15/04/2024

North Melbourne's Jenna Bruton lays a tackle on Mikayla Bowen. (Photo: AFL)

Committing to the one-percenters and locking in defensively has seen North Melbourne make its way through to an AFLW semi-final.

In a game where opponents Geelong created a huge volume of opportunities ahead of the ball, the backline led the charge in stopping the forays forward to win.

Continuing their strong form over the past month, Sarah Wright, Nicole Bresnehan and Brooke Brown were boosted by the return of skipper Emma Kearney.

This came to a head in a game with just three goals scored, as the Roos didn’t allow the Cats to get out of their defensive 50 with their high press and intense pressure.

The last five minutes of the game epitomised the match-up, as North Melbourne continued to kill chance after chance of the opposition taking the lead.

While Shelley Scott had multiple shots at goal, she would be unsuccessful at converting. These were the few opportunities the North backline gave up.

Speaking post-game, coach Darren Crocker touched on the impact of the defensive line.

“I thought our pressure and then our defence [were great],” he said.

“Our defensive unit, the players that were playing down there… impacted the game, and moments where they had to step up and save the team.

“Collectively, as a group, I thought we defended really well.

“When you’re under pressure like they were putting us under territory wise, you can tend to fold back a little bit and get too many numbers behind the footy. It worked out in the end that may have been what saved us.”

Defender Sarah Wright celebrates after the siren. (Photo: AFL)

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Bresnehan exemplified the defensive mindset, taking five marks out of defence and laying 10 tackles. Kearney was similar, with six tackles and five marks.

In the midfield, Jasmine Garner and Jenna Bruton laid eight and six tackles respectively.

But there were none who led the way more so than youngster Amy Smith. In just her 16th AFLW game, and her first final, she laid a monumental 17 tackles.

The 23-year-old ran with Geelong superstar Amy McDonald at times, giving her less time and space to dispose of the footy and be her dangerous self.

It was a game of smothers, one-percenters, spoils and intercept possessions for the Roos.

After a season where they faltered against the top teams of the competition in close games for a variety of reasons, they got the result when it counted.

“We’ve been on the wrong end of those games a few times. In a final, it was nice to get one back,” Crocker said.

“To Geelong’s credit, coming into the game, we knew they were a big improver. Fortunately… I thought our contest was strong, our pressure was really good.”

A year to remember for Geelong

The Cats will be left ruing their chances in a game that they could have very easily won had just one part of their play functioned better.

Dan Lowther’s side dominated the inside 50 count 41-18, but generated just nine scoring shots from them.

For a team that had been one of the competition’s highest scorers in the second half of the season, it was almost a return back to old habits.

The coach reflected on the loss post-game, while acknowledging what went wrong.

“It was a tough loss. You play six weeks of open, flowing football, and the scoring was clear, then you get caught in a game where it’s four quarters of an arm wrestle,” Lowther said.

“The stats say we had enough of the footy, enough inside 50s… but credit to the Kangaroos to play a brand that denied us.”

Young midfielder Georgie Prespakis walking off the field after the loss. (Photo: AFL)

After finishing 12th in season six with just two wins, this season was a huge step forward for Geelong.

It was the club’s first finals series since its inaugural season. In that campaign, the Cats were blown away by the Crows under former coach Paul Hood.

Since then, there have been a number of draft picks and players that have joined the club from elsewhere, and launched it back into finals contention.

Lowther reflected on the year and all the positives to take away from it.

“I thought [our season] was exceptional… we made a final. It was a really enjoyable year,” the coach said.

“The list changes that we’ve made have put us on a path that means we’re going to get better.

“The players, although they’re flat… you’ve got to smile for what you’ve achieved. You’ve got to stop and smell the roses.”

North Melbourne will face Richmond in a rematch of their draw from Round 10 in the semi-final at Punt Road Oval.

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