Player Focus: NAB League Girls – Mackenzie Eardley (Dandenong Stingrays)
TOP prospects step up in big games, and none have been bigger this NAB League Girls season than the Dandenong Stingrays‘ clash with Eastern Ranges. Both sides came into the game undefeated, occupying the top two spots on the ladder, but it was Dandenong who came up trumps by two points at Linen House Centre on Sunday.
Tall utility Mackenzie Eardley was one of the many star Stingrays to make her mark, returning for her first game since Round 2. The AFLW Academy member notched 21 disposals and laid eight tackles in her side’s win, with all of her unique athleticism coming to the fore. We placed her Round 6 performance under the Player Focus microscope.
SEASON SO FAR
Averages: 13.3 disposals, 3.7 marks, 4.0 tackles, 2.3 inside 50s, 2.0 rebound 50s, 2.0 hitouts, 1.0 goal (3 total)
Having started out with a quiet seven-disposal outing against the Geelong Falcons, Eardley got back to showing glimpses of her best form with a three-goal showing in Round 2. The versatile talent then missed the next three matches, but returned in Round 6 and boosted her numbers significantly. Though the sample size is small, Eardley’s ability to impact aerially and follow up with aggression is reflected in her averages of 3.7 marks and 4.0 tackles. She has also been able to impact at either end of the ground, with all three of her goals thus far coming in that second outing.
Dandenong Stingrays 5.5 (35) def. Eastern Ranges 5.3 (33)
Having missed a good chunk of the 10-round season already, Eardley came out with a fire in her belly and hit the contest with intent. She was gifted her first touch via a free kick inside defensive 50, and it served as an easy way into the match as she dobbed a lovely kick out wide to get a first-minute stat on the board.
Her vigour was misplaced a touch as she gave away an in-the-back free kick which lead to Eastern’s opening goal, but undeterred, Eardley backed that up with an outstanding double effort to smother and tackle on the defensive arc.
The 18-year-old’s aggressive line of pressing behind the ball saw her take up nice positions to intercept, and while she was sucked into her attacking half at times, that positive intent also helped Dandenong link into attack. Intercepting behind the ball, Eardley looked straight to centre half-forward and hit Charley Ryan with a kick, before running past for the hand-off and booting inside 50.
There are not many talls willing to do that, or able to pull it off, but Eardley did and can. Overall, it was a productive start for the tall in her most comfortable defensive post, and she was able to get involved straight away – like she never left.
Again starting across the half-back line, Eardley was able to showcase the dual-pronged defender she is – impacting both in the air and at ground level. At 183cm, her reach helped her contest quick kicks coming in, before following up with crunching tackles. Her grasp proved impossible to escape for many an opponent.
Eardley also took on some of the kick-in duties and looked to take metres before unleashing a long kick. Without the ball, she essentially roamed as a spare defender, proving loose in her direct marking but getting to a good amount of contests and making her presence felt.
The pressure was on at said contests, and it showed as Eardley was given little time to hit a good option when the ball was in dispute. Still, she kept up with the play and had her moments in what was arguably her quietest quarter of the day.
After a steadier second term, Eardley started the second half with that same vigour she did in the first. A feature of Eardley’s play continued to be her willingness to look centrally when kicking, and it helped Dandenong pile pressure on Eastern’s defence.
Again advancing high up the ground to set up the Stingrays’ wall, Eardley swept up the scraps and looked to that hot spot each time, displaying immaculate kicking skills for a player of her height. While some of her kicks invited pressure and had a little too much air on them, they were mostly effective. Most importantly, they put Dandenong in a position to strike.
As had been the case all day, Eardley’s tackling was also terrific, as she buried several opponents to force stoppages, spillages, and even earn a holding the ball free kick with one run-down effort. In what was arguably her best period of play, the top-ager began to truly put all of the pieces together.
With the game on the line and Eardley able to play in a variety of roles, she started term four at the centre bounce. She was outdone in those situations, albeit against the impressive Mia Austin, and was then thrown forward.
Operating inside 50, Eardley was hit up on a short lead and instead of going back for a shot as others did from 40 metres out, she opted for a chip pass over the top and found a teammate.
There was not much else for her to do despite the stakes of the game rising, and Eardley ran out a promising first game back after three weeks away. Given that factor, her ability to warm to the contest in quick time was extremely impressive, and the all-round impact she provides on all three lines points towards great versatility.