Essendon’s VFLW side has succumbed to the third-placed Geelong by 23 points at Deakin University Oval on Saturday.
The inclusion of reigning Gold Coast Suns best and fairest winner Lauren Ahrens wasn’t enough to get the Bombers across the line, with the home team claiming a 5.9 (39) to 2.4 (16) victory.
Both teams applied pressure from the first bounce but neither were able to break the opposition’s defence, resulting in a goalless first term.
A best-on-ground performance from Alex Morcom helped the Bombers cut off Geelong’s forward entries, while midfielders Elizabeth Hosking and Eloise Ashley-Cooper fought to capitalise on the defenders’ hard work.
After the first break, Geelong quickly broke through for its first goal to put the pressure back on the Bombers’ backline.
Tamsin Crook and Eloise Gardner stood strong but it wasn’t enough to stop consecutive Geelong goals.
Injuries impacted Essendon in the second quarter with Cecilia McIntosh (hamstring) and Courtney Ugle (dislocated finger) both heading to the bench, but their teammates continued to fight to overturn the deficit.
Marianna Anthony attempted to change momentum with strong tackles while Alana Barba used her fast feet to evade her opponents, but the Bombers struggled to get past Geelong’s tall defence with the Cats taking a 15-point lead into the main break.
A stirring half-time address from head coach Brendon Major sparked energy within the Bombers and they came out firing.
Captain Georgia Nanscawen led from the first contest, using her strength to extract the ball and setting up Barba to kick the Bombers’ first major.
Running with the momentum from their goal, the Bombers lifted to lock the ball in their forward half but struggled to convert.
Further injuries to Gardner (Lisfranc ligament) and debutant Jemma Finning (concussion) took their toll on the Bombers, with the Cats breaking through for a goal just before the third-quarter siren.
Geelong continued its dominance into the final term, kicking a goal in the opening minutes.
Essendon responded with a goal from Lori Stepnell, but the deficit was too much with the Cats claiming a 23-point win.
Vice-captain Ugle said the Bombers’ on-field communication was their key weakness but can take key learnings from playing against top-four sides like Geelong.
“Overall, our communication between everyone, it wasn’t just one particular player or a particular line group, it was all of us,” Ugle said.
“But we have a lot of growth and development to go. We’ve come so far but we can do better, and I believe in this group and I believe in our staff and coaching. Playing against quality sides only makes us hungry but it tests us and keeps us honest.”
When her side was faced with adversity, Ugle was impressed the Essendon's ability to be flexible with younger team members in Ashley-Cooper and Barba standing up.
“‘Coops’ did a killer job at going to the backline, being told in two seconds that you’ve got to go back and she played that role really well,” Ugle said.
“I thought Alana Barba really stood up today. I think she was one of the players that kind of got us going. She was able to score, she ran all day in the midfield, and I think that’s really good for a young player for confidence and I think she did really well today.”
As the Bombers are a young team, Ugle said having two AFLW players in Ahrens and Ruby Svarc come into the team was extremely valuable, not only for performance but also for leadership.
“I think having them has been really beneficial for us. Obviously, Ruby’s one of the fastest girls on the planet so that speed on the outside is great for us when we need to break up and open up the game,” Ugle said.
“’Loz’ (Lauren Ahrens) provides a monumental amount of experience and talk and a lot of height as well, which is what we lack. It’s good to have some quality experienced players back in.”
Despite the loss, Ugle believes the Bombers are ready to embrace a potential maiden finals campaign, but acknowledges they must improve over the remainder of the home and away season.
“We are licking our lips for finals, there’s no doubt about that,” Ugle said.
“But we have to do the little things right first. We can’t really think of finals at the moment because we’ve got some groundwork that we need to make sure we can tick off before moving there.”
The VFLW Bombers will return to Windy Hill next Saturday when they face the Western Bulldogs at 11am.
GEELONG 0.3 2.5 3.7 5.9 (39)
ESSENDON 0.0 0.2 1.4 2.4 (16)
Goals: Barba, Stepnell
Best: Morcom, Ashley-Cooper, Barba, Anthony, Hosking, Nanscawen