The official preseason matches haven’t even started, but GWS ruckman Shane Mumford could be facing a longer delay to his return to the top level.
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Sport, like life, is rarely fair. While some teams that desperately need talent can’t get it, or suffer injuries to players they can least afford to lose, others have new stars drop into their laps by nothing more than good fortune, and in those parts of their lineup they’re already strongest in. And so it was for the Giants when Alyce Parker nominated for the draft.
If Parker had been a Victorian, and constantly exposed to the undeniably higher standard of football that Victorian juniors must battle through, she’d probably have been the clear best player in this year’s draft — better even than Maddy Prespakis — instead of ‘only’ top two or three.
She’s probably best compared to Prespakis — a ball-winning bull with endless energy and physical courage who can dominate games single handed in a sport where that’s rarely possible.
Prespakis is perhaps slightly more clever and polished, but Parker has a longer kick, is the first female player to employ an effective Dustin Martin-style fend-off, and at 17 is already so strong she makes much older players look diminutive.
All of which brings us to the inevitable run through the Giants’ midfield, which now includes Courtney Gum (probably the second-best midfielder in the country last year behind Emma Kearney); Alicia Eva (who would probably be the best midfielder in the country by virtue of skills and smarts if she weren’t so tiny); and Jess Dal Pos (who was a little less effective last season than the one previous, but mostly because with Gum and Eva in the same team, there’s not enough ball to go around).
Oh yes – and let’s not forget Emma Swanson, who similarly struggled for ball last season, but is a Giants former marquee player and league all-star.
Add Parker to that bunch and there can be no doubt that our search for the best midfield in the AFLW is over.
Then we drift forward, and before the sticks we have Christina Bernardi (one of Collingwood’s best last season) who can also play through the middle; and last year’s Irish sensation Cora Staunton, who will doubtless be even better in her second season.
So impressed were the Giants with their Gaelic adventure that they’ve doubled down on it — literally — by recruiting Yvonne Bonner from Ulster.
Bonner is an accomplished forward in Gaelic football, and if she has a similar transition to Staunton, the Giants could have three very serious goalscoring threats, and that’s before they start throwing surplus star midfielders forward to fill the gaps.
Young Rebecca Beeson was also impressive in her debut last year, and will add skill and hustle.
So with all this midfield and forward firepower, why am I not picking GWS for the title? Well, in a rare inversion of how the AFLW usually stacks up, the Giants’ weakest part of their lineup is the backline, and league history demonstrates that it’s a weakness teams can ill afford.
Tanya Hetherington, Elle Bennetts, Jodie Hicks and Amanda Farrugia are all good players, but perhaps not great ones, and the Giants appear to lack that shut-down wall that can not only prevent opposition scores, but rebound the ball out to that powerful midfield.
The Giants will win a lot of games this year, because teams getting flogged in the middle aren’t going to bother any opponent’s backline when they’re not getting the ball.
But there are midfields in the AFLW this year that could hope to win contests 40-60 against them, and can deliver the ball well inside 50 under most kinds of pressure.
And against those teams with good midfields and forward lines (the Bulldogs, Demons and Blues) the Giants’ defenders might be struggling as the goals stack up.
But even if it happens, it’s a credit to the team from Greater Western Sydney that they’ve turned themselves into such a force in the AFLW’s third year.
Now if the NSW/ACT talent pool can produce a few more players like Alice Parker, particularly in the backline, a premiership will be just a matter of time.