Heath helps Dees destroy Pies in second half

MELBOURNE opened its AFLW Premiership defence with what turned out to be a comfortable 42-point win over Collingwood in the opening match of the 2023 AFLW premiership season.

It was not looking that way the whole night though, as Collingwood really came to play in the first half and found themselves eight points up at half-time and looking on track to pinch an upset against the reigning premiers.

They were led by returning skipper Brianna Davey, who already had 21 disposals to her name at half-time and looking like she had pre her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. She provided a strong body through the midfield that Collingwood desperately needed. Her 21 disposals were more than anyone else on the ground had to their name two quarters later.

There were many factors that saw Collingwood take such a dominant position into half-time, but a simple change Melbourne made at half-time drastically changed how the game panned out and ultimately helped the Dees kick eight goals to none in the second half to take the win.

Enter Shelley Heath, the pint sized defender turned midfield tagger who got moved into a tagging role on the Magpies skipper, which proved to be a master stroke by Melbourne coach Mick Stinear.

Davey only had 14 touches in the second and her impact on the game drastically dropped.

Early in the second term, a lot of Collingwood’s attacking play was driven by Davey in some way. Often slipping the Melbourne tackle, her rare ability to kick 50m was driving so much of the attack. She even kicked a goal in the second term as Collingwood really started to take control of the match.

Collingwood seemed to be inspired by having their captain back in the side as their tackling and defensive pressure was intense in the first half.

Then came half-time and the decision from Stinear to push Heath up from her usual defensive job to the tagging role on Davey, and Heath’s impact was there from the opening bounce.

Although Davey got the opening clearance kick, Heath tackled her mid kick and the pressure caused by that tackle caused Davey’s kick path to deviate and Blaithin Mackin was able to intercept. This sparked a resurgence from the Dees, who kicked the first goal of the second half minutes later to drop the margin back to a mere two points.

Heath briefly came off the ground in the third term and Davey was able to return to creating an influence like she had in the first half. But once Heath returned her presence was evident as she wore Davey like a glove, affecting any disposal Davey did get away.

Heath was also clever with her timing when it came to applying pressure on Davey. If the play was in Melbourne’s forward 50 she eased up a little on Davey specifically, still applying pressure defensively but also positioning herself to provide an attacking option if the Dees had possession.

This turn in events allowed Melbourne’s natural handball, run and space game to come to the fore. They were also a lot more composed with the ball and it was all being rewarded on the scoreboard. They piled on five goals to none in the third term to turn an eight point half-time deficit into a 25-point three quarter time lead.

The third quarter was just the spark Melbourne ultimately needed, as they maintained that level in the final term to comfortably run away with the match, and Collingwood just did not have the answers.

Even with the tagging role aside, Heath still managed to have a huge impact on the game even though she only finished with 11 disposals. With Davey well suppressed, she found the freedom to push forward into a true midfield role and even kick two goals, which helped double her career goal tally.

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