NORTH Melbourne has snatched victory over a dogged Collingwood, progressing to the preliminary final with a thrilling two-point win.
The fondly named "premiership quarter" proved to be the difference for the Kangaroos, hauling back the lead from which they were never headed in the 5.4 (34) to 5.2 (32) win at Ikon Park on Saturday.
The two sides traded blows in a tense final term, with Roo Sophie Abbatangelo surprising herself by nailing a low snap from the boundary before Jordan Membrey – who is yet to kick a behind in 10 attempts – coolly converted.
ROOS PIP PIES Full match coverage and stats
The Pies peppered their forward 50 in the frantic dying minutes, Jaimee Lambert missing a hurried snap, Chloe Molloy's set shot falling short before former Magpie Jasmine Garner stood tall with a contested mark.
North Melbourne had made much of the early running, scything through the middle of the ground with pinpoint passes and controlled hands.
For all the Roos' dominance, they took only a one-point lead into the first break after Vivien Saad was pinned for a throw and Membrey converted from point-blank range.
Collingwood came out firing after the first break, winning the ball and not wasting its opportunities. Quick entries inside 50 put a shaky North Melbourne defence under pressure, and the Pies' three goals were kicked with alarming regularity, taking a 10-point lead into half-time.
The third term belonged to the Roos, only conceding three inside 50s and holding the Pies scoreless. Sarah Wright took advantage of a 50-metre penalty before a composed Ellie Gavalas converted from 40 metres on the three-quarter time siren.
North skipper Emma Kearney was influential with four inside 50s, Garner had some strong moments with her marking a particular highlight, while Ash Riddell (22) was tireless.
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For the Pies, Britt Bonnici (20 and five inside 50s) was damaging throughout the game, captain Steph Chiocci shone on the wing and Molloy played intelligently, floating back whenever she was needed.
The one that got away
In the end, it could only be one player to take the game-saving contested mark on the defensive-50 line. Jasmine Garner is in the record books as kicking the first goal of the AFLW and did so as a Magpie. She's gone from strength to strength in the years since (crossing to North in 2019), and her composure took the air out of Collingwood in the last minute of the match.
It's one thing to noticeably improve season on season, but it's another to do it game by game. Britt Bonnici made her name as a fearsome tagger, but has been winning plaudits as a ball-winning midfielder in recent weeks. She finished with another 20 (her average for the season, up from 13 last year), including nine handball receives, such was her work-rate.
Four Roos? No worries
Collingwood's Chloe Molloy can do some special things on the football field, so much so that North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans says she's one of his favourites. She was a crucial part of the Pies' second-quarter charge and kicked a stunning goal dancing around four opponents.
Where does Emma King fit?
King is an All-Australian ruck who can also be very damaging in attack. Gowans said the tall is part of a rotation with several other players – presumably Vivien Saad, Kate Gillespie-Jones and possibly Britt Gibson – who move through various spots on the ground throughout the match. One thing's for sure, Magpies ruck Sharni Layton dominated when not opposed to King.
"Tired, is the way of describing it. It's sensational, to be honest. I'm really proud we were challenged by a really good footy side, with pressure, the way they moved the footy, their belief in what they do with their systems, and then they were able to come through in the end. Those games of footy can go either way, and fortunately today, with a little bit of good luck … the girls after half-time really responded with intensity and effort." – North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans
"At the moment, we're just trying to digest the game. Certainly, from a player and staff point of view, we're really proud of the way we've progressed this year. We think North Melbourne are certainly a very good side and a likely premier … we certainly had our chances, but some decisions and some skill errors really cost us." – Collingwood coach Steve Symonds
North Melbourne will play the winner of Carlton and Brisbane in a preliminary final, while it's season over for a vastly improved but disappointed Collingwood.
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.1 2.3 4.4 5.4 (34)
COLLINGWOOD 1.0 4.1 4.1 5.2 (32)
North Melbourne: Bateman, Ashmore, Wright, Gavalas, Abbatangelo
Collingwood: Membrey 2, Cann, Molloy, D'Arcy
North Melbourne: Kearney, Riddell, Garner, Gavalas, Grierson, Ashmore
Collingwood: Bonnici, Lambert, Chiocci, Molloy, Davey, Layton
North Melbourne: Nil