AFLW Grand Final – Brisbane v Adelaide: Moments
It’s September 1998, working at the China and Glass Department in David Jones at the sprawling Marion Shopping Centre in thoroughly average suburban Adelaide, I give my notice – finishing up on Christmas Eve. Lucky enough to make it through the entirely predictable public service entrance processes (what was essentially an IQ test and personality questionnaire in the form of an exam at the University of South Australia’s Brookman Hall on North Terrace, followed by invitations to apply for agencies and interviews) I have been offered a graduate position with the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs in Canberra.
The position I happily accepted – my first nine to five. September progresses and the Crows pull off upset after upset after losing their first final to the Demons. In the preliminary final as Matthew Robran completes one of the most devastating displays of long distance goalkicking ever seen on the MCG it is apparent I will, for the second year running, miss seeing the Crows in the Grand Final; instead staffing an empty floor, lonely shelves full of Krosno and Kosta Boda. The occasional Mrs Bucket to tell me how smart she is by doing her shopping during the football. Grinding sound madam, what grinding sound?
The small TV my colleague in kitchenware has smuggled in under the counter hardly gives fitting prominence to the second half demolition of the Roos; Rehn, McLeod and Jarman yet again doing their thing when it matters. As I go home to watch the replay, the streets a sea of flags, the air thick with horns, the one consolation is next time the Crows make a Grand Final I’ll get to watch it live.
It’s March 2017 – it’s somewhat of a surprise that the drought is ending in autumn. But there’s been plenty of surprises over the last two months: that teams and players have been taken to heart; that interstaters are (temporarily) following the Crows; that I could once again have the privilege of seeing a full Norwood Oval; that the teams favoured to finish sixth and seventh are playing for the premiership. The list could go on.
That public service gig has become a career, thankfully relocated to Adelaide. Never a vocation but it has its moments. Saturday mornings no longer require the sale of Wedgwood with a head full of Friday night fug. Rather it’s down at the swimming pool as the kids go about their lessons. There’s a bit more Crows flavour on display than usual, but in a close 28 degree 9am, winter outerwear is at a minimum.
After several hours of splashing malarkey we head home for some lunch and to prepare for a Grand Final party. Cupcakes have been baked and the popcorn maker warmed up. The lass, hearing the word ‘party’ has musical statues and hide and seek planned for us. I have just enough time to get down to the bottle-o before first non-bounce at the somewhat disjointed time of 1.30ish.
Pushing the trolley around the Irishman’s supermarket of booze, I pause at the fridge. Would it be tempting fate to grab a bottle of bubbles or two? What the heck, live dangerously. If the outcome of a football match is determined by purchasing decisions made 2,000 kilometres away then the world is in more trouble than we already thought.
I get back just in time for the national anthem, the radio still chuntering on about men’s pre-season analysis, giving no clue to the proximity of game time. Just as well I hit the couch as Metcalfe and Frederick-Traub leap because within 20 seconds Kellie Gibson snaps the Crows’ first, deep within a Carrara pocket. A welcome start but the most open the Crows get the game all quarter.
The Crows control the tempo, keeping the ball mostly within their forward line and desperately trying to stop Brisbane getting the ball out and flowing. At key moments Sabrina Frederick-Traub seems the most dangerous. Wuetschner gets one back for the Lions before a freakish left foot snap from Deni Varnhagen restores the Crows’ advantage at the first break.
Adelaide again dominate the second quarter but can only fluff the opportunities in front of goal. Six behinds for the quarter and I can’t help but think of the 1998 Grand Final. But the signs are good. The Crows are effectively disrupting the Lions’ ball movement. Chelsea Randall is again doing a job on Tayla Harris and also adding value around the ground.
There is a theory I’ve heard about football that games come down to chance much more often than we are willing to give credit. Very few find the idea that results can happen just because very appealing. I do think Grand Finals, particularly close ones, come down to moments.
Moments like Crows ruck Rhiannon Metcalfe, having the best game of her career, marking in front of Tayla Harris to keep the ball locked in the Crows’ forward line.
Leah Kasler keeping Perkins under control and keeping Brisbane in the game.
Heather Anderson’s shoulder popping out, soon followed by Breanna Koenen’s ankle.
Frederick-Traub slicing through the mayhem to grab the ball and put it through.
Jess Sedunary running into a two on two contest and doing enough in the contest for Phillips to snap another.
Tayla Harris finally getting her hands to the footy and putting Brisbane within a straight kick.
Bates bravely marking and desperately willing the ball forwards.
Chelsea Randall chasing and chasing. One moment, neutralising a Brisbane forward movement, the next marking strongly in the forward lines. The only thing missing is the finish that would have put the Crows out of reach.
The umpiring decisions that have me howling (the deliberate out of bounds (probably there) and the bizarre holding decision paid against Foley) and the lad reduced to tears as the pressure all becomes too much.
And Erin Phillips, rising amidst three Lions to mark as the Crows move out of defence. Time and again getting those clean hands to the ball as others around her fumble. Clearing the ball as the seconds tick down only to have it tumbling straight back in. Gaining possession again and Frederick-Traub’s tackle too early and too late – too early for prior opportunity and too late to beat the siren. Phillips’s head on the ground – THE moment. Her straightforward dignity, acknowledging her wife in a post-match interview in a country that wouldn’t allow them to marry.
The loungeroom erupts as the Crows have held on by six points. The lass, still somewhat confused by nomenclature shouts “Australia, Australia, Australia” while the lad jumps up and down, arms aloft. I pop off to the kitchen to extract the bubbles from the fridge. There are no flags out car windows or horns drifting across from the main roads. This premiership is more understated and personal as it required a leap of imagination to begin with but is all the more satisfying for it.
The Crows’ achievement has been remarkable. That Bec Goddard was able to take a team separated by 3,000km and turn them into a cohesive unit is a laudable achievement. That she took a gamble on an unsigned free agent who would become the most popular player in the competition shows rare foresight. Introducing us to sneaking roosters past the sunrise and choking on greatness rather than nibbling around mediocrity is a service to vernacular worthy of Australia Day honours. Signing Port Adelaide royalty as a Crows rookie the true masterstroke. As Goddard climbs to the dais to receive her premiership medal, the lass notices that the ‘boss’ is a girl – more ‘being it’ being seen.
The Port Adelaide / Adelaide divide has been a talking point throughout the season. Port Adelaide fans have had to decide whether to support the AFLW Crows. A local newspaper columnist has mocked the club’s lack of history. People have highlighted the dissonance of a Port person being the Crows’ best player. They’re all missing the point.
The Adelaide Football Club’s heritage is the SANFL, including Port Adelaide – each and every club. As Phillips ran around Football Park with her father following the 1990 SANFL Grand Final, the Crows had just come into existence because of Port Adelaide’s attempts to go it alone. Without Port there would be no Crows. If Port Adelaide wishes to acknowledge its SA footy history since 1870, which naturally it does, then it must acknowledge that a part of it is the Adelaide Football Club.
In that context and in a competition without a Port Adelaide, Phillips wearing the state colours (with the NT flag on the back) makes perfect sense. And thank goodness she was! What a season.