The Brisbane Lions have had to do it the hard way, but they are AFLW champions again.
Here are five quick hits from a grand final win over North Melbourne to remember.
No Bates, no Wardlaw, no worries?
Ask any Brisbane Lions fan and they’ll tell you their AFLW side is criminally underrated. Of seven completed AFLW seasons, the Lions have featured in five deciders, but had managed to win just the one premiership until today.
Last season, they topped the ladder and hosted the grand final on their home deck in Springfield, before falling to the Demons by just four points. The players were shattered, and few backed them to return to the decider after they lost best and fairest winner Emily Bates to Hawthorn, and spearhead Jesse Wardlaw to St Kilda.
The circumstances of the club’s 2023 premiership mirrors their first in 2021, when they took down the highly-favoured Adelaide Crows despite an exodus of players to rival Queensland club Gold Coast, as well as four key players to the Kangaroos, including Tahlia Randall, who played in the losing North Melbourne side on Sunday.
The Lions’ motto in 2019 was just as fitting then as today: A champion team will always beat a team of champions.
Jas Garner underlines status as competition’s best
What more does Jas Garner have to do to prove she’s the best player in the AFLW? It’s a question that will be asked again after a stand-out performance in the AFLW grand final, where she booted two crucial goals and assisted another (which led to Kate Shierlaw’s outstanding contested grab in the third quarter) to go with her 24 disposals, including 17 contested possessions, six clearances and four inside 50s.
Despite her dominance across seven seasons, the Kangaroos star is yet to be awarded the competition’s best and fairest award, this year overlooked for Richmond midfielder Mon Conti. That’s despite her picking up her third AFL Coaches’ Association Award (and second in two seasons), while she was voted the competition’s most valuable player by her peers for a second time.
Garner finished second in the best on ground count to Lions’ captain Bre Koenen, but the numbers arguably would’ve been reversed if the result had gone the other way.
Dakota Davidson recovers from injury to deliver on the biggest stage
What a difference a week makes in football. After injuring her knee in the club’s gritty preliminary final win over Geelong, the forward was left in tears, and looked highly unlikely to take part in the biggest game of the season.
By three-quarter time, she had had just three touches and little influence on the contest, but stood up in the final quarter to deliver two result-changing, and premiership-winning goals.
Interviewed on TV after the game, Davidson said it had been a “scary” 24 hours as she waited for scans on her knee to get the all-clear to play.
“I did everything I could to make it today, and I’m so glad I did,” Davidson told Nat Edwards on Channel Seven.
“Every child dreams of playing in a premiership … it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Most courageous leads Lions’ tackling clinic
Courtney Hodder might be better known by fans for her flashy, goal-kicking brilliance, but her peers know a ferocious competitor when they see one.
Hodder was voted most courageous by the AFLW playing cohort in 2023, and showed why with a staggering 18 tackles in the biggest game of the season.
She wasn’t the only Lion to bring the tackling pressure, with captain and best on ground Bre Koenen laying 11 of her own, to go with former AFLW best and fairest Ally Anderson’s 12 and Bella Dawes’ 11.
At the conclusion of the game, Brisbane out-tackled North Melbourne 110-76, one of the few team stats they won.
Sold-out Princes Park raises more questions than answers
Thanks to the dominance of the Adelaide Crows and Brisbane Lions, this year’s AFLW grand final was just the second to be held in Melbourne. Fans turned out accordingly, with a sold-out Princes Park delivering an atmosphere worthy of the occasion.
But the question remains whether Princes Park (with a capacity of approximately 13,000) was the right venue for the decider, given the game sold out in hours and fans of either side were locked out from the occasion.
The AFL will — and has — argued that it was better to sell out Princes Park than have empty seats at a bigger stadium like Docklands. But it’s precisely that attitude that has been a problem for the competition from the beginning, with head office too often selling its own product short.
There were 53,034 at Adelaide’s defeat of Carlton in 2019 at the Adelaide Oval, and there’s no reason that many wouldn’t show up to a grand final in Australian Rules heartland. For that, however, the AFL arguably needs to show more belief and imagination.