AFTER Melbourne and Geelong met for the first time in AFLW history earlier this season, they will now face off for a second time in just eight weeks, this time in a do-or-die semi final.
The Demons are licking their wounds after being beaten up by North Melbourne last week, while Geelong, despite coming off a strong win over the Bombers, will be missing dangerous forward Chloe Scheer.
Season so far
The Demons looked absolutely unbeatable over the first five weeks of the season, before Adelaide halted them in their tracks. Since then, they have struggled at times, especially in the face of immense pressure, and were well beaten last week by an inspired Kangaroos outfit. Melbourne does, however, still boast the highest average score in AFLW history – even after kicking just nine points last week – as well as the two competition-leading goalkickers of the season in Kate Hore and Eden Zanker. At their best the Demons are linking up by hand out of stoppage and finding repeat marks inside 50.
Geelong has struggled against the top teams this year, beating only one finalist – Sydney – throughout the home and away season. Last week's impressive win over Essendon, however, will give the Cats a mountain of confidence going forward. Their strong midfield unit is now complemented by a multi-pronged attack, which has made them far more dangerous than at this point last year. Finding efficient clearances to move the ball to its outside runners will be Geelong's main priority.
Tahlia Gillard v Aishling Moloney
Gillard and Moloney are two tall, rangy key position players who thrive on their athleticism, which makes them just as dangerous on the deck as they are in the air. Last time they met, Moloney kicked three goals and did plenty of damage as a linking player when pressing higher up the field, while Gillard will be determined to contain the game-breaking Cat.
Players to watch
Eden Zanker (Melbourne)
After kicking at least one goal in each of the first nine rounds of the season, Eden Zanker has failed to hit the scoreboard over the last fortnight. This is a game in which Melbourne really needs Zanker to return to that dominant forward target around which the rest of the forward line can operate.
Jackie Parry (Geelong)
With Chloe Scheer unavailable due to a collarbone injury, Jackie Parry must pick up some of that slack inside 50, against her old side no less. Third in the competition for contested marks this year, Parry's physicality and strength will be crucial for the likes of Shelley Scott and Kate Surman to work from.
Where it will be won or lost
If the last fortnight has taught the footy world anything, it's that a high-pressure game is the way to unsettle Melbourne. Bringing that intense, disruptive style of play around the contest will be how Geelong can limit the Demons' spread from stoppages and, therefore, attacking forays.
In addition, quelling Melbourne's ability to mark inside 50 will be important for the Cats. Allowing marks 40 to 50m from goal is generally okay, but the Demons will typically then look for a higher percentage option closer in, or on a better angle, and it is here where Geelong can create intercept opportunities.
For Melbourne, stopping the Cats from translating possession at the contest to elite outside ball users like Nina Morrison, Mikayla Bowen, and Chantel Emonson is the way to interrupt Geelong's desired ball movement. Having aggressive rebounders like Sinead Goldrick, and Shelley Heath ready to capitalise on any poor kicks forward generated by that more contested style the Demons are able to force on the Cats, will also be key to quickly turning defence into attack.
Geelong has been exceptionally strong in first quarters this season, conceding just two goals in opening terms – both to Melbourne in round five – while the Demons have not won an opening quarter since round seven against West Coast. The Cats must capitalise on that first quarter dominance on Sunday if they are to set themselves up to win.