Fremantle’s Hayley Miller turned the closest Derby in AFLW history on its head with an individual half of footy for the ages.
With the game on the line and the Eagles leading by two at the main break, the skipper became the hero the Dockers desperately needed.
Her trademark willingness to take the game on was in full display on Friday afternoon, dominating the cross-town opposition on the inside and outside.
It kicked off in the third term, where Miller found space along the wing and took ground with a brilliant dash. She hit Aine Tighe on the lead, who converted truly to get the Dockers back on top.
And while that one of her two score involvements was important, Miller went up to the next level in the last term.
She gathered nine of her 26 disposals in the final quarter, also finishing with nine clearances and six tackles to her name.
With Kiara Bowers at her tackling best – laying a monumental 18 – and Nikki Gore rotating through the midfield, Miller was able to be unleashed all over the ground.
The captain was duly rewarded with the best on ground award, as the Dockers held onto their undefeated Derby record.Embed from Getty Images
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Speaking post-game, Fremantle coach Trent Cooper sung the praises of his captain.
“Hayley was back to her best today, it was a really good performance,” he said.
“The girls have been working really hard, and they just crave that winning feeling. Fortunately, we got that today.
“It looked like our players didn’t panic and had belief. I thought Ange Stannett was amazing late in the game and Hayley Miller was obviously great all day.”
The beneficiary of some of Miller’s outstanding play, Aine Tighe also had a day to remember after an unfortunate ending to last week’s draw against Carlton.
She kicked two goals against the Blues, but couldn’t convert when it mattered to win the game. But today, she was lobbing them in from 40 metres out on the run.
While still inconsistent, Tighe’s year so far has been a great return, playing just her 16th game today. She’s now kicked six goals in season seven, with back-to-back two goal efforts.
Fellow Irishwoman Orlagh Lally was similarly impressive in flashes throughout the afternoon.
Her workrate to get on the end of her teammate’s passes after dishing it off contributed nicely to her 10 disposals and three marks. In her fifth game, it was her best day in purple yet.
“[Lally] is an unbelievable athlete and is working super hard with everything she does,” Cooper said.
“She is still learning the game, but is really going from strength to strength.”
Aside from the obvious state bragging rights, the win was even more important to the Dockers as the season slowly slipped away from them.
Their only previous premiership points came from the draw against the Blues, suffering losses in previous weeks to the Bulldogs, Cats, and Lions.
While they may be out of the finals race with tough match-ups against Melbourne, Adelaide and Collingwood to come, it showed the Dockers can still be competitive.
It was ultimately a devastating ending for the Eagles, who come frustratingly close to their first ever Derby victory. A reversed free kick from Sarah Lakay with 20 seconds to go all but secured the result.
But with outstanding individual performances all across the ground, they can hold their heads up high.
The Eagles dominated clearances for the first half, ultimately finishing 27-24 in their favour. Key to that was skipper Emma Swanson, who finished with five along with her 20 disposals.
In phenomenal form, she’s led from the front every week so far. And today, youngster Bella Lewis went with her.
Playing just her third season, she’s clearly taken another massive step forward. 25 disposals, six marks, four tackles, three clearances and a goal told the story of her will to drag her team to victory.
“As a young developing team, we took a step forward today,” coach Michael Prior said.
“Especially in the first half, our pressure around the footy, dominating clearance, dominating time in our front half. We probably didn’t capitalise… especially in the first quarter.
“If you look at what our group was able to deliver again today, we were in the fight against a good team. I think we’re building, I think we’re developing.
“More of our players are contributing consistently. I’m surprised Bella only got one vote, I thought she was outstanding today.”Embed from Getty Images
Among the strong contributors were many of the new, young guard of the group.
Sarah Lakay, who’s assumed number one ruck duties from the retired Parris Laurie, has had her bumpy moments so far in season seven. But on Friday, her craft was on show.
She won a massive 42 hit-outs, while also laying five tackles, adding to the pressure of the midfield group.
19-year-old Charlie Thomas was a steady hand behind the ball, finishing with 16 disposals and four tackles. In just her second AFLW game, Jaide Britton showed the confidence to utilise her pace and move the ball through the corridor.
Courtney Rowley won three clearances, Abbygail Bushby kicked a goal on debut, and Ella Roberts had flashes in the forward line.
After impacting the scoreboard last week, Mikayla Western’s pressure was at a different level this week. Prior was thoroughly impressed with the role she’s playing inside attacking 50.
“She’s been fantastic for us Mikayla… that was her fifth game for the year, which is really exciting,” the coach said.
“We see a lot of upside for her. The last couple of weeks, we’ve been able to push her forward and play her in the front half.
“Her pressure and speed in the front half has been really noticeable. She’s been great for us.”
West Coast will face Hawthorn next week at SkyBus Stadium, while Fremantle takes on Melbourne at home.
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