MELBOURNE women’s football operations manager Debbie Lee says the club’s brush with playing in the inaugural NAB AFL Women’s Grand Final was “a missed opportunity”.
The red and blue looked set to take on the Brisbane Lions in this weekend’s AFLW Grand Final, after Collingwood led Adelaide by seven points at three quarter-time in Sunday’s clash at Olympic Park Oval.
But the Crows stormed home in the final term to win by 24 points and book a spot in the AFLW Grand Final.
Had Collingwood won, Adelaide would’ve finished third. Instead, the Crows claimed second position on percentage to deny Melbourne a place in the Grand Final.
Although it was still a fine first season by Melbourne, it was still a “bitterly disappointing” way to finish, said Lee.
“Ultimately, it’s disappointing, as we thought we would’ve had a really good opportunity and been really competitive this weekend, but it wasn’t to be. Dropping the GWS game in round five really hurt us, but I also think that if we didn’t drop that game, we may not have beaten Adelaide,” she said.
“Initially, not making the Grand Final is really disappointing, but if we reflected on the whole season, and what Mick Stinear and the whole coaching panel was able to do with our players – from November to today – then it’s been outstanding. Mick’s philosophy was to smash the ceiling. He wanted the players to take risks and opportunities and we were able to do that and we saw that in our footy.
“As a team, towards the latter part of the season, we were really starting to get our game style right. We’ve built a strong culture and environment and our other goal was to win the premiership, which didn’t happen, but we’ll use that to drive us towards next year.”
Lee said a host of players had pleased her with their progress, but she was particularly delighted with the development of Jasmine Grierson,
“Jas was picked up pretty late in the draft, but her development has been fantastic. She’s a player who has set-up strongly in the backline and her skills are outstanding. The way she was willing to learn and gain feedback to improve her game was outstanding,” she said.
“She took her footy to another level, along with Sarah Lampard, Katherine Smith and Cat Phillips, who had played just nine games of footy before she came to the Melbourne footy club.
“Cat became a real asset to us with her speed and ability to understand the game. There are a whole range of players that I can comfortably say have improved from November to now – in terms of their footy development and confidence.”
Reflecting on her involvement in the first AFL Women’s season, Lee was overwhelmed with what the competition had achieved.
“It’s been outstanding and it really has enabled an opportunity for girls to actually see themselves in the sport, which has really inspired a lot of new players at grassroots level,” she said.
“Already, I’m hearing that a number of clubs are putting additional teams together, which is fantastic. The crowds have been great and some of them have been very different to the men’s crowd, so it has been quite phenomenal.
“It’s changed the landscape of AFL forever and it’s been a great outcome.”
In terms of what happens next, Lee said the next focus was the trade period in late April.
“We want to make sure we review our players and we help them in their development of their footy,” she said.
“We then have to have a look at our list and what we need and how we continue to progress through this competition because we can’t become complacent.
“We need to have a great understanding of our list management and ensure our players are supported through the entire period – whether they continue to play for the Melbourne Football Club or not.”