MELBOURNE has got its season off to a flying start, defeating the Western Bulldogs by 20 points to remain undefeated after two rounds.
The Demons overcame not only a spirited Dogs outfit, but heavy rain in muggy Melbourne conditions at VU Whitten Oval in the 4.8 (32) to 2.0 (12) win.
Karen Paxman's class and clean skills stood out in the willing contest, while the unheralded Shelley Scott took to the conditions like a duck to water across half-forward.
It was a tight contest early, with a margin of just nine points at quarter-time, with the Dogs' first goal scored by Deanna Berry, courtesy of a free kick for holding the ball and a 50-metre penalty when the ball wasn't returned on the full.
But from there, it was all Melbourne, proving too strong, smart and composed up against a young Western Bulldogs team.
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The match finished on a sour note, with Demons forward Ainslie Kemp suffering a suspected left knee injury. Kemp, who left the ground in tears after the final siren, has a history of knee injuries and decided to forgo surgery on a torn ACL which occurred in the VFLW last year.
Coach Mick Stinear was unable to confirm if it was a torn ACL – this time on the opposite side of her body – but Kemp left the ground in a knee brace and on crutches.
Despite the best efforts of Ellie Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb on the inside of packs, Melbourne dominated on the outside, comfortably topping the uncontested possession count 87 to 53.
The Demons put the Dogs' defence under enormous pressure with a seemingly neverending stream of inside 50s (34 to 15). Lauren Spark held Tegan Cunningham well in conditions not suited to talls, but Kate Hore was very dangerous in the early stages.
Aisling McCarthy battled valiantly, regularly belting the ball down the ground, and Nathan Burke would be pleased with how his team fought out the match, with Bonnie Toogood kicking a consolation goal in the latter stages of the fourth.
Joy for the @bulldogsw at last as Bonnie Toogood snaps truly in traffic ??#AFLWDogsDees pic.twitter.com/gjRioqvU32— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) February 14, 2020
The Demons still have All-Australian ruck Lauren Pearce (knee), midfielder Lily Mithen (ankle) and forward recruit Jackie Parry (hamstring) to return as the season progresses.
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It was a surprise to many to hear Daisy Pearce before the season say she would be lining up at half-back in her return from pregnancy (rather than her customary midfield spot), but it's a tactic that has paid immediate dividends. Pearce was composed and found plenty of the ball when the heat was on early, her clean skills setting her apart on the field.
It was over when...
With the rain pelting down in the third term, Melbourne changed tactics, pushing high up the ground and booting the ball over the top towards goal. The Dees were trusting their forwards to out-run their Dogs opponents, and they delivered in spades. Casey Sherriff's accurate boot off the ground tipped the margin to 20 points, and the game was in the bag.
One to watch
She played only two games last year after being selected with pick 44 in the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft, but Shelley Heath is quickly hitting her straps in season 2020. The diminutive winger stands at just 160cm, but over the last few weeks has had several moments where her fierce tackling and neat skills have caught the eye. Heath finished with seven disposals and seven tackles against the Dogs.
Over-enthusiasm costs Dogs
It was a weary Ellie Blackburn who made her way to the post-match press conference, having battled in the middle of packs on a very heavy track. "We almost over-compensated and tried to do too much. It was like, 'I just gotta win the footy here, and we've just got to get it forward, we've just got to win it'. We'd all go in (to the contest) and then you'd look behind you and they've got it running forward. I think that happened a couple of times throughout the game and they probably scored from those ones," Blackburn said.
"It was tough. The conditions were really tough, Melbourne made it really tough, they played some really good football, and some really structured football right from the start. I was really proud of the way the girls hung in there and won that last quarter, that was probably the most pleasing part of the night." – Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke
"We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game. The Bulldogs were really good with their pressure and forward momentum last week. But 'Paxy' (Karen Paxman) and the girls were up for the challenge, and I thought they controlled the game for the most part and deserved to win." – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
Western Bulldogs have a tough task ahead, hosting Carlton in the annual pride match, while Melbourne will look to make it three from three when it plays an inexperienced St Kilda side.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 (12)
MELBOURNE 2.3 2.6 4.8 4.8 (32)
Western Bulldogs: Berry, Toogood
Melbourne: Emonson, Paxman, Sherriff, Gay
Western Bulldogs: McCarthy, Blackburn, Lamb, Spark, Ferres
Melbourne: Paxman, Scott, Pearce, Hore, Gay, Heath
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Melbourne: Kemp (knee)
Crowd: 3133 at VU Whitten Oval