They are the pride of Brisbane town. They are also the champions of AFLW in season 2021.

Year after year, the Lions are often knocked back as a side that won’t amount to much. Everyone doubted them when they came into the league – I’ll also put my hand up here and say I was one of them. Even when they made back-to-back Grand Finals, more clouds of doubt hovered over them – was it a missed opportunity with such a talented group? Expansion happened, players pissed off elsewhere…you get the picture.

There were encouraging signs of progress in 2020 before COVID wiped out their season, but not many people outside of Queensland anticipated the Brisbane Lions to make such a jump into the realm of competition elites. There have been obstacles in the way this season, but this side basically ran right through them like a train.

Even after punching their ticket into the Grand Final with an epic win over the Collingwood Football Club, lots of signs, and lots of “experts” were pointing to Adelaide’s third flag in five years. Adelaide Oval, the home crowd – all the guns are firing at the right time.

But Craig Starcevich and the playing group scoffed, laughed and said “people… please.”

After a pretty even opening half where both sides had their moments, the Lions came alive in the third quarter – the premiership quarter – to blow the game wide open. The Crows had every chance to close the gap in the last quarter, but more on that as we go through arguably one of the biggest reviews of 2021.

 

THE BEST ON GROUND

So there’s plenty of thing from this game to cover. It’s a little like being a kid in a candy store and your mum has given you free rein to pick and choose your favourite lollies. So with that in mind, let’s start with the player judged best afield in this one… Kate Lutkins

This performance instantly reminded me of not just her performance in the 2018 Grand Final, but her 2018 season individually. Had the Lions won that day, she would’ve been best on ground. Don’t get me wrong; I think her 2021 season has been good, but 2018 Kate Lutkins was her at her peak. Back then, it felt like she was doing everything all on her own: intercepting, winning her one-on-ones, literally doing everything within her being to make sure the opposition doesn’t score.

There was a lot of those attributes in this game. Much will be said about Brisbane’s defensive collective – both on here and from other media pundits and observers, but Lutkins is the key to their defensive structures. When she gets the opportunities, she often takes full advantage of them and whilst Adelaide’s inside 50 entries were more of a ‘quantity over quality’ style, the fact that she was still able to position herself for intercepts was outstanding. Much like the rest of the defensive unit, I suppose.

The stats line from the AFLW website reads 18 disposals, 16 of them being kicks, whilst taking six marks and laying a couple of strong tackles as well. I’d love to know how many intercept possessions and rebound 50s she took, because it looked like she was a primary source of getting the footy out of their defensive 50.

 

WHILST ON THE BRISBANE DEFENCE…

It’s unfair to not give the rest of them props because, I mean, they were just so good. Adelaide had 44 inside 50s – 20 more than the Lions, but the premiers only conceded 20 points in about 75-80 minutes of football. It might not sound like much in the written word, but if you saw the match the way I did, then Brisbane’s backline is just absurd. Sure, Adelaide’s use of the footy wasn’t great, but getting it down there is the first step, capitalizing is an entirely different step and the Lions just dcut them off at the knees at every opportunity.

Bree Koenen had the ungodly task of matching up with Erin Phillips for large portions of the game. It’s always daunting to peel off your direct opponent to attempt to spoil in a contest – even more so when your direct opponent is a woman who has won two Grand Final best on ground medals.

However, Koenen was fearless and didn’t give two cents about what Phillips was doing and where she was positioning herself – she spoiled and made sure the Crows weren’t scoring. She had the 14 disposals, but also kept Phillips to just one behind from eight disposals. Phillips just looked so off the pace, which is a bit of rare air, but she wasn’t the only Crow that had a hard time, and you’d put a large chunk of her inability to impact the game on the strong shoulders on Koenen.

Another player that should be getting plaudits is Shannon Campbell. Since the start of AFLW, she’s been a player that has flown under the radar. There’s nothing flashy about her game at all, but she gets her job done in terms of winning one-on-ones and saving the side from conceding goals.

She did an outstanding job in keeping Ashleigh Woodland to just three touches, but also cut off a lot of 50 entries, whether it was by spoiling or popping up with an intercept mark, she was huge for most of the game. Her last quarter, in particular, was huge when the Crows began to get a run on again.

Also an honorable mention to Nat Grider, who turned in another strong performance in the defensive half. I don’t think she’s lost many one-on-one contests since coming back from injury, but she just makes that defence look even more rock solid than it was to start with.

 

HOD PROPERTY

You just knew that Courtney Hodder was going to have some kind of say in the Grand Final, right? She is one of those electrifying types of players have these sorts of performances on the big occasions. I don’t like the comparison to the men’s game, but the first one that comes to mind is Cyril Rioli in 2015.

There had to be a response this week, because Hodder only had the one disposal and was well held by Collingwood’s Alana Porter in the Preliminary Final. There was a lot going on in the first half in Brisbane’s forward half and Hodder was in the centre of it, kicking two extraordinary goals – one an impressive snap and the other a very ridiculous soccer kick from a tight angle under pressure – that one should win goal of the year.

But her game is more than that – we love her goals, but it’s her pressure that is so irresistible and has been over the course of the season. One of Brisbane’s biggest strengths is that they tackle and pressure the opposition so well and the forwards do it extremely well – Hodder has probably been the most consistent of the lot and she laid another five tackles in this one.

Oh man, she’s just going to be such a joy to watch over the coming years and she’s only 20 years old which is going to make things all the more exciting.

 

SVARC V MARINOFF

All week long, AFLW aficionados have been asking the question: Who will Cathy Svarc go to?

I said on the A3 Footy Podcast in the week leading up to it that I think Svarc on Ebony Marinoff would be an ideal match-up. Marinoff plays in a similar vein to Bri Davey, who Svarc has had the measure of this season. The fact that Marinoff also put in a mammoth effort against Melbourne in the Preliminary Final made that target on her back even more tantalizing.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed to see those two line-up beside each other in the centre square before the first bounce. It was another exciting individual battle that saw Svarc hold Marinoff to just seven disposals at half time, with no influence on the contest whatsoever.

It was similar to the first time she matched on Davey at the Whitten Oval – Svarc has the endurance, the strength to match her stride for stride and anytime Marinoff got hands to the ball, it was followed by either a rushed disposal or a strong, clamping tackle by her Brisbane counterpart.

After registering 35 disposals and a mountain of clearances and contested ball, Marinoff only had the 17 in this performance – the influence well and truly down. Svarc herself had the 12 touches and seven tackles, but made her possessions count a lot more and had much more time to use the footy.

It’ll be interesting to see who Brisbane names as their best and fairest – I said a month and a half ago that if Svarc wasn’t in the top three, then I’d spew up (Thanks Plough…). But I think she’s got a serious claim to be in the top one for the count this year.

 

RUN STEVIE, RUN

If we’re looking over at the Crows’ contingent, one of a few players that genuinely stood out was Stevie-Lee Thompson – I’d argue she was Adelaide’s best player on the ground – many others were either pedestrians for the full game or only had a couple of really good moments and then disappeared from the contest.

Stevie-Lee had the 18 disposals, the second-most of any Adelaide player on the ground and was piercing through Brisbane’s zone trying to get the ball forward so many times. Granted, a few of her kicks went without thought and ended up in the lap of the Brisbane defence, but she was getting hands on the ball and trying to create.

She was especially prominent in the opening stanza when she went forward and found herself on the end of a goal, which was a nice finish and one that oozed of class. Did Matthew Clarke think about switching her back forward in this game at any stage of this contest?

Much has been said about her switch back to half-back this year and while it’s done plenty of wonders, a few minutes here or there – especially in the last quarter when they had all the inside 50s, yet couldn’t buy a goal –  could’ve provided a different result. We’ll never know that, but what we do know is that Stevie-Lee was at her brilliant and damaging best.

 

THE CHARLTON

Teah Charlton wasn’t a high-end draft pick for no reason, we got a very good reason out from the weekend in a game that suggests that not only does she belong here, but she will be such a star in this competition down the track.

She had around a dozen of her teammates play in AFLW Grand Finals in years’ previous, but for an 18-year old to walk out in her first AFLW Grand Final in front of a solid crowd of 20,000-plus, she put in some kind of effort.

In eyes of a few, I’m sure, 11 disposals doesn’t sound like a big deal. However, when you go back and watch the replay, she bobs up in a lot of one-on-one contests the desperately needed to win, and Charlton made it a mission to make sure the ball was going their way I’d love to know her contested numbers, because I think there was five or six occasions I saw a number 25 in Adelaide colours emerge from congestion.

She also took five marks as well, highlighting her positioning around the ground – some of those marks were intercept possessions, and others she was presenting as a forward option, but I finished watching that match thinking that she is going to be something to behold in the next few years.

The first-year teenagers in the AFLW these days won’t be as explosive as Maddy Prespakis or Chloe Molloy were in their first years, but what they will give you is a small sample size of what they are capable of doing. In Teah Charlton’s case, she’s going to be an absolute wrecking ball in time.

 

CAPTAINS GOING DOWN

Within a couple of minutes, both Brisbane captain Emma Zielke and Adelaide stand-in captain Angela Foley were sitting on the bench in tears, nursing completely different injuries and ultimately different stages in their careers.

For Zielke, it was revealed post-game that if the Lions got up, she’d call it quits on a terrific career and stint as captain of Brisbane. Like the rest of her cohorts in defence, Zielke was playing a strong hand in the defensive half before what was later revealed to be a high-grade hamstring injury took her out of the game.

Moments later, Foley, who was filling in for Chelsea Randall as the Crows’ captain and doing a sound job as well I might add, was on the ground clutching her knee after going up in a marking contest – the replay showing her left knee buckling as she landed in a marking contest.

With three minutes to go in the third term and ten points separating the two sides, the team that could steady the ship and recover from losing their captain the quickest would have a major advantage. Ultimately it was the Lions who kicked two goals in the last 90 seconds of the third term – one through Lauren Arnell, who was brilliantly set up by Emily Bates and Svarc to run on and kick a goal in her final match, as well as a kick after the siren from Isabel Dawes.

Hindsight will likely suggest that those last three minutes of the third term decided this contest. I disagree, it certainly was a key series of moments, but there were plenty of other instances in this game that decided the premiership.

 

OTHER BITS

Emily Bates had to lift this week following a quiet game against Collingwood and did so accordingly – 23 disposals, a lot of them being attributed to working hard on the spread once the Lions got their hands on the footy.

Ally Anderson as well, another casual 23 disposals – could be the only player that challenges Svarc for the best and fairest this year – been extremely consistent at winning footy directly from the source. Went head-to-head with Anne Hatchard  a lot around the stoppages, which was fun to see.

Hasn’t had plaudits yet, but I thought Sarah Allan’s job on Dakota Davidson in this one was just simply amazing. On the back of three goals last week, Davidson hardly saw it this week: scoreless from just five disposals.

Tahlia Hickie looks like she is going to be in the elites as a ruck. She went 20-21 in the hitouts against the tandem of Rhi Metcalfe and Caitlin Gould. Particularly against a stronger player in Metcalfe, Hickie used her athleticism to enormous effect so many times.

Didn’t get a lot of coverage, but I thought Deni Varnhagen’s defensive positioning at numerous points was brilliant– one of Adelaide’s better players on the day: 13 disposals and four marks playing both on the wing and at half back.

Justine Mules only had the five disposals, which was very disappointing, but I’m a big fan of players who can register good tackling numbers – Mules led all Crows on the ground with eight for the game. that tells me that she was still working her backside off.

I’m bloody happy for Jess Wuetschner to be back playing some of her brilliant best. Back in 2018, she was another player who was just extremely damaging everytime the ball went in her direction and I saw a lot of that here – 2.1 from 10 touches and four tackles

Orla O’Dwyer played her best game for the Lions – picked a good time to do it as well: 16 disposals and six tackles in an individual performance that had an unbelievable balance of outside class and tough inside work. She found herself opposed to Stevie-Lee Thompson on several occasions, and the duel between them at ground level was fascinating.

Ailish Considine was the replacement for Chelsea Randall, but I think she played a very strong game, creating both rebound from the defensive half and adding a bit of drive through the middle – 11 disposals for 11 kicks.

I liked Eloise Jones after half time. She looked a lot more involved around the contest and bobbed up with an early goal in the last quarter to give Adelaide fans a glimmer of hope. Haven’t minded her on a wing this season – has a lot of class factor about her.

And lastly, congratulations to Lauren Arnell who – alongside Zielke – will retire a premiership player. She bloody deserves it too after transforming herself as an elite forward player capable of both defensive stuff and creating scoring opportunities – 12 disposals, 1.0 and five tackles in a brilliant curtain call.

And so on that note, it’s time to close the door on the 2021 AFLW season. Well done to the Brisbane Lions for activating the old ‘Third time’s a charm’ cliché and commiserations to the Crows, because they were so good from basically start to end this season.

There’ll be bits and pieces from me during the year about AFLW, so make sure you stay around on The Mongrel – my yearly top 50 AFLW players will be released in the coming week or so and that’s always a fun bit of debate – even more so when people say I have no idea.

But until then, carn the Footy!!!

 

EDIT – Just adding a little on here. I’d like to thank Alex Docherty for his tireless work on the AFLW season this year, and his passion, knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm for the women’s game. In short, our coverage of AFLW falls over with Alex, so I am extremely grateful to him for all his wonderful work, and I hope like hell he is up for it again in 2022.

Thanks Alex – HB