AFLW Grand Final – Brisbane v Adelaide: A fight to the end
Brisbane v Adelaide
12.55 pm, Saturday 25th March
Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
This inaugural AFLW journey, begun on a warm Friday evening at Princes Park, was finally designated to end on a steamy Saturday afternoon at Metricon Stadium, home to neither of the participating teams. If the AFL have frequently found themselves scrambling to respond to a new reality they helped create, the same could never be said of the players. The football journey of most of these women really began years, not months, before. Once their moment finally arrived, they have shown us time and again just how ready they were.
Adelaide wasted no time proving how ready they were for this Grand Final, as Kellie Gibson put them ahead after 20 seconds. Switching the ball to the open flank in defence, and then attacking directly into their forward 50, the Crows dictated terms early.
It soon became apparent they had the dominant individuals. Erin Phillips seized this game by the scruff of the neck and never let it go. Fellow captain Chelsea Randall reprised her regular season success on star Brisbane forward Tayla Harris, preventing the Lion spearhead from gaining a possession until late in the third term. Courtney Cramey was deployed in a variety of roles throughout the game and thrived in all of them. The Crows threatened to dominate for most of the opening three quarters without ever breaking their opponent.
On the day they needed them most, the previously undefeated Brisbane Lions found most of their key playmakers subdued. It was a tribute to their collective defence – the meanest in the competition – that they kept themselves in touch.
Eighteen years away from the game she was raised on has proved small impediment for Phillips. With 28 disposals, 2 goals, 7 marks and 7 tackles, she who produced one of the more dominant Grand Final displays of the modern era. Holding her feet while others fell, controlling the air, or just finding options in the mayhem of a desperate ground struggle, the WNBA champ proved the difference that dragged her team across the line.
Adelaide looked destined to wrap the game up with a third term barrage that seemed sure to crack their opponents. But several crucial missed opportunities, and an obstinate Brisbane opponent, saw them lead by only 12 points at the final break.
Brisbane’s key player makers emerged late. Sabrina Frederick-Traub asserted her physical presence in the forward half, scrambling a goal to start the comeback. Emily Bates, who’d fought against the odds throughout the game, continued to run and supply. Though lowering her colours, Harris still flew recklessly for marks. This all paid dividends in the final term, as the Lions again showed themselves a dangerous opponent in a tight finish. Had they just found a little more poise with their forward entries in the dying minutes, victory might still have been theirs.
Post-match, Brisbane coach Craig Starcevich was proud of his team’s fight, but conceded that Adelaide were deserving winners. A product of the professional AFL men’s environment, with his own substantial playing career, Starcevich deserves credit for almost seeing his charges through the season undefeated. Defying pre-season predictions that proved far too Victorian-centric, the unfancied Lions fell heartbreakingly close to their ultimate dream.
This victory represents a huge personal achievement for Adelaide coach Bec Goddard. Goddard was only able to put aside her regular employment in the Police Force to coach the Crows full time in the immediate lead up to this season. She faced a challenging task welding a cohesive whole from a squad split between South Australia and the Northern Territory. She has shown herself an astute judge of character, a deft handler of relationships, and a superb manager of people and resources. Goddard is another example of the un-recognised and underutilised talents that this inaugural women’s league has only begun to hint at.
Due mostly to its own original design, the AFL has been forced into extensive adlibbing as this season has progressed. The late scramble to finalise the venue for this game was just the final example. In the circumstances, they produced a decent save. Though the game would have drawn twice the crowd had they chosen the MCG, or thousands more had the Gabba proved to be available, the Metricon crowd of 15,610 was a respectable tribute to the efforts of the competing sides.
Where the AFL have been unquestionably successful was in the lead up marketing of this league. Deploying their commercial might, they have exponentially raised the profile of women’s football. They have been thoroughly rewarded by the rich personal stories so many of the players have brought to game, and their unstinting efforts.
In this age when footy is increasingly presented as a glossy entertainment product, one of the greatest qualities of this inaugural AFLW season has been to remind why so many play, support and just love the game in the first place. If what you want in a sporting contest is total commitment to a common cause, and a willingness to spend every last drop of heart, soul and strength in the pursuit of victory, then the women of the AFL lose nothing to their more storied and rewarded male counterparts. Fittingly, this AFLW Grand Final was a gripping and emotional testament to all we have witnessed these last two months.
BRISBANE LIONS 1.0 2.1 3.3 4.5 (29)
ADELAIDE 2.1 2.7 4.9 4.11 (35)
Adelaide: Phillips 2, Gibson 1, Varnhagen 1
Brisbane: Wuetschner 2, Frederick-Traub 1, Harris 1
Adelaide: Phillips, Randall, Cramey, Marinoff, Bevan, Gibson
Brisbane: Bates, Frederick-Traub, Hunt, Virgo, Wuetschner
VOTES: Phillips (Ade) 3, Randall (Ade) 2, Cramey (Ade) 1
Umpires: Rodger, Bryce, Cheeve. Crowd: 15,610 at Metricon Stadium