Five minutes into Geelong’s Round 1 match against North Melbourne, veteran defender Maddy McMahon set the tone for the new-look Cats.

The Kangaroos caused a turnover and looked to capitalise with a long kick inside 50 to their dangerous forwards.

McMahon wasn’t in the best position, but in order to make a contest, the 32-year-old flew in front of her opponent, putting her body on the line to stop what could have been a potential score. 

This action typified Geelong’s new style of play.

That was just one of many moments this season where the defender has done what’s required for her team.

In 2022 her game has gone from strength-to-strength, with the mid-sized defender regularly winning one-on-ones, reading the play with ease and kick-starting the team’s attack out of defence.

In each game this season McMahon has been given the task of playing on her opposition’s tallest forward, often giving away over 10cm in height.

And on each occasion she has kept her opponent goalless.

In Round 1 it was North’s Emma King, who single-handedly crushed the Cats with four goals in the same game last season. 

This year was a different story, with McMahon keeping the former All Australian full forward without a mark or goal, filling McMahon with confidence.

“I think having a role against Emma King in Round 1 and her not having a huge impact on the game gave me that bit of confidence that I was able to do the role for the team,” tells McMahon.

“I like the challenge of trying to nullify my opposition and trying to limit their impact on the game.

“I feel like I’ve been able to do that over the last three weeks and so yeah, I’ve got a bit of confidence going forward now.”

McMahon’s excellent form continued in Rounds 2 and 3.

After three rounds the former basketballer leads the competition for intercept possessions, averaging 7.7 per game, has been named in the AFLW’s Team of the Week twice, and received nine out of a possible 10 votes for her performance against Collingwood in Round 3.

Many AFLW pundits have been impressed by Geelong’s new game style this season, particularly the team’s increased effort, pressure and contested possession. 

McMahon is a big advocate for the team’s new approach, saying that it plays to her strengths.

“I think if you were watching our team from now and since last year, you can see that grit really stands out,” she said.

“That pressure we’ve shown in particular is so much better, the growth that we’ve shown in that area has been massive. 

“I think that (grit) comes naturally to me, because I feel like if there’s a ball to fly for, I’d be flying for it anyway.”

McMahon believes that the same courage has been on display by her teammates in the backline.

Geelong’s defensive unit has been made up of a combination of new and experienced players this season. McMahon, MeghanMcDonald, Georgie Rankin and Maddy Keryk who are now in their fourth season together, have been joined by new recruit Chantel Emonson and draftees Gabbi Featherston and Annabel Johnson.

“Annabel and Chantel have both been recognised for their grit over the past two weeks, so that just shows how they’re willing to put their body over the line,” McMahon said.

“Annabel’s come in like she’s played a season in the AFLW already. She’s going to be key for us going forward, and the same with Gabbi. 

“I just love their willingness to learn; they’re all doing so well already.”

The new combination has been working together under the watchful eye of former Adelaide Crows premiership player and defensive coach Jess Foley, who stepped into her new role this season after being a development coach in 2021.

“Jess has been so amazing,” said McMahon.

“She's a wealth of knowledge really and she can really communicate well and she understands the game really well. 

“I have loved learning from her and her confidence in me is something that has probably helped me as well in this first part of the season, that’s for sure.”

McMahon knows the group is only three rounds in, but already she’s excited by what is to come for the Cats in the rest of the season.

“Personally I’m really just enjoying playing my role and working towards the brand of footy we want to play as a team,” she said.

“I look forward to improving as a group as the growth we’ve shown already is really exciting.”