Geelong tyro Nina Morrison exploded onto the AFLW scene with a masterful 22 possession, nine tackle performance as the Cats marked their first AFLW appearance with a 3.6 (24) to 3.5 (23) victory.
Morrison, the number one pick in last year’s AFLW draft, looked a cut above as Geelong barely escaped a second-half Collingwood fightback.
The Pies started the game busily, dominating possession amongst the clinches and looking dangerous inside 50. Sophie Alexander, Collingwood’s 25-year-old debutant hoofed the football through the centremost uprights from over 45 metres to open the AFLW’s account for 2019.
But despite early dominance, Collingwood were unable to capitalise on their chances. Instead, it was apparent that Morrison, dominant in the midfield, would have a serious impact on the AFLW’s third season.
The 18-year-old discards experienced tacklers like she’s throwing off a rain jacket and, as well as winning her own footy and taking it away from others, finds herself in perfect positions around the ground and runs better off-ball than most other players. A junior career spent in the TAC Cup and the VFLW has clearly worked wonders for the talented teenager.
Her team took a minute lead into quarter time thanks to Maddie Boyd’s conversion on a fifty-metre penalty. The Geelong native, at her third team in as many seasons, impressed with strong hands and impressive physicality, adding another in the second term.
With Mia-Rae Clifford’s exquisite crumb, the Cats had a healthy buffer at the half, with Kardinia Park standing to applaud the group of young women who had so impressed the healthy attendance of over 18,000.
But Collingwood found resistance and dash in the bowels of the stadium, roaring into contention in the third quarter.
Sarah D’Arcy has physicality on her side and busied herself with imposing it. Her first of the year gave hope, but her conversion split a pair of injuries to her teammates – Alexander was stretchered off after a mid-air collision with Sharni Layton in which the forward was knocked unconscious. Minutes later, midfielder Jaimee Lambert injured her leg amid a contest – though the midfielder jogged off and returned later in the quarter.
As far as returns from injury go, Lambert’s was exceptional. The tenacious midfielder received a D’Arcy handball, stumbled her way into a grubbing banana kick and watched from the turf as the football painstakingly skidded through for another.
Now there was space in the pockets, on the flanks. Ash Brazill weaved her way from defensive fifty – but the play came unstuck as D’Arcy flew unsuccessfully, crashing to ground with an audible gasp from a baying crowd. Geelong’s skilful forays forward were halted as a surging Collingwood roared into contention, holding the lead and, predominantly, the football. A point up at the final break, the youthful Magpies had momentum and a sense of building upon it further.
The fourth quarter was an array of moments that fleetingly caught the eye, fading soon after. Danielle Orr found room on the skinniest of boundaries, leading to a shot at goal by Jordan Ivey – crucially, the ex-Blue failed to convert.
Ash Brazill’s defensive dash was unrivalled, Layton managed the most surprising of manoeuvres before hitting the deck and Lambert, Lazarusesque in her revival, attempted the impossible with a shot from the pocket yet proved mortal once more, failing to register a score.
Nina Morrison, though, might not be. Collared in the pocket and lining up from just 20 metres, Morrison could have sent her reputation stratospheric with the final goal of the game. With the Geelong faithful recognising the huge hair and emblazoned number 9, they bayed in hopeful anticipation.
Morrison hit the post. Frantic turmoil ensued.
With the game to be won, the Magpies surged once more, clattering exhaustedly into contests with increased desperation. The football was shunted and shoved ever forward by the Pies, but Geelong held firm, defending grimly as the clock fell closer to zero.
The release brought about by the final siren was magnificent – a bellow from as deep as the concrete foundations and from where football comes from, going back and back and back. It was the belly roar of a Grand Final and it reverberated threateningly.
A roar that affirms now and promises further.