AFLW Round 3 – Adelaide v Western Bulldogs: A One Woman Show

Adelaide v Western Bulldogs
1:35pm, Saturday 17 February
Norwood Oval, Adelaide

 

Holly Bousignac

 

The laptop is loaded. I’m taking a punt on my dwindling phone data. And I’m wondering, is Erin Phillips really the one woman difference between the dominant team I watched win the flag last year, and this unsettled 0 and 2 team we’ve seen so far?

 

The boat slips from side to side on its thick ropes, a gentle swaying dance. Out the back is a totally serene setting – a quiet, private harbour. Lots of trees. The creak of the wooden jetty and call of birds makes up my soundtrack. Laughter of holiday-makers. There’s a gentle river breeze here in Goolwa, but with a distinct whiff of ocean air. I’m in the Murray Mouth, where the river meets the Southern Ocean in a dramatic clash.

 

I feel a long way from our home track, Norwood Oval. It’s cooler here, but the commentators are already worried about the heat in Adelaide. Sunny. 30 degrees. The oval will be a pressure cooker today. Crows need a win. Dogs want to send a message.

 

The first bounce sees Perkins in the centre- that’s different! And our hero, Erin, in full forward. Tactical genius? Or an unwillingness to acknowledge Perkin’s lack of impact on the scoreboard so far this year. We’ll find out.

 

Crows look earnest. But scrappy. And there’s a panic – they know what’s on the line. I watched from the boundary at Norwood in Round 1 when Crows were beaten by a more professional looking Lions outfit. There is limited composure again this week. Frantic throwing of ball on boot. The Doggies have numbers to burn and are managing to move the ball along with control.

 

Katie Brennan looks like a calm commander from up forward. She is an unlikely looking mongrel footballer. She is an inspiration. An early run-in soccer style goal from Emma Kearney gets the Dogs crowd up and cheering, though Phillips threatens a perfect return to the side with a snap on goal – it misses. As the dying seconds of a dominant first quarter leak away for the Dogs, now two goals up, Phillips’ defensive skills keep the Crows alive. A diving intercept mark means a line up in front of goal as the siren is near blown. What leg is she going to kick with? Poke at it with her apparently tender right quad? Or take a punt on the left? She looks pretty comfortable and kicks on her right – no sign of reserve and follows through beautifully on the Sherrin.

 

We have a game on our hands.

 

Quarter time. I shuffle from the starboard side of the boat to port, out off the sun. Is it too hot to be playing footy? Does it need to change? Would we see more skill and less fatigue in fourth quarters if these games were being played in Winter? Is it too early for a beer?

 

The Crows’ defence pushes on in the second quarter and Chelsea Randall, Sarah Allan and Jasmyn Hewett are holding up under pressure. But they can’t link up controlled play. Katie Brennan takes a truly beautiful high mark 5 metres out and keeps the game on edge. It could go anywhere from here, indeed it goes straight back up the other end to the other tall blonde forward in Phillips – goals again! She looks determined, not celebratory. That’s no smile – it’s a grimace. Crows maintain all the momentum but can’t convert and end another scrambling quarter, still in it.

 

Mister Percival comes and settles in the water alongside me. He’s interested in the footy. I’ve just re-watched the heart-wrenching classic Storm Boy, filmed entirely here in Goolwa, SA. The Coorong beach setting is dramatic and powerful. If you haven’t read this masterpiece of Colin Thiele’s or seen the film, I won’t give too much away. But you’ll never look at a pelican the same way again, I promise you.

 

Third quarter and Phillips takes up her old post in the centre, Perko down at full forward. But it doesn’t last long, just a cheeky strategy as they swap out again within the opening minutes. Maybe it confuses the Dogs defence just long enough as McCormick goals to put Crows up for the first time. They have a habit of doing this, don’t they? I notice with unmitigated glee the number of people in the crowd at Norwood faithfully wearing their Port Adelaide Power colours. I love it. It sends a message.

 

“I’m here supporting the women, but just so we’re all clear, I’m for Port. And the second we have a women’s team, we’ve got our eye on Phillips for the trade.”

 

Katie Brennan imposes again but it is not so spectacular as the following “look – no hands!” goal from Phillips. Freaky strength. A brave running back with the ball fly from Randall seems to inspire and the Crows get another look in up forward. Perko’s a chance! Perko! But no – she just can’t seem to make an impact. She has done well in the middle. But she’s not the force of nature she was last year. I wonder, is there still time for Sarah to impress?

 

The local bird population is thoroughly unimpressed with my impassioned one-way conversation with the laptop by the time my sister arrives to spend the night on the boat.

 

“What’s happening in the footy?”

 

“Grab me a beer and I’ll fill you in!”

 

Off we go. The fourth quarter finally sees the Crows with numbers around the ball. The contest is heaving, lurching with fatigue. The Dogs still look cleaner and more efficient. Is it enough?

 

When Phillips snaps another signature impossible goal, it answers my earlier question beyond all doubt. The Crows need Phillips. She is the heart of the team. Geez I can’t wait to see her in the silver and teal. It seems unfair that Brennan can’t quite goal down her end moments later. She deserves it. And then disaster strikes – she’s down. Surely not another knee? We don’t know, as she’s taken off and down to the rooms. There is eerily little said about what’s gone wrong. It really is injury to insult for the brave Dogs and Crows have the one point lead when McCormick takes a sliding mark in the goal square seconds before the siren blows.

 

When Phillips is interviewed after the win and asked, “can you win it from here?” A convincing “Absolutely” is the answer. Dogs’ coach Paul Groves sums her up nicely. “I would like to see what Erin can produce at one hundred percent with a year of footy, because if that’s her at 65, 70 percent with her quad, god help everyone.”

 

The Crows can win it with Phillips. I think I’ll take a calming walk along the haunting, beautiful Coorong wetlands now. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for Pelican nests. Bring on Round 4.

 

Crows defeat Bulldogs 5.4 (34) to 6.5 (41)

 

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