By PETER CORNWALL
Hands up who predicted a Glenelg-West Adelaide grand final after Round 6 of the Statewide Super Women’s League.
The Bloods were fourth and the Tigers were sixth. And who reckoned Westies would make it through to the premiership decider after Round 8 when they were crunched by Sturt by 45 points to be sixth, just one premiership point above the bottom-placed Blues?
It’s fair to say these sides have charged home from those shaky times. And it’s also fair to say it means we’re in for a blockbuster grand final clash between the form teams of the competition.
Glenelg has won six games in a row, including a 23-point demolition of minor premier Norwood in the second semi-final. West has won five on the trot, most recently a 24-point preliminary final triumph against the Redlegs to set up a mouth-watering finale.
It’s a historic first grand final appearance for both sides. They made up half of the first four teams that kicked off SANFL’s women’s comp – with Norwood and North – in 2017 and they clashed in their first game, the Bays beating the Bloods by 53 points.
While both sides came from a long way back at the mid-point of the season, their finals campaigns contrast starkly. Glenelg played its best footy to storm clear of Norwood in the second semi and leap straight into the big dance.
But it’s been a testing couple of weeks for West. It took a miracle, over-the-head snap from Mel Elsegood with just a minute to go to snatch a thrilling four-point win against South in the cut-throat first semi-final.
Then, in the preliminary final, the Bloods suffered a shocking setback when they lost inspirational captain Bec Owen with a broken fibula in the second quarter. Coach Mark Moody admitted there were some emotional scenes during half-time but his charges’ response was emphatic. “We played out of our skins to get the job done for her,” he said.
But Westies have been playing out of their skin for a while, Moody conceding the past five games have all been like grand finals. “With three matches to go we were saying this is our first final,” he said, with any slip-up certain to end their season and a finals spot only secured with a gutsy one-point win against South in the last minor round, scraping in by percentage from North.
They should be used to the pressure of do-or-die footy and, while they will miss Owen, who had been “one of the big influences” on West’s winning run, it has strengthened her team-mates’ resolve.
And there’s no lack of star quality in Moody’s side. Standing out most has been insanely-talented 15-year-old Lauren Young, who on Tuesday night claimed a remarkable treble of SANFLW best and fairest, coaches’ award winner and Powerade Breakthrough Player while being named in the centre of The Advertiser SANFLW Team of the Year.
Moody hasn’t exactly been shocked by Young’s meteoric rise. When he took over the job at West last season, the Henley High School student was a member of his squad, despite being just 14, and he predicted she would be “the next Erin Phillips or Chelsea Randall”.
She is the leading disposal-winner in the league, averaging 19 per game. Two other Bloods earned spots in the Team of the Year, another young gun, Zoe Venning, and rebounding defender Sharnie Whiting, the biggest kickwinner in the comp, who averages 13 per game.
There’s some pretty big dangers in black and gold too, starting with Adelaide duo Ebony Marinoff and Caitlin Gould. Marinoff is a proven matchwinner but Gould, as a marking forward and dominant ruck, has been every bit as important as her Crows team-mate in the run to the finals.
Crunching midfielder Jessica Bates, runner-up for the SANFLW best-and-fairest award, has had fourth-most possessions in the league and it will come as little surprise she’s made the most tackles. Bates, Ellie Kellock and hugely promising Brooke Tonon earned places in the Team of the Year. Kellock has stepped up into the captaincy role so impressively this season she was named skipper of the all-star team.
Close games can make or break your season but early this campaign they threatened to break the Bays. They were beaten by five points by North, three points by the Eagles, two points by Norwood and coughed up a last-gasp draw against Sturt in the first six rounds. But coach Jason Fairall knew his charges “weren’t far away”.
The fine line between pleasure and pain was obvious as Glenelg beat Central and South by three points, then North by five. Inspired by a driven leadership group, belief and confidence were rapidly growing. Now they have plenty of both and they are ready. “It’s been a constant build-up for the whole season. Every week we’ve improved and the semi-final was no different,” Fairall said.
She kicked off her career in the Bays’ historic first game against West in 2017 and has played the club’s past 44 games in succession. Her desperate attack on the ball and team-first attitude consistently inspire her team-mates. Becoming captain has “enhanced her performance … she’s had a great year,” says coach Jason Fairall.
Anyone who has seen the Crows play knows just how much Marinoff throws herself into it. And she’s just as determined in a black-and-gold guernsey. “It’s sheep stations all the time when she’s on the track,” coach Jason Fairall said and there’s no doubt she lifts everyone around her. “She has slotted into our team seamlessly this year.”
“She’s the talk of the town at the moment,” coach Mark Moody said. That proved an understatement as the 15-year-old swept the awards at SANFLW’s night of nights on Tuesday. There’s clearly plenty to like about her footy. “She’s a strong, clean in-and-under player who is also very strong overhead and has good skills on both sides.”
Slightly older than Young but a Year 12 Mercedes College student, Venning has been improving all the time in what Moody described as a “breakout season”. The fifth-highest disposal-winner in the league, she is outstanding above her head, “has good stamina, is strong in packs and good below her knees as well”.