Melbourne was greeted on its AFLW return to Casey Fields by the venue’s customary warm and blustery conditions, so everyone must have felt right at home. Meanwhile, I looked on from the cool, calm climate of my living room, enjoying the quality commentary of Jason Bennett and ex-Dee Mel Hickey. Kudos to those who made the journey, short or long, and endured those harsh environs of summer footy.
The match-up with the Saints had all the hallmarks of a danger game: the sneaky thought of a percentage boost, the eye to the big game next week and the hungry opponent with everything to gain, not to mention another rotation of players in and out and the loss of a crucial cog in Mithen to the dreaded protocols.
The Saints brought in great energy and made a lively start with a quick goal in the first minute. Melbourne was under pressure, as the players found themselves going in ever-decreasing circles by hand, eventually getting trapped or having to rush a kick forward that was easily picked off. St Kilda were winning the territory battle, with the Dees struggling to clear against the wind, not helped by some diabolical band passing to stationary players waiting to be tackled. Several usually reliable players were let down by their skills and decision-making in this regard.
Still, despite things not going their way, the Demons persisted and were rewarded for some good overlap and hard running to find space and an easy goal for Harris through Hore’s crucial linking work. The overuse of the handball continued and the absence of Gay and Mithen was felt around the ball. The Saints missed some goal opportunities and didn’t capitalise on their wind advantage, so the overriding feeling going into quarter time was that we were lucky to be just two points behind.
The second quarter saw Melbourne trap the ball in its forward half, with Sherriff in particular working hard to cut off attempted defensive 50 exits by the Saints, using that Casey experience to read the wind. By the eight-minute mark, it was five inside 50s to zip, and a nest of Saints were soon swarming in the back half. Rising above them all was Harris with a strong overhead mark from a high kick forward by Bannan, who’d stuck around after taking a ruck contest to set Melbourne’s second goal in motion.
Harris’s next chance went begging before miscommunication on the wing allowed Saints’ debutant Richards to evade Birch and Tarrant and send a neat kick to Xenos who out-marked Heath and kick truly. In the last minute, Parry was finally able to hold onto a mark after several attempts, with her kick forward leading to another behind from a hurried West kick. The Dees’ commitment to fighting out the quarter was personified by a super effort from Hore who came from nowhere to run down the kick-in player. Unfortunately, she missed too, the Dees were 1.5 with the wind and the familiar inaccuracy beast had reared its ugly head again, leaving them just three points up.
The Saints started the quarter with renewed vigour, obviously keen to make the most of the wind advantage. Within 20 seconds they were on the board with a behind, and a failure in positioning for the kick-in saw a quick repeat entry and a shot on goal for Shierlaw, who missed. Lampard took the same approach with the subsequent kick-in, this time with more success as Harris worked up the ground to contest. Before long, however, the ball was back in the Saints’ 50, with the Dees defending desperately, the enjoyably intense battle between Heath and Xenos continuing. Notably, however, Melbourne made more ground in their efforts to clear 50 than the Saints had, chewing up their opponents’ time with the wind and resulting in some attacks of their own.
A great mark by Birch on the wing was followed by frustration as she spent an inordinate amount of time trying to draw a 50, giving the Saints ample time to set up. Luckily, heads-up play by Daisy earned a holding the ball free kick amongst the flood that resulted. She lined up, her intention to pass patently obvious, yet the Saints were none the wiser and she delivered to Hore who converted a handy goal against the tide. Seven points down with two minutes remaining, St Kilda persisted, opening up the field moving forward, with McDonald on the end for a classy major. The Saints were making their own luck and again Xenos outpointed Heath for a mark close to goal. Her miss let the Demons off the hook big time, and some heroics from fend-off fanatic Zanker against about five opponents were needed to see off another attack. Scores were level heading into the last.
The final quarter commenced with excitement — and admittedly, some degree of dread — with a close contest seemingly on the cards. Would Melbourne finally be able to gain some clean ball in the last or could St Kilda maintain their pressure? As it turned out, it was the former, and the first sign was a tenacious effort by Goldrick at the bottom of the pack to clear to Hanks who hit up Harris. Her kick was offline, this time to the left, but another chance was imminent due to a holding free kick by an anxious defender.
She used the wind perfectly to kick her third, making it one goal in Round 1, two goals in Round 2 and three in Round 3 for the big recruit. A brilliant stoppage goal straight out of the ruck to L Pearce soon followed — cue hilariously exuberant celebrations by all on field, such was the delight of her teammates.
That made it two goals in four minutes, with Bennett in the commentary remarking, “Bang, bang”. Unfortunately for him, the next bang didn’t come for another several minutes, via a nice goal to Hanks courtesy of some good Harris forward pressure—but not before an absurd non-decision on a 50-metre penalty, an almost long-bomb from Bannan, another high-flying attempt by Harris, more fend-offs from Zanker and a disappointing Hore poster.
Safe to say the Demons had a bit going on while the Saints were looking tired. Then the floodgates opened with three goals in the last 90 seconds to Daisy, Fitzsimon and Hanks, leaving Bennett wishing he’d bided his time and making it 6.5 to 0.0 in the last. The percentage booster we’d been after had come to fruition after all, landing on that very Melbourne score of 9.10.64.
STATS & STAND-OUTS
The Saints’ Lucas-Rodd lead the disposals with 22, while for the Dees it was Paxman with 19 (12 handballs), Lampard 17 (11 kicks) and Hanks 16 (a 50/50 split). Hore, Colvin and Harris had 4 marks apiece. The Saints’ tackling dominance (75 to 53) came off the back of 12 tackles to White, 10 to Cutting and 9 to Lucas-Rodd, while Hanks had 8, after which the Dees dropped off significantly. Five clearances and a dominant 20 hit outs by L Pearce were crucial, supported by 4 clearances each to Zanker, Hanks and West, while Vesely had 5 for the Saints. Melbourne’s 234 disposals to 191 and 28 to 14 clearances were bolstered by that one-quarter blitz. The victors’ superior efficiency (67% to 50% inside 50) spoke to their ability to execute when it counted through weight of attacking numbers, with 30 to 16 inside 50s total, and 10 tackles to 4 in that area of the ground.
In defence, Colvin looked steadier one-on-one and in the air than last round and while Birch had some moments to forget due to questionable decision-making, she also had some goal-savings ones. Lampard slotted back in to direct the ball movement off half back, albeit with some uncharacteristic errors by foot. Sherriff worked her way into the game, as did Scott whose physicality had some impact. Tarrant and Parry, meanwhile, left a bit to be desired and may be looking over their shoulders at selection. Fitzsimon impressed again, scrapping hard and making things happen with repeat efforts, rewarded with a well-deserved first AFLW goal. Hore continues to contribute steadily, but a few more on-target shots would make her even more of a game-changer.
Teams are putting in the work against Hanks and Paxman, but so far, one or both break free eventually. West was very involved but let down by her kicking early, although she did adapt to cover that weakness as the game went on. Zanker became more prominent in the second half, going into fend-off mode; as enjoyable as that is, she might need to put that away against smarter and stronger opponents like the Crows. In a final point of interest, Stinear revealed that Caris was brought in due to L Pearce suffering Covid in the lead-up to Round 1 and hinted that this may not be necessary as a season-long tactic.
MELBOURNE 1.0.6 2.5.17 3.5.23 9.10.64
ST KILDA 1.2.8 2.2.14 3.5.23 3.5.24
MELBOURNE Harris 3 Hanks 2 Fitzsimon Hore D Pearce L Pearce
ST KILDA M McDonald Vogt Xenos
MELBOURNE L Pearce Hanks Harris Birch Fitzsimon
ST KILDA Lucas-Rodd Jakobsson Priest Xenos Shierlaw
MELBOURNE Fitzsimon (cut head)
ST KILDA Nil
ST KILDA Nil
CROWD 1,217 at Casey Fields
NEXT ROUND A red-hot undefeated Adelaide on Saturday afternoon at Norwood Oval.
THE LAST WORD A final quarter blitz made for enticing viewing, but a four-quarter win would be welcome future prospect.