coast begins its second AFL Women’s campaign at home as Adelaide comes to town looking to start its year on the right foot. The Eagles struggled last season but managed to scrounge a memorable maiden win and have made the markers of improvement for 2021. Adelaide, technically still the reigning premier, timed its premiership hangover perfectly as everything which could have gone wrong, did in 2020. The Crows finished sixth in Conference A with just two wins, but had many a setback along the way.

At its core, the Crows’ squad is still elite and will be buoyed by the return of some outstanding talent. Skipper Chelsea Randall is set to slot straight back into the defence after her long-term knee injury, while a fully fit Erin Phillips looms ominously as a midfield/forward option. In their absence, the likes of Sarah Allan and Anne Hatchard produced All Australian seasons, though the Crows will sweat on Ebony Marinoff‘s availability as the ball magnet looks to overturn her monster three-game suspension.

It is no secret that West Coast’s strength lies in the midfield, which will be bolstered by trade coup Aisling McCarthy and prime draftee Bella Lewis. The promising pair will be thrown straight into the deep end, but have experienced movers in Dana Hooker and captain Emma Swanson to wax with through the engine room – all under the ruckwork of Parris Laurie. Scoring has been a sore point for the Eagles though, and Adelaide can do plenty of that.

With plenty to prove in 2020, the Crows loom as a fearsome force which could quickly rise back to the AFL Women’s summit. West Coast remains a step off the competition’s best and arguably its greatest weakness works into Adelaide’s hands, with the Crows’ scoring ability key to taking the game away from their opponents here.

Tip: Adelaide by 25

Geelong vs. North Melbourne
Sunday January 31, 12:10pm
GMHBA Stadium

Geelong hosts North Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on Sunday afternoon, gunning for a return to finals action in season 2021. North looms as stiff opposition first up though, with the Kangaroos keen to strike gold while their remarkably deep squad remains hungry and intact – especially after missing out on premiership opportunities in their first two top flight campaigns.

The hosts went back to the well of local talent once again at this year’s draft, introducing a couple more gun midfielders in Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner with their top 20 picks. Caution surrounds Nina Morrison‘s return but Denby Taylor is poised to slot back into the lineup after her own injury woes, while Olivia Purcell has a full preseason under her belt and will again look to mix it with the game’s elite midfielders.

Geelong will need to be on its game in the engine room considering how deep North Melbourne’s midfield crop runs, with skipper Emma Kearney joined by Jasmine Garner, Jenna Bruton and co. The former two are also scoring threats from the middle and add to North’s firepower, while the returning Jess Duffin is another big name which will steady the Kangaroos in defence.

The Roos won by 46 points in the same fixture last year, but should be in for a more competitive dig if Geelong can manage to turn its spurts of form into four quarter showings. They should still be too strong for the young Cats.

Tip: North Melbourne by 9

Richmond vs. Brisbane
Sunday January 31, 2:10pm
Punt Road Oval

Richmond’s hunt for premiership points continues into year two, starting with a home outing against Brisbane on Sunday afternoon. The Tigers went winless in their inaugural AFL Women’s campaign and, needless to say, will hope to avoid the same fate by getting on the board quickly in 2021. The developing Brisbane side proved many doubters wrong in 2020 and made finals, but must win games like these to achieve the same result this time around.

Incoming Tigers coach Ryan Ferguson will have 2020 number one pick Ellie McKenzie at his disposal, along with a raft of experienced inclusions. Foundation Blue Sarah Hosking is an important addition to the engine room, while Sarah D’Arcy could be one to boost their key position stocks as the Tigers look to become a more competitive force.

Brisbane looks a much more settled lineup having been ravaged during the expansion era, with a core of foundation players leading the charge ahead of some promising young talent. The front half spearheaded by Jesse Wardlaw looks exciting, while Kate Lutkins‘ defensive troops make the Lions hard to crack. Having started so well last season, the Lions will be out to put wins on the board early once again and push for more finals experience. They should be too strong here, but expect to see the Tigers fight.

Tip: Brisbane by 15

Fremantle vs. GWS Giants
Sunday January 31, 4:10pm
Fremantle Oval

The final game of the round sees GWS travel to take on Fremantle at Fremantle Oval on Sunday, looking to break the Dockers’ undefeated streak which dates back to 2019. The Giants have faced many a challenge over the offseason, including relocation, but showed last year that they can stand up against the tide. The Dockers are a force to be reckoned with, especially on home turf, and will again be a bonafide premiership contender – if not, the favourite.

The Dockers’ free flowing style and many scoring threats should cause Giants coaches a few headaches, though the visitors’ experience will count for plenty in resisting the inevitable pressure Fremantle will apply. It all starts with Kiara Bowers in midfield, while the dynamic duo of Sabreena Duffy and Gemma Houghton is always difficult to stop up forward, along with Ebony Antonio on the outer.

Those kinds of attacking threats should be too much for the Giants to handle, especially in the current context and in front of home fans. It is the kind of game Fremantle is expected to win, but GWS will be plucky.

Tip: Fremantle by 21

Featured Image: Carlton captain Kerryn Harrington (left) and Collingwood’s Bri Davey (right) are set to face off in Thursday night’s season opener | Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

Top 5 AFLW matches to look forward to in 2021

AS the AFL Women’s (AFLW) clubs continue their preparation for the 2021 season, AFLW fans eagerly await the announcement of the fixture. The only hints provided so far came from AFL Chief Executive Officer Gil McLachlan last Friday, when he anticipated that the season will commence in early February with nine home and away rounds and three weeks of finals.

Here are the five matchups that we hope to see in the fixture when it is finally released.

1. FREMANTLE v NORTH MELBOURNE

A matchup between the two best teams of 2020 is an absolute necessity for 2021. Fremantle went undefeated in 2020 and the Kangaroos only lost once – to Melbourne in Round 1 – but we never got to see these sides face each other during the season. Among many other dream matchups on the field, the midfield battle between Jasmine Garner and Kiara Bowers would be thrilling. Had COVID-19 not forced an abrupt end to the season, we probably would have seen these two sides battle it out in the 2020 Grand Final. It would be fitting to open 2021 with the matchup that should have concluded last season.

2. ADELAIDE v CARLTON

These two sides produced one of the best matches of the 2020 season when Carlton came out on top by eight points at Richmond Oval. Led by superstars Darcy Vescio and Maddy Prespakis, the Blues were too skilful for the Crows in the second half. However, Adelaide was undermanned due to injuries, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears that kept premiership stars Chloe Scheer and Chelsea Randall out for the season. They will both be returning to the field in 2021 and should lead Adelaide back into finals contention. The Crows have also recruited Jess Sedunary, Hannah Munyard and Lisa Whiteley from other clubs to strengthen their stocks, while Carlton got the prized signature of former Melbourne co-captain Elise O’Dea to bolster their midfield. Both sides will look stronger on paper and it would be fascinating to watch another clash between the 2019 AFLW Grand Finalists.

3. COLLINGWOOD v NORTH MELBOURNE

A rematch of last year’s semi-final between these two sides would be a must-see affair, as it was arguably the match of the year when the Kangaroos just got over the line by two points. Britt Bonnici was brilliant on the day in a losing side, as were Jaimee Lambert and Bri Davey. These Magpies stars will be hoping to attain their club’s first finals win in 2021, and they would certainly love another opportunity to defeat the side that eliminated them in 2020. That will be easier said than done against the star-studded Kangaroos, who will be hell-bent on contending for their maiden AFLW premiership in 2021.

4. FREMANTLE v ST KILDA

These two sides played out a classic contest in 2020 when the Dockers got over the line by one point, and there is no reason why a clash between them in 2021 could not be just as good. While Fremantle have one of the best sides in the competition, St Kilda is also building strongly on the back of young stars Georgia Patrikios, Caitlin Greiser and Nicola Xenos. Despite not winning the 2020 matchup, this was when the young Saints developed the belief that they could match it with the best. They would love to go one step further and upset the Dockers in 2021.

5. CARLTON v COLLINGWOOD

The list would not be complete without arguably the biggest rivalry in AFLW, Carlton and Collingwood. Carlton has been the more successful AFLW side over the journey, but Collingwood appear to be on the way up after making their first finals appearance in 2020. Magpies defender Stacey Livingstone added plenty of spice to their rivalry following their 15-point defeat of the Blues last year when she said in an interview, “you’ve just got to stop [Tayla Harris] in the air, that’s her game. If you can do that, she’s useless.” This is the type of spirited commentary that fans love to see from players, as public sledging only adds intrigue to the competition. Let’s hope that we see more aggression and trash-talk between these two sides in 2021, as the lead-up to the match could almost be as entertaining as the contest itself.

For more AFLW news, follow Tom Cheesman on Twitter.

Draft Central’s Top 50 AFLW Players 2020: #40-#36

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 move on with the players ranked 40-36, featuring two key members of the Collingwood spine, a couple of boom recruits, and a thriving young key defender. Check out who made the cut in front of the players ranked 45-41.

#40 EMMA SWANSON (WEST COAST)

6 GAMES AVE: 17 disposals, 2.2 marks, 4.5 tackles, 5 clearances, 2 rebound 50s, 3.3 inside 50s

Swanson proved the perfect partner-in-crime to West Coast star Dana Hooker upon making the switch over from GWS to the incoming Eagles, leading her side for clearances, metres gained, and inside 50s at the end of a terrific 2020 campaign. It was arguably the midfielder’s best season since debuting for the GIANTS back in 2017, and the 25-year-old seems to really be hitting her prime now. Swanson was also one of the Eagles’ best in their lone win for the year, collecting a season-high 22 touches and one goal to help her side upset the Bulldogs in Round 4.

#39 STACEY LIVINGSTONE (COLLINGWOOD)

7 GAMES AVE: 9.9 disposals, 2.4 marks, 1.6 tackles, 4.1 rebound 50s, 5.6 intercept possessions

An uncompromising key defender, Livingstone returned another consistent campaign as the leader of Collingwood’s back five. Her experience and competitiveness proved vital as the Pies made a run for finals in the absence of Ash Brazill, taking on the opposition’s best key forward each week with little fuss. Of course, few could forget the job Livingstone did on Carlton gun Tayla Harris in Collingwood’s first ever win over its arch rival, with her no-frills game the perfect counterpart to many a high-flying spearhead. Despite missing out on a spot in the final All Australian side, Livingstone is one of the league’s finest defenders.

#38 SARAH ALLAN (ADELAIDE) 

6 GAMES AVE: 12.5 disposals, 80% efficiency, 3.5 marks, 1.8 tackles, 1.8 rebound 50s

Allan’s steady rate of improvement over her four-year AFL Women’s career culminated in a season good enough to earn All Australian recognition, with the 22-year-old slotting into the last line of defence after also being named in the 22 Under 22 team. The reliable key defender was again a calm influence in the Crows’ back half, working well on all levels without possession, while also leading her side in disposal efficiency with ball in hand. Allan started the year off with a bang against Brisbane, collecting a season-high 18 disposals, while her seven-mark performance against GWS was also memorable – despite the losses.

#37 LIBBY BIRCH (MELBOUNRE) 

7 GAMES AVE: 12.1 disposals, 3.6 marks, 1.6 tackles, 2.1 rebound 50s, 6.4 intercept possessions

Melbourne’s boom recruit coming into season 2020 was Birch, who justified the hype and price paid with another outstanding season at the top level. The classy defender led her new side for intercept possessions, reading the play typically well across half-back and using her athleticism at 175cm to provide good fold both in the air and at ground level. Some of Birch’s best numbers for the year came in Melbourne’s epic finals win over GWS, as she collected 15 disposals (13 kicks) and clunked five marks to prove her big game experience at just 22 years of age. Remains one of the many former netballers to have made a seamless transition to football.

#36 SHARNI LAYTON (COLLINGWOOD) 

7 GAMES AVE: 10.1 disposals, 2.4 marks, 2.7 tackles, 17.1 hitouts, 1.1 inside 50s

Speaking of former netballers, Layton improved out of sight to become one of the competition’s prime rucks in 2020, cementing a starting spot in the All Australian side. The 188cm cross-coder backed up a promising VFLW campaign with a stellar effort at the top level, finishing second in the league for total hitouts and adding strings to her bow by also hitting the scoreboard on three occasions. Layton’s marking and follow-up work were also key features of her impressive game throughout the year, with her talent how catching up to her towering frame.

2020 Top 10 AFLW matches: #2 – North Melbourne take the win in epic battle against Magpies

IN a new countdown, Draft Central recalls the Top 10 AFL Women’s games for season 2020, moving onto our #2 which saw North Melbourne wage a massive comeback against Collingwood for a 5.4 (34) to 5.2 (32) semi-final win at Ikon Park. It was both sides’ inaugural AFL Women’s final, making the outcome that much more intense.

It was an intense battle from the get-go with the two sides unable to be split throughout the first quarter, and while each quarter saw a new intensity brew for each side, it came down to the last seconds of the game. The ball was still in the Magpies’ forward half with a minute remaining on the clock and much of the momentum, but a Jasmine Garner intercept mark at half-back in the last 15 seconds of the game helped keep the Roos’ premiership hopes alive. Both teams started well, booting a goal apiece before the first change thanks to North’s Daisy Bateman – through an uncharacteristic error from Magpies veteran Stacey Livingstone – before the Pies bounced back, cleaning up their act as Jordan Membrey got on the board for her first of two. Terrific Magpies efforts saw ball magnets Britt Bonnici, Jaimee Lambert and Bri Davey be their typical threatening selves, unafraid of the contest and doing anything they could to find the footy. While the Kangaroos had much of the momentum in the early stages of the match, again booting the opening goal of the second, they were unable to stay in control with the Magpies hot on their heels, as a punch over the line from Sharni Layton spoiled an almost certain goal which could have seen results go very differently. Collingwood kicked their way ahead with flair and energy, building off their efforts and booting three goals in just over five minutes through the middle of the quarter to be well in control of the Roos coming into half time. 

But the see-sawing affair continued in the third as the Kangaroos took back some control, booting two and keeping the Pies scoreless to get ahead by three points with 15 minutes left on the clock. Defensively both sides were constant and consistent, with Kaitlyn Ashmore and Livingstone rebounding continuously and providing threatening shadows in defence, storming down their opposition at any opportunity. Ash Riddell continued to hold strong with Ellie Gavalas and captain Emma Kearney, with the trio building their way to dominate at stoppages always getting first hands to the ball. A massive and closely contested final quarter was a testament to the skill-level running amock on the field, with neither team able to penetrate their forward with ease to pile on the goals, instead having to work their way around the field poking at defensive holes to puncture. Both teams managed just the one goal in the final quarter and to the Pies’ detriment was the loss of best on ground, Bonnici, who came off for an untimely concussion test – but fortunately sneakily returned later in the quarter to bolster the Pies’ ranks once more. With less than 20 seconds on the clock, one last roll of the dice saw the Magpies kick to a Layton-Emma King one-on-one but it was Garner who came over the top to take the 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) all impressed afield. For the Magpies, Bonnici was the best-on with 20 disposals, three marks and three tackles, while Lambert and Davey combined for 44 disposals, 11 marks and 10 tackles in the loss. 

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

2020 AFL Women’s season review: Carlton

CARLTON earned an AFL Women’s finals berth for the second year running under Daniel Harford, completing the feat of notching another finals win in the process before the season was cut short. Lauded for their ability to adapt and execute a range of gameplans, the Blues achieved their winningest campaign to date en route to finishing second in Conference B at 5-1. With four All Australian members and three Rising Star nominees littered across a talent-stacked squad, the foundation club is coming into its own and produced some memorable moments to relive in our season review.

RECORD: 2nd (B), 5-1 (1-0 finals), 151.8%

RESULTS:

R1: defeated Richmond by 34 points
R2: lost to Collingwood by 15 points
R3: defeated Western Bulldogs by 21 points
R4:
defeated Adelaide by 8 points
R5:
defeated St Kilda by 21 points 
R6:
defeated Melbourne by 16 points
SF: defeated Brisbane by 29 points

The Blues returned a near-bullet proof record in 2020, dented solely by the old enemy, Collingwood two weeks into the campaign. Dealt a relatively tough draw on the back of its grand final appearance in 2019, Carlton made the ideal start in providing a baptism of fire for the incoming Richmond side. Fast-forward to Round 3 and the young Bulldogs were next to be ticked off the list, with an iconic road win over Adelaide in a grand final rematch arguably the crown on Carlton’s year. Melbourne became the third foundation team to fall victim to the Blues, with Brisbane following come finals time after being outsmarted and outlasted. A team with terrific heart, the Baggers overcame some tricky obstacles along the way.

SEASON HIGH: Redemption in the grand final rematch

An historic 2019 season decider did not go the way of the Blues as they fell 45 points short of Adelaide, but the first meeting between the two sides produced a much different result, and an instant classic. On the road once again, Carlton joined the Crows on a 2-1 record and came in as a slight underdog despite the home side’s crushing injury blows. Behind at half-time, the Blues mustered something special to sneak ahead at the final break, holding on via its rock-solid defence and a game-sealing Darcy Vescio goal. Magic.

SEASON LOW: Going down to the old enemy for the first time

A fortnight before the Blues claimed their first-ever win over Adelaide, they suffered their maiden loss in arguably the most important fixture – against old enemy, Collingwood. Having accounted for the Pies in their previous three meetings, the Blues simply had no answers for Collingwood’s swift transition play and sturdy defence – who could forget Stacey Livingstone‘s job on Tayla Harris? In a bizarre twist, the Magpies pulled off the win even without ace recruit, Bri Davey, who went down with an injury scare in Round 1 after switching allegiances in the off-season.

FIVE KEY PERFORMERS:

Madison Prespakis (21.3 disposals, 2.7 marks, 3 tackles, 4.3 clearances, 3.3 inside 50s, 282 metres gained, 3 goals)

Last year’s Rising Star winner picked up right from where she left off, putting in a scintillating third term of the season opener to set up another outstanding season. The nuggety midfielder is Carlton’s prime mover, winning the ball at will despite heavy opposition attention and standing up in the clutch moments. A game changer among the game changers, and potential league MVP this year having already gained All Australian squad recognition.

Kerryn Harrington (13.7 disposals, 81% efficiency, 4.4 marks, 1.9 tackles, 2.6 rebound 50s)

The co-captain and leader of a solid defensive unit, Harrington’s outstanding reading of the play and sound use on the rebound was again a key feature in her side’s success across 2020. Her astonishing 13-mark effort against the Crows was crucial to the Blues holding on for the win on that day, and exemplary of how Harrington led the club for marks, intercept possessions, rebound 50s, and disposal efficiency in 2020.

Sarah Hosking (11.7 disposals, 70% efficiency, 2.6 marks, 3.1 tackles, 1.4 inside 50s, 2 goals)

Akin to the Energizer bunny in the way she can run all day and get to a wealth of contests, Hosking continued to prove she is all heart in 2020 with phenomenal attack on the ball and a fearless approach. A foundation member of the Blues’ squad alongside twin sister, Jess, the 24-year-old has become a leader in her actions on-field and is a much-loved figure around the club. Doesn’t miss a beat.

Katie Loynes (9.6 disposals, 1.9 marks, 4.6 tackles, 2.9 clearances, 2.7 inside 50s)

Pure numbers may not always stack up in terms of conveying a players’ impact, and Loynes is a competitor whose value is better felt in the immesuarables. A fierce leader who gives it her all each week, the 34-year-old co-captain led her club for tackles in 2020, while also featuring highly in the clearance and contested ball stakes on the back of her tireless work as an inside midfielder. Leading from the front, Loynes was a key part of Carlton’s tough midfield group.

Tayla Harris (10.4 disposals, 3.7 marks, 2.4 tackles, 2.6 inside 50s, 4.4 score involvements, 8 goals)

The spearhead of Carlton’s attack, Harris retuned another solid year from centre half-forward as one of four Blues to earn All Australian squad recognition. In addition to finishing as her side’s equal leading goalkicker, the athletic and aggressive 179cm forward also led the club for score involvements overall. Her work in bringing the ball to ground when unable to mark brought others into the game, and Harris looked as if she had a point to prove post Livingstone’s “useless” jibe.

THE RISING STARS:

Rd 1 – Lucy McEvoy (13 disposals, 1.9 marks, 4.1 tackles, 2.1 clearances, 2 inside 50s, 3 goals)
Rd 4 – Grace Egan (14.3 disposals, 2 marks, 4.6 tackles, 2.9 clearances, 1.1 inside 50s, 2 goals)
Rd 5 – Charlotte Wilson (10.8 disposals, 6 intercept possessions, 4.5 marks, 1.7 tackles, 2 rebound 50s)

Arguably the most fearsome aspect of Carlton’s squad this season was the performance of their Under-21 talents, with McEvoy, Egan, and Wilson joining Prespakis as young guns in the elite category. McEvoy’s debut was one to savour, and the youngster continued to show flashes of her best throughout a season where she seemed unfazed by the step-up in competition. ‘Greg’ Egan also became an instant hit, thrown into the engine room and quickly becoming an asset with her physicality and ability to find the ball. Last, but not least is Wilson, who improved out of sight this season, particularly after her Round 4 return to the side. A strong key defender who marks confidently, Wilson was often the Blues’ last line of defence and made it a hat-trick of Rising Star nominees in Round 5.

THE CROSS-CODER:

Chloe Dalton (14 disposals, 1.6 marks, 3.3 tackles, 2.4 clearances, 1 rebound 50, 2.7 inside 50s)

After impressing in her debut season last year with her ability to find the goals, Dalton made another significant step with her run-and-carry from midfield in 2020. The former Rugby Sevens player has transitioned seamlessly into life at Princes Park, improving each week and having a real impact on games. While she is still somewhat raw, Dalton’s rate of development has been exceptional thus far.

THE GOALSNEAK:

Georgia Gee (10.1 disposals, 1.1 marks, 3.6 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 3.1 score involvements, 8 goals)

Another Under-21 prospect who continues to excel at the highest level, Gee came up clutch for Carlton a number of times in 2020 – most notably in its semi final win against Brisbane where she booted three second half majors. That haul helped the 20-year-old finish equal with Harris as the Blues’ leading goalkicker, and the energy Gee brought to the side just when they needed it helped her earn All Australian squad honours.

VERDICT:

There is a lot to like about this Carlton side going forward, with its experienced foundation members aiding the development of some of the league’s most exciting young talents. The three-pronged tall attack up forward was exceptional, with the inside midfield grunt protecting a more-than-capable defensive unit. The flexibility of the side will hold it in good stead, with more finals victories surely again the goal going forward.