AFLW Round 5 – Carlton v Western Bulldogs: When the opening act are the headliners
Saturday, March 3rd, 11.35 am
Ikon Park, Melbourne
A lot of good things can be said of the AFL for launching this women’s season in the first place, along with the canny way they have marketed it. But it’s increasingly obvious that by initially underestimating their own product, they now find themselves saddled with a fixture that is working against the very thing they seek to promote. If it was originally envisaged that playing AFLW games as preludes to the men’s practice games would help crowd numbers, the tactic is clearly backfiring. It has only served to push a number of AFLW games into distinctly unfriendly timeslots. So it was that we found ourselves assembling at Princes Park at 11.30 in the morning to watch the only consequential match of the day’s double header.
The big question for Carlton fans was the state of Bri Davey’s back. Coaches decry dependency on individuals, but it was impossible to ignore that Navy Blue fortunes had declined as our No. 1’s chiro bills had escalated. Davey was named as emergency, but played. She still looked to be hampered.
Minus their own marquee player in Katie Brennan, the Bulldogs were expected to be looking to Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney to rack up the sort of midfield numbers Melbourne did against the Blues last week. At least that was what yours truly was expecting. Paul Groves thought differently, starting Blackburn forward with immediate success. She had 2 goals by ¼ time and the Bulldogs led 19 to 14.
Beaten at stoppages and prone to fumbling, the Blues were only close on the scoreboard due to a Darcy Vescio special. A Bella Ayre shot dropped into a goal square filled with taller defenders. Vescio came from the side to allow herself a run. With perfect timing, judgement and concentration she plucked a hanger amongst a forest of vainly flailing fists. The Darcy show reel gets longer.
Now Carlton lifted. Breann Moody kicked into the forward packet and charged hard to the goal square to receive the return Ayre handball. Lauren Brazzale received a 50, then played on when the Dogs failed to mind the mark. The ball stood on its end, only to see Kate Shierlaw volley it through with the outside of her boot. When Shae Audley added another, Carlton looked in control. Not according to Blackburn, who brilliantly bounced a reply through from 50 on the run. It was 33 to 27 at the half.
The Blues took up residence in their forward 50 for most of the 3rd term. Vescio led her opponent under the ball, then doubled back for her second. Ayre bounced through her second from 45. But when Ayre again managed to hit the post from the top of the square, Carlton had blown several chances to really split the game open.
That still looked a possibility in the final term, when Vescio snapped truly after a great Sarah Hosking run. The lead had stretched to 25 points, and Carlton looked likely to get a much needed percentage boost. But on a hot, still afternoon, they wilted with the finish line in sight. Blackburn had re-joined Kearney in the middle, and they dominated the last 12 minutes of the match.
Laura Bailey goaled to reduce the margin to 19. Then the AFL’s new ruck rule rudely interrupted proceedings. An errant boundary throw in cleared the designated rucks by metres, and virtually landed on the head of another Blue. Instinctively she punched the ball on, whereupon the umpire instantly blew for an infringement. This was ridiculous. Whatever the merits of stopping third players-up, the intention of the new rule surely doesn’t require you to literally jump out of the way if the umpire stuffs up a throw-in or bounce. This was one of a number of farcical situations concerning this rule over the weekend. I doubt the rule is the problem here. Rather, the culprit would seem to be the utterly dim witted, literal interpretation of it the umps are currently applying.
Meghan McDonald scored from the resulting free to make it 12 points. The Dogs were now surging and the Blues looked flustered. A sloppy turnover saw Brooke Lochland make the difference one straight kick with 5 minutes still on the clock.
Bri Davey had been subdued early, but had slowly worked her way into the game. She was now the steady hand her team needed. A couple of settling marks, a couple of cool-headed possessions, and the Blues had hung on in the competition’s highest scoring game to date.
Over the course of five matches, the Blues have looked as well organised defensively as any team in the league, but have shown a slight Achilles heel in the midfield. Melbourne and Adelaide both got on top of them in the middle with an edge in pace and running power. When Davey was fully fit, she largely compensated for this with the half back rebound she provided. Once she has been missing or restricted, this has become a bigger problem.
The other key to success has been forward conversion. Here the Blues have a wealth of options. In Vescio, they have the competition’s most potent forward. Bella Ayre has also revealed tremendous potential in recent games. Throw in the marking of Jakobsson and Shierlaw, and Carlton just need reasonable supply to worry any defence.
To keep their campaign alive they must now travel to Freo, to play at the absurd local time of 3.05pm on a Friday afternoon. With the Perth forecast currently around 30 degrees, that will be no pushover.
CARLTON: 2.2 5.3 7.6 8.6 (54)
W BULLDOGS: 3.1 4.3 4.5 7.6 (48)
Carlton: Vescio 3, Ayre 2, Moody, Shierlaw, Audley
W Bulldogs: Blackburn 3, Lambert, Bailey, McDonald, Lochland
Carlton: Lucas-Rodd , Ayre, Hosking, Vescio, Davey
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Lambert, Kearney, Callinan, Lochland
Our Votes: Blackburn (WB) 3, Lucas-Rodd (Car) 2, Ayre (Car) 1
Umpires: Andrew Heffernan, Nick Jankovskis, Ryan Guy Official crowd: 6833