by Luke Voogt
Geelong Cats face a huge challenge as they open their 2020 AFLW campaign against the Dockers at Fremantle Oval this Sunday.
Fremantle was a dominant team in 2019, finishing just below reigning premiers Adelaide in Conference A before a shock preliminary final loss to Carlton.
For the Cats outside midfielder and 2018 number one draft pick Nina Morrison makes a massive return following ACL surgery last year.
Morrison starred with 22 disposals, eight tackles and the winning behind in a best-on-ground performance in the Cats’ season opener against Collingwood last year.
But she ruptured her ACL at training the week after and missed the remainder of the year.
The 19-year-old could make a big difference to the Cats this season, especially if she has an injury-free run.
She, Renee Garing and Olivia Purcell will tackle Fremantle’s midfield, which, while strong and versatile, will only have one ruck feeding it.
Mim Strom, 18, is the only ruck on Fremantle’s list after Irish recruit and former Gaelic footballer Aine Tighe injured her knee.
But Geelong’s young backline, led by Captain Mel Hickey, faces a difficult first few weeks with 2019 club best-and-fairest Meg McDonald out for a month with a broken finger.
If Geelong’s defenders contain Fremantle’s forward line, the second-most potent in the league last year, it could be season-defining.
While Fremantle go in favourites, Geelong could easily give them a run for their money with Morrison back.
The Cats made the finals last year despite losing more games (4) than they won (3), in a nonetheless impressive debut AFLW season.
Geelong finished a game ahead of Greater Western Sydney in Conference B, the weaker of the two conferences that year.
But Adelaide, led by AFLW dual best-and-fairest Erin Phillips, smashed Geelong in the preliminary final.
The more experienced Crows scored 11.7.77 and held the Cats to just to 1.1.7, the lowest-ever AFLW score, with Geelong’s sole last quarter goal coming via a 50m penalty.
The Cats face even more competition this year with four extra teams entering the AFLW.
But while some critics described Geelong’s play in 2019 as “ugly”, senior coach Paul Hood last Friday hinted at bolder, more attacking football to come.
Hopefully, with some more experience under their belts, the Cats can again make the finals, and be more competitive if they do.