As well as playing two of their three home games in Tasmania, seven of the Kangaroos’ squad lives and trains full-time in Tasmania, generally only meeting the team for match days.
In their first season, North Melbourne have enjoyed a convincing away win in torrential rain at Greater Western Sydney, along with two victories in their matches in Tasmania.
Along with Adelaide and Fremantle, who finished second-last in 2018, the Kangaroos have been scintillating for most of this campaign while fellow conference A team Melbourne’s two losses have both been by four points.
Kearney acknowledged a loss on Saturday would be cruel for either team.
“We’d be pretty disappointed, I won’t lie there,” she said. ”I think I’d be super proud of the team’s effort and what we’ve been able to achieve as a group for the very first time. But no doubt, with the conference system in place, it’s a tricky one.
“One team in conference A is going to miss out, and they’ve probably been one of the better teams of the competition from what we’ve seen.”
Saturday’s game against over-achievers Fremantle is effectively an elimination final.
“They [Fremantle] have been really surprising, I guess similar to Adelaide, they haven’t been affected by expansion,” said Kearney. “Plus they are aided by the fact they’ve had Kiara Bowers and Kelly Gibson come back from injuries, and they’ve got some young talent which has come through the ranks as well.”
The Dockers are undefeated in their three home matches, aided, in Kearney’s opinion, by unique conditions, including the “Fremantle Doctor” breeze.
“There are different conditions there, generally there’s a really strong breeze that comes through Fremantle Oval,” said the 29-year-old Kangaroos captain, last year’s AFLW best and fairest and a consistent performer this campaign.
“We haven’t played in conditions like that yet, so for us that’s when we might have a plan B to deal with Fremantle kicking with the breeze. Generally if you watch most of their games at Fremantle Oval, there’s usually that one scoring end left of screen that they score from. So that’s where we might look to change up.”
Kearney also weighed in on her pick for this year’s best and fairest, with the likes of former Crows coach Bec Goddard having thrown her weight behind naming the medal after Adelaide captain Erin Phillips.
“I think Phillips has probably been the most dominant player. The fact she’s kicked a lot of goals has helped as well, the umpires seem to notice that stuff a bit more,” said Kearney.
“Normally we find that it’s a midfielder that wins the award, so I’d say Phillips, or even Kiara Bowers might be a smoky for it,” in reference to the Fremantle tackling machine, whose 70 tackles this season put her 20 ahead of the next best.
Michael is a reporter for The Age.