It’s only fitting that Geelong will face the Tasmanian Kangaroos of Melbourne North in the knockout final, given that their last clash marked the turning point of the Cats’ season.
In swampy conditions on an austere Launceston night, the Cats went scoreless at half-time and managed just two second-half goals as they trailed the Kangaroos by 12 points.
Forwards coach Aaron Black said the day after that game the Cats got their season back on track.
“It was when we played against North that was the turning point. We went to Tassie and I don’t think we scored a goal in the first half,” Black said.
“We just strayed a bit from how we trained in pre-season and how we prepared, so we just tweaked that a bit.”
The effect was immediate.
The Cats came out in front of a home crowd the following week against St Kilda and beat the highest score in the club’s AFLW history to that point – 71 points – and haven’t looked back since. .
Since Round 5, the Cats have been the second-highest scoring team in the AFLW, behind only Melbourne, averaging 52.5 points per game.
Luckily for the Cats, their goals came from 16 different players during the season, led by Chloe Scheer (13 goals) and Shelley Scott (nine).
While structurally, Scott’s move to the front line was important for the Cats, their new scoring prowess was largely down to how the team as a whole moved the ball forward.
“Personally, bringing Scotty in has been amazing,” Black said.
“Originally she was going to play forward, then with Maddy McMahon not playing this season we needed another back cover so we loaned her out to the back line.
“So we thought (after round 4), let’s pull the trigger as a group of coaches and bring her back up front, and that definitely helped, because having her there, she’s not just a excellent player, but also her leadership (is a big asset).
“She is also a real goal threat, scoring the threat, the pressure – she does it all. So that freed up a lot of our players, especially Scheery as well.
“I think a combination of that and the way we attack as a whole now, the baseline and the midfielders as well. We use the ball very well.
“Let’s hope this can continue. And we don’t hesitate. I think in the past we’ve been a bit shy to go for a kick, but it seems the players are confident to go for it.
Scheer has well and truly touched his suspenders this season, proving almost unbeatable in contested scoring situations and finding the goals regularly, including a personal and club best four goals last week.
Kate Darby also continues to present herself as a solid scoring option, while the attacking squad as a whole works wonderfully together.
“Scheer had a solid half year, and we always knew it was there,” Black said.
“I think adding players like Jackie Parry – she’s very versatile, she rarely gets beaten one-on-one, she’ll definitely mark it or put it down herself.
“Players like Laura Gardiner, she’s come down the offensive line this year and really made that high forward role her own. His work rate on the pitch and just showing up regularly at drop ball positions is also very good.
“I think we have a very good balance now and can hopefully continue to improve.”
Black said playing two seasons in one year helped the Cats’ developing roster build cohesion within the team, setting it up for a strong Season 7.
The Cats capped off the home and away season with an incredible 15.12 (102) comeback against Sydney – Geelong’s highest AFLW tally and second highest tally in AFLW history.
“I think you’re still hoping for that (big score), but when it happened, it was nice,” Black said.
“It was good to see the players really enjoying it and to be rewarded a bit for their efforts. In the last two years scoring has been a bit difficult for us, but this year, and especially the last half of the year, it went well.
“It was nice and nice to see them, it looked like they were having fun there, but that’s because of their hard work. We weren’t just sitting in the back, hoping it It was a lot of hard running and defensive effort – you do the work early and get rewarded at the end.
Geelong will go on to pursue their first-ever win over fellow 2019 expansion North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos in Saturday’s must-win final but hit the game in the best shape they have ever been.
“It will be a good challenge – their midfield is really strong, just like ours. I think that will be a big part of that, the midfield battle, because most games are won or lost there. most of the time,” Black said.
“Our mediums have been really, really strong this year as a core group, so I think they’re definitely up for the challenge.
“Hopefully when it happens up front we can continue to convert like we did in the second half.
“It’s been nice, when he gets there we either locked him out or got a shot on goal.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge. It’s a playoff final, so do or die, but everyone got up this week. I hope we will have a good crowd here.
The first bounce is 7:10 p.m. AEDT. Be there to cheer on the Cats as they return to the AFLW Finals: tickets are available via ticket master.