The Melbourne AFLW side entered the 2022 season as one of the pre-season fancies, but their evolved ball movement on Saturday night blew away even the most optimistic of supporters.
The Dees didn’t just beat their emerging rivals in the talented young Western Bulldogs – they unveiled a brand of footy barely seen in the AFLW so far, using precise kicking skills and fast-paced movement to run away with a 24-point victory to open their account.
Previously recognised as mainly a territory-based game where sides would fight to secure the ball inside their forward-50 and then squeeze a score, Melbourne flipped the script at the VU Whitten Oval.Embed from Getty Images
Instead of focusing on territory, the Demons backed in every player to run hard and hold possession, trusting their skills by both foot and hand to hold onto the football and break down the Bulldogs’ defence.
Melbourne coach Mick Stinnear says the new game style was an example of his talented group playing without fear and worry, which is something the competition may see more of going forward.
“What you saw tonight was the girls playing on instinct and being able to take that first option and keep the ball moving, and it showed that the game opens up when you do that,” Stinnear said.
“When the fatigue set in we tightened up and, to the Dogs credit, their clearance work got the better of us for a couple of quarters.
“We’d like to see more of that first quarter play going forward, but tonight was a good starting point.”
The Dees’ dominance was evident in the numbers; the red and blue had 224 disposals compared to the Dogs’ 189, eventually resulting in 13 more inside-50s throughout the course of the topsy-turvy encounter.
With a dangerous forward line in recruit Tayla Harris, Kate Hore and Daisy Pearce waiting for opportunities, Stinnear said his side’s focus is on giving these creative players the chance to get to work and post a winning score, with possession being key to this process.
“If we get our ball movement right like we did in that first quarter, it gives our forward line greater opportunity to impact,” he said.
“After the first quarter it was tough going, and to Daisy’s credit she had two contest wins where she brought the ball to ground and gave Kate chances at goal. It’s great to have players like that that don’t have to mark it all time and can bring it down.”
But that doesn’t mean the Dees had it all their way in their big round one win. Although their strong midfield was dominant for portions of the game, the likes of Ellie Blackburn (21 touches and a goal) got on top in stages throughout the second half to give the Dogs a sniff at a comeback win.
For stages in the third quarter the Dogs looked like surging ahead of Melbourne, but the Demons held strong when it mattered in the final term to cement their win. It may not have been perfect, but Stinnear was rapt to see his side’s new game plan prove too good for one of the league’s better sides.
“We’re happy to be on the winning side of it, I think the girls started really well,” Stinnear said.
“They got first use against the breeze and it really set the game up, then it was a grind, a tough contested game.”
“We’ve got a little bit to work on but it’s not a bad spot to be in after round one, to win and still have plenty of room for improvement.”
And it may prove to be a handful for the whole competition, as Melbourne’s start to the season showed a new style that may prove unstoppable if they continue to use the footy so efficiently.
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