Expectations as well as doubts surrounded the inaugural AFLW season but it proved to be an intriguing experience as groups of women realised their dream of becoming elite footballers.
The 2017 season will be looked at in a mixed light. The nay-sayers will criticise the game for its low attendances and the fact that the crowds had free entry to watch matches but for those who followed the competition intently, they would have seen that women’s football has the potential to grow.
Adelaide – Entertainers and Inaugural Premiers
Adelaide won the inaugural AFLW Grand Final against Brisbane by six points in a tight contest but the Crows were worthy winners. Throughout the season, the Crows were a powerful attacking force capable of outscoring almost any opponent that faced them.
Erin Phillips was the star of the team, displaying great goal sense and also possessing the ability to link-up with her teammates in the forward 50.
The daughter of SANFL legend Greg Phillips was also decisive in the Grand Final for the Crows, collecting 28 disposals and scoring two goals. She also won the AFLW Players' Most Valuable Player Award for her efforts this season.
Other stand-out performers for Adelaide this season were Sarah Perkins, Ebony Marinoff, and Chelsea Randall.
Perkins was recruited as a free agent after missing out at the 2016 AFL Women’s draft but she has been one of the unlikely heroes of the campaign, finishing the season with 11 goals in eight games. The 23-year-old scored more goals than any other Crows player and her style of play and movement was typical of the full-forwards of yesteryear.
Marinoff is only 19 years old but the midfielder is one of the best users of the footy in the AFLW. Not only does she collect a high number of disposals but she is clean and accurate when kicking with that reliable left foot of hers.
Randall was a rock in defence and she regularly nullified the best forwards from opposition teams as well as collecting a lot of disposals. In the Grand Final she had 16 possessions and only three other teammates had more.
Credit should also go to Bec Goddard, who is one of only two female coaches in the AFLW but she ended up outcoaching her male counterparts. Surely her achievement with Adelaide will inspire more women to take up coaching a footy club.
Brisbane and Melbourne -The Best of the Rest
The Crows found it hard to win the premiership as they had to defeat a strong Brisbane Lions side. If Adelaide was known for its great attacking prowess, the Lions were the masters of defence. Coach Craig Starcevich created a team that was capable of shutting down opposition attacks, reliant on handballing, and could score goals out of nothing.
Brisbane had a solid back six with Sam Virgo and Leah Kasler being the greatest stand-outs while in the forward 50 the likes of Jessica Wuetschner, Kaitlyn Ashmore, and Kate McCarthy fed off the crumbs left by prodigious key forwards Tayla Harris and Sabrina Frederick-Traub.
The Lions were written off before the season commenced but they surprised people by finishing on top of the ladder.
One side that was unlucky not to reach the Grand Final was Melbourne. The Demons were another high-scoring team but their defeats to Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney illustrated that they were vulnerable in wet conditions.
Dees captain Daisy Pearce lived up to the hype by averaging 21.9 disposals per game, and Karen Paxman was high-possession getter from defence, averaging 21.7 disposals a game.
Lily Mithen, a relative of 1950s Melbourne premiership hero Laurie, showed plenty of promise in midfield while Alyssa Mifsud was another player who demonstrated the importance of having traditional key forwards in the team by scoring nine goals.
Carlton and Collingwood – Flashes of Brilliance Not Enough
Behind Melbourne on the ladder was Carlton, who showed some potential early but faded as the season went on. The undisputed star of this Blues side was Darcy Vescio, who only averaged 7.1 disposals a game but scored more goals in the AFLW by kicking 14 majors.
Vescio was not someone who would just score simple goals. She was a player who scored goals out of nothing and displayed a sense of unpredictability that wasn’t often seen in the league.
Collingwood finished fifth behind their traditional rival Carlton, and the Magpies had struggled at the start of the season, losing their first three matches. They then went on to win their next three before suffering defeat to eventual premiers Adelaide in the final round. Marquee forward Moana Hope struggled to justify the hype, scoring only seven goals.
Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney –Dogged by Disappointment
The Western Bulldogs, Fremantle, and GWS made up the rest of the table and needless to say those three teams were disappointing.
The Doggies lost star forward and captain Katie Brennan to injury after two rounds and performances of Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney were the few bright spots in an anti-climactic campaign.
Fremantle shared seventh place with the Giants, who were wooden spooners on percentage. The Dockers were a highly-fancied team but hardly showed anything to justify the hype while Jessica Dal Pos starred in midfield for a poorly-performing GWS side.
It was a short season but it gave footy fans an insight into how women play the game. Although the games featured less scoring than the men’s game, the ladies displayed the effort and desire to play footy at elite level.
There needs to be more drafting of talented players and player development needs to improve but the foundations have already been laid. We may not see women’s teams scoring over 100 points in a game just yet but a higher quality competition will develop over time.