AFLW Grand Final – Brisbane v Adelaide: Just a Girl

 

On Sunday following the first ever AFLW Grand Final the annual Preston Bullants vs West Preston Lakeside Roosters day of scratch matches was held. This event has been running for the last five years, sponsored by local real estate company Hocking Stuart. Money raised through the day is donated to a charity and both teams get a chance to shake the rust off and give their players a good run.

 

This year was different. This year the Bullants have two female teams (U12s and U16s). The U12s coach is Emma King, Collingwood player and All Australian. That’s a good start.

 

I got to the ground to see the last quarter of the Girls U16s game. The Bullants were getting trounced. Not good but understandable. Roosters are a couple of years ahead of the Bullants in fielding girls’ footy teams. Their U16s side has played together for three years and it shows. Several of their players are training with a Northern Blues development squad.

 

While it was a one-sided affair what stood out was the depth of talent, especially in the Roosters’ line up. U16s players were regularly kicking on both sides of their body, 40m plus and hitting their target on the chest. Players were marking cleanly in packs, sprinting down flanks, selling the candy, tackling like it was a do or die final and reading the play with nous and timing. Within 5 years at least 10 of the players in this scratch match will be vying for selection at, if not national level, definitely at state league level. This is what’s coming down the line.

 

On Saturday we savoured the pointy end of the inaugural women’s national Australian Rules footy competition. And what a mighty way to finish an excellent season. The two best sides in the 7 week competition stood in line across from each other as Megan Washington sung the national anthem. Craig Starcevich, the Lions coach and an AFL Premiership player himself, urged his team “play the game and not the occasion”. Seriously? Everything about this game was the occasion!

 

When the siren sounded and the umpire bounced the ball to start what even two years ago was a pipe dream the Crows had their minds set firmly on the game. Gibson ran the outside flank into the pocket and squared the Crows first. There was less than 20 seconds on the clock. Erin Phillips, who was awarded BOG for her outstanding game, showed her strength and skill in and under, on the outside and taking on packs.

 

This was a hard contest and fast paced, with both teams settling remarkably quickly. The Lions answered the Crows goal and then combatants sized each other up for the battle. The Crows had the better of the attack but the Lions defence rebutted every forward entry. That is until Varnhagen testing the limits of mathematical probability, in an improbably tight angle in the pocket snapped a beauty. A goal that could not but deflate the Lions’ tyres. Except for Fredrick-Traub who gave no quarter.

 

If Phillips wasn’t causing mass jaw dropping (it’s a syndrome – MJD), Randall was. Whether she was roving the centre line for Crows or shutting down Harris, the Lions emerging star, in the last line of defence. She’s a ball magnet. The Crows were playing on their terms and the Lions just couldn’t get the motor running. And if we learned anything from Steppenwolf, it is that if that ain’t happening your guns won’t fire and you can’t explode into space.

 

In the second, the Crows made magic across the ground and a mess of their scoring opportunities. They took a scatter gun to the big sticks for a return of six points. They couldn’t split the big sticks. This could have been where they blew the Lions off their back but the damned big cats hung on. Lions defence worked overtime. Kaslar and Randall (Lions this time not Chelsea) were the wall. A great tackle on Sedunary by Lions’ player Lutkins saved a goal. Then Fredrick-Traub in a possible game lifting run charged down the centre. She was tackled after disposing the ball with a mighty kick forward. The free down field gave the Lions a much need goal and oxygen. The Lions tenacity was evident but they needed more.

 

How the Lions were still in this game I didn’t know. The Crows were everywhere. Yet with 4 minutes left in the third it’s was a 7 point game. Then Phillips, again, smart as, staying back from a scrap, picked up the crumbs and goaled. Still the Lions will not give up. When Harris (kept quiet through the game by Randall) took a screamer you wondered, is this where the Lions turn it around. She missed but you could sense the Lions smelled blood. In the last two minutes of the Third the Lions had control. Then, as if to mock the northern gods Phillips took a screamer. Even better than Harris. She is unbelievable!

 

Best players have skills, smarts and that certain something else. Hunger, drive, single-mindedness. A team’s hunger is one thing but individual hunger for success drives the team. That’s what I’m thinking watching Phillips. And C Randall. And Fredrick-Traub. And others but them especially.

 

A crowd of over 15,000 attended this Grand Final. Later that evening the AFL game at the same stadium could only attract 12,000. Naysayers will quibble about free entry and whatever but strangely they won’t extrapolate this season’s incredible attendance (and TV viewing) numbers against the most un-family-friendly fixtures the AFLW had to play to.

 

Even the ground for this game, the Grand Final (say it out loud for meaning) wasn’t decided until three days before the first bounce. Imagine being told three days before the last Saturday in September that the GF wouldn’t be played at the MCG; that it was being played in Launceston instead! The women took all this in with good humour and steely resolve and here we are with a crowd of over 15,000 and the rest of us at home cheering on the impossible dream!

 

A Crows poor kick out finds Ashmore who centres to Harris. This time she kicks true. It’s a five point game. We are into the Last stanza of a magnificent season. Harris, who will undoubtedly be one of the greats, but held back tonight, gets her moment.

 

Phillips and Randall take it in turns to dazzle. Randall takes a strong pack mark 30 metres out. But she suffers the Crows curse of inaccuracy (that’s not my quote, Daisy Pearce said it in her commentary – yes I even got Daisy into a report about a game she isn’t playing in!).

 

After almost four quarters of a contest that the Crows have dominated, with less than two minutes left on the clock, improbably, the Lions could just steal it. Six points is the difference. The Lions didn’t head the competition all season through luck. They are hard and determined and they just might … on this occasion time is not an angel for their fortunes and the siren goes. Adelaide scrap home. The Crows are the Premiers. My last note reads: What a desperate battle. No quarter given.

 

Women’s football is an evolution within a revolution. I quoted Gwen Stefani’s band No Doubt’s song, ‘Just a Girl’ in the title of this piece. It was written in the mid-90s as her reaction to how she was treated by her father and society. She mocked the idea. At the time she wrote that song no one in Australian Rules hierarchy would give women’s footy the time of day. Twenty years later we are witness to the Grand Final and our first season of a national women’s Australian Rules football competition. And it was spectacular. Just girls indeed!

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin’, out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun has nothin’ to do
But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Rick, you’ve nailed the real lasting significance of this first AFLW season. Those young girls running around suburban grounds now have new aspirations, bigger dreams.

    I think this matters a lot in sport. Sweden never had any tennis players of note before Bjorn Borg. Spain didn’t have many golfers before Seve.

    A dream can be a powerful thing.

    Cheers

  2. Anne Myers says:

    Nice piece Rick.

    My 9yo niece played her first game ever last Sun and LOVED it. There’s a pathway now.

    Yes the last minute venue arranging was embarrassing. The teams just got on with it. And girl did they ever!!!

  3. Yvette Wroby says:

    Well said Rick. Being ‘just a girl’ takes on a spectacular meaning. We need to all be more ‘girl’ after the season we have just witnessed. Thanks heaps for your report. Sorry I am so late in responding.

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