19/04/2024

Pressure was high in the fourth quarter of the clash between Carlton and Essendon. (Photo: AFL)

After holding on by one point against Essendon on Sunday, Carlton will face its next test in another expansion side in Port Adelaide this weekend.

Coach Daniel Harford’s team struggled in key contested areas in the loss to Collingwood in Round 1, despite coming away nearly dead-even in clearances and contested possession.

He described their structure as too ‘tight’, giving the Pies too much space to utilise their outside run through the likes of Jordyn Allen and Lauren Butler.

But against Essendon, Carlton was dominant in clearance work for the majority of the game, given first use of the footy through Breann Moody and creating consistent opportunities.

The end of the game was incredibly physical, with the Bombers locking the ball inside 50 through tackling pressure.

Now against Port Adelaide this week, Harford’s group faces the competition’s leading tackle side after two rounds.

Speaking to media on Tuesday, the coach is mindful of pushing his players to match the Power’s intensity.

“I hear Lauren Arnell talk lots about their contest, and that’s the foundation of their gameplan,” he told media on Tuesday.

“You watch them play and you think, ‘bloody hell, she’s done a great job getting that baseline done really quickly’. We’re fully aware of it, and you’ve got to match that don’t you?

“When teams bring physicality you’ve got to be able to match it, it’s something we’re aware of and will look to do this week.

“We think we’ve got opportunities to exploit other dimensions of the game that we haven’t got down just yet. Their contest work’s been fantastic, so fully aware that they’re coming.”

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A number of players will be key in applying the pressure to Port Adelaide’s midfield, and across the whole ground.

Abbie McKay has stepped into the void filled by Grace Egan perfectly, averaging 8.5 tackles, well up on her 3.3 from season six.

She kept the Essendon midfielders on their toes throughout the match-up. Moody, Jess Dal Pos, Lucy McEvoy, Keeley Sherar and Maddy Guerin all also laid six tackles each, Dal Pos drawing particular praise from her coach.

In her 50th game, Moody will have prime opportunity against Port’s Liz McGrath. Carlton’s clearance leader on Sunday, her ability to take the ball straight out of the ruck could take the influence of the opposition midfielders out of the game entirely.

McGrath has competed strongly, averaging 20 hit-outs so far, but struggled to have an impact against a strong tap ruck in the Western Bulldogs’ Alice Edmonds.

Also giving Harford confidence is the versatility the Blues’ defenders have shown across the first two rounds.

Dashing half-back Gab Pound spent time both in a post on the wing, while also locking down dangerous Bombers Federica Frew and Jess Wuetschner.

Captain Kerryn Peterson similarly left her usually defensive role at times to line-up on the wing and in centre bounces, adding her leadership and guidance to a relatively young group.

With Lucy McEvoy also able to bounce between the middle and half-back, Harford is finding the right mix with his talented players.

“We’ve got a really stable line up down there [in the backline],” the coach said.

“It’s about adding different looks. We’ve got some flexibility and levers to pull in certain games to have access to different formats.

“That’s why [Kez] Harrington gets thrown up there, Gab [Pound] gets a look… there’s all those opportunities for them for players to develop.

“You don’t want to lock them into the one spot necessarily all the way through their careers, let them progress and develop. We have the stability back there to do what we did on the weekend.”

Carlton and Port Adelaide face off at Ikon Park on Sunday, at 12:10pm.

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