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AFLW preview: Port Adelaide vs Carlton


FIRST, there is boundless raw energy. The excitement of starting something new is inspiring and it can be overwhelming for all the emotions that ultimately spill over.

Then, there is hope from a new adventure. It becomes a force if the journey begins well …

But if there are road bumps – and Port Adelaide has found a couple in the first two AFLW games, after two trial games without victory – how does a new team behave?

Now there is the need for belief.

“After the game I said, in our team meeting,” recalls Port Adelaide vice-captain Ange Foley, “we have to look at our two games as super positives.

“We have been together for 13 weeks. We have matched it with two teams, one that has been in the competition for two or three years in West Coast and the Western Bulldogs who have been in the competition since day dot (in 2017). We matched it with them in patches.

“The next piece for us is belief that we are good enough.

“We are a new team. We are a young team. That is the facts.

“We have to start get away from worrying about those two things and believe we are good enough – and can really match it (with other teams).

“Then we will start to win games.

“I have absolute faith that we can beat Carlton. Sydney is an expansion team (that Port Adelaide plays in round four). We can be at 50-50 win-loss and that would be pretty good.”

The force of the vice-captain’s message certainly translated to training at Alberton this week where the energy to be better – to do better – was noted by Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell.

“All they want to do is improve as individuals and as a group – and we are seeing that every time we are with them,” Arnell said.

Lauren Arnell says the squad has been working hard over the week, with coaches seeing real growth and progress from game to game. Image: AFL Photos.

ANOTHER FIRST

FIRST AFLW game in Perth. Then the second match is the first at home at Alberton Oval. And now the third game is the first played in Melbourne.

It has been a coast-to-coast start of firsts for Port Adelaide in the national women’s league.

Port Adelaide has not played a national championship match at Ikon Park since Gavin Wanganeen picked up three Brownlow Medal votes in the 30-point win against Carton in AFL 2003, round 4. This was the game in which Mark Williams’ team blitzed Carlton with an eight-goal third term.

The venue holds no secrets from Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell, who led Carlton to its first AFLW match at Ikon Park in 2017 – with 24,500 inside the venue and quite a few locked out on February 3, 2017. Arnell kicked the second goal for Carlton, the first that gave her team the lead … and Carlton carried on to win by 35 points.

“I really love Ikon Park as a venue, particularly for women’s footy. The dimensions of the ground (157 metres long, 127 metres at its widest points) suits women’s football in general. It can be hard to describe, but the length and width suits women’s football.

“We will roll in and play good footy, I hope.”

Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell

PIECE BY PIECE

IT is a jigsaw with the challenge of connecting all the pieces to leave a beautiful picture. A picture that fits in a frame with the title of “premiership team”.

First, the squad – 30 of them.

“Our group is capable of so much,” says Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell.

Then, the game – defence, midfield and attack.

“How we exited defensive 50 under pressure, if you compare the two games (West Coast in Perth to Western Bulldogs at Alberton), it is like apples and oranges,” said Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell. “We have seen really exciting progress, particularly from our back line through those two games.

“What we will see – what we expect to see – this week is progress with our ball movement, particularly through the middle of the ground.

“We know the group can move the ball better than how we did in round 2. Anyone who has watched us train will see that. I am hoping our group puts that out on the field this weekend against Carlton.”

Lauren Arnell says ball movement is a focus area of improvement for the side. Image: AFL Photos.

FLIP THE MAGNETS

FIVE goals in two games. Gemma Houghton with two – the team’s leading scorer, so far. And the only player with more than one goal to her AFLW record at Port Adelaide.

The comparison with All-Australian AFL key forward Charlie Dixon has become too close to reality. Just as Dixon had his season stalled by an ankle injury, Houghton has moved to the sidelines with ankle surgery. She suffered the dreaded syndesmosis injury in the home loss to the Western Bulldogs on Saturday when her foot was caught under her body during a tackle in the second term.

So how does Port Adelaide restructure its attack?

Again, much to the Port Adelaide AFL script at the start of the season – when Dixon was sidelined after ankle surgery – opportunity presents for players wanting to make their names in the big league.

And there is the tantalising option of placing captain Erin Phillips at the goalfront to torment defenders with her sharp reading of the play and her ability to outsmart her rivals. It is even more enticing to make Phillips a focal point in attack while she is overcoming her corked leg from the season-opener against West Coast and the heavy tagging tactics being thrust on Port Adelaide’s key playmakers.

“We’ll see …,” Arnell said. “Erin can play nearly any position on the ground.

“There certainly are options.”

There also is the chance to test the depth of Port Adelaide’s inaugural 30-player squad.

At selection, Arnell and her match committee made their first forced and unforced changes. Port Adelaide will present for the first time Yasmin Duursma and Jade Halfpenny – the former a familiar surname among Port Adelaide fans. Sister of midfielder Xavier, Yasmin is keen to make her own mark on the game.

Halfpenny also has a family football link – the 20-year-old was the first father-daughter recruit for Norwood in the SANFL when she joined the club in 2020.

EMOTIONAL WAVES

ONE week it is the “old firm” from the Western Bulldogs, the club that won the heart of Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell as a young fan.

NEXT it is the “old gang” at Carlton where Arnell was the inaugural AFLW captain – and scored the club’s second AFLW goal.

Some emotional roller-coaster the Port Adelaide coach is riding while also managing the emotions of 30 players in a new team at Alberton.

“As a player, I was able to play (for Brisbane) against Carlton in a final,” Arnell said. “Time does dull that (emotional wave) a little bit. My investment and emotion is completely towards my group of players here at Port Adelaide.”

And while back at Ikon Park, Arnell will watch Darcy Vescio – the player who kicked the first goal of the first Carlton AFLW team led by Arnell – reach their 50th AFLW milestone. It is another key moment in a resume that includes two All-Australian honours, the AFLW leading goalkicker twice, three times at Carlton, AFLW Mark of the Year once … and the first player to reach 50 AFLW goals.

Lauren Arnell’s opposition watch would have been more familiar than most this week – with the Double Blues’ 50-gamer a teammate of Arnell’s in the 2017 and 2018 AFLW seasons. Image: AFL Photos.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We pride ourselves on our contested possession game and we lost that (against the Western Bulldogs) … (and) we probably were just giving away a few silly free kicks.

“Just building a bit more connection through all the lines and playing a more offensive game that we have been practising through pre-season. We probably just want to build a bit more on our offensive game style and our elite kicking skills – we just need to bring that back.”

Port Adelaide defender Hannah Dunn

BIRD SEED

(little stuff that means most)

CARLTON v PORT ADELAIDE

First Port Adelaide AFLW home match in Melbourne

When: Sunday, September 11, 2022

Time: 11.40am (Adelaide)

Where: Princes Park, Carlton

First meeting of the teams

On the ladder – Port Adelaide, 0-2 ranked 14th. Carlton, 1-1, ranked 11th.

Carlton joined the AFLW for its inaugural season in 2017 after being a long-time protagonist in establishing the women’s game in Australian football. Carlton and Richmond were rivals in the first VFL-sanctioned women’s match in 1933, a game played at Ikon Park – the venue of this AFLW match – with gatetakings devoted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Carlton was part of the first eight-team AFLW competition – and had Port Adelaide senior coach Lauren Arnell as its inaugural captain. The team has ranked fourth, eighth, grand finalist, third, seventh and eighth in its six AFLW seasons.

Last weekend: Port Adelaide lost to the Western Bulldogs by 19 points at Alberton Oval; Carlton scored a one-point win against Season 7 expansion team Essendon at the Port Melbourne cricket ground.



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