Anzac Day SANFL-W Grand Final : Triumph and tragedy in footy, in life.



The scene – A beautiful balmy Anzac Day evening at Unley Oval. Wednesday 25 April. The SANFL-W Grand Final 2018 – Norwood v South Adelaide.


The challenge – can the South Adelaide Panthers win a Premiership in their first year in the SANFL-W competition ?  Can South win a Premiership, full stop ??


Long time between drinks


(See nervous precursor to this tale at )


Its not about wonder women or superheroes – its about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.


This was one of the most dour and unrelenting games of footy I’ve ever seen.  The commitment of the 40 players from the first bounce to the last moments was extraordinary.   There were some exciting passages of play – speedy breakaways down the wings, great marks, clever goals – but mostly just heart bursting gut running, fierce tackling, pack crashes, and sheer desperation from both teams.  Players were hit hard and often, and just kept getting back up to contest the next ball, as if they had the spirit of the game itself in their hands to celebrate and protect ( … and maybe they do – as M Flanagan has well said, it may be the women’s game that saves Aussie Rules football from the corporate Gilead. )


The Panthers finished as minor premiers with just one loss in 10 games, but were made to battle every second against an inspired Norwood team.  South controlled much of the play early but were inaccurate, and pushed their way to an 11-point lead after Cat Williams soccered one home in the closing stages of the first half – only to see Norwood forward Alana Browne dash into goal to pull one back with just six seconds to play in the half.  Crow player Sally Riley was everywhere for Norwood, and directing the troops with experience and know-how.


After the long break, Norwood’s Rhianna Peate quickly converted a set shot to bring her side within a kick. Things were getting very tense on the sidelines !  The third quarter was fiercely contested, and Norwood started to peg back South’s lead, despite great work from Anne Hatchard, Nikki Gore and defender Cheyenne Hammond , who would go on to win the Best on Ground medal.


The final quarter was tense and tough – Norwood skipper Rebekah McMahon was left loose and tied the scores with a focused goal on the run.  Norwood rushed a point with moments to go, but South were able to quickly counter with a great pass from captain Kristi Harvey to Courtney Gum who marked under pressure and kicked a huge 50 metre goal to put South in front by 5 points. The two teams battled on exhaustedly until the final siren sounded.   Phew.  Yaaaasss !!




SOUTH ADELAIDE      0.3       2.5       3.6       4.6 (30)
NORWOOD                 0.0       1.0       3.0       4.1 (25)


South Adelaide:
 Gum, Harvey, Hatchard, Williams.
Norwood: Browne, McMahon, Peate, Riley.


On the presentation podium after the game, Norwood’s captain Rebekah McMahon spoke with maturity beyond her years in her concession speech, of how difficult the previous fortnight had been following the sudden death of one of their Premiership team mates from last year (Ellen Maple). She said that Ellen’s number 8 was out there with them, and she nearly got them across the line.   The Norwood Club has obviously dealt with the difficult circumstances well – it is always a challenge, for a coach in particular, to help young people through these times, providing the comfort and support needed while enabling them to carry on positively and do their best on game day – and without feeling too heavily the weight of wanting to honour her memory with a win.


I know its trite and ridiculous to compare war and sport – there are no metaphors – but the unnecessary loss of a young life in a car crash couldn’t help but be reflected upon on the day when our thoughts are of those young people who lost their lives in inglorious and mostly pointless wars.


In accepting her medal, South’s coach Krissie Steen spoke directly to the Norwood team and went beyond the acceptance clichés to emphasise how incredibly proud they should be in having played the game with such commitment and resilience.  Carrying on with life in difficult personal circumstances provides lessons way beyond footy, but the companionship that the footy community (or any shared community) brings is so valuable in ensuring that individuals grieve with others and move on in a positive way – a really important support for young people who may not have experienced tragedy or loss previously in their lives.


As an aside, it would be terrific to see Krissie Steen as a serious contender for head coach at the Crows this coming season, as she’s a legend in the making, and a very experienced, successful, and highly credentialed coach.  We shall see.  The Crows AFLW coach selection ‘advisory panel’ has been put in place, and includes two women – Board member Linda Fellowes and the chair Jane Woodlands-Thompson who was involved with getting Bec Goddard on board for the inaugural season – so hopefully the new appointment won’t be a case of jobs for the boy clones.  Much has been written recently about the issue of coaching pathways for women in both the AFLM and the AFLW – which is a very healthy discussion to have.  Hopefully things will move ahead positively on that front, and the old clubroom fibro tile ceiling can be broken through.


The AFLW draft later in the year will be exciting – as we all predicted, the quality and depth of women’s footy is heading rapidly of its own accord down the evolutionary road of steady improvement and growth – without the AFL needing to mindlessly distort the game or its format.  As I noted in an earlier article, it’s the men’s game that needs a serious review in regard to congestion and poor skills  ( ‘like watching gravy go lumpy’)  – glad to see that discussion has opened up publicly at last this week, amongst the commentariat at least.


The next five years of the AFLW will be a joy as we see new stars arrive, and stories told, and as we saw on Grand Final day, moments of triumph and tragedy standing together on the same podium, as they often do – in footy and in life.


Several of the South and Norwood players will be playing in the VFL-W over the winter, having had the opportunity to show their wares in the Adelaide competition. The majority of the Crows AFLW players and Darwin-based players from GWS will be playing in the new Northern Territory Thunder VFLW team that has been created to ensure SA and NT-based players get some solid game time during the winter – they will be a formidable team!  NT Thunder play Darebin first up on 5 May at Preston Oval – Darebin’s run of premiership titles may come to an abrupt end, but it’ll be a cracker of a VFLW competition this year !


Former Norwood (and Sturt) player Tim Weatherald is the NT Thunder Women’s team head coach for 2018 – someone who knows a little bit about triumph and tragedy.  ( See MRA’s excellent article on Tim earlier this year ).


I was expecting to be ecstatic and arrogantly partisan at South winning a Grannie (at last) – but at the end of the game I found that I was just incredibly respectful and proud to see two wonderful teams of young women going about playing their favourite sport with freedom, camaraderie beyond their club jumpers, and wisdom beyond their years.


I told Dad all about it on the way home.  My father actually passed away several years ago, but he would have loved the Panthers raising the flag again – especially the women, because he and Mum were great advocates that everyone should be able (and enabled) to have a go and be the best you can be, no matter your class, background, gender, colour, or creed.  That’s what we were fighting for, he’d say – not a flag or nationalistic righteousness.


He fought (and somehow survived) on the front line for the entire 5 years of WW2 – Alamein, Tobruk, Greece, New Guinea, Borneo – and remained in the army as a senior officer for several years afterwards, training young men and women in the Adelaide University Regiment.  Toward the end of his life he showed me a fading but treasured newspaper cutting of an Englishman who was a conscientious objector during WW2 due to his Quaker beliefs. He never held a grenade or fired a shot but was in the horrendous centre of many battles as a stretcher bearer, and saved many lives.  He was Dad’s war hero – not the macho guy with the big gun, but the little bespectacled fellow who believed in humanity and decency.


Enjoy the Premiership and the song Dad – and yes I know its not all about winning ( still bloody good though eh ?! )


  1. Kasey Symons says

    Beautiful report Verity.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done,Verity it was a privilege to be there just so proud of the Redlegs girls resilience and totally agree as good as speeches as I have ever heard at a presentation.A fantastic reminder of people playing sport for the right reason

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Ps Weathers is pumped up re his coaching role with NT Thunder ( and SA associates )

  4. Dave Brown says

    Yep, very good, Verity. Like Rulebook, very proud of the guts and determination shown by the Redlegs on the day. Also genuinely thrilled for all the long suffering Panthers supporters out there. There has to be a place for Krissie Steen at the higher level, her record is doing some very loud speaking for itself at the moment.

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