A STIRRING fourth-quarter fightback has propelled Collingwood to a six-point qualifying final win over North Melbourne at Victoria Park.
The Roos took a 14-point lead into the last term, but majors to inclusion Kristy Stratton, Chloe Molloy and Tarni Brown was enough in the 7.8 (50) to 7.2 (44) win.
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For Collingwood, it's sweet revenge for last year's heart-breaking semi-final loss to the Roos, going down by two points before the season was cancelled.
Brown had earlier swung the game in North Melbourne's favour after the Pies had made all the early running, streaming out of a stoppage in the forward pocket to bizarrely kick through the wrong goals and register a behind for the Roos in the second quarter.
At the time, it had been a turning point – the resultant kick-out overturned, Beth Lynch converted after a brief grapple on the goal-line, and a successful Sophie Abbatangelo set shot cut the margin to three points in the shadows of half-time.
With Emma King's dominance in the ruck starting to pay dividends out of the middle, North Melbourne's extraordinary accuracy in the face of several tough shots on the boundary (Lynch's second and Ash Riddell) helped the visitors to a 14-point lead at the final break.
While Ash Brazill had been a surprise presence up forward earlier in the game, she was swung to her customary defensive role for the final term, and withstood some heated North tackle pressure to kick-start the Pies' stunning run of goals.
Stacey Livingstone (10 intercepts) was rock in defence for Collingwood, while co-captain Bri Davey (31, nine tackles, seven clearances) dictated play in the engine room.
Counterpart Emma Kearney (19, 400m gained) was crucial in the Roos' rally, as was Kaitlyn Ashmore (17) on the wing and Jenna Bruton's deft touch around the ground.
Creative Collingwood on-baller Jaimee Lambert needed a concussion test after being accidentally sandwiched between the knees of two North Melbourne players in the third term, but returned to play an important role in the last quarter.
Brazill's surprise move
Given Collingwood's defensive woes on the injury front, it was surprising to see Ash Brazill line up in the forward line to begin the game. North coach Darren Crocker wasn't taken aback, saying they'd spotted the tall training in attack earlier in the week. But the star rebounder was swung back into defence in the last quarter, after Beth Lynch had stymied the run usually produced by Ruby Schleicher.
North Melbourne finished the season probably where it should on its 2021 form, losing in the first week of finals. After dominating the aborted 2020 season – but not playing too many of the top teams – the Roos were a little clunky this year, struggling to produce four-quarter performances and lacking for pace at times, particularly in the back half. They've got a fearsome midfield, but there's still a few missing puzzle pieces.
The beauty of now being five years into the NAB AFLW competition is rivalries and history between teams is beginning to develop. With three former Pies – Jess Duffin, Emma King and Jas Garner – holding down key positions, the Roos have a bit of black and white in them, but Collingwood signed up coach Scott Gowans as an assistant after he was let go by North. On the field, the sides have now played two tightly fought finals for one win apiece.
"There was certainly a lot going on, it was a bit of a chessboard in the last quarter. Our players thought their way through it in the end. Their ability to adapt to different positions and trying a few different things to try and get things going in the last quarter was really good. They adapted really well and whatever we threw at them, they adjusted. They've got such a fighting spirit, I'm just so proud of the way they continue at it." – Collingwood coach Steve Symonds
"It was a real game of momentum, I thought. The Pies came out and had the momentum in the first quarter, and I think we reined that back for a couple of quarters. It was a real arm wrestle, but to Collingwood's credit, they really responded at three-quarter time and found a way. They were kicking with a bit of a breeze in the last quarter and they definitely utilised that, but it wasn't the reason they won, they just gritted their teeth a little bit more than we did and found a way to win." – North Melbourne coach Darren Crocker
After the six-point triumph, Collingwood will be faced with the daunting task of Brisbane in a preliminary final. Brisbane has hosting rights, but the location of the game is yet to be confirmed given the recent small COVID-19 outbreak. It's season over for North Melbourne.
COLLINGWOOD 3.2 3.4 4.6 7.8 (50)
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.0 3.1 7.2 7.2 (44)
Collingwood: Alexander 2, Molloy 2, Lambert, Stratton, Brown
North Melbourne: Abbatangelo 2, Lynch 2, Garner, Riddell, Bannister
Collingwood: Davey, Livingstone, Lambert, Bonnici, Molloy
North Melbourne: Kearney, Garner, Riddell, Bruton, Ashmore
North Melbourne: Nil
Crowd: 3010 at Victoria Park