Two years after debut, Dog-turned-Cat's changed for good

IT WAS A different Meghan McDonald who took to the field last Saturday night to the one we saw in the first season of the NAB AFL Women’s competition.

For a start, she was playing for Geelong, rather than the red, white and blue of the Western Bulldogs she represented for four games in 2017. 

And, she was also lining up at full-back, rather than full-forward. 

"We're half an hour after the siren and my hands have just stopped shaking," McDonald told after Geelong's nail-biting one-point win over Collingwood.

"Full-back's not the easiest place to be when you're one point in front. You're just thinking, 'Oh God,' constantly.

"But it was an awesome night and very thankful we got away with the win. Scrappy, but we got it done." 

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McDonald was a relatively inexperienced player in 2017 but has spent the two VFLW seasons since her delisting improving her game with Darebin in the VFLW competition. 

The 27-year-old was one of the Cats' best against the Pies, finishing with 15 disposals (including eight contested possessions), four marks, three rebound 50s and five AFLCA coaches' votes.

"It was an excellent experience at the Dogs and I'm thankful for it. But when I got delisted, there wasn't an area of my game I didn't have room for improvement in," she said.

"What's changed the most is probably just my body – turning into an 'athlete', in inverted commas. I knew my physicality could be an asset, I just had to build some endurance and learn how to use it on a footy field. 

"At the end of the day, you just have to play more footy. Another two seasons of VFLW and I've felt more and more comfortable on the field and I'm hoping it to now translate that onto the AFLW field." 

The move to defence came at Darebin, with whom she won a flag in 2017 and was named at centre half-back in the VFLW team of the year in 2018.

"It's worked pretty well for me... I like sitting behind the ball and reading the play that way.  Everyone likes kicking a goal now and then and no one's to say you can't do that from full-back, so we'll see how I go," she said with a laugh. 

The final minutes of the Geelong-Collingwood clash were frantic, as both sides attempted to snatch the lead. Eventually Cats young gun Nina Morrison hit the post, scoring the winning behind, but the team had to protect the lead for another three minutes.

The nearly 19,000-strong pro-Geelong crowd created an electric atmosphere. 

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"I looked calm? That's interesting. Certainly my first few kicks in the warm up were not what you'd call drop punts," McDonald said with a wry grin. 

"I think by the time we ran out on the ground to play, everyone had relaxed a little bit. At the end of the day, it's cliched, but it's just another game of footy. 

"We play these girls at VFLW level, we all know each other from around footy in this state, so contest to contest it's just the same as any other day. 

"I had a ball. Second quarter I was having a lot fun [mainly because I] didn't see much of it, then it was a bit more stressful, but that final siren was pretty awesome. 

"Nothing like a clearing kick straight to the middle of the ground in the final minutes from yours truly. But we did the fundamentals when it counted, Nina hit the post and happy days." 

Next up for Geelong is McDonald's old side the Western Bulldogs at VU Whitten Oval on Saturday night. 

"It'll be good, they're getting the (2018) premiership flag presented as well. They play a completely different style to when I was there, and I think they'll be pretty determined to back up last season. 

"Hopefully we'll get a few insights from A. O'Connor (fellow ex-Dog and Geelong ruck Aasta O'Connor) and hopefully the result is similar to tonight but decided a little bit earlier in the match."