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Opinion

AFLW Round 2 takeaways

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Roar Guru
8th February, 2021
16

There’s been a lot of talk about how the standard of play in Rounds 1 and 2 are the best opening two rounds in AFLW history.

Well sure, but that’s not saying much. Problem is, the women are always coming off a ten-month off-season.

If the men had a ten-month off-season, their skills would be pretty dreadful in Round 1 also.

The AFLW does this to itself by the structure of the competition – they say they can only increase the length of the competition once the standard improves, but for as long as the season remains two months long, the first four rounds of the competition will continue to be well below the actual standard the players are capable of producing.

Typically the AFLW skill level increases dramatically by about Round 4 or 5, as you’d expect, because it just takes that long for part-time players to get their eye in.

But that’s too late for a lot of potential fans, who often decide to ‘give the AFLW one more shot’ in the first round or two, and are turned off by what they see.

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My advice to footy fans who haven’t been watching AFLW, but would like to give it another try – wait until the tail end of the season heading into finals.

By then not only will the players be one-touching the ball instead of three-four-five touching it, but you’ll know which teams are worth watching this season.

Thus far, it’s looking like the Dockers, Crows, Kangaroos and Lions… but the Lions will probably screw it up later in the season by playing 48 players behind the ball and still seeming puzzled when they can’t score, so mostly those first three.

And maybe the Pies and the Dees.

Sarah Rowe

Sarah Rowe (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The lopsided results in many Round 2 games also brings out the usual conversations about how the AFLW has expanded too fast and spread the talent too thin.

Well no. I’ve written about this in more detail before, but in short, most people making this argument have no clue what the AFLW’s actually for.

Sure, not having huge blowouts would remove those games from TV, but at this point, the AFLW is primarily about development. Big blowout margins are the price to be paid for that development, and it’s a price well worth paying.

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Would the AFLW be improved if Gold Coast weren’t in the comp to get thrashed by the Lions like they were on the weekend? The Queensland junior all-stars game a few months back showed a huge pool of exciting young talent coming through the Gold Coast ranks.

Given the AFLW’s state-by-state system, most of them can’t play anywhere else but Queensland.

With the Lions the only team in Queensland, most of them would be struggling for a spot. Would that make the AFLW ‘better’? To remove the huge incentive of an available playing spot on an AFLW list, in your home state, from all those big-dreaming juniors?

Jess Wuetschner

(Chris Hyde/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Would it be better if Richmond weren’t in the competition? Richmond will keep losing until they accumulate enough high draft picks that they start winning. The maths aren’t hard.

Unlike in the men’s, the players coming through women’s junior ranks get better and better every year, and it’s technically impossible for AFLW teams, in any state that’s developing great juniors, to stay on the bottom of the ladder for more than a couple of years.

My advice to the ‘we expanded too fast’ brigade: get a grip, and be patient.

After all, the baby Bulldogs were being written off after Round 1, despite only losing by nine points, and in Round 2 they beat Carlton.

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Half of that team is barely out of nappies. By Round 9, they could be eating solids and playing finals.

Richmond
Richmond’s improvement is real, but as I expected, the rest of the competition has improved by at least as much, leaving Richmond languishing down the bottom of the ladder as before.

And now they’re playing Ellie McKenzie in the forward line. So all that hope that Tigers’ fans invested in the club, that finally they might have grabbed a second star midfielder in the draft to back up Mon Conti, was apparently misplaced because the Richmond coaching staff think instead that they drafted a forward.

I’m sorry?

Have they actually seen the Richmond forward line?

You know, Brennan, Traub, Wakefield, Bernardi?

Richmond recruit Katie Brennan poses with the football.

(AAP Image/Daniel Pockett)

That’s the one area of the field where Richmond were actually good. Their problem last year was that their midfield stank and they couldn’t get their forwards the ball.

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This year, similar deal, because instead of using McKenzie to support Conti in the middle (as would appear blindingly obvious) they throw her forward then wonder why once again they’re getting smashed in the middle and their forwards never see the ball.

The bright side for Richmond fans is that the way they’re going, next year they’ll have automatic number one draft pick Georgie Prespakis in the team as well, and she might be even better than McKenzie, which is saying something.

The less bright side is that the coach will probably play her in the goalsquare, and Richmond will still get flogged in the middle and lose every game.

While we’re at it – I don’t like to be too critical of individual AFLW players, they’re not getting paid huge money, and they’re all doing the best they can under trying circumstances.

But for Katie Brennan, I must make an exception. She’s the star forward of her team, but she misses goals, drops marks, opportunity after opportunity goes begging but commentators still have nothing to say but what a big-time player she is.

Well, I’ve yet to see it. Most of us are. Either she steps up, or we start referring to her as just another average player, and the club puts their marquee money somewhere else.

Carlton
Carlton think they’re as fast as last year, and try to play like it, with lots of dinky handballs to unleash the runners. Unfortunately, their fastest player is Chloe Dalton, and she’s headed to the Tokyo Olympics this year (COVID allowing).

Her replacement is Elise O’Dea, and whatever O’Dea’s many attributes, speed isn’t one of them.

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The Blues’ midfield has also been missing Lucy McEvoy with injury, and their forward line has lacked Brooke Walker, who’s nearly as fast as Dalton. While fellow youngsters Mimi Hill and Abbey McKay have been good, thus far into 2021, it’s not the same.

Against the Bulldogs, for most of the game the Blues had more handballs than kicks. Only in the frantic final quarter, when they had no other choice, did they start kicking long, ending the match with 130 kicks and 118 handballs.

The recurring problem with women’s football is congestion. If you always pass short, you create more congestion, unless you’re super fast. Fremantle are perhaps the one team in the AFLW freakishly fast enough to get away with it, but so far this season Fremantle’s kick-to-handball ratio is more like two-to-one.

In other words, Carlton need to start kicking the ball long, and stop relying on midfield speed they no longer have.

Does this mean Elise O’Dea is a bad player? No, not at all.

Does it mean that her, plus Maddy Prespakis (herself no speed demon) in the midfield together, might create a speed deficit? Absolutely.

Carlton will need to change the way they play, put away the endless handballs to players who get dumped in the turf immediately after, and kick long instead.

Like Fremantle. Can’t everyone just be more like Fremantle? The AFLW would be so much better if they were.

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Adelaide
The Crows are back, and it’s beautiful to see. What a difference Erin Phillips and Chelsea Randall make, and they haven’t even welcomed back Chloe Scheer, who will one day be spoken of in the same awed tones.

Yes, the Crows have a loaded forward line, but it’s their ability to get the ball into that forward line, repeatedly and deeply, that makes it so effective. If only Richmond would learn this lesson.

Anne Hatchard

Anne Hatchard (Tamika Walker, AFC Media)

Adelaide is the big reason why I’m not fussed at the inequality of AFLW results. Yes, Adelaide are going to trash a lot more teams than just GWS and West Coast this year.

But I was at the 2019 grand final where 53,000 fans turned up, and apparently had a grand old time. Crowds like that don’t just turn up for okay teams who beat oppositions two times out of three by an average of a few goals.

They turn up for champions capable of grinding good opponents into red mince.

The Crows will have a much harder time doing that to Freo and North in 2021 than they did in 2019, but in a time when the AFLW struggles to be taken seriously by some, the Crows remain the most seriously-taken team in women’s football.

Adelaide loves them, and not just because they love Erin Phillips.

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They play fun football, which at its best is watchable for pretty much any footy fan.

They’re not at their best yet, because AFLW teams are never at their best before Round 4, but when they are, they’re the most marketable asset women’s football has, and they fly the flag for what the AFLW is capable of one day becoming.

That flag is worth flying, even if it means some huge scoreboard blowouts.

Final notes
Last season, Georgia Patrikios was one of the best players in St Kilda. This year, she’s clearly the best. The speed of her elevation resembles Maddy Prespakis’s ascent at Carlton. That’s probably no accident.

Which leads me to a pop quiz.

What do Saint Kilda, GWS, Carlton, Richmond and Geelong all have in common? Answer; the clear outstanding star of each team is a recent draftee who was too young to play in the AFLW’s first season -that’s Patrikios, Alyce Parker, Maddy Prespakis, Monique Conti and Olivia Purcell.

And were it not for her horror run of knee injuries, Nina Morrison could easily have joined Purcell at Geelong, while next year McKenzie could be right up there with Conti at Richmond. That’s five teams out of 14, and more on the way.

With all the kids at the Bulldogs, you’d think the same might happen there very shortly – except that Ellie Blackburn is fast becoming not so much a gun in this competition as a cannon, and my current prediction for AFLW MVP.

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Any of the Doggies’ kids will have to get very, very good to move ahead of her.