24/05/2024

(From L-R) Vikki Wall, Jasmine Garner, Ellie Gavalas and Amy Smith celebrate North Melbourne's semi-final win. (Photo: AFL)

After nearly grinding to a halt last week in the elimination final, North Melbourne played some of its best attacking footy all season to advance to the prelim.

Looking incredibly dangerous both rebounding out of defence and directly from stoppages, the Roos piled on their season-high 74 points to comprehensively down the Tigers.

The goals seemed to flow from everywhere, generating 19 scoring shots from their 35 inside 50s.

While getting forward hasn’t been a problem for North Melbourne for much of this season, conversion has been. It was a different story on Saturday at Punt Road though.

Returning for just her third game back after a long-term hamstring injury, Ellie Gavalas was one of the seven Kangaroos to convert majors.

It was her first goal back, in a special moment amongst many on a brilliant afternoon.

“That was awesome. So good to be a part of. When we come out and play like that there’s nothing better,” Gavalas told The Inner Sanctum post-game.

“[Richmond] are a great side. For us to come out and play like we did is awesome. I’m so proud of the girls, everyone just played their role.

“The goals are just a bonus… they were really spread out today, it was really even on the scoreboard. Always nice to get a goal.”

Gavalas celebrates with teammate Tahlia Randall. (Photo: AFL)

The forward group is full of feel-good stories for North Melbourne, with a number of players standing up when it mattered.

After being infamously dropped in 2021, Sophie Abbatangelo is in some of the form of her career, having kicked five goals over the past month.

Two of the youngest players in the team, Alice O’Loughlin and Bella Eddey combined for four majors.

Tahlia Randall has been relatively wayward this season after her move forward in season six, and again kicked 1.4, but looked incredibly dangerous in the air.

Coach Darren Crocker spoke on his forward group post-game.

“I gave credit to the backs last week for how well they dug in and were able to defend, I thought our forwards were super today,” he said.

“The way they challenged Richmond’s defence, they were dangerous every time the ball went forward.

“Sometimes you give something to get something. Always putting the coach’s hat on, you’re always looking for excellence.

“We probably leaked a few holes today, uncharacteristically, because we were trying to move the ball a bit quicker and give our forwards a real chance.”

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As is typically the case for North Melbourne, the charge was led by league best and fairest fancy Jasmine Garner, who got off the chain in the second quarter.

She kicked two goals to help the Roos blow out their lead to 29 points by half-time after a back-and-forth first quarter.

There were eyes all over Garner in this match, after she was held to her season-low disposal count by Richmond’s Meg Macdonald when they met in Round 10.

But after a nine touch first term, it was clear she wasn’t letting any tagger get the best of her in a must-win semi-final.

It didn’t help that Macdonald spent time off her the ground getting her knee assessed, with Sarah Hosking and Eilish Sheerin taking on the match-up. Regardless, Garner’s quality undoubtedly led the Roos to victory.

When she wasn’t hitting the scoreboard herself, she was delivering the ball to the advantage of her forwards. She finished with seven clearances and three inside 50s.

“She’s just unbelievable, Jazzy. One of the most humble people you’ll ever meet,” Gavalas told The Inner Sanctum.

“The best player I’ve played with… best player in the league, great to have her on our team.”

“It was a different story [today]. I admire Jas, she’s just an out-and-out pro,” Crocker added post-game.

“She was disappointed to have her colours lowered last time we played them and not be able to help the team. Everything for Jas, she’s such a quality person and so good to have in our program.

“It’s all about ‘how do I help the team?’ She just got to work with the midfield group this week, learnt a lot about herself and how she could shake the tag better.”

While North Melbourne would ultimately lose the clearance count by two, the midfield gained the ascendancy when it mattered.

Ash Riddell (seven clearances and seven inside 50s) and Jenna Bruton (three clearances, two inside 50s) were key to this.

While Richmond’s season is over, the club moves into 2023 with its first finals games under its belt, despite the results.

North Melbourne move onto the preliminary final to play Melbourne at Ikon Park on Saturday, November 19.

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