There are very few players in the world of sports who stand head and shoulders above the others. As the 2018 season of AFLW spun from criticism to controversy with negative tactics, glaring skill errors and AFL memos plaguing the fledgling competition, the absence of the best player in the game was not what the AFLW needed.
The league has its stars; Tayla Harris, Sabrina Frederick-Straub and Daisy Pearce all garner their share of play both in print, and on the Wild West that is sports social media, but none can compare to the presence that the Adelaide Crows’ Erin Phillips has. Whilst the others may be stars, Erin Phillips is THE superstar of the game.
The competition’s reigning best and fairest player sat on the sidelines for the first two weeks nursing a strained quad muscle, and her team felt the sting of her absence. Losses to Brisbane and Melbourne threatened to relegate the reigning premiers to also-ran status this season. They lacked drive, they lacked polish, and they lacked class. As the team suited up for their Round Three clash with the Western Bulldogs, their backs were against the wall. They needed their star on the field, and they needed her to play well. More than anything else, they needed a win.
Erin Phillips did not shrink with the spotlight shining directly on her.
In the most impressive performance of the young AFLW season, Phillips demonstrated just why she is so revered in women’s football with a scintillating performance. And she did it on one leg.
Phillips’ quad was still giving her trouble, and she received work on it throughout the game. How is it, then, that she was able to beat opponents in the air, and on the ground, in most contests she was involved in?
Spuerior judgment, excellent conditioning and the ability to take the ball cleanly at ground level give Phillips an edge over most in the league currently. She is the yard stick, and the next generation coming through will look at her now and think “I’d like to be like her.” The ambitious amongst them will think they’d like to better than her.
It’s a tall ask.
Phillips started her comeback game in the forward line, indicating that the Crows were trying to ease her back into things as gently as they could. There was a big risk playing her. Falling to 0-3 would almost certainly end any chance they had to defend their title this season. But tearing that quad in the quest to salvage the season was a very real threat, and as their record showed, without Phillips in the side, their [premiership defence would be in tatters.
The Dogs were looking good as the game headed to half time. They had solid contributors and had a star of their own in front of goals; Katie Brennan. Their five point lead may have been significantly more if not for Phillips. The Crows had two goals to half time – both of them belonging to Phillips. They also had two behinds. Phillips was responsible for them as well.
A goal out of mid-air punctuated a third quarter where she looked dangerous with every forward fifty entry. The goal itself was a thing of beauty. Unable to mark one-on-one, the Crow co-captain was able to push off her opponent and swing a foot at the ball. It connected perfectly, the ball sailing through. It was indicative of Phillips’ standing in the game currently. Every time the ball goes near her, you expect something to happen. Tonight, something did. Still, the Dogs held sway as the game headed into the last quarter. The shackles came off, then, and Erin was moved into the middle.
After getting her hands on the ball consistently throughout the last, Phillips found herself drawn back forward , with the Dogs holding a slender lead. Enter Erin Phillips.
She had no right to even gather possession, but sometimes great players just know where to be, and when to be there. As the ball spilled towards the boundary, Phillips willed herself towards it. With another clean pick up, she threw the ball onto her right boot, screwing it around the corner to sneak it home. The Crows would not be headed from there, and their season remained alive.
A goal to Jenna McCormick after the siren made the final margin 7 points, but it was Phillips who pushed forward to create the go-ahead goal that turned the game. The Crows won the game, but it was Erin Phillips’ day.
Over the previous weeks, Chelsea Randall did all she could to keep them in games, and she was ably supported by Ebony Marinoff and Deni Varnhagen, but it was painfully obvious they’d missed their star.
Leigh Montagna compared Phillips to Dustin Martin during the broadcast, and whilst the comparison is not lost, perhaps a better comparison is to look at the way Patrick Dangerfield was used against Hawthorn in Round 17 last year. Danger was also hobbled after turning an ankle, and was sent to full forward. He changed the game in a burst that left the Hawks shell-shocked, kicking 5.6 in propelling the Cats to the win. Phillips had the same sort of impact on this game.
When the season is all over and done, the Crows may or may not stake a claim on the Grand Final and walk away as premiers again. If they do, you can trace back to Round Three the moment where it all turned around for them. It was Round Three that they welcomed back their star. It was Round Three that they found their mojo. And it was Round Three that Erin Phillips sent out a reminder to the competition that she is the best in the game right now, even when hobbled.
Welcome back, Erin. The entire competition has missed you.
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