It will be a case of déjà vu for the 2021 AFLW grand final with Adelaide and Brisbane facing off for the premiership for the second time in five seasons next Saturday afternoon. Only this time, the Crows will have the home-ground advantage.
A replay of the inaugural season’s historic final game seems a fitting way to end the 2021 season, marked as it has been by plenty of drama and challenges, including the lingering bitterness of the disastrous end to the 2020 campaign in which no premiership was won – or even played for. In keeping with the spirit of the season, both preliminary finals were threaded with equal parts euphoria and despair depending on what jumper you were wearing.
The Crows bulldozed the Demons on their way to a third grand final. Melbourne battled hard but just could not convert their efforts to the scoreboard. The Dees had 12 scoring shots – four more than the Crows – but inaccuracy put paid to their chances. It was familiar names like Hatchard, Marinoff and Phillips who were among Adelaide’s best but the win was tarnished somewhat by a first-quarter clash that saw captain Chelsea Randall sidelined for the rest of the game. It will also more than likely rule her out of the grand final given the AFL’s tightening of the rules around concussion. It is a huge blow for the Crows and will hang as a question mark over their heads heading into the weekend.
While the Crows never looked like missing, it was a very different story at the Gabba. Momentum switched back and forth throughout the day as the Lions and Magpies crashed and bashed their way through their own preliminary final. Collingwood had the lead at the final change but Brisbane soon clawed their way back into the game. In the end, it came down to the final minutes, with the Magpies still within a kick with 20 seconds on the clock. Collingwood needed a miracle but were not going to find it in Brisbane. The Magpies will rue their chances, like Melbourne before them.
So too will fans who may have secretly been hoping for a big dance at the MCG. It was almost a possibility. Last Wednesday, the AFL announced the AFLW grand final would be played at one of three venues depending on the results of the weekend’s games. The options – the Gabba, Adelaide Oval and the MCG – were tantalising for very specific reasons.
The Gabba was infamously supposed to be the location of the inaugural grand final in 2017. An Adele concert, a damaged pitch and some interesting decisions by ground management sparked plenty of controversy and the game ended up being shifted to Metricon Stadium. Adelaide Oval was the glorious location where 53,034 fans watched the Crows win their second flag in 2019. It is a ground which holds a special place in AFLW history. It’s also the ground where two superstar Crows did ACLs – so not all happy memories. And the MCG is, well, the MCG. While women have played on the ‘G before, it would have been the first AFLW game at the iconic venue.
Perhaps even better than the ground options was the decision by the AFL to attempt to “clear the air” around the grand final. They moved one AFL men’s match, pushing its start time to later in afternoon and made provisional plans to move a second match scheduled to be played at the MCG. While decisions worthy of a thumbs up at the very least, they unfortunately don’t actually give the game that much clear air at all.
After a horrendous 2020 where most grassroots sport was cancelled, many community leagues returned to grounds around the country this weekend. Next Saturday afternoon plenty will be pulling on the boots, standing on the sidelines or in the canteen, perhaps surreptitiously watching the game between serving orders of hot chips, instead if heading to the game or watching at home. It’s not an issue faced by the men’s league, which holds its grand final after state and community competitions have wrapped up for the year. As long as the AFLW continues to be played in this early part of the year, clear air is really impossible and clashes with state and community leagues with inevitably keep some fans away.
Hazy air or not, Saturday’s decider is shaping up to be a spectacular occasion. The Crows will be chasing their third flag, while Brisbane will be hoping the third time really is the charm as they seek their first premiership after twice having to settle for runners-up. Whichever way the wind blows, the 2021 season has already delivered all the tension and exhilaration, all the heartache and triumph that we have come to know and expect of the AFLW.