2022 AFLW Big Improvers: Mikala Cann (Collingwood)

AS Season 7 of the AFL Women’s competition edges closer, there are plenty of players looking to back up what could be considered breakout seasons earlier this year with impactful full-year campaigns. In the Big Improvers series, we take a look at some players who really caught the eye in 2022 with grand strides across the board for their sides. We continue with Collingwood midfielder Mikala Cann, who stepped up to play some valuable minutes inside in the wake of injuries to teammates.

MIKALA CANN (Collingwood)

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Height: 173cm
Draft: 2018 – Pick 13
Recruited from: Eastern Ranges / Hawthorn VFLW

Whenever a critical player goes down with injury in a team’s lineup mid-season, other players are expected to pick up the slack and fill the void. That is exactly what rising talent Mikala Cann did during the 2022 AFL Women’s season. When Brianna Davey went down with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, there was a gap on the inside to fill, and then once Brittany Bonnici suffered the same fate, that gap turned into a gaping hole. Luckily for the black and whites, Cann was one player who was capable of playing inside, with an athletics background, fierce attitude and appetite for the contest. When she came from the Eastern Ranges through the 2018 AFLW Draft, Cann was a midfielder who could play other roles, but had the burst speed to breakaway, and the tenacity to do all the defensive things right as well.

Cann’s debut season saw the youngster play just four games, with the raw talent having really only played the one season of football at junior level. Her intent was unquestionable, with Cann laying 6.5 tackles across those four games, but her disposal efficiency (45.2 per cent) and only average of 4.5 per game were still a work in progress. Likewise her technique, giving away two free kicks per game. A year later, Cann established herself in the side, lifting her disposal efficiency to 67.1 per cent, and though her tackles dropped (3.4), her outside game, through her marking (2.0) and inside 50s both rose. Cann took a mark per game inside 50 as she spent the majority of her time in attack.

In 2021, Cann was more of that pressure forward as she adjusted to the role inside 50. She lifted her disposal numbers to 12 per game, and a career-high 70.8 per cent disposal efficiency. Her marks (2.3) were also at a high, as she had adapted to the level and became a lock inside the best 21, playing all 11 games. That form – which saw her still fill the odd midfield rotation – would continue into the most recent season, where she was thrust into the on-ball brigade more often than she would have expected preseason, but she flourished in the absence of her highly rated teammates.

Last season, Cann averaged the 15.6 disposals and laid 4.1 tackles, but critically, recorded 3.2 clearances per game. Her 35 clearances were double the amount of total clearances in her first three seasons, as she not only played all 11 games, but lifted her output across the board. She also gained more metres than the previous year, and ran at more than 50 per cent contested possessions, which is why her disposal rate dropped to 61 per cent. She found herself inside the defensive 50 more too, averaging almost a rebound 50 and 2.3 intercepts per match.

Overall, Cann showed that she can step up and play inside midfield, and that is where she is expected to be as the Pies face a full season without their two inside midfield stars. The flow-on effect of Cann playing inside allows Jaimee Lambert to be a second possession winner and utilise her skill going forward. With a number of inside midfielders recruited to the club through the draft, namely Charlotte Taylor and Imogen Evans, the Magpies have built some depth at the position to cover the star losses. Cann will be a huge part of how far the Pies can go in Season 7.

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