INJURIES hit West Coast hard and early, decimating the side through the pre-season and seriously affecting their playing stocks once round one began.
Despite the inconsistency the Eagles showed (in part driven by the ever-changing first 21), there were definite signs of improvement in the club's second season and first under Daniel Pratt.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams in reverse ladder order.
WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retiring players
Coach: Daniel Pratt
Leadership group: Emma Swanson (captain), Dana Hooker (vice-captain), Courtney Guard, Alicia Janz, Parris Laurie
2021 finishing position: 12th, two wins and seven losses, 53.0%
Best team performance: West Coast 8.5 (53) defeated Geelong 2.2 (14) in round seven.
This was the best footy we've seen from the Eagles across their two years in the competition. Their pressure was elite from the first to last bounce and they ran in waves across the ground, linking up disposal chains. Emma Swanson and Niamh Kelly starred, while Imahra Cameron booted three goals.
Best individual performance: Her side may have lost by 45 points, but Aisling McCarthy left nothing in the tank against Brisbane in round three. The midfielder hit her stride in her third game for her new club, working from siren to siren to finish with 18 disposals, four tackles, one goal and three votes from the umpires.
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Mikayla Bowen, Bella Lewis
Debutants: Shanae Davison, Lauren Gauci, Andrea Gilmore, Bella Lewis, Demi Liddle, Katelyn Pope, Amber Ward (AFLW debuts); Tayla Bresland, Brianna Green, Alicia Janz, Aisling McCarthy (club debuts)
Most improved: Kellie Gibson made her name as a tricky forward pocket at Adelaide, but her on-field influence at West Coast had been minimal with a lack of supply. She was given extended midfield time from about halfway through the season as injuries mounted, and the smart footballer thrived.
Star recruit: Runners-up in the club best and fairest is an excellent achievement for Aisling McCarthy in her first season at West Coast. The former Bulldog was a driving force in the midfield until injuring her knee in the penultimate round, exploding from stoppages and hitting the scoreboard when pushing forward.
Unsung hero: Chantella Perera. Leading an inexperienced (at AFLW level) backline is a tough task, especially when the side was on the end of some nasty thumpings, but the key defender was a calming presence and her intercept marking had a real impact on some matches.
- Giving plenty of time on the ball to highly rated youngsters Mikayla Bowen and Bella Lewis. The diminutive duo is the future of West Coast and can be the building blocks of the midfield for years to come. They grew in confidence and influence as the season progressed and will be better again next year.
What needs improvement:
- Injuries plagued the Eagles, particularly in pre-season when Pratt was reduced to just 12 fit players at one point. There were quite a few soft-tissue issues (rather than collision) on the injury list, although you never expect your star player (Dana Hooker) to drop a knife on her foot and cut a tendon.
- While West Coast's endeavour couldn’t be questioned, particularly in the second half of the season, disposal and execution was a serious issue. The Eagles were the lowest kicking and marking side in the competition, struggling to maintain possession and a controlled playing style – a common theme among the expansion clubs.
- The Eagles are probably still short a marking forward who can be counted upon for a goal a game. Imahra Cameron was dangerous at ground level, and Grace Kelly was great in her second season, but she needs a foil who can reduce the reliance on the midfield to hit the scoreboard.
Early call for 2022: If the Eagles can work on their polish – which continuity on the track and an injury-free run will help – they have the potential to trouble established sides next year. Moving into the next bracket of teams (top half of the bottom eight) should be the aim.
Season rating: 3/10
BEST AND FAIREST WRAP Who was your club champion?