VFLW Preliminary Final – Darebin v St Kilda: Nic Callinan – The hand that touched the football

2.30 Saturday September 16th at Piranha Park (Coburg City Oval)


Last Sunday, the Big Kid, two of her mates and I headed down to Coburg City Oval to watch the Darebin Falcons take on St. Kilda Sharks in the preliminary final. We arrived nice and early and joined the hundreds already in the ground. I had a quick chat to another Falcs fan who admitted to feeling really nervous, the Big Kid ran off to buy hot chips with her mates and then we sat down to wait. After a shock loss to Diamond Creek, I was expecting the Falcs to come out breathing fire. Early doors, all of the signs were there. The ball is thrown up to start the game; Aasta O’Connor taps it down, Daisy Pearce gets the ball, hands off to O’Connor who boots the ball into the Darebin forward line. A minute later, Eb Marinoff brings out her party-tricks, hand-balling over her head to Daisy’s call. The Darebin/Melbourne champ has a ping at the goals, but misses. Daisy has another shot, misses again. Katie Brennan boots the ball across her body, but cannot clear the Shark on the Darebin goal line.  Mel Hickey cuts off Sharks’ forward thrusts, Pearce is dominant. For the first half of the first term, the Falcs press and press, but they do not break through for a goal. Still, it feels like the old firm back in business, the Falcons on the wing and that it is just a matter of time before the Sharks crumble.


Instead of the Falcs finding space and the big sticks, something else happens. The Sharks, as predators should, smell blood in the water. The Darebin Falcons were smashed the week before – taken apart by a harder-running, harder-working Diamond Creek outfit. The Sharks close in on the Falcs, run hard, harass, make every kick, handball, mark contested. Brianna Davey, dual-sport champion, is one of the few players to find any space, mostly by dint of her tackle-busting strength. Tilly Lucas-Rodd breaks through for the first goal of the game, picking off an errant Hickey pass, hoofing the ball over the pack to bounce it through. Falcon’s forward Shannon Egan has a chance to even things up after a power of work from Katie Brennan (KB) who buttered up her own marking contest, but she too misses. Sharks by 5.


And the game is on. And it is relentless. There are heroics aplenty, twists and turns. In the second quarter, Daisy has an excellent opportunity again, but is run-down by Penny Cula-Reid. Finally, the Falcs break through via a great pass from Stephanie Simpson to KB, the VFL Best and Fairest Winner kicking truly from 45 out. At half time, it is the Sharks 7, Falcs 10.


At the start of the third, the wind picks up and the rain threatens. Alex Whitehead snaps truly for the Sharks and the game goes up yet another level. On the last line of defence, my Favourite Falc, Meg McDonald (aka Meg Mac) rushes in where angels fear to tread and smothers a Bri Davey attempt to soccer through a goal. The Sharks inaccuracy mirrors that of Darebin in the first – Mia Clifford-Rae and Maddy Gay both miss gettable shots. Darebin are feel the pinch nonetheless, so much so that their marking machine Brennan heads to halfback to provide relief and to take a few important grabs. Then St. Kilda break through – Bri Davey just drops the ball onto her boot, despite another Meg Mac tackle, and Georgia Harris toe-pokes through the major. At two goals down, the Falcons turned their lonely eyes to the amazing Daise. Collecting a handball from Kate Tyndall (who stepped through two Sharks to get the ball), Pearce places the ball perfectly for Lauren Arnell, another Darebin veteran. Arnell did what champions do. She runs on to the ball and calmly slots the major to give the Falcs relief. Now it is the Falcs on the march. Just before three quarter time, Falcons ruck Shannon Egan gets a free for a block in a ball-up just inside the Falcs 50. She goes back after the siren, but the kick does not travel the journey. Falcs trail by 6 points.


The final quarter was as tense an experience as I have ever had at the footy. With everything to lose and the rain making conditions tougher than ever, here is where mental toughness meets a little bit of luck. The Falcons began the term with a couple of challenges – a goal down and greasy conditions. However, they had the wind on their side, Libby Birch playing absolutely out of her skin on Jazzy Garner and Mel Hickey imposing herself across the halfback line, getting to contest after contest and taking mark after mark to drive the Falcs forward. The Sharks rolled the dice and threw their best player, Bri Davey, into the forward line hoping her teammates’ persistence would drive the ball down to their captain. Instead, the ball pinged about in the Darebin half-forward for the first half of the final term until after repelling a Shark forward movement Eb Marinoff cut off a ball and spotted Loz Arnell lurking on the fifty. Marinoff booted the ball into the space. Arnell runs and takes possession… and is tackled by two Sharks. Free kick to Arnell! Controversy! Or is it? I saw the arm slip up across Arnell’s neck, so did the central umpire. So did VFL snapper Arj Giese. Moreover, so can you, if you look at his photo here. Lauren Arnell kicks the goal from the free. Scores tied, almost halfway through the final term.


Now, the class of some of the Falcs starts to tell. Katie Brennan, who worked hard all day despite battling an excellent defender in Phoebe McWilliams, takes a great grab from a Sharks kick out of their defensive fifty and glides around one player, then hands off to Mel Hickey. Hick moves around another Shark and then bombs it long. Steph Simpson brings it to ground; a Shark grabs it and is tackled by Pearce, then Simpson. Holding the ball, free kick Simpson! Darebin goal. The quick ball movement is back. The Darebin skills are back. The Falcs hit the front for the first time since the first quarter with less than seven minutes to play.


As I watch Paxy and Hickey running back to their places, I begin to believe that they will not let this game slip now. The Falcs’ wise heads start to tell. They take their time after a mark, they head to the boundary line and they put all of their best players on the ball: Paxy, Pearce, Hickey and O’Connor team up to keep the ball in Darebin’s half.


Nevertheless, there is another twist in this tale. Shannon Egan jars her knee and cannot leave the ground in a ruck contest held just on the Shark-side of the centre square. She gives away a free for blocking and the St. Kilda team press until a quick kick into the forward fifty grabbed by Maddie Gay and called a mark by the umpire. The Darebin players remonstrate, I yell “IT HIT THE GROUND*” but it does not matter. The umpire has made his call. With 80 seconds to go in the match, Maddison Gay has a shot at goal from 35 meters out dead in front. If she kicks it, it will be all tied up. If the game ends in a draw, there is a “Golden Point” rule in place. I cannot imagine how the Falcs feel, but they are very active as Gay goes back for her season defining kick. Meg Mac runs to the goal line, Hickey directs traffic and Nicole Callinan, who has played a very handy game, stands the mark.


Gay kicks… Callinan leaps… and touches the ball! It wobbles forward, is touched by Jess Dal Pos and then belted back over the St. Kilda goal line by Annelise Lister and Meg Mac for a rushed behind. 40 seconds to go. We watch, hearts in mouths, as Aasta O’Connor, who has been huge in the ruck, absolutely hoofs the ball a good fifty meters to a nest of Falcons. Tyndall, to Hickey, to Roe, back to Tyndall who, cool as a cucumber, passes the ball to our Captain June (Elise O’Dea). 20 seconds to go. June passes to Simpson who kicks it down the line…. And the weird air-raid siren goes to end the game.


The Falcons look relieved, the Sharks are devastated. As Agnetha from ABBA sang, in heartbreaking fashion: The winner takes it all/the loser has to fall. Maddison Gay goes to ground in the centre square. Her teammates and her opponents console Gay, but to lose this way hurts, badly. Nicole Callinan goes straight to Mia Cliffford-Rae to offer solace. Some Falcons grin, others look a bit shell-shocked.  The Big Kid catches up with me on the ground after getting her ball signed by Katie Brennan who gives her a big grin as well. “Poor Sharks,” says The Big Kid. And she’s right. This is tough. Very tough.


I, for one, look for Daisy Pearce. True to form and true to everything we know about her strength and her competitiveness, Pearce looked more grimly determined than over-joyed. She knows how close the Falcs came to football mortality in this game. Next Sunday, at the Falcs will take on Diamond Creek at Etihad for the Cup. Can the Falcs do it? Well, I certainly hope so. I’ll make this less-than-bold prediction about next Sunday’s Grand Final: woe betide anyone who gets in Daisy’s way as she tries to get her hands on the Premiership Cup with her Falcons one more time.


In this match, there was a fingertip between the Sharks and the Falcs.


And that fingertip belongs to Nicole Callinan.




*It did hit the ground. I watched the replay to check. And you can too!


Darebin           0.2.2                1.4.10              2.4.16              4.4.28

St. Kilda          1.1.7                1.1.7                3.4.22              3.5.23



Darebin: Mel Hickey, Karen Paxman, Daisy Pearce, Aasta O’Connor, Lauren Arnell

St. Kilda: Brianna Davey, Phoebe McWilliams, M. Downie, J. Colwell, M. Gay


PS : If you’d like to hear Nicole Callinan tell the story of her golden touch, go to the Darebin Falcons’ Facebook page and check out the post-match interview between Meg Mac and Callinan herself in which she describes “making herself big” and trying to time her leap to meet Gay’s kick.


Read more about The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017 HERE.

About Jackie Lynch

North Melbourne fan by birth, but Bulldogs for the AFLW and Darebin Falcons for the VFLW. I am a high school teacher in the Mighty West and a parent of two kids. Other interests include history, reading, running slowly and the Facebook Page Shit Brick Fences of Melbourne.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m enjoying these pieces Jackie. It’s all set up for a ripping grand final

  2. Outstanding report.

  3. Jackie Lynch says

    Thanks for the kind words, Swish and Dips. I have loved everything about the Falcs and the AFLW Dogs this year. North is looking okay for the future, too!

  4. Great write-up Jackie. Couldn’t get to the game but certainly felt every crunch reading your report. I saw the Creekers tear through us in the second semi. That second quarter! We’ll need a lot more wheeties on Sunday to get past them. Cheers

  5. Thank you for your report, Jackie. You captured the action and atmosphere well. This weekend’s Grand Final will be special.

  6. Jackie Lynch says

    Thanks for your comments, fellas. I’ve just written up the GF. Was lots to look up given the uncertain future of the Falcs in the VFLW.

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