It’s a topic that will surely dominate discussion within AFLW circles over the course of the 2018 season: who is the AFLW’s greatest footballer?
Like this year’s constant conversations on whether Patrick Dangerfield or Dustin Martin is currently the best player in the AFL, such comparisons are easily drawn between Crows’ premiership hero and former WNBA star Erin Phillips and Demons gun and AFLW poster girl Daisy Pearce.
The two veterans lead the debate for the most important player in the women’s league, and both produced outstanding and consistent performances throughout the AFLW’s inaugural season this year.
Both as captains of their respective sides, together they finished as the top two leading disposal getters at season’s end; Phillips with 160 touches from her eight matches, Pearce at 153 from just seven.
While Pearce’s playing attributes have been likened to young AFLM Hawk Tom Mitchell, the 29-year-old has admitted that although she’s hardly the quickest player on-field, her ability to read the play is her key strength.
Like Mitchell, Pearce often plays a role as an outside midfielder and dominates statistics with uncontested possessions, and leads the competition for total handballs.
While her impact on games is undeniable, Pearce too could arguably be more damaging with her ball use at times, given the sheer number of possessions she tends to attract.
Usually, this aspect of her game is forgotten when she plays as a running half-back, which is where she tends to gain the most meterage, tearing through the middle of the ground.
On the other hand, Phillips is a dominant driving force whose goal-kicking ability and contested marking are prominent highlights of her game, and her speed and toughness at the contests are characteristics more reminiscent of the Dangerfield/Martin mould.
The stronger-bodied utility’s work at stoppages is second to none, racking up a total of 40 clearances for the season, and also makes for a dangerous aerial target when up forward.
Her courageous and unwavering attack – on both the loose ball and at those in possession of it – is at times so reckless and without an air of self-preservation, that it’s almost hard to watch.
In the opening round of the season, Phillips drew two free-kicks from some bone-crunching hits resulting in high-contact, and importantly went on to convert both opportunities in front of the big sticks.
It’s a true credit to her bravery and character, and no doubt silenced any critics who would have doubted such a successful transition back to Australian Rules, having played the (largely) non-contact sport of basketball for so long.
Again in contrast to Danger and Dusty, Phillips and Pearce could also at times both be criticised for their disposal efficiency; here Pearce wins out with 63.4 per cent compared to Phillips, going at 57.5.
Regardless, the overall impact the duo have had on their own clubs, both on and off the field, is undeniable and both players are of a highly valuable ilk.
This season, despite Pearce’s best efforts, the Demons fell agonisingly short of a Grand Final berth, finishing third on the ladder at the conclusion of round seven.
Meanwhile, Phillips and her team managed to produce a miraculous win and snare a victory against ladder leaders, the Brisbane Lions, in the final game of the season.
Remarkably, over the course of three short days, Phillips was named best on ground in the 2017 AFLW Grand Final, and received both the AFLW best and fairest medal and the AFLW Players’ most valuable player award, and won Girls Play Footy’s own Leesa Catto Media MVP to boot.
Those accolades alone would suggest Phillips has the advantage over Pearce in this debate; that was until last Saturday night when the All-Australian skipper shone brightest under the spotlight of a watchful nation.
Stamping her authority on the competition once again, Pearce reminded spectators and critics of just how good she can be, dominating in a one-sided affair for Victoria against the Allies in the first ever AFLW State of Origin match.
On display for all to witness, Daisy blossomed under Etihad’s lights, and put together one of the most stunning halves of football one could imagine, before shifting gears and entering cruise control and effortlessly maintaining her dominance for the remainder of the game.
Pearce once again finished as the leading disposal winner on the night, with 37 touches, five marks and a ripping goal to conclude a brilliant passage of play by the Vics.
She was named the undisputed best on ground for the night, edging out fellow Victorian and Melbourne Demons teammate Karen Paxman.
It was something short of a tragedy that Phillips was unable to take to the field for the match, as she remains overseas in the United States.
While her involvement with the Allies may not have been enough to turn the game around, it almost certainly would have made for a much tighter contest.
In short, it’s impossible to determine which woman is the more impressive and imperative of the two, though it’s always fun comparing apples with oranges and in this case, pitting the spectacular against sustained brilliance.
A week ago, such a decision may have been a lot easier.
Let us hope that at the very least, we can witness these two AFLW titans continue their hot form and perhaps even go head-to-head in the 2018 season.