Brisbane was defeated in the AFLW Grand Final but the achievements of the Lions in the inaugural season should be something that the club and supporters should be proud of.
Before the season commenced, the Queenslanders weren’t given a hope or a prayer and were expected to finish the 2017 season as wooden spooners but instead they finished the top of the table and were the first side to secure their place in the Grand Final.
This was the team that defeated a highly-fancied Melbourne squad and defeated them by 15 points in the rain at Casey in Round 1 and then went on to win their next five AFLW matches.
Coach Craig Starcevich constructed a team built on solid defending and Brisbane was a very hard side to break down. There were teams that may have had more naturally gifted players but they could have been thrown kitchen sinks at the Lionesses and they coped more often that not.
Defensively, the Lions were great at closing down spaces, tackling opponents, marking, spoiling, and smothering kicks. The back six in particular were superb in the defensive arts of the game but they also got support from the midfielders and forwards too.
Shannon Campbell will go down in history as Brisbane’s first-ever goalkicker in the AFLW and she was solid as a key defender but my stand-out performers in defence were Sam Virgo and Leah Kasler.
Virgo displayed an amazing ability to read the play, stop opponents of different sizes, and would do anything to block the runs or kicks of opposition players. I would go as far as to say she is the most courageous player in women’s footy.
While Virgo was a defensive specialist, Kasler was reliable in her marking and her ball use in addition to her defending. Kate Lutkins was another back who had a reliable pair of hands in Brisbane’s defensive 50.
Midfield is one department that the Lions could improve on in 2018 but Emma Zielke was a captain that led by example as well as display courage and would regularly collect disposals. Young midfielder Emily Bates was Brisbane’s first draft pick and would also rack a high amount of possessions.
As good as Zielke and Bates were, the Lions need to be more effective in their disposals next year so they can make better use of their exciting forwards. There is an emphasis on handball in Brisbane’s game but better disposal by foot should improve the supply into the forward 50.
Starcevich can consider himself to be lucky to coach the two most promising key forwards in the AFLW, Tayla Harris and Sabrina Frederick-Traub.
Harris is known for her distinctive kicking style and her ability to kick the footy long distances but she is also an excellent mark. She is still 19 years old though and still has room to improve, especially in one-on-one contests.
Perhaps a temporary change in role could help Harris so she can take more marks and her long kicking can assist the Lions in getting the ball out of congestion quicker as well as allow the speedsters to run into attacking spaces.
Frederick-Traub is just 20 years old but she already looks like one of the best forwards of the game. Although she plays as a key forward and has a solid frame, she is still able to pick up crumbs and snap some goals. Occasionally she can play in the ruck but her best work is done in the forward 50.
To compliment the young key forwards at Brisbane’s disposal, Jessica Wuetschner, Kaitlyn Ashmore, and Kate McCarthy are small forwards who provide spark and an X-factor. Wuetschner and Ashmore have provided their share of spectacular goals but McCarthy’s appearances in the team are more remarkable.
At 12 years old, McCarthy had a pacemaker inserted after she was diagnosed with a blockage in her heart, but it hasn’t stopped her dream of playing elite sport and she is arguably the fastest player in the AFLW.
One of the most redeeming features of Brisbane’s play is watching the speedster take multiple bounces with the football and score goals and she finished 2017 as the club’s leading goalkicker with nine goals.
Although the Lions were defeated by Adelaide in the Grand Final on Saturday, they should not look back in negatively on the season. Just by reaching the final, they exceeded expectations and proved doubters wrong.
With this is mind, these performances can be a springboard for a better 2018 AFLW season.