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The Roar

Joel Shepherd

Roar Guru

Joined October 2017

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Professional SF writer. Amateur sport watcher.

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Ebony Antonio. But these days the women are all focusing on percentages and professionalism. That’s great, but it means I doubt we’ll see many speckies for a while. Except from someone like Tayla who’s slightly nuts, in the best possible way.

AFLW Evolution: Who's top of the food chain, and who's going extinct

My opinions on this are always evolving, I’m probably coming around to the idea of more anti-congestion rules than I was. But my point has always been that the main thing causing congestion in the women’s game has been flooding, defensive coaching strategies. And the point of this article is that those are changing without needing massive AFL interference.

AFLW Evolution: Who's top of the food chain, and who's going extinct

Sorry Downsey. Grew up in Perth, whatcha gonna do?

AFLW Evolution: Who's top of the food chain, and who's going extinct

I think this weekend has implications for the conference system too. Conferences only exist because the season’s so short. The season’s short because the AFL doesn’t think the AFLW can compete over a longer season against the other summer sports. With teams playing like most of Conference B plays, that’s hard to argue against. But if the new attacking style becomes the standard, I think the entertainment standard of the game could skyrocket over the next few years. And that’s a product that could hold its own over a longer season. BBL ratings were well down this year…

AFLW Evolution: Who's top of the food chain, and who's going extinct

It’s the first time I’ve ever gone after anyone. I don’t like doing it, no one in this league is getting paid much, and going after people making very little is different to going after AFL coaches making big bucks. What did it for me was watching Collingwood’s kids on the weekend, and recalling them from the U18 champs when they were looking so confident and talented. It’s just so sad to see them having an obviously bad time and not enjoying their footy. The Cats girls might not be winning much either, but at least they know they’re playing good footy and learning things that will make them better next year.

AFLW Evolution: Who's top of the food chain, and who's going extinct

Interesting. I guess it would give midfielders someone to kick it to, encouraging them to go forward, and would thus create more reward for teams using the corridor. And you don’t need to make a similar rule for backs, because of course if the forwards are in the 50, they won’t be left undefended.

I have no fixed opinions on any of this, it might be worth a look.

Why AFLW can look ugly, and what teams can do to fix it

I’m very reluctant to start enforcing those kinds of rules, and I suspect they could be counter productive. I like some of the anti-congestion rules at the moment, particularly last-touch out of bounds and moving the throw-in ten meters off the boundary line (which might not seem like anti-congestion rules, but that’s their effect).

But I’m also starting to doubt if even playing 16 a side has actually helped combat congestion or made it worse. When the ball gets locked into a contest, players are often reluctant to clear it forward because they’ve no team mates forward of the ball. The same with lateral movement, which I think is the real key to opening up the game — often it’s hard for players to move sideways because there’s simply not enough players on the ground to position defensively, on the ball, and laterally at the same time. Teams have fewer options, and so just kick it up the wing to the same old conservative contest again, for yet another pile-up.

Like you say, a lot comes down to the coaches. I reckon if Craig Starcevich had a full 18 players, he’d position them all defensively to try and lock the game down. If Trent Cooper or Scott Gowans had 18, they’d have more players wide and long to try and spread the ball and run through the corridor — those guys coach fine football right now without needing any more rules. Ultimately the only solution is that the offensively minded coaches start consistently beating the defensively minded coaches, and convince everyone that that’s how the game needs to be played to win championships. In which case, every neutral AFLW fan should be cheering for Freo and North this season, and probably Carlton too, since Harford seems that way inclined as well.

Why AFLW can look ugly, and what teams can do to fix it

I’d guess it’s probably common knowledge which Freo players would rather be Eagles, in WA at least. But yeah, I’m sure that’s part of Cowan’s job at West Coast, to identify those players for next year. Interesting to see how many the AFL will let leave.

The Eagles will also be chasing every player with WA ties elsewhere in the country, no matter how well cemented with their present teams, so Frederick-Traub, Chelsea Randall, MacKenzie Dowrick, Emma Swanson, Renee Forth, etc. I reckon Randall would be their dream recruit, similar to what Kearney was to North. But if they can get Dowrick back, she’s got a sister coming through in 2021 who might be better than she is, and you’d think they’d want to be in the same team…

Why AFLW can look ugly, and what teams can do to fix it

The happiest team right now is Fremantle. If they stank this year too, the Eagles might have cleaned them out next year. They still might, but a lot more of Freo’s stars will be thinking about staying if they make a good run in the finals.

Why AFLW can look ugly, and what teams can do to fix it

Against the Dogs on Friday will be interesting. The Roos have more midfield depth, they can afford to have a midfielder or two having a bad game, but the Dogs can’t. Maybe the Roos should tag Conti — Blackburn’s used to it, but Conti’s not. If the Roos keep her below 10 possessions, they win easy.

Why AFLW can look ugly, and what teams can do to fix it

It’s a blow to my confidence too, but it’s too early to give up. I was assuming they’d have Bri Davey and Nic Stevens at halfback, where they could help out the midfield, but not only is Davey wasted in the forward line, Stevens seemed to be playing deeper in defence, so the midfield’s really on its own. Also, Abbie McKay wasn’t playing — sure she’s inexperienced, but the Geelong kids were inexperienced too and look what they did.

I was hoping Carlton was recruiting young midfielders because they realised their present midfielders weren’t up to it. But instead their round one lineup gave preference to the same more experienced midfielders who did badly last season, with exactly the same result — Shae Audley had 6 possessions, the Hoskings twins had single figures each, and while Jess Edwards did a big job on Emma Kearney, she only had 9 possessions also.

But Katie Loynes was terrific, and Prespakis as always (think she was getting tagged for some of it), and Mullane can play better — put Abbie McKay in so you’ve actually got a critical mass of people who can use the ball, put Stevens and Davey on halfback where they can run and linkup with the mids, and it starts to look alright again. Will it happen? Most coaches are very bad at changing direction mid-season, so probably not.

Winners and losers from AFLW Round 1

It’ll be interesting to see which teams start assembling enough long kicks across halfback to switch play more easily. If you had a theoretical all-star team with, say Bri Davey, Chelsea Randall and McKenzie Dowrick (in a few years) across halfback, they’d get the ball to the far wing nearly as efficiently as the men do. At the moment, you’d probably fall short and get intercepted in front of goals, so no one does it. But it’ll change the women’s game when teams can do it regularly, and kicking distance is the big reason why.

Winners and losers from AFLW Round 1

It’s probably just confidence. When everyone’s feeling really good about their personal game and skills, everyone REALLY wants the ball. That’s what it looked like on Sunday. Going to be fascinating against Brisbane next week. If they can keep that end-to-end transition firing against the League’s best defensive team, we’ll know they’re a real contender.

Winners and losers from AFLW Round 1

Oh yeah — bad maths, obviously Collingwood’s top four midfielders got 48 possessions, not 38, duh. I hit the wrong key. Yeah, that’s it…

Winners and losers from AFLW Round 1

Thanks! Nice thing with a short season, I think I can manage one of these per week. I certainly don’t claim to be RIGHT in anything I say, they’re only opinions, and I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on as the season progresses, like anyone else. I just hope that a few other people find my thoughts interesting along the way.

Winners and losers from AFLW Round 1

Yep, this is the next big challenge. Daisy Pearce says that if the players could play at the highest level twice as long, they’d improve twice as fast, and I’ve no doubt she’s right.

Why I changed my mind on AFLW expansion

Oh yeah… and when I said talent levels had fallen, I meant between the early exhibition games and Season One. The challenge since then has been to get it climbing upward as fast as possible, and I don’t think expansion is hurting that process as much as some have made out.

Why I changed my mind on AFLW expansion

I’m saying, I think, that there are two ways to improve competition standard. One is to cut back the number of teams, which improves the standard by eliminating the bottom-level talent because those players can no longer get a game. But that approach will only remove the worst players — it does nothing to produce the best players, who are still to come from somewhere up the junior pipeline. So you’ll have less bad players, but you won’t have more good ones.

Or you can focus on talent development in pursuit of improving standards by increasing the number of elite players as fast as possible — which is not THAT fast, because kids only grow old one year at a time. Obviously neither approach is a zero sum game, having less teams would still involve lots of junior talent development, but the AFL seems to think that having less roster slots available would lessen incentives for all kinds of athletes to participate, and I think they’re right.

The talent outreach by AFLW sides right now is phenomenal — girls coming in from Ireland, girls changing from rugby, basketball, netball, etc. If there were fewer clubs and less roster positions, how much less hard would AFLW sides be pushing on all these fronts? How much less incentive would there be in girls junior comps across the country to train hard and get an AFLW spot? You read it again and again in interviews with the juniors — there’s expansion coming, and lots of positions will be available, there’s never been a better chance of making the AFLW. All of it is driving the wave, dangling the carrot in front of all these prospective players, and all that talent outreach is developing pathways that will hopefully become large and permanent. The danger of cutting back the number of teams is that it lessens the size and power of those pathways, so that instead of getting a flood pouring down a big channel, you’ve got a trickle being sucked through a straw. By going big early, the AFL eliminate the risk that those channels won’t develop as big and as early as they could.

Add to that the fact that when I look over this year’s lists I’m convinced that the overall talent level in every club this year has increased by about %20… and if that continues, playing standards doing it this way will be fine, despite a few bumps along the way.

Why I changed my mind on AFLW expansion

Someone closer to the action could answer this much better, but…. Western Australia had a head start in that their women’s competition had been around a lot longer and thus developed lots of high quality senior players, but the junior talent base still wasn’t very big. So when the AFLW hit, and the junior numbers exploded, WA seems to have been a little slow capitalising on the new influx. They’re definitely coming, but from what I saw of the 2018 U18 championships, the number of top quality juniors seemed less… though there are a few rippers. Mostly I think the Dockers and Eagles will suffer from the equivalent of a business having a cash-flow problem — the cash is there, it’s just not arriving in high enough quantities at the time when it’s needed. I reckon it’ll go on for a few years, then recover when today’s 13-14 year olds start surging through.

The Lions and Suns could have the same thing temporarily, but the Queensland 16 and 17 year olds look amazing and numerous — Queensland is relatively new to women’s footy compared to WA, but leaped on this new wave of junior talent and not only got the numbers exploding, but seem to be doing terrific things with developing that talent too. So I’d reckon the Lions and Suns will be back in the race much more quickly after the 2020 expansion.

Why I changed my mind on AFLW expansion

I also forgot Kim Rennie, another tall ex-basketballer who looked good for them at the end of last season. Plus Izzy’s played in the midfield as a junior, Aisling Utri looks to me as though she could make a midfielder… this team just has so much versatility and so many options, I’m prepared to bet they’ll find a way to make the midfield work. The main danger is that it’s such a short season — the men can take three or four bad games to figure out the best lineups, but if the women do that, the season’s over.

Conti was a mid for most of her junior football and basically played like she’d brought her own ball. You wouldn’t want her doing Kirsty Lamb’s job and getting beaten up play after play because there’s not much of her, but if she can be Kirsty Lamb’s first handball option, she’ll win the Dogs so many stoppages just by making defenders miss tackles.

AFLW 2019 preview: Western Bulldogs

Thanks for reading them, Tom!

AFLW 2019 preview: Western Bulldogs

I’d argue that given most of Carlton’s problems were in the midfield, it’s not really the same team at all — Prespakis, McKay and Barden will do much of the heavy lifting this year. Plus the Blues really only fell apart after Davey did her knee, which tells you how much she’s worth to the team. And lastly, the Dogs were pretty ordinary in their first year, then won the whole thing a year later with just a few new players and a change of strategy. If the Blues get a good run with injury, I’d be astonished if they didn’t at least make the finals.

AFLW 2019 preview: Carlton Blues

Well I think there’s five now. Maybe the AFLW didn’t place much emphasis on the Irish at first because they didn’t think so many would want to come half way around the world to get paid peanuts… but apparently they do. Doubling would take the number of Irish players to ten… you only need twenty to have a proper international game. Just a thought.

AFLW 2019 preview: GWS Giants

Yeah, there aren’t many clubs with a great home ground experience, that has to change.

I think there will still be some gems being uncovered, but mostly from code hoppers — Sharni Layton might do something, 6-2 and mobile is like 6-8 and mobile in the men’s game, it’ll get you a walkup start in the VFL at least. And there’s still room for retiring 30-year-olds to jump sports and make an impact.

AFLW 2019 preview: GWS Giants

At her age in a mature competition she might struggle, but in this competition she can play until she drops. The only question is if kids like Prespakis and Parker will get better than her before she finally retires.

AFLW 2019 preview: Adelaide Crows