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DEES DOMINATE AT THE KENNEL by Dees in October


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Introducing our new AFLW correspondent … DEES IN OCTOBER reporting on the Demons’ win in their Hampson-Hardeman Cup over the Bulldogs.
 
Greetings Demonlanders, and welcome to the first match report of the 2022 AFLW season! Melbourne is heading into its sixth season with great expectations and a degree of external pressure, with most pundits predicting finals and many talking of a Grand Final … and more.
 
DEMONS DOMINATE AT THE KENNEL
 
Whatever’s to come, it all started with an away game at VU Whitten Oval on a sunny yet windy afternoon. I stayed away due to the travel factor and putting a bit of a pause on crowds in the current Covid19 scenario. Instead, I relied on the televised broadcast, including some “interesting” camerawork combined with glorious drone work that showed off the venue’s surrounds and city views.
 
The team was as selected, although I spent a fair few minutes early wondering where Paxy was — her missing the practice match had me spooked, but there she was … yet a niggling premonition still nagged at me. Meanwhile, the commentators helpfully informed us that Parry would play second ruck. Likely she will in other matchups, but in this one it was a strange insight given Caris was out there presumably solely for that purpose!
 
Pre-game I was a bundle of nerves after watching the Tigers tear the game apart the night before. Who knew what the Bulldogs had conjured since our last AFLW meeting, which certainly was a day to forget for our team?
 
FIRST QUARTER
 
After losing the toss, the Dees kicked against the wind, and the Dogs had the best of possession early. However, Melbourne’s ball movement soon showed its superiority, coupled with a focused desire to go through the corridor. Hard running (and loose checking on the Dogs’ part) allowed Hore to set up Sherriff for the first goal of the season, five minutes in. At this point I was distracted by how easily you could hear the coaches on the boundary through the effects mic. Not ideal!
 
Caris then had her first go at a centre bounce. The 190cm 19-year-old showed good first-up presence, with a great follow-up handball to get the clearance. A nice mark to Harris 40-odd out from a pinpoint Hanks pass saw our biggest recruit yet get her hands on the ball early. She made a good fist of it against the wind with that trademark kicking style and luckily a strong mark to Gay on the goal line led to the Dees’ second major. Another diving mark to Harris soon followed, but her poor kick forward halted the attack. An excellent short kicking build-up, including my favourite rookie West on debut, ended up with a mark to Zanker, courtesy of some smart and selfless bodywork by Daisy. Zanks kicked truly, which she was clearly happy about, given some past demons in front of the sticks.
 
It was an impressive start, with Melbourne running at 74% disposal efficiency for the quarter, three goals straight, and the Dogs yet to register a major.
 
SECOND QUARTER
 
A strong defensive mark by L.Pearce stemmed repeated Dog attacks to start the quarter, but the pressure built again due to her poor disposal. Again, I found myself wondering, “Where’s Paxy?” and my question was answered in an unfortunate way as she fell to a heavy tackle and seemed very sore. The Bulldogs’ first goal of the game, to Huntington, soon followed.
 
L.Pearce then pulled up sore as well, and suddenly players were dropping all over the shop, including a cruel ACL to the talented Huntington—sincerely, you hate to see it. Any momentum the Dogs were building in the quarter dissipated after that as a noticeable hush fell over the crowd.
 
Once the Dees managed to get it forward, good positioning by Harris chopped off the Dogs’ exit attempt, locking the ball in for the Dees and resulting in Daisy taking a classy kick around the corner—alas, straight into the woodwork. The wait for another opportunity was fleeting, with Harris again denying the Dogs’ exit and getting the ball forward quickly, resulting in a typically opportunistic goal from Hore off a Daisy spoil. Kate Hore: always in the right place at the right time.
 
By late in the quarter, the inside 50s were 10-2 in the Melbourne’s favour, but they couldn’t put it on the board, with six behinds sullying the scorecard. Still, it was a familiar red-and-blue sight to see Bulldogs players looking up from half back with nowhere to go, due to disciplined defensive running. With the clock winding down to half time, Dees debutant Ali Brown took a big hit, resulting in a concussion test. An awesome chase-down of Blackburn by Sherriff, with credit also to the players upfield who left Blackburn devoid of easy options, meant Melbourne finished the quarter off strongly.
 
THIRD QUARTER
 
Early shaky disposals from Tarrant and Birch on the last line were a sign of things to come in this quarter, with the Dees struggling to get the ball out of the danger zone. The Bulldogs pressed with a repeat inside 50 creating a set shot goal to Toogood—in this case, she clearly was. The precision kicking of the first half deserted us, causing multiple turnovers, and it seemed the Dogs had finally caught onto the plan and were anticipating the short kicks and corridor play. An injury scare for Mithen prompted great concern in my living room, and a classy finish by Blackburn meant the alarm bells were starting to ring, with the margin cut to nine points midway through the third. At that stage, inside 50s for the quarter were seven to nil in the Dogs’ favour.
 
The damage on the scoreboard would have been greater if not for Birch’s excellent reading of the play and strong marking. Another notable individual effort came from Zanker, who came up trumps in a two-on-two in the centre square and then darted away along the wing, taking two bounces and delivering perfectly to Daisy on the lead in some super stylish play. However, there was a rare lapse from Daisy as she failed to capitalise.
 
With three minutes to go, the Dees scrambled the ball forward. Eventually, a kick by Daisy off the ground directly into a Bulldogs player’s face ricocheted fortuitously to Harris’s advantage. She was clean below the knees and executed a banana, her first goal back in red and blue coming at a crucial time. Late in the quarter, Sherriff added another tenacious effort to her earlier run-down tackle, with a desperate lunge into the goalpost to prevent Lochland from converting. Despite the Dogs’ improved efforts, the Dees steadied to take a 16-point advantage into the last.
 
FOURTH QUARTER
 
I felt as confident as I ever am that we’d be able to run out the game, especially with our injury concerns fading while those of the Dogs just seemed to mount. Still, 16 points isn’t quite “break out the cheeseboard” territory.
 
Sherriff started where she left off with another brave effort, this time going back courageously with the flight for a great mark that saw three players crunched around her. Then, a clumsy tackle by Gay gifted Toogood another set shot, probably not appreciated by her opponent in Tarrant, who had her hands full all day. Toogood’s shot fell short, and Birch made another solid contest to win a free. Zanker continued putting in the hard yards, always on her toes around the ball, getting better as the game wore on — a bit of a pattern for her. A big collision in forward 50 saw two Dogs felled and the Dees capitalised with another neat kick from Hanks finding Scott. Frustratingly, the inaccuracy continued as she failed to convert.
 
All in all, the last quarter was a bit of a grind, with just one point scored until Hore sealed the deal with a snap with a minute remaining. Not exactly scintillating stuff, but a solid enough effort. A strong start, and the ability to respond when the Dogs challenged in the third, won it for the Dees.
 
STATS & STAND-OUTS
 
Zanker led the way for the Dees with 21 disposals (17 contested possessions), followed by Birch (18), Hanks (17, notably at 88% efficiency), Lampard (16 including 5 rebound 50s) and Mithen (also 16). Lampard, Mithen and Hanks were all prominent in metres gained.
 
Surely Paxman’s quietest game with just 8 disposals, though she missed a chunk of game time and after not playing the praccy match, she’ll be (cliché alert) better for the run—barring any lasting effects from that heavy knock. The shining light in tackles, no surprise, was Hanks with 10.
 
Meanwhile, Caris’s 2 disposals belied her ruck impact and follow-up work. An encouraging debut especially when L.Pearce was put out of the game for several minutes in the second. Edmonds topped the hit outs for the Dogs with 14, followed by Caris and L.Pearce with 13 and 11, respectively. Meanwhile, interestingly, the talls led the clearances, with L.Pearce and Zanker having 4 apiece.
 
There was an even spread of markers with Zanker, Scott, Hore, Birch and Hanks all with 4. Harris took 3, drew some defensive focus, crashed some packs, shored up the structure down the line and kicked a goal. Though she faded a bit and by no means dominated, it’s a big tick from me.
 
A young player that caught my eye was 19-year-old Fitzsimon in her third game, her first since early in 2021. It was a solid return game from her, with 12 disposals and some great defensive acts — she’ll be looking for some more opportunities this season.
 
In terms of team stats, Melbourne’s 244 disposals to 189 and 117 uncontested possessions to 83 signalled their control of possession and excellent spread and positioning for much of the game. Their 46% efficiency inside 50 is an area for improvement, and scoring accuracy was again an issue, but 8 marks to 4 helped set up good opportunities. Melbourne’s forward pressure was highlighted by 13 to 7 tackles inside 50, while the Dees also had the better of the intercept possessions (aided by 9 each from Birch and Zanker, plus 8 from L.Pearce), and clearances. Daisy failed to hit the scoreboard, but 8 score involvements speak to her influence in attack, while Zanker, Hanks and Hore chipped in 6 score involvements each.
 
MELBOURNE 3.0.18 4.6.30 5.8.38 6.10.46
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.1.1 1.1.7 3.4.22 3.4.22
 
GOALS
 
MELBOURNE  Hore 2 Gay Harris Sherriff Zanker 
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS Blackburn Huntington Toogood
 
BEST 
 
MELBOURNE Birch Zanker Hanks Sherriff Hore
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS Blackburn Bennetts Fitzgerald Lamb Lochland 
 
INJURIES 
 
MELBOURNE Nil
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS Cranston (lower leg) Huntington (knee) Snell (ribs)
 
REPORTS 
 
MELBOURNE Nil
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS Nil
 
CROWD 2,571 at VU Whitten Oval 
 
* An asterisk of sorts on this game, albeit one that will likely repeat throughout the season. The Bulldogs apparently had only 24 or so players available for this game due to injuries and COVID protocols, with their backline impacted particularly.
 
NEXT ROUND A reinvigorated Richmond at Punt Road Oval, Friday night.
 
THE LAST WORD Not quite as good as last time our club met the Bulldogs, but that’s a pretty big ask, I guess! And we did get to take the Hampson-Hardeman Cup back to its rightful home.
 
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