Brisbane players celebrate after winning the 2023 NAB AFLW Grand Final against North Melbourne at Ikon Park on December 3, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

WE SHOULD have learned in 2021. Never, ever, ever write off Brisbane.

After another round of expansion losses, and with seemingly the entire (non-Brisbane) football public siding with the fairytale story of North Melbourne, the Lions have once again triumphed, defeating the Roos by 17 points to sew up the 2023 AFLW premiership.

KANGAROOS v LIONS Full Grand Final match coverage and stats

They came from fourth on the ladder – having their ups and downs in the home-and-away season – but a final-quarter brace from Dakota Davidson, who had come into the match under a serious injury cloud with a knee injury, carried the Lions to a 7.2 (44) to 4.3 (27) victory.

Brisbane set an AFLW record for tackles in the process such was its intensity, laying 110, ahead of 106 by Sydney in this year’s elimination final, and held North Melbourne scoreless in the final term.

North Melbourne had suffered a significant blow in the opening minutes when last week’s best-afield, the lively Jenna Bruton, was felled by a right foot injury, unable to put any weight on the leg.

The first quarter itself was tense and scrappy, Courtney Hodder and Mia King themselves laying eight and seven tackles, respectively. Chances deep in attack were few and far between.

After a week of being in the headlines (presumably much to the humble Garner’s own distaste) after missing out once again in the AFLW best and fairest count, it took a beautiful Garner set shot from 48m to kick the opening goal, coming 16 minutes into the game.

Brisbane skipper Breanna Koenen – generally playing as the spare in defence, with North opting to use its free player around the footy – was simply outstanding throughout, showing immense bravery on many occasions to take a goal-saving mark under pressure.

Sometimes in Grand Finals it’s as simple as taking your chances, and that’s what Charlie Mullins did from the 50m mark, wheeling and kicking to the top of the square, with the ball skipping through an out-of-alignment North defence for the Lions’ first.

Koenen was swung onto Garner, starting in the middle, and while she didn’t completely shut down the superstar, her influence was somewhat quelled.

“Zombie” from Irish band The Cranberries hit the PA as Orla O’Dwyer kicked a clever bouncing snap early in the third, giving Brisbane the lead for the first time in the game.

It signalled the steely resolve of the Brisbane side, lifting its pressure around the contest and beginning to turn the tide in the clearances.

The heavy North-dominated crowd could sense the turning tide, rising in volume in an attempt to urge their side forward.

It worked.

Kate Shierlaw – who had barely been sighted to this point – took a strong contested mark, beating out two Brisbane opponents, and converted truly from a tight angle to snatch back the lead.

Ash Riddell streamed out of the centre, three North players laid a tackle (with an excitable Riddell celebrating before the umpire had even called holding the ball), with Alice O’Loughlin kicking truly.

But there was a final twist in the tale yet, with the polarising Davidson – who Lions fans love while she gets under the skin of opposition supporters – shook off her knee injury and stood tall to kick not just the first, but the second of the final term as well.

Integral Brisbane winger Sophie Conway underwent a head injury assessment at three-quarter time and into the fourth term, but returned, while the tough-as-nails Shannon Campbell received a series of heavy knocks throughout the game.

Garner was once again the Roos’ best with 24 and two goals, while Mia King stood tall in the contest, recording a game-high 12 clearances and 19 touches.

Belle Dawes ran her heart out, with a game-high 18 contested possessions, 20 touches and 13 tackles, while Ally Anderson bobbed up at important moments to finish with 20 disposals and six clearances.

Captain Koenen the courageous
The Brisbane skipper is an incredibly consistent performer, but saves her very best for the big games. Deployed in defence in the first half – taking nine intercepts for the game – she was also the Lions’ “break glass in case of emergency”, moving onto Garner and making the Roo a little more accountable. She was named winner of the Best on Ground Medal in a well-deserved effort, with 19 disposals and 11 tackles.

Devastating Roos blow
She was the match-winner in the one-point preliminary final win over Adelaide, but Jenna Bruton’s Grand Final lasted just three minutes, suffering what appears to be a bad foot injury. The diminutive Roo had jumped high for a successful, slap-down intercept before landing and moving to take off on her right foot, crumbling to the deck instead of running. She had a moon boot and crutches by the three-quarter time break, hobbling out for the final address for the year from Darren Crocker.

2023 Best on Ground voting

15 – Breanna Koenen, Brisbane Lions – 33333
9 – Jasmine Garner, North Melbourne– 22221
5 – Belle Dawes, Brisbane Lions – 2111
1 – Natalie Grider, Brisbane Lions – 1

Judge votes (3, 2, 1)

Abbie Holmes (Chair): Breanna Koenen, Belle Dawes, Jasmine Garner
Erin Phillips: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
Gemma Bastiani: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
Quentin Hull: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Belle Dawes
Lauren Wood: Breanna Koenen, Jasmine Garner, Natalie Grider

NORTH MELBOURNE     1.0    2.2    4.3    4.3 (27)
BRISBANE                     0.0    2.1    3.2    7.2 (44)

GOALS
North Melbourne: Garner 2, Shierlaw, O’Loughlin
Brisbane: Davidson 2, Hampson 2, Mullins, O’Dwyer, Koenen

BEST
North Melbourne:
Garner, M. King, Riddell, Rennie, Kearney
Brisbane: Koenen, Dawes, Anderson, Grider, Hodder

INJURIES
North Melbourne: Bruton (foot)
Brisbane: Conway (head knock)

Crowd: 12,616 at Ikon Park