Meg Saultry previews the clash for premiership glory between the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood in Sunday’s Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s ‘Love the Game’ Grand Final.
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WESTERN BULLDOGS vs COLLINGWOOD – Sunday 11.35am @ Ikon Park
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Both the Western Bulldogs (formerly VU Western Spurs) and Collingwood first entered the Victorian-based competition at the start of the 2018 season after the majority of clubs became AFL-aligned.
In their first season, the Magpies finished as minor premiers – a feat they would achieve again this season. However, senior coach Penny Cula-Reid’s team was knocked out of the 2018 finals in straight sets, losing to Hawthorn by 11 points in the qualifying final before being beaten by the Geelong Cats by 14 points in the preliminary final.
“I always dreamt of coaching Collingwood, to be the first female coach of Collingwood and to hold a premiership cup – it's one of those things you can't put into words.” – Penny Cula-Reid on this weekend's #VFLW Grand Final pic.twitter.com/FoKa4Eu2oJ
— Collingwood Women's (@CollingwoodFCW) September 17, 2019
The Bulldogs finished with a respectable 7-7 record to sit in sixth position last season, but with only the top four progressing to finals, they had no chance to contend for the 2018 AFLW/VFLW premiership double.
Semi Final @ Adcon Stadium: Western Bulldogs 4.2 (26) d Collingwood 1.8 (14)
Inaccuracy cursed the Magpies and stopped them from taking the direct route to the Grand Final, Collingwood generating eight more inside-50s and three more shots on goal but returning only a measly 1.8. Star forward Brooke Lochland (11 disposals and two goals) was the match-winner for the Bulldogs, while Ellie Gavalas (15 disposals) and Kirsty Lamb (13 and 10 tackles) were prolific through the midfield. The Magpies fielded the three highest ball-winners on the ground, including Brittany Bonnici (game-high 22 disposals).
Rd 7 @ Morwell Recreation Reserve: Collingwood 13.5 (83) d Western Bulldogs 1.3 (9)
In a one-sided battle in Gippsland, the Magpies kicked seven first-half goals to put themselves in a winning position by the main break. Although the Bulldogs got on the scoreboard in the third term via a Lauren Dundon goal, Collingwood continued to dominate, kicking a further six majors to seal a percentage-boosting win. Magpies dynamo Jaimee Lambert (26 disposals and four goals) was the standout, while Stacey Livingstone (three goals) was also handy in a forward-line role. On a day to forget for the Bulldogs, Bailey Hunt (13 disposals) was their main ball-winner.
The Bulldogs (12-4 overall record) started the season strongly, winning their opening four matches before experiencing a downturn to lose their next three. They regrouped to beat Richmond and the Casey Demons before suffering a tough loss to the Southern Saints in Round 11. However, the Bulldogs won their final four home-and-away games to head into the finals with enough momentum to beat Richmond and then Collingwood and book a spot in the decider.
The Magpies (14-3) went on a major winning streak during the home-and-away season, triumphing in every game between Round 2 and 13. A Round 15 defeat to Essendon meant that record came to an end, but Collingwood responded with victories over Hawthorn (14 points) and the Southern Saints (15) ahead of the semi-final loss to the Bulldogs. With a grand-final spot on the line last week though, the Magpies rebounded to roll the Saints for the second time in a fortnight.
The Bulldogs earned the straight-forward route to the Grand Final with their 13-point semi-final win over Collingwood. They had less of the play but were able to better capitalise on their chances up forward by applying plenty of pressure (winning the tackle count 93-84). Inaccuracy was an issue for the Magpies, while the Bulldogs’ defence also held up well under pressure and provided drive from the back half (24-12 rebound-50s). Brooke Lochland, Ellie Gavalas and Kirsty Lamb were all important in the win (see above), while Celine Moody (26 hitouts) and Nicole McMahon (18) shared the ruck load to win out over Sharni Layton (14) and Eliza Hynes (16).
— WesternBulldogs AFLW (@BulldogsW) September 7, 2019
Collingwood rebounded from that loss to come out on top against the Southern Saints by 14 points in last week’s preliminary final. The second and fourth quarters proved the difference, the Magpies outscoring the Saints five goals to two in those terms – with that attack made possible by 27 more inside-50s and 19 more tackles across the match. Brianna Davey (30 disposals and nine clearances) was a major inclusion for the victors, while Jaimee Lambert (28 and three goals), Brittany Bonnici (17 and nine inside-50s), Gemma Lagioia (13 and 11 tackles) and Sharni Layton (14 and 18 hitouts) were all influential as well.
Can Collingwood set itself up for a more successful AFLW campaign with a VFLW premiership?
The Magpies have gone without much success in the AFLW so far, finishing fifth, sixth and 10th in their first three seasons, while the Bulldogs have fared much better in taking out the 2018 premiership. A win here for Collingwood – which has been arguably the best VFLW team across the past two years – would be a major confidence boost for a club looking to rise up the AFLW ladder with a young list and new coach in 2020.
In saying that, the Magpies also have a strong contingent of experienced players in their line-up, with Brianna Davey, Jaimee Lambert, Chloe Molloy, Brittany Bonnici and Stacey Livingstone all well practised at this level. At times, Collingwood’s list has actually looked stronger than the Bulldogs’, with several Bulldogs players moving teams following the 2019 AFLW season and star players such as Ellie Blackburn (four games), Hannah Scott (three) and Isabel Huntington (one) only appearing in limited games this VFLW campaign.
With grand finals usually proving to be somewhat of a pressure cooker at times, it could come back to these more experienced Magpies to right the ship for their younger teammates and potentially bring the premiership flag to Olympic Park.
The most important stats on the day could well be clearances, inside-50s and rebound-50s. When these teams first played this season in Round 7, Collingwood easily won the clearance and inside-50 counts and what followed was a massive 74-point win. But in the rematch two weeks ago, the Bulldogs were able to tidy up and boost their rebound-50 tally, making it much harder for the Magpies to find an avenue to goal.
Ashleigh Guest and Ellyse Gamble (three rebound-50s each) were the most influential in this area of the field on that occasion and will again lead the Bulldogs’ defence here, but for their opponents, it will be about how much they can win the ball in the middle and flood forward.
The recent inclusion of Brianna Davey will be mightily important to Collingwood’s line-up, as she averages 26 disposals per game from only six matches this season – recording nine clearances and four inside-50s against the Southern Saints last week. Meanwhile, Brittany Bonnici (nine inside-50s in the preliminary final), Jaimee Lambert (four and six clearances) and Maddie Shevlin (five inside-50s in the semi final) all have the capacity to provide a major headache for Bulldogs defenders.
Western Bulldogs VFLW senior coach Sean Kavanagh:
On the reasons for the team’s improvement in 2019: “We’ve spoken internally about the gap between our AFL girls and our VFL girls closing, which has been really pleasing. That’s our role (as coaches) – to develop these girls for the draft. That development is probably where our improvement has come from, especially from the mid-point of the year.”
On having a week off after the semi-final victory over Collingwood: “Everyone needs the rest. We’ve had quite a few younger girls play quite a solid block of footy, and finals footy is a whole different ball game compared to the home-and-away series. Time will tell, but we’ll come in (to the Grand Final) fully fresh and ready to roll.”
Collingwood VFLW senior coach Penny Cula-Reid:
On the semi-final loss to the Bulldogs: “(We wanted) to play as many games as possible, giving our VFL girls the chance to showcase what they have. The Bulldogs play a great brand of footy and we’re really excited (to face them again). The biggest change we’ve made over the last couple of weeks is to really focus on our game and what we want to achieve. Hopefully we play our game a little bit longer than they play their game.”
On NAB League Girls graduates coming into the team: “We see the young talent coming through and it’s just going to get better and better. We’ve had Gemma Lagioia, Nic Xenos and Alana Porter come through the Oakleigh Chargers system… and those kids are just unbelievable. They test some of our VFL girls, and that’s what we want.”
REPLAY: Watch a full replay of the 2019 Hard Yakka / Totally Workwear #VFL and @SwisseAU #VFLW #LovetheGame press conference with @BulldogsW and @CollingwoodFCW / @RichmondVFL and @WilliamstownFC.https://t.co/jNuWJvXXNZ pic.twitter.com/hSJUgmhoMd
— #VFL / #VFLW (@VFL) September 17, 2019
Western Bulldogs VFLW captain Mickayla Ward:
On what it’s like leading a grand-final team: “We’ve got a great leadership group at the Bulldogs, with Tayla Dinuccio and Ashleigh Gunn supporting myself. We’ve also had a great team environment that I haven’t actually had to do too much leading with. There wasn’t really much (expectation) on the Bulldogs this season; we were aiming for the finals and now coming into this weekend it’s just a bonus.”
On NAB League Girls graduates coming into the team: “(Elisabeth Georgostathis, Sophie Molan and Ella Wood) have been incredible for us in the back half of the season. They’re able to get out there and know exactly what their role is and go and do it. If all three play this weekend, they’ll be providing something special for us.”
Collingwood VFLW co-captain Grace Buchan:
On the feeling throughout the club: “There’s so much excitement at the club. With the AFL men’s being in the finals this weekend and us being in the Grand Final, just being at the Holden Centre, the vibes are incredible.”
On losing both finals in 2018 after claiming the minor premiership: “Unfortunately our finals campaign last year didn’t go to show our effort throughout the season, so the fact that we’ve gone one step further this year has been awesome. We’re all one family, so everyone has put in to get us to this level.”
Full VFL W press conference below: