AFLW Round 4 – Melbourne v Carlton: Holding on to Grand Final dreams
11.35am, Saturday 25 February
Casey Fields, Melbourne
When Melbourne and Carlton met in their pre-season match, I was stunned by the fluidity of the Carlton game plan and the way that they dismantled the Demons. Heading into Round 4 of the AFLW competition, both the Dees and the Blues had won two games; in the previous round the Demons had beaten the Bulldogs, astounding some who rated the Dogs highly, and the Blues had lost a low scoring game to the Crows. The game at Casey set itself up as an interesting match-up with both teams eager to stay in touch with the ladder leaders.
To me, both teams had the right mix of marquee players and the lesser-knowns. Daisy Pearce has proved that her stamina and game sense is superior to the majority of players in the competition, so I was expecting that she would be covered well by the Carlton mid-field. Brianna Davey had been raking in the possessions and her confidence on the ground needed to be neutralised if the Dees were to win. Unfortunately for the Blues, Davey did not play due to injury. This would prove to be one of the biggest ‘outs’ for the Blues – who would provide the level-head in their defence?
The first quarter started with immense pressure from both sides. The intensity by the midfielders meant that there was little space on the field for clean possessions and the usual clearing handballs by the Demons did not find their marks. Most of the first five minutes were played in the Blues’ forward, without success. When the game shifted and moved to the Dees forward fifty, it was only for a pressure point off the boot of Anderson. Both Vescio and Mifsud looked to create quick scoring opportunities, without success. The first point for Carlton was a poster by Exon, proving that the players were tense and therefore, to me, the team who could overcome this and display the cleanest disposals would win. When the siren went for the end of the first, there were many hands on hips – a close game and warmer weather testing the fitness of all.
In the second, it was clear that the Dees had come out with the intention to continue pressure by handball. It was a tactic that worked, with O’Dea kicking the first goal of the match within the first minute after a series of clean, well-directed handballs within the Demons’ forward fifty. After a dubious free-kick and intense forward pressure, Shierlaw kicked the reply for the Blues quickly and the game was square again. With a display of tenacity, Vescio kicked her first and the Blues were clear. Not to be outdone, Mifsud showed the reason why she was one of the leading goalkickers for the season, with a neat ‘outside of the boot’ goal after a shot around her body went wide. The Dees were finding more space than Carlton and Exon’s second poster showed the Blues were feeling it. Scott’s goal from a pinpoint O’Dea pass meant the Dees held a five point lead heading into the main break.
Even though the Dees extended their lead in the third through Mifsud and Berry, it was a quarter of wasted opportunities for both teams. A fifty-metre penalty was not taken advantage of by Jakobsson, with her shot hitting the post, and several excellent entries into the forward line by the Demons only resulted in points. What became clear was that forward pressure was key and leaving the forward line empty only proved to provide headaches for Carlton. The Demons seemed to have more forward options and the Blues needed to rethink their approach if they were to win.
And they did. After not scoring a goal in the third term, Carlton found themselves within their forward fifty several times in quick succession at the start of the final quarter. Ayre kicked two and Jakobsson one to tie the game. The Demons were looking shaky and the Casey crowd could feel it. However, when Cranston was left alone in the forward line and goaled easily on the run, it was game over. The Dees won by six in a tight affair that was nothing like the pre-season steamroll.
In the end, this Demons win highlighted the work rate of Paxman, O’Dea and Pearce, with Mithen finding some good form. The Blues sorely missed Davey, even though Hosking and the altered backline provided some resistance to the Demons onslaught. The Blues should be ruing missed opportunities, too – three kicks hitting the post could easily have been goals and the game would have been theirs. The Dees were still in touch with the top two after outplaying and outlasting their opponent.
Melbourne 0.1 3.2 5.6 6.6 (42)
Carlton 0.1 2.3 2.5 5.6 (36)
Melbourne: Mifsud 2, Cranston, Scott, Berry, O’Dea
Carlton: Ayre 2, Vescio, Shierlaw, Jakobsson
Melbourne: O’Dea, Paxman, Mifsud, Mithen, D Pearce, Grierson
Carlton: Hosking, Vescio, Exon, Ayre, Jakobsson
OUR VOTES: Paxman (Melb) 3, Pearce (Melb) 2, Mithen (Melb) 1