A poster from No.1 draft pick Nina Morrison has delivered a win for the Geelong Cats in their first ever AFLW match, defeating the Collingwood Magpies in front of 18429 people at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night.
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For a moment there in the draft, I looked at Geelong’s haul of young talent and almost reconsidered my guess that Geelong will struggle this year.
Their draft was amazing, hands down the best from any AFLW club, with most of the selected players destined for big things. Picking Geelong to finish where I have is no reflection on them.
Mostly it’s that the Cats have too many key positions filled by too many VFLW players relatively untested at the top level.
Geelong’s VFLW team has done very well, but the VFLW is not as highly rated as the AFLW for a reason.
Some of those players have had previous AFLW experience, and some are clearly on the improve and would likely have been snapped up by other AFLW clubs had not Geelong bagged them first.
But, I still think it’s too much too soon to expect a club with so many players at that level to compete and win against other AFLW teams that are starting to acquire some serious depth and power in their third year of competition.
Geelong’s back line is a case-in-point — Rebecca Webster and Georgia Clarke are two of the best young defenders to emerge from the draft, and Mel Hickey was an excellent half-back for the Melbourne Demons.
Anna Teague was a solid player for the Demons, and then there’s Megan McDonald and Bec Goring, both VFLW players of uncertain ability at this level.
The kids are terrific, but inexperienced players will generally play better in the company of experienced top-level talent whom they can look up to and emulate.
When the kids are themselves the most talented players of those positions in the team, and can only really look to themselves, things become a whole lot more precarious.
This is even more true of Geelong’s midfield, which will be entirely led by kids. Nina Morrison is a ridiculous talent, having only played for two years and not only possessing elite athleticism, but great skills as well.
Sophie Van De Heuvel is a similarly great athlete, could improve her skills but as a dual-sport athlete (cricket) will likely improve dramatically as her attention focuses on football.
And poor Olivia Purcell has been overlooked in all the fuss about Morrison and others — all she’s done for her junior career is be outstanding, gathering huge numbers of possessions and working as the engine room for players like the flashier Morrison to benefit from.
But while a youngster like Tyla Hanks joining the Demons will have Karen Paxman and Elise O’Dea to look up to (and Daisy Pearce off-field this season), Morrison and company have Richelle Cranston and perhaps Renee Garing — Garing an untested VFLW talent, and Cranston, while good at what she does, having spent her AFLW career so far as more of a support act who plays in explosive bursts rather than the kind of consistent midfield runner the kids are looking to become.
All three of those kids are the most talented in that combination, and will have to look mostly to themselves for leadership.
Up forward, the Cats look downright sparse. Denby Taylor is a great talent from the draft, with a strong mark and a long kick, but she’s surrounded by Kate Darby, Cassie Blakeway and Danielle Orr.
All are good in the VFLW, but doing it against the likes of Kate Lutkins and Leah Kaslar for championship points is another matter.
They’ll get some great delivery from the young midfield stars, but conversion into goals will likely be a problem.
All of this, however, is not to criticise the Cats at all. In fact, I’d give them an excellent mark for establishing this new team, and at the end of the day I’d rather be in their shoes than in fellow expansion team North Melbourne’s.
While Morrison, Purcell and Taylor are all local Geelong products, both Webster and Clarke were recruited from Greater Western Victoria in the TAC Cup.
If this becomes the standard recruitment zone for the Cats, it might only take one more such draft, or two at the most, until the Cats are a serious threat for the title.