North Melbourne’s Ben Brown has spent time as a development coach with the club’s AFLW side across their first two seasons in the competition. The star forward gives an insight into this year’s AFLW Players’ MVP Jasmine Garner and how she’s worked her way from key forward to star midfielder.
Kavisha Di Pietro: You’ve spent a bit of time working with North’s AFLW side throughout their first two years in the competition. How have you seen Jas develop over her two seasons with the club?
Ben Brown: This year has been a very different role for Jas. She came over from Collingwood ahead of North Melbourne’s first season as an established player in her own right after the first two seasons of AFLW playing as a key forward. That was the role that she filled last year for us with little stints going through the midfield, but I think she was able to really show her class this year in stepping up into a midfield role, sometimes pinch-hitting as a forward. We all saw this year what Jas is capable of with her ability to win the ball on the inside as a tall player, to then being able to use her strength for contested marking and push forward and kick goals. That all came to the fore and she definitely made our team a whole lot better this year.
As you mentioned, Jas has become a bona fide midfielder of the comp. What were her training standards and dedication like to get to where she is now as a player?
I spent a night a week at AFLW training through pre-season and then through the season itself and Jazzy’s dedication to her football is pretty clear. She’s always one of those players who is continually pushing harder on the track and making her teammates lift their standards too. Her dedication to the little things in her training is evident and I think the other girls feed off that. That’s come to the fore in her football and the way she plays on the weekend.
What are some of the areas that you and the North Melbourne coaching staff have worked on with Jas to get her to the next level as a player?
I think the main thing for her was about refining her midfield craft, which she did a lot of work on. She spent time with LJ (Morecroft) our midfield coach and Darren Crocker, who has spent a lot of time with the AFL men’s program, helping with stoppage work in particular at training. That helped not only Jas but our other midfielders. When you’ve got a leader like Emma Kearney, and you’re surrounded by players like Jenna Bruton, Ash Riddell and of course, Jas, the work they do together makes them a strong unit. Jas’ ability to push forward (eight goals), lay tackles (averaging just short of five per game) and gather the footy was at a high standard. When you have midfielders averaging those numbers, it reflects on team performance. I think as well, the girls always look for Jas. When they’re out there on the ground they know that if Jas is in any position in their eyeline then they could go to her and she’d do the rest. As a player, you definitely value teammates like that, when you know what you’re going to get from them in the contest.
How did Jas go about transitioning her strengths as a forward to a midfielder?
She’s a taller player, which is a similar position to what I’d be in. I think if I were to go into the midfield, I’d get very lost very quickly (laughs). That in a way shows Jazzy’s dedication to play whatever position is required of her for the betterment of the team but also her elite level of skill. Whether it’s marking the footy or bringing the ball to ground, she creates a contest. She’s got a thumping kick, too, which is really handy but she also generally gets in the right position to actually use that kick to full effect. She’s an exceptional, exceptional player. I think it was a smart move by Scott Gowan and the coaching team to make that switch into the midfield. I don’t think it would have been an easy decision when you’ve got a player of her calibre. Being able to play her forward of the ball is definitely an asset but it’s a move that’s paid off. Jas really showed the footy world what she’s capable of this season.
Why has her improvement been so significant?
I think when players get the opportunity to be around the ball more often, it separates the exceptional players from the good players. Jas really showed that she’s an exceptional player. We all knew internally at North Melbourne what she was capable of and her elite skill level and the package that she is, but, she was able to show that off to full effect when she began playing in the midfield. I think as a forward, at times, you can go missing when your team is struggling to get the ball inside 50 or it’s trapped in defensive 50. When you’ve got a player of Jazzy’s calibre you want her around the ball as much as possible and that’s what we found out this year.
You mentioned her ability to impact the contest and she’s quite a dynamic player. Can you elaborate on that?
I was able to attend most of the games this year, as long as they were in the Melbourne area and one down in Tasmania, and saw it first hand. In the coaches’ box they love her because you’ve got the flexibility with her as a player that if you do need something forward of the ball or need to try to kick an extra goal you can throw her forward. We saw that against Geelong (Round 6) and a couple of other times throughout the season.
She went forward that day (against Geelong), kicked three goals and was able to change the course of the game after having a quiet first half. It’s moments like that where the best players really stand up. There were moments in that game where I remember thinking, ‘Oh, Jazzy’s not really in this game’ but you just knew that she was going to do something special and she did just that. She stood up, impacted the scoreboard, took some nice marks and really set the team off. The team seems to play better when Jazzy is playing well. She’s really tough as well and I think that’s a real marker of a North Melbourne player. The girls took that to another level this year and I think we became a really tough team to play against, which is what we want.
Jas is incredibly talented on-field, but how is she viewed around the club?
She’s held in really high regard and well respected as a person. Jazzy’s isn’t the loudest character you get around the club, which rings true with me as well, but the respect for her as a player and the way she goes about her training is high. I think it would be safe to say that the girls look up to her as a player and what she’s had to do to get to where she is. There are few players week in, week out that put together the performances that she is. As an athlete, you want to push yourself to the next level and Jazzy is definitely a player that does that.
AFLW Players’ MVP, proudly presented by Our Watch
Jasmine Garner, North Melbourne – 413 votes
Madison Prespakis, Carlton – 227
Jaimee Lambert, Collingwood – 201