Cats' season review: Best performance, unsung hero, early call for 2022

GEELONG'S season started with a 62-point loss to North Melbourne, and didn't get too much better from there.

The Cats finally broke their drought in the final round of the season, but it was a horror campaign for those in the hoops.

Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.

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Coach: Paul Hood

Leadership group: Meg McDonald (captain), Jordi Ivey (vice-captain), Aasta O'Connor, Renee Garing, Maddy Keryk, Nina Morrison

2021 finishing position: 13th, one win and eight losses, 40.2%

Best team performance: Gold Coast 3.6 (24) lost to Geelong 6.5 (41) in round nine.

The dam wall finally broke as the Cats piled on the goals against the fellow winless Suns. Laura Gardiner and Amy McDonald found plenty of the footy, while Richelle Cranston finally hit the scoreboard after a tough season. It capped off the retiring Aasta O'Connor's career perfectly. 

Geelong players celebrate victory after the round nine clash with Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on March 27, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Best individual performance: Geelong came into its match against West Coast hoping for a win, but lost badly in one of its worst games of the year. But that couldn't be blamed on Amy McDonald, who tried her heart out in the midfield, recording 24 touches and six tackless.

NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Becky Webster

Debutants: Olivia Barber, Laura Gardiner, Nicole Garner, Darcy Moloney, Carly Remmos, Steph Williams

Retirees: Aasta O'Connor

Aasta O'Connor says farewell after her final game against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on March 27, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Most improved: Amy McDonald improved so rapidly, she won Geelong's best and fairest. The versatile runner played off half-back, on the wing and even as an inside midfielder. Possessing a unique kicking style, McDonald was a reliable ball-winner and ran out all four quarters with power.

Star recruit: Geelong did not recruit any players this year, but the pick of the draftees was key forward Olivia Barber. Like most who missed out on playing in 2020, she started slowly, but her agility at ground level and aerial prowess caught the eye. A long-term prospect, she looks to have the ability to tear a game apart down the track.

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Unsung hero: Julia Crockett-Grills. With Nina Morrison and then Liv Purcell sidelined with torn ACLs, Crockett-Grills was forced to take on the bulk of the midfield load. The underrated hard nut was usually found at the bottom of packs and covered large areas of the ground.

Julia Crockett-Grills in the thick of it during the round one clash between Geelong and North Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on January 31, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

What worked:

- Becky Webster and (the injury-prone) Denby Taylor were high draft picks in 2018, but took good steps forward in their development this season. All six draftees were given a run at the top level, which will hold the side in good stead going forward.

What needs improvement:

- There was a serious disconnect between the forward line and midfield, with the key forwards generally forced far and wide to find any footy. The Cats averaged 10 inside 50s per goal, the worst return rate of any side, and they struggled to convert once the ball hit the deck.

- The ruck was an area of concern for Geelong, averaging the fourth-fewest hitouts and the fewest hitouts-to-advantage. Youngster Rene Caris struggled to crack the side in the first half of the season, but the team looked better balanced when both herself and the now-retired Aasta O'Connor played. Caris will benefit from another VFLW season, but there is now a hole in the second ruck role.

Rene Caris jumps for joy after kicking a goal during the round nine clash between Gold Coast and Geelong at Metricon Stadium on March 27, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

- The age profile of the Cats remains a concern, with a list dominated by 30-plus veterans and young players, and a lack of personnel in the mid-to-late 20s age bracket. Recruiting a few experienced heads from other teams is a simplistic solution, as the geographical challenges of attracting Melbourne-based players for a part-time competition remains.

Early call for 2022: Geelong was a side who was badly affected by the cancelled 2020 VFLW season, and will hope more game time will help the development of their young players. Short of a successful recruiting raid, it's hard to see a quick bounce up the ladder, but they'll be hoping to reduce the gap between themselves and other teams.

Season rating: 2.5/10