Presented by WARF Radio. The AFLW Grand Final gave the footy community everything the season deserved, and more. The Brisbane Lions are 2021 AFLW premiers.
Adelaide v Brisbane – Saturday @ Adelaide Oval
Adelaide 1.0.6 | 2.1.13 | 2.2.13 | 3.2.20
Brisbane 1.0.6 | 3.0.18 | 6.0.36 | 6.2.38
Adelaide: Eloise Jones, Danielle Ponter, Stevie-Lee Thompson
Brisbane: Courtney Hodder (2), Jess Wuetschner (2), Lauren Arnell, Isabel Dawes
Adelaide: Angela Foley (ACL)
Brisbane: Emma Zielke (hamstring)
Reaching the 2021 AFLW grand final was surreal. The overarching feeling across the women’s footy community was that it wouldn’t be real until the players hit the ground and the ball was in play.
Last season’s abrupt ending left many at a loss, so it was fair that this year was approached with somewhat of an enthusiastic trepidation. Excited about another season of AFLW and seeing players many admire show their wares, but with a constant, underlying unease that it could all be snatched away again at any moment.
This is what made Saturday’s grand final all the more important. Set at Adelaide Oval, the site of the Crows’ dominant, history-making 2019 premiership, many thought that a third Adelaide flag was a foregone conclusion.
But it wasn’t that simple. The Lions had fought their way through the season, on their toes and ready to roll with the punches that border closures and small COVID outbreaks threw their way.
Once the teams hit the field, however, all these other things fell away and the focus became the small things, the individual matchups, the positioning. The task ahead.
The crowd was immediately treated to the head-to-head they were hoping for: Ebony Marinoff v Cathy Svarc. After Marinoff’s best on ground performance in the previous week’s prelim, Craig Starcevich sent his best stopper to her, and to great effect. The Adelaide star was held to just 16 disposals—her fewest since round six in the 2018 season.
Erin Phillips started the game in the midfield, so too Anne Hatchard. Matthew Clarke was sending a message by starting his big guns on the ball, but the Lions backed in stalwarts Emily Bates and Ally Anderson to do the job.
Immediately, Brisbane took control of the game. Dominating the territory for much of the first quarter, and hitting the scoreboard in the first two minutes through livewire Courtney Hodder. Going into the grand final, Hodder was an interesting story. Held goalless and to just one disposal in their prelim against Collingwood, Starcevich stuck fat with his forward set up and was rewarded for it.
What was very clear was that this game was more a battle of defensive will and maturity than anything else. Both sides set up beautifully behind the ball, creating a wall that was incredibly difficult to break through, with Adelaide’s group led by Marijana Rajcic, and Brisbane’s by Kate Lutkins. Rajcic won a career-high ten intercepts, forcing the Lions to rethink their forward forays, while Lutkins’ 18 disposals, ten rebounds and 12 intercepts saw her win the coveted best on ground medal.
This structure meant that teams looked most dangerous when running the ball forward. Case in point: Stevie-Lee Thompson who threatened to break the game open with her run and carry. Her first quarter was particularly spectacular, with six disposals, three bounces and two inside 50s, punctuated with her side’s first goal in the dying minutes, evening the ledger at quarter time.
While the second quarter was largely an arm wrestle, it was highlighted by moments of individual brilliance. Adelaide was pushing, keeping Brisbane under pressure, sending the ball into attack 12 times for the quarter. Shannon Campbell’s desperate efforts on the last line saved a number of certain scores—and caused her to leave the field via the blood rule for a short while.
At the other end of the ground, Courtney Hodder kicked what can only be described as a freak goal—born from her running and confidence—which had everyone on their feet, and caused a Brisbane staff member to utter, “protect Courtney at all costs.”
Late in the first half, Jess Wuetschner kicked her first of the day, an expertly executed curving ball out of congestion. A far cry from the start of last year when the forward’s future—footy or otherwise—was up in the air after being struck by lightning.
The third quarter saw the Lions pull away, kicking three goals from their ten forward entries, while Adelaide managed a solitary rushed behind. When retiring leader Lauren Arnell got on the end of a long Svarc kick to the goal square, Brisbane looked simply unstoppable—and the footy community erupted with glee that Arnell was going out on such a high.
When the final quarter opened with a 50m penalty and goal to Eloise Jones, bringing the Crows within 16 points of the visitors, there was a wash of nerves that flowed over the stadium. A feeling that the momentum might shift. That the crowd could become a factor. That Adelaide’s stars would rise to the occasion.
The Lions had other plans, however, particularly their defensive line. Breanna Koenen played yet another outstanding game, limiting any sort of forward impact Erin Phillips might have had. Shannon Campbell and Kate Lutkins played their typical, reliable roles, stopping and rebounding. Indy Tahau provided strength in one-on-one battles, and Natalie Grider roamed the defensive 50 to support her teammates, with 14 disposals and seven intercepts to her name.
Then there was Cathy Svarc. Influential in her battle with Marinoff, it was a daring lunge at Ailish Considine, bringing the Crow to ground that effectively put a full stop on the match. It was the moment that many knew the game was won.
The final siren quickly followed. Brisbane captain Emma Zielke nonchalantly announced her retirement in a post match interview, after missing much of the second half with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile Adelaide stand-in captain Angela Foley was in tears on the opposing bench, ice strapped to her knee. She had dramatically torn her ACL in the third quarter.
This was a game won in the small moments. Svarc’s tackle. A determined Emily Bates knock-on to create Arnell’s goal. Indy Tahau’s strong contested mark in defence during the third quarter. It was won in the same way that the Lions have gone about their footy all season—taking on each small battle as it comes, until the war was won.