It might only be four rounds into the AFLW, but the round’s opening match against two of the four undefeated sides was set to define whether an attacking or defensive game is so far, this season’s best.
The Magpies, who play an incredibly defensive game, come up against the Dockers whose abundant forward line has contributed to their side’s winning average margin of 30.25 this season, including Thursday’s night 31-point win at Victoria Park.
Collingwood was dubbed a premiership contender for 2022 early on, with the side’s impressive, yet simple defensive game that slowed down its opposition and locked its backline in to reduce opposition scoreboard success one that looked almost unmatchable.
While the Pies used this gameplay against the Dockers, it just wasn’t enough in the end.
It didn’t work against AFLW powerhouses Adelaide and Brisbane for the Pies last year either. Collingwood is fixtured to play both the sides in 2022; Adelaide so far looking to be the toughest competition of the pair which also went into Round 4 undefeated.
On paper, Collingwood have a talented list which is mimicked onto the field and while it couldn’t win on Thursday night, it doesn’t mean it’s already the end of the side’s endeavours to make it one past its preliminary final finish last year.
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What worked for Fremantle though against this list was its midfield pressure and restricting ball movement amongst the Pies, which Dockers’ coach Trent Cooper praised during his post-match press conference.
“Our midfielders were phenomenal, and our defenders were excellent with their pressure,” he said.
“I think our game was won in the midfield. Our tackling and our pressure were great [and] we’ve got a reasonably good role model in Kiara Bowers for others to learn off.
“The whole midfield group were great today.”
Pressure was put on the Pies from the get-go and at the game’s conclusion, Fremantle had beat the Pies in tackles, 78 to 50; contested possessions, 122 to 99; and free kicks, most resulting from holding the ball, 26 to 14.
For most of the match however, it remained a grindy low-scoring affair despite the Dockers’ dominance, going into the final quarter 2.7 (19) to 1.1 (7) Fremantle’s way; proving that while it had upper hand, the Magpies weren’t too far behind.
It was only the fourth term that Fremantle ran away, captain Hayley Miller scoring her second, with Gemma Houghton and Ebony Antonio also contributing to their side’s 19 to zero points quarter.
Fremantle’s forward versatility is dangerous to its opposition. Aine Tighe played her first three matches up forward, moving into ruck when required but due to the full forward line this week of Ann McMahon, Roxy Roux and Gemma Houghton for the first time this year, Tighe was pushed down back.
Not only does this versatility keep Fremantle’s unpredictable and sides forced to cover more players than just those forward, but it also means Fremantle’s firing forward line has its basis covered should COVID-19 makes its way into AFLW, and won’t be affected by Cooper’s plans to rotate players during the condensed fixture.
The Dockers, along with fellow Western Australian side West Coast have already had interruption to its season because of detected cases in the state.
Collingwood and Fremantle’s match was originally scheduled for this Sunday, however with border restrictions in place in WA, the match was brought forward as more games were fixtured for each round.
“We are lucky we have Kate Starre, our high-performance manager, to keep the girls fresh. We’ve said to the playing group we will probably make two changes minimum each week to keep that rotation going,” he said.
“So far our girls have been handling the condensed fixture pretty well. It’s COVID times, it’s not perfect but we’ve just got to do whatever we can to help finish the season.”
Collingwood will have the chance to find a win in Round 4, when it comes up against the West Coast Eagles on Tuesday night at Victoria Park.
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