Uncertainty for VFL Women’s clubs as Grand Final marks end of an era

If there was ever a word that could describe the feeling surrounding this Sunday’s VFL Women’s Grand Final at Etihad Stadium, it’s ‘uncertainty’.

It remains uncertain how many will fork out their hard-earned cash to watch a state league women’s Grand Final at Etihad Stadium; it’s uncertain how many will watch the first ever telecast of a state league women’s match, to be aired live on Channel 7.

Diamond Creek and Darebin will renew their storied Grand Final rivalry for what may be the last time. Image: Stuart Milligan

It’s uncertain if these two teams will ever meet again at this higher level of Victorian women’s football with a VFLW licence shake-up on the cards; and most importantly, it’s truly uncertain who will end the match victorious and as 2017 premiers.

However, if there’s one certainty, it’s that there will be plenty of the emotion in the match, as two old foes go to battle in their fifth – and possibly last – Grand Final in six years.

Melbourne AFLW midfielder and captain of the Darebin Falcons Elise O’Dea told Girls Play Footy she hopes it won’t be the last time her side plays together as a team in the VFLW.

“Really, the only thing I’ll be thinking about going into the game is that I’ll be hoping it isn’t the last time I play with this bunch of girls,” O’Dea said.

“They’re a terrific bunch of girls, and I’ve got some really great friendships here, I love playing football here and I think our football shows that.

“When things don’t go our way, we don’t turn on each other – we embrace the challenge.

“I’m glad that we’ve got to play as many games as possible this year… that’s the bonus of playing in a Grand Final, that you’ve played as many games as possible, and hopefully give it a good send off if it is the last time we all play together.”

The Falcons already had one send off for the year, when in the final round they had a day of celebrations marking their last ever state league match at AH Capp Reserve in West Preston, a small ground that saw many teams end up on the wrong side of a Darebin thrashing.

Darebin’s state league farewell to “The Nest” came about due to AFL Victoria requiring all VFL Women’s teams to be playing out of a ‘VFL standard’ ground from 2018, as part of their move to a more professional environment for women’s football.

Another complexity is that with Melbourne’s VFL sub-branch – the Casey Demons – entering a side in the VFLW next season, Melbourne might request that their stars such as Elise O’Dea, Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman and Melissa Hickey run around for Casey next VFLW season, rather than the Falcons, even if Darebin was to still be in the VFLW in 2018

Already Cranbourne and Seaford have bowed out of top flight state league football after just two seasons, joining North Geelong and Knox who only lasted one year.

Question marks already hang over the head of the ex-VWFL Premier Division clubs, with sides like the Eastern Devils required to find a ‘VFL standard’ ground when there are none in their area.

The Devils are also contemplating whether it is worth it to pay the expensive yearly licence fee, especially if they’ll lose some or a bulk of their talent to potential AFL club-backed VFLW newcomers.

Diamond Creek is also in the same boat, needing a home ground that is ‘VFL standard’; plus facing the prospect of losing future stars that would normally come to them from the Calder Cannons, who are now expected to head to soon-to-be confirmed VFLW newcomer, Essendon.

150-game footballer and Diamond Creek co-captain Tanya Hetherington told Girls Play Footy that a Grand Final win for the Creekers, in what might be their last ever state league match, would mean everything to her club.

“It is kind of fitting that it is Diamond Creek versus Darebin, because we’ve played off in so many Grand Finals, and each one of them has meant a huge amount to both clubs,” Hetherington said.

“We haven’t spoken about it too much, but it will definitely be brought up this week.

“I think with the fact that it could be the last time, we don’t know what the future holds.

“It would mean a lot to walk away with the premiership cup because we’re such a proud club, and we really are like family.

“We’ll definitely be playing for each other, the club, and the community.”

Both clubs tell a great story coming into the final game of the 2017 VFLW season.

A weakened and wounded Darebin paints the picture of a champion getting back up off the canvas to go one more round and do the improbable: win five flags in a row, tying the consecutive streak of premiership wins the club accrued during the Peta Searle-coached era.

Meanwhile, Diamond Creek may be the favourite, but is quick to remind everyone the Creekers the underdog, only beating the Falcons for the third time ever two weeks ago in the Semi-Final.

Their second ever victory came earlier this year at home, albeit against a depleted Darebin outfit missing many of its stars.

The other occasion being the 2012 Grand Final when they claimed the premiership, and were the last team to beat Darebin in the final game of the year.

There’s not much that can be done about the uncertainty around the future of these clubs in the state league until AFL Victoria makes its announcement on licences in October, but there’s something that can be done about the other uncertainties.

When it comes to uncertainty about crowd size, tell your friends and family about the event and how two great clubs might be going to battle for one last time.

If they’re uncertain they can make it, then tell them to either flick on the TV and watch it on Channel 7, or turn on their digital radio and listen to RSN Carnival for Girls Play Footy’s radio broadcast. Or both, if you want to be creative.

Whatever the future for Darebin and Diamond Creek, they deserve a big crowd at the ground and a big audience tuning in at home to salute what’s been a great rivalry.


Diamond Creek vs Darebin

12pm AEST
Sunday, September 24 at Etihad Stadium

Adults: $23
Concession/pensioner: $16
Kids under 15: Free
Ticket also covers entry to the VFL Grand Final at 3pm and TAC Cup Grand Final at 7.35pm. All tickets are general admission and can be bought at the ground or on Ticketmaster (prices on Ticketmaster are different than at the gate).

RSN Carnival from 11am AEST
Internet audio stream on girlsplayfooty.com from 11am AEST
The full interviews with Elise O’Dea and Tanya Hetherington can be heard on Wednesday night from 6pm AEST on RSN Carnival, and then from Thursday morning on the Girls Play Footy Podcast.

Channel 7 from 11:30am AEST