Season review: North Melbourne

NORTH Melbourne talked the talk and then walked the walk in 2020.

The Roos were a premiership fancy before round one, and lost just a solitary match for the shortened season, by two points to Melbourne in round one.

Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams, kicking off proceedings with Adelaide and moving alphabetically from there. 

Coach: Scott Gowans

Leadership group: Emma Kearney (captain), Jasmine Garner (vice-captain), Britt Gibson, Emma King

2020 finishing position: First in Conference A, five wins, one loss, 227.2%. Qualified for a preliminary final against Carlton.

Best win: North Melbourne 5.4 (34) defeated Collingwood 5.2 (32), semi-final.
It was a nail-biting win over a dogged opponent in the team's first finals appearance. The Magpies skipped out to a 10-point lead at half-time before the Roos responded and weathered the frantic final minutes.

AFLW Match Highlights: North Melbourne v Collingwood

05:03 Mar 21. 2020. 2:33 PM

The Kangaroos and Magpies clash in a semi-final of the AFLW

Best individual performance: Jasmine Garner is one of the favourites for the league best and fairest for a reason. Her match against Geelong was something special. Well held in the first quarter, she was instrumental in the Roos coming back from an 18-point deficit, and finished with 18 disposals, six marks, six clearances and three goals.

Club best and fairest candidates: Jasmine Garner, Emma Kearney, Ash Riddell, Jenna Bruton

NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Nil

Debutants: Ellie Gavalas, Aileen Gilroy, Abbey Green, Mia King, Vivien Saad, Sarah Wright

Most improved: It could only be Jasmine Garner. We hadn't seen the best of the Roo at AFLW up until this year, although she had put in a strong body of work at VFLW level. In conjunction with a move to the midfield, Garner's average disposals rose from 13 to 20 and total goals from five to eight.

Star recruit: A flood of Irish players made the trip across to Australia for the 2020 season, and one of the most effective was Aileen Gilroy. She slotted in well across half-back, where her speed, big kick and tough tackling were brought to the fore.

Irish recruit Gilroy makes her presence known on debut

00:23 Feb 8. 2020. 4:35 PM

Roos' Irish debutante Aileen Gilroy introduces herself to Aliesha Newman with a crunching tackle over the boundary

Unsung hero: Key defender Tahlia Randall has improved season on season since starting at Brisbane in 2017 as an 18-year-old. The key defender is often tasked with the opposition's biggest forward threat.

What worked:

- Having previously spent the vast majority of her AFLW career forward, Jasmine Garner was a lethal threat in the midfield. Her clearance work and booming kick was crucial in the Roos' success throughout the season.

- North Melbourne's midfield as a whole was comfortably the best in the competition. Having lost Jamie Stanton to Gold Coast, the Roos brought in top-10 pick Ellie Gavalas and regained a fully fit Ash Riddell. The depth was impossible to match, there was no let up for opposition sides as players rotated through.

What needs improvement:

- Two-time All Australian ruck Emma King proved she could be a valuable forward last year, but battled in 2020 to have her say in matches. She looked most threatening when rotated through the ruck, and while Kate Gillespie-Jones held her own when on the ball, the inexperienced Vivien Saad struggled.

Kearney canters clear to connect with King

00:46 Feb 29. 2020. 7:19 PM

Emma Kearney breaks away down the wing to set up Emma King for a much needed Kangaroos goal

Season in a song: Playing to Win (Little River Band & John Farnham). Coach Gowans was unequivocal in his pre-season proclamation the Roos were aiming for a premiership in 2020, and the players backed it up on the field.

Early call for 2021: North Melbourne should once again be a serious flag contender. It's a shame we didn't get to see the preliminary final battle against Carlton, it was shaping to be one of the matches of the year.

Season rating: 9/10