MATCH REVIEW: Women’s Premier Division Grand Final

Photo: Narelle Spangher, AFL NSW/ACT

 

Written by Michael Shillito

GRAND FINAL

Macquarie University Warriors vs. East Coast Eagles – Blacktown ISP on Saturday 14th September

What a year it’s been for women’s footy. The women’s game continues to grow; and it all built up to Saturday’s Grand Final. It was a match that pitted Macquarie Uni Warriors against East Coast Eagles and it would go all the way down to the final second.

Macquarie Uni have been in the top division of Sydney footy for many years. They missed out on the flag in the 2018 Grand Final, but were back for another crack this year. They only lost twice during the regular season, both times against the Eagles. Mac Uni were the first to qualify for the Grand Final when they knocked off the Eagles in the Major Semi-Final.

The Eagles were playing their first season at Premier Division level, but surpassed all expectations to drop just one game in the home and away season and finish top of the ladder. They went down to the Warriors in the Major Semi-Final, but came back in the Preliminary Final to make it through to the big one.

Conditions were bright and sunny and Blacktown International Sportspark was looking a treat, as a vocal crowd continued to build in the grandstand.

If there were any fears that the Eagles, with most of their number having never played in a footy Grand Final before, would be over-awed by the occasion; those fears were quickly dispelled. From the start, the Eagles hit the ground running. After barely a minute of play they were on the board, as a pinpoint pass from Georgia Garnett found Delma Gisu on the lead just 15 metres from home. Gisu, listed with the Giants for the 2019 AFLW season, has found a winter home at the Eagles; and she made no mistake with the kick and the Eagles were on the board.

Rylee McGartland was on the board just moments later, ridden into the turf in a similar spot to where Gisu kicked the first goal and made no mistake with the free kick. And when she found space in the pocket and put in a great second effort to regain the ball after being uncontested to take a mark, the Eagles were on a roll.

At the 16 minute mark, Gabe Marzano weaved through traffic and slammed another goal through after getting the kick away a split-second before two Warriors players converged on her. The game was just 16 minutes old, and already the Eagles were 22 points clear. The Warriors had been shell-shocked by the ferocious Eagles’ ball-winning in the early exchanges. The 22 point margin remained intact at quarter time and the Warriors knew they had some work to do if they were to get back into this contest.

After such a strongly dominant first quarter by the Eagles, the Warriors had to stop the flow of goals; and managed to do that in the second term. But it took over 10 minutes before they were able to get on the board. Finally it came as a free kick set up Melissa Brydon 15 metres from home. It was a tight angle, but she managed to thread the needle and put it through. A 50 metre penalty to Lisa Steane from the restart could so easily have set up another, but she missed from point blank range. The momentum of the game was starting to shift.

The Warriors were competing around the ground, getting more of the ball than they had in the first term and creating chances. The ball was out of bounds in the pocket, and from the throw-in, the ball found Laura Russell and a brilliant snap saw the Warriors get their second. In the dying seconds of the quarter, Lauren Houghton from outside the 50 had a kick that went further than anyone on the forward line expected, sailing over the heads of all of them. Laura Russell was the first to recover and swooped on the loose ball 15 out and slammed it home uncontested. Suddenly the margin was back to four points at the long break and everyone knew a tight contest was unfolding.

There was no wind to speak of, and no real reason why the scoring all day favoured the railway end. But that’s how the momentum swings throughout the afternoon played out. When the Eagles had the scoring end in the third term, they were unable to make anything of it. They were getting more of the ball and they had their chances. Maddy Ferguson missed a sitter from 15 out and then Delma Gisu turned on a moment of individual brilliance as she went for a run, shook off two tackles, took a bounce but lost the ball just 15 metres from home. Neither team scored a goal in the third quarter, and the Eagles were hanging on to a narrow seven point lead at the last change.

Simone Freeman had a chance but missed. A second attempt by Freeman didn’t make the distance, but Amanda Farrugia was on the spot to pounce and slam the goal through. Suddenly scores were level, and the Eagles’ flying start had been erased. This was going to be desperately tight. When Laura Russell marked in the pocket in front of the scoreboard and kicked truly at the seven minute mark suddenly the Warriors were in front.

But the Eagles weren’t done yet. Emily Goodsir turned on some brilliance to work a 360 degree turn to evade her Warrior opponent only to narrowly miss. A free kick was awarded in front, cancelling the behind; only for Goodsir to miss again. Five points the margin.

Then Goodsir was taken high 30 from home, but the ball was touched just short of the line and cleared without registering a score. At the other end, triple Mostyn Medallist Amanda Farrugia snapped a behind. An even six points in it; and the Eagles needed a goal to force extra time.

And how close they came. The clock was deep in time-on, and the Eagles had one more roll of the dice. Haneen Zreika dodged two Warrior defenders and found Gabe Marzano inside 50. Marzano’s kick found Rylee McGartland on the edge of the square; but the siren had sounded a split-second before the mark was completed. In the din of the crowd in such a tight finish, only the umpire heard the siren; but the hands were up. The Warriors were saved by the bell.

Heartbreak for the Eagals to have come so close. Had there been one more second on the clock and the mark taken, there’s no doubt McGartland would have put the ball through and taken it to extra time. But it wasn’t to be.

Brenna Tarrant, Renee Tomkins and Emily Goodsir were best for the Eagles. But, as for much of the season, there were many who stood up and played their roles. To have finished top of the ladder and gone within a kick of winning the Grand Final is more than anyone could have asked of them in their first season at this level. They have arrived as a genuine force in women’s footy.

But this was Macquarie Uni’s day. To have fought back so hard after a slow start was an impressive achievement. Lisa Steane took out the best-on-ground medal, while Amanda Farrugia and Laura Russell also featured prominently for the Warriors. And there were many of their number who stood and delivered when it mattered.

The season is over. But the Macquarie Uni party has just begun.

Match Results

Macquarie University – 0.2 | 3.3 | 3.3 | 5.5 (35)

East Coast Eagles – 4.0 | 4.1 | 4.4 | 4.5 (29)

Macquarie Uni Goals – L Russell 3, A Farrugia, M Brydon

East Coast Goals – R McGartland 2, G Marzano, D Gisu

Macquarie Uni Best – L Steane, A Farrugia, L Russell, A Carter, M Lawrence, E Graham

East Coast Best – B Tarrant, R Tomkins, E Goodsir, S Ford, H Zreika, C Torpy

 

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