North Melbourne AFLW coach Darren Crocker says his players were “caught on their heels” the last time they met Richmond.
Playing just two weeks ago to close out their home and away seasons, the two clubs ground out a draw to send the Tigers to the top four, and the Roos to eighth.
Now, they’ll meet again in a sudden death semi-final, with the winner going on to play Melbourne.
Though they were missing skipper Emma Kearney and ruck Kim Rennie last time around, the coach believes it’ll be more than just personnel that will make the difference.
“Firstly, we need to be up for the challenge early,” Crocker told media on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re up and about early and jump out of the blocks, and not give them the ascendancy early in the game.
“Felt that from quarter time on, we reset and got the game looking a lot more like we like it to look.
“There were large parts of that game that looked okay to us, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re up to it nice and early. You’d expect the players to be, because being a final there’s no excuses for not getting yourself up for a final.”
Richmond put a lot of attention into superstar midfielder Jasmine Garner, limiting her to just 13 disposals. It was the only time this season she’s had less than 15 in a game.
Despite Sarah Hosking finding success in tagging roles previously, Ryan Ferguson gave the responsibility to the inexperienced Meg Macdonald instead.
The 24-year-old performed the role brilliantly, and will likely go to Garner again given the success of the move.
“Richmond put a lot of time into Jaz in that game,” Crocker said.
“We as a team learnt a lot from that game. We can be better at protecting Jaz and giving her opportunities to get into the game.
“She would have learned a lot about herself, about getting such close attention in that game.”
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North Melbourne comes into its semi-final off a narrow win to Geelong, in a game that by all statistical measures, should have been a loss.
The Cats dominated the inside 50 count 41-18, but the Roos managed to hold on through nullifying the forwards and rebounding the ball out of defence.
Nicole Bresnehan, Brooke Brown, Sarah Wright, Jasmine Ferguson, and of course Kearney, held out as the brick wall of the backline.
But moving back up the ground, the Roos’ structure suffered. They couldn’t create any opportunities from their intercepts, and hence the stalemate continued.
Crocker says the ball movement will be a big focus this week ahead of facing the Tigers.
“I took a bit of responsibility for the coaches. We weren’t able to move the ball as well as we would have liked on the narrower ground,” the coach said.
“I think we could have set the game up a little bit differently, especially when we had the opportunity at half time to reset what we were doing.
“We did talk about certain aspects of how we wanted to move the ball a bit differently, but we probably didn’t set the ground up as well as we would have liked.
“But the biggest things that was reiterated to the girls [on Monday] was that so much of finals football is based around the contest and pressure and team defence.
“That will take you a long way in finals football, and those were the areas we absolutely got right.”
That pressure was an absolute stand-out, epitomised by no player more than Amy Smith.
The 23-year-old was given greater license to run through the midfield and limit the Geelong ball movement out of stoppage, totalling 17 tackles in the process.
North Melbourne is not overly notable when it comes to pressure, ranking 10th in the league for tackles, but the last few weeks have seen a shift in that.
The Roos made Collingwood’s competition-best defence crumble through applying pressure inside 50, and once again demolished the tackle count against Geelong.
It will be a key area of focus once again on Saturday, with Smith leading the charge.
“Amy’s just come on so much, especially this season,” Crocker said.
“She’s got a real thirst to get better. The other thing that we all admire about Amy is her willingness to play her role for the team.
“She’s been coming inside and doing a little bit more work on the inside, potentially going to an opposition midfielder. 17 tackles, her defensive pressure has been a standout for us, especially in and around the footy.
“That was really important to us on the weekend. She continues to grow in confidence and belief, but she’s become a really important player for us.”
North Melbourne and Richmond go head-to-head for a spot in the preliminary final on Saturday, November 12, with first bounce at 1:40pm AEDT at Punt Road.
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