A Voice from the Stands: A thing of beauty

Eight weeks isn’t a long time. Across a lifetime, it’s hardly anything. A collection of days that could easily blend into one another, unless something special made them stand out.

These past eight weeks have been just that: something special.

Image: Kirby Fenwick

An epic. That’s how I described the story of women’s footy last week. It’s a story overflowing with heroines and legends, with battles for survival and respect and with tales of courage on field and off.

On Saturday afternoon at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, the Lions and the Crows came together to write the last lines of the latest chapter.

As I took my seat, I couldn’t help but think of that other historic game, only a few short weeks before, at Princes Park.

The ending of this chapter doesn’t look much like the beginning – different colours, different states, a slight variance in humidity – but for all the differences some things remained the same.

Thirty-two footballers positioned themselves around the ground. Their bellies full of nerves no doubt, but they were ready; an unwavering focus and fierce determination written across their faces.

A hush fell over the crowd here, too. And at that first bounce, that familiar roar.

“See what we create” they told us, these remarkable women of the inaugural AFLW season, just see.

And so, we did. Every week we went along in our thousands to suburban footy grounds across the country and we watched these women build something remarkable.

The inaugural AFLW season has been a thing of beauty.

A stunning triumph, a sharp rebuttal, a glorious magnificent achievement that will forever live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who witnessed it.

From the first bounce, the first ever AFLW Grand Final was a tough, contested game. Played as much on hands and knees as in the air, it was hard footy – a crash and bash footy.

Bodies were put on the line and pushed to their limits.

The crowd of 15,000 rode every bump, protested every decision that didn’t go their way and implored their girls to lift, to push, to win.

The noise at times was overwhelming, in a way that made my heart swell.

When a Lions chant went up before half-time, I worried briefly for the foundations of the stadium, such was the intensity of the Lions faithful.

That noise vibrated through me and reaffirmed what I already knew. What these past eight weeks had demonstrated so irrefutably.

This might be an epic, this might have been a hundred years in the making, but women’s footy had finally and incontrovertibly arrived.

On the field, Adelaide had the momentum from the first bounce. Kellie Gibson’s goal in the opening seconds of the game seemed to establish the tone early on.

Erin Phillips in a match winning, and best on ground winning, performance was a stand out, but so too was the hard work of Chelsea Randell and perennial favourite, Sarah Perkins.

In keeping with the form that had earned them the minor premiers title, Brisbane fought hard. Their defence was under pressure all afternoon, but the likes of Leah Kaslar and Sam Virgo were up to the challenge, working valiantly to keep scores close all game.

A final term fight back from the Lions had the crowd on their feet; could they do it, could they come from behind and snatch this victory from the jaws of defeat?

But, when the final siren went, it was the Crows who’d carved out a space for themselves in Australian sporting history.

Their obvious excitement pushed up against the anguish of the Lions, that startling juxtaposition familiar to many footy fans.

Special feels an understatement when I reflect on my eight weeks in the stands. The memories are many, the joy profound.

For eight weeks, I have watched these footballers take to the field and do what they love.

I have read their stories and shared those stories with fellow fans.

I have travelled interstate and across Melbourne, I have taken my seat in blistering temperatures, in spitting rain and on cool nights.

There is nowhere else I’d rather have been.

Maybe it’s cliché to say that women’s footy was the winner on Saturday afternoon.

But I won’t pretend I didn’t think it when Debbie Lee presented Erin Philipps with her well-deserved best on ground or when Susan Alberti bestowed the premiership cup on co-captains Phillips and Chelsea Randall, and coach Bec Goddard.

I stood as the Crows were called on stage and presented with their premiership medals. I clapped until my hands reddened and I let the tears that had been threatening to fall for two hours run down my face.

Bec Goddard quoted the inimitable John Farnham when she accepted her medal on Saturday afternoon.

“We have the chance to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write”

She was speaking about her Crows, who’d been underestimated from the beginning, but she could also be speaking about the AFLW competition.

The pages have been turned and we get to write the next chapter now.

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