2022 AFLW Big Improvers: Shelley Heath (Melbourne)

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. 

Today we take a look at a Dee who although it does not look it on the stats, really stood up in 2022 to take up some crucial defensive roles, Shelley Heath.


Age: 22
Position: Defender
Height: 160cm
Draft: 2018 – Pick 44
Recruited from: Southern Saints

After making her debut in 2019, Heath somewhat flew under the radar for a while, as she built up her confidence and worked her way towards being a starting member of the Melbourne side.

That was until 2022, when she really started to make a name for herself, gaining a lot of responsibility and continuing to prove that height is just a number.

Playing almost every game in 2022 (missing only one due to Covid protocols), Heath really cemented her spot and role in Melbourne’s side last season, and stepped up to take on some tough opponents, despite Heath being one of the shortest defenders on Melbourne’s list.

Although she was most significantly lauded for her role in Melbourne’s Round 8 win over North Melbourne, she had been quelling the influence of opponents much earlier in the season.

In Melbourne’s Round 5 win over Gold Coast, she found herself on speedster Kate Surman, and thanks in part to Heath’s influence, the speedy Sun only saw the ball about half as much as her season average would suggest.

However, it was in Round 8 against the Kangaroos where Heath really made a name for herself, shutting down Kangaroos captain and star midfielder Emma Kearney. Heath was able to keep Kearney to her lowest disposal count for the entire season and ensured Kearney had little to no influence on the game.

Emma Kearney Round 8 vs Melbourne7411100
Emma Kearney season average11.67.519.140.10
Kate Surman Round 5 vs Melbourne235000
Kate Surman season average5.25.410.610.40.6
Shelley Heath’s influence on her opponents

Heath’s improvement this season even caught the eye of the All Australian selectors, with the defender named in the initial All Australian squad of 40 for the season. Although she did not make the final All Australian team, it capped off a stellar rise she has had this season.

What makes Heath’s stark improvement in only a few years more remarkable is that although having been recruited out of the Southern Saints, Heath’s sporting background was in taekwondo, so the pocket rocket really has come a long way in only a matter of years.  

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