It was only 12 months ago that this team made the Grand Final and were on the losing end of the ledger, but this is where you give the props to the people behind the scenes. It’s easy to drop your head after a Grand Final loss and claim that your goose has been cooked.

Dynasty, AFLW Powerhouse – whatever you want to call this Adelaide side, you can’t help but marvel at the fact that in six seasons, they’ve been to the big dance four of the five times we’ve been able to play out a season and to make it three wins in four, is a magnificent feat.

Where do they go from here? Well, your guess remains as good as mine.

Is it the last time we see Erin Phillips in Crows colours? Is it the last time we see her on a football field? Can this Crows team retain 90 percent of their best 21 beyond this season?

A few years ago, I was one of many that jumped on the Crows when they started faltering and accused them of leaving too much to too few. But since Matthew Clarke has come in as the coach, the others have begun to pick up the slack.

Of course, the mainstays and the stalwarts did their part for this momentous win, but the players that the casual observers may not know much about lifted when they needed to. That’s what makes great teams and dynasties.

Melbourne have been well deserving of their standing as a Grand Finalist this year and had their opportunities to really make the Crows sweat for their missed chances in the second term.

But the Crows, as they’ve showed for much of the year, presented themselves as the ultimate adversary and showed why they have been the best defensive side in the competition this year – conceded an average of under 19 points per game during the home and away season, held the Demons to just 16 points on the grandest stage of them all.

 

BIG TIME HATCHY

As often, Grand Finals often bring out the best stories from players from both sides – the media have flogged the stories of Daisy Pearce and Erin Phillips to death and then gave it extras on top of that flogging.

But it feels like the trajectory that Anne Hatchard has been on has had very little fanfare. Been here from the very beginning, she had sort of been in and out of this Adelaide side the first two years.

She was a part of Adelaide’s 2017 premiership, but felt like more of a fringe utility player, before changing her attitude in preparation and fitness ahead of the 2019 season, exploding to play a more permanent midfield role, to become the most improved player that season.

From there, we’ve seen her go from strength to strength. In the shortened 2020 campaign, she was huge in a flailing Adelaide side and in 2021, she was picking up where she left off. However, it’s this year that has seen her truly rocket up as one of the competition’s bona fide superstars.

She was the awarded the medal for best on ground in this Grand Final and to be honest, I can’t find an argument that will go against that; she was enormous everywhere you looked in a game that had plenty of moments where it resembled an arm wrestle as opposed to a football game.

I’ve touched on and on about her ability to do both the inside work and the outside work and delivered with nine contested possessions (second of all Crows) and five clearances in this game, but what separated her from Maddy Gay, her direct opponent in this game, was her penchant to work both back and forward when she could and her link-up work has been as strong as it’s ever been.

She presented herself well as a marking option up forward, but completely bottled a simple set shot in the second quarter. She would make up for it later when she positioned herself as a kick behind the play and took a good intercept mark on the wing.

That exemplifies the work rate and the intelligence of Anne Hatchard, the player. I know that the league best and fairest/Brownlow counts get a bad wrap for being predominantly a midfielder’s medal, but Hatchard finishing a vote short of Emily Bates is a just reward for her efforts both in the contest and around the ground this year.

She is just that damn good.

 

THE COMEBACK KID

Danielle Ponter had an incredibly quiet game in their preliminary final win last week against Fremantle.

She’s been a real mixed bag this season; games where she has looked lively, yet failed to damage on the scoreboard, games where she’s taken the game by the scruff of the neck and games where she’s failed to impact on the game at all, through one reason or another.

She picked a good week to take the game by the scruff of the neck. In a game where only six goals were kicked for the entire match, Ponter kicked a third of them, and they came in big moments in the second half.

She was matched up for most of the match by Libby Birch, who was just awarded her second All Australian selection of her career to date, so if you haven’t picked up by now that she’s not a slouch defender, then I can’t help you decipher any further.

Birch gave away a very careless free kick on her in the first quarter, and some will say that it’s one action that dictates a player’s day and if that’s true then that was Birch’s day, whatever it was that happened prior to that incident, Ponter got into her head.

The stats sheet will say that Birch had plenty of it – 15 disposals, five marks, it’s a nice afternoon in the office, but Ponter beat her out on a handful of occasions; her big one-on-one mark in the goal-square in the third term put some much-needed and well-deserved breathing space on the Demons before they started their resurgence.

Her fourth-quarter goal will go down as one of the biggest moments in AFLW Grand Final history. Having taken a contested grab on Gab Colvin, Ponter bounced back to her feet, played on, took a bounce and slotted it from a difficult angle from 25 metres out.

And whilst I’ve questioned her work rate on many occasions in the past, her work rate in the last quarter was massive, I even put down in my notes that she went to go get her own footy after booting the ball inside 50, such was her commitment to get the best out of herself.

In a big-time game, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.

 

DID MICK STINEAR LEAVE THE MOVE TOO LATE?

By half time in this contest, Adelaide had dominated possession, territory and the scoreboard.

We’ve seen Mick Stinear pull this move out of the bag before, when the going gets tough, he’d send Daisy Pearce to the backline to add some stability into Melbourne’s ball movement and work it from there, and it worked for them in the past.

Up to that point, Daisy had been playing forward and the defensive unit was at its best – Chelsea Randall had Tayla Harris on a leash, Marijana Rajcic and Sarah Allan were picking off entries as they pleased and none of the forwards really got going until the second half.

I didn’t end up seeing the move made until we headed towards the end of the third quarter, which by that point, Melbourne were just desperately attempting to play catch-up footy. Sure they had their moments to really get back into this game, but would they have been better served if Stinear had pulled the trigger a bit earlier?

It’s a bit of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Because as a coach, you want to back your players in to do the job you’ve initially assigned them to. But when it becomes evident in a game like the Grand Final that’s it not going to work, changes need to be made to keep it from getting out of hand.

Well, at least the game didn’t get out of hand, and it was the right move in the end, Daisy ended up with the 16 disposals. I just can’t help but feel like it would’ve been better if the move was made towards the end of the second quarter, because the Crows had the game on their terms and had it not been for their poor kicking in the second term, this game could’ve been over by half time if he didn’t pull the trigger any earlier.

But look, say what you will about the career of Daisy Pearce, if this is her final game, she goes out a stalwart of the game.

 

THE FILL-IN

I’ll leave it up to the judgement of you readers about the Montana McKinnon one-match suspension, but I looked at that and thought; ‘How do the Crows combat the best ruck in the competition down one of their best duo?’

Jasmyn Hewett may not go down as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but she will go down as an Adelaide premiership player and for her role pinch-hitting behind Caitlin Gould should not go unrecognised.

The credit should go to Caitlin Gould as well for limiting her influence around the ruck contest, Pearce’s capabilities as an elite extraction specialist should not be displaced – they did help the Dees get to the big dance overall.

But as I watched the game unfold, yes Pearce got her clearances – finished with four overall, I just couldn’t help but feel that her impact in this game was subdued massively. Gould’s strength in the stoppages saw her pick up 13 hitouts and 12 disposals, doing the role that McKinnon would usually play – as that kick behind the play.

It allowed Hewett to be the pinch-hitting forward and came up with a big, contested mark in the opening term which led to the first goal of the match. All she really needed to do in this game, is provide a contest to whoever it was she matched up on – and she delivered it.

She could probably get regular senior games in a lot of other sides right now and she may not get many more games at Adelaide (should she wish to stay put), but she’s the kind of player you can hang your hat on and say without fail that she does what’s required.

 

THE UNSUNG HERO

I’ve been onto it for a while, but no one seems to want to jump on with me – I hope they do it now, Gab Colvin is a bloody good key defender.

Her start to the game was a bit shaky, but then again, could say that for about 70 per cent of the players out on the deck, but when it all settled down, she went about the task of taking down this season’s leading goalkicker in Ashleigh Woodland.

Colvin has had some jobs over the past couple of years and has taken some scalps over the course of the journey – one game last year saw her beat Izzy Huntington in every aerial contest they competed in, and Izzy’s strength lies in the air.

Woodland’s got a different strength to her game, and that’s to lose her opponent through her leading patterns. She’s not the contested marking beast at full-forward, but she’s quick, agile and will make you pay if you don’t give her the respect she has earned this season.

But the thing about Colvin is that it has always felt like there’s a quiet achiever, no-fuss approach to her game. What I mean about this is that if you compare her to a Sarah Allan, you expect Allan to get the job done every week and get her plaudits, because she’s a star of the craft of defending. With Colvin, you see her as a role player and that’s it, only the role she gets is to mind the opposition’s full forward.

And she does a bloody good job of it, there’s bodywork, there was an incredible chase down tackle in the opening quarter that saved a goal and there’s small jumper tugs, but if you can render your direct opponent goal-less, then you’ve done your part. Woodland only had four disposals, one of them set up Ponter’s goal in the third term, but the rest of them carried very little effect.

As for Colvin, she had 12 disposals, three marks and four tackles herself, easily took out the chocolates in this encounter – I hope you people in the mainstream media pay attention to her next season.

 

OTHER BITS

I would’ve loved to have had a bit for Sinead Goldrick, thought her defensive positioning and her run was brilliant – sometimes left herself second-guessing, but overall it was a great effort off the defensive half; 20 disposals, 13 contested possessions, four clearances and three marks in this game.

If this is Erin Phillips’ last football game ever, then she’s done very well. Provided a steady head in the second quarter when the Crows (not for the first time this season) peppered their opportunities in front of goal and came up big time in the contested spaces – recording four clearances and 12 contested possessions.

A typically brilliant game from Karen Paxman – 18 disposals, seven marks and four clearances in this game, she was working hard on the wings when the inside midfielders (Hanks, West and Purcell) all were quiet.

Another Chelsea Biddell game and another game that saw her hit players lace out with those kicking skills of hers; I had her slated down as my best on ground prediction as a more unpredictable guess, but she did some very nice things with the ball in hand in this one.

Shelley Heath’s bodywork in the one-on-ones would almost come close to some of the best in the game. She found herself matched up against Erin Phillips a few times and won out in many of them.

Eloise Jones was another player who impressed – on a few occasions did she slice through the Melbourne defence with her kicking through the middle of the ground. It was great to have her back after sitting out last week.

This was a game for the runners, and another player that got her hands to the ball plenty was Eliza McNamara, who did plenty of work and gained a lot of meterage in an attempt to help get Melbourne over the line.

Justine Mules had the four disposals and the three tackles in this game, but she really got in and under numerous times during the first quarter. I wish they gave you pressure acts in this game, because I reckon Mules had about a dozen in this game.

Wasn’t the best game from Lily Mithen – the kicking was suspect in a few critical moments, one of which was a shot on goal that would’ve got them in striking distance, another kick which resulted in a turnover in Adelaide’s forward 50 off a kick-in.

Rachelle Martin’s endeavour at the contest will never cease to amaze me. She goes in at a million miles per hour and backs herself in to win the contested ball on every occasion and quickly changes her mindset when she realises that she won’t get to the ball first.

I liked the move of getting Tayla Harris into the ruck to get away from the constant two-on-ones and three-on-ones that she was subjected to by the Adelaide defence, but ultimately, it was a dirty day in the office.

And I think on that, that’s a wrap on the 2022 AFLW season. Congratulations in order once again to the Adelaide Crows, who have made it three premierships in six seasons. Whatever happens from here, at least we’ll get to say that we’ve witnessed perhaps the first great dynasty of the AFL Women’s Competition.

As for Melbourne, whilst nobody will want to be sitting in the loser’s column in the history books, they should be commended for their efforts this year. I think it’s the start of good things to come for this side. Plenty of players in this team are yet to reach the prime of their careers, and that’s something that will have the supporters up and about next season and the seasons that follow.

We’re due for a bumper off-season with players to be signed by expansion a Draft that’s probably going to come closer than first expected and all signs indicating a new season to begin in August.

Buckle up folks because we’re going to be in for a hell of a ride!

 

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