With the 2019 AFL draft in the rearview mirror and club lists finalised for 2020, we decided – despite overwhelming popular opinion – that it’s not at all too early to start speculating about the season ahead.
The Adelaide Crows have become the most successful team in the short history of AFL Women’s, claiming their second flag with an emphatic victory over Carlton.
In front of over 53,000 spectators at the Adelaide Oval – a record crowd for a women’s professional sporting event in Australia – the Crows overcame a slow start, as well as serious knee injuries to Chloe Scheer and Erin Phillips, to defeat the Blues by 45 points in the third AFL Women’s grand final.
Officials had been expecting a crowd of up to 25,000, but as the match progressed, and more fans started filling into the Oval, the top level of seats had to be opened so that nobody would miss out on a seat.
Those who arrived late missed the first goal of the match, which went the way of Carlton’s Maddy Prespakis who converted a 50-metre penalty to give her side the perfect start.
However, the Crows – undefeated since their heartbreaking one-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in Round 1 – would kick the next nine goals to all but clinch their second AFLW flag by half-time.
The match then took a turn for the worse when Erin Phillips – who is the favourite to take out her second AFLW best and fairest award – went down with a serious left-knee injury as she looked to change direction.
This brought the capacity-filled Adelaide Oval to a standstill, to the point where you could hear a pin drop as she was carried off the field on the medicab.
Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed when she said at full-time that she had suffered an ACL injury to her ‘good knee’, which will put her out of action for up to 12 months.
Still, she was named best on ground in the decider for the second time, collecting 18 disposals before leaving the field in the third quarter.
When this was announced, it was met with cheers from the crowd while she was mobbed by her team-mates before walking up to the dais, assisted by Ebony Marinoff and Chelsea Randall, to accept her award.
Beforehand, another Crow Chloe Scheer suffered a knee injury of her own after taking a spectacular mark in the second quarter, while the season’s leading goal-kicker Stevie-Lee Thompson also went down with an ankle problem.
After the Crows led by 40 points at half-time, they slowed down in the second half, knowing they could not be overtaken by a plucky Carlton side which had done very well to reach the Grand Final 12 months after taking out the wooden spoon.
Only one goal was kicked in the third quarter, while the fourth was a stalemate with both sides kicking just one point each, establishing the game’s final margin of 45 points.
The Crows’ victory, achieved in front of over 50,000 fans at the Oval, capped off a dominant campaign in which only the season-opening loss to the Western Bulldogs prevented them from achieving an undefeated season.
As for the Blues, they can look back at pride at what they achieved this season under new coach Daniel Harford, who took the reins after foundation coach Damien Keeping was sacked following a disastrous 2018 in which they won just two of seven matches.
However, the future is bright for the women from Ikon Park, with first-year player Maddy Prespakis the hot favourite to claim the Rising Star award during this week’s AFLW awards, and key forwards Tayla Harris and Darcy Vescio performing well during the regular season.
For Harris – who’d been in the headlines in the lead-up to preliminary final week – it was the second grand final heartbreak of her career after being part of the Brisbane Lions side which lost to the Crows in the 2017 decider on the Gold Coast.
And that’s all she wrote for the third AFL Women’s season, in which the Adelaide Crows stamped themselves as the most dominant team with eight consecutive victories, going undefeated since Round 2 to go all the way for the second time in three years.
It was the first season in which there were no drawn matches, after one last year between the GWS Giants and Adelaide Crows and two in 2017 (GWS vs Fremantle and Carlton vs Brisbane Lions).
The controversial conference system, whereby the ten teams were divided into two pools of five, is also set to come under review, given the inequality created between both pools whereby Conference A proved to be stronger than their Conference B counterparts.
And with four new teams to enter the competition next year, it will mean a longer season as well as more matches, with some rounds to overlap the early rounds of the men’s season.
A standard round will have seven matches, and this would be my format.
Friday – two matches
Game 1 starts at 6.10pm (Sydney or Melbourne only)
Game 2 starts at 8.10pm (or 7.40pm in Adelaide/7.10pm in Queensland/5.10pm in Perth)
Saturday – three matches
Game 3 starts at 3.10pm (or 2.40pm in Adelaide)
Game 4 starts at 5.10pm (or 4.40pm in Adelaide/4.10pm in Queensland/2.10pm in Perth)
Game 5 starts at 7.10pm (or 6.40pm in Adelaide/6.10pm in Queensland/4.10pm in Perth)
Sunday – two matches
Game 6 starts at 2.10pm (or 1.40pm in Adelaide)
Game 7 starts at 4.10pm (or 3.40pm in Adelaide/3.10pm in Queensland/1.10pm in Perth)
Game 1 would be played in Sydney or Melbourne only, as in Adelaide (5.40pm) it would be too soon after knock-off, and in Perth it would be played at an inconvenient time slot.
Games 3 and 6 should not be played in Brisbane, the Gold Coast or Perth due to the likely late morning/early afternoon heat.
Game 2 should be either in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Adelaide or Perth, though a Melbourne double-header would also be possible.
Alternatively, Games 6 and 7 could start at 3.10pm or 5.10pm AEST respectively.
The Seven Network would have the rights to the two Saturday matches, the twilight and night matches, with an option for Friday night matches as well, with all matches featuring interstate teams to be televised into their respective markets.
All times above are listed in AEST unless mentioned.
This is how I think Round 1 next season should unfold (local time).
Friday, January 31
Richmond vs Carlton at Punt Road Oval, 6.10pm, Fox Footy
Adelaide Crows vs Collingwood at Norwood Oval, 7.40pm, Seven
Saturday, February 1
Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs, Casey Fields, 3.10pm, Fox Footy
St Kilda vs GWS Giants, Moorabbin Oval, 5.10pm, Seven
Gold Coast Suns vs Brisbane Lions, Metricon Stadium, 6.10pm, Seven
Sunday, February 2
Geelong Cats vs North Melbourne, GMHBA Stadium, 2.10pm (or 3.10pm), Fox Footy
West Coast Eagles vs Fremantle, Lathlain Park, 1.10pm (or 2.10pm), Fox Footy
There are no matches fixtured in Melbourne in Games 5, 6 and 7 so as to avoid a clash with the Australian Open tennis championship matches.
The Richmond vs Carlton match would double as both the season opener and the Tigers’ first match in the AFL Women’s competition.
The Adelaide Crows would open their premiership defence with a home game against Collingwood in the second Friday night match.
St Kilda’s first match would be against the GWS Giants at Moorabbin Oval.
The Gold Coast Suns and West Coast Eagles’ first matches will be local derbies against the Brisbane Lions and Fremantle, respectively.
Just whether the conference system will be retained will remain to be seen, but if people power have their way, it would very likely be axed.
Should justice prevail, the season would be 13 rounds with every team playing each other once, but just how many teams will contest the finals will remain another question to be answered.