By EDWARD BOURKE,
local sports editor
St Kevin’s has claimed its first piece of silverware in VAFA women’s football, withstanding a stubborn challenge from West Brunswick to claim an eight-point victory in Sunday’s Premier division Grand Final.
With the wet and windy conditions exerting a heavy influence, play crawled from stoppage to stoppage for most of the afternoon, yet a moment of sheer brilliance will live long in the memories of the hardy crowd at Elsternwick Park.
Saints forward Georgia Cropley pounced on an errant handball late in the final term, and pressed against the boundary line, curled through an incredible snap off one step to seal the 2.5.17 to 1.3.9 victory for St Kevin’s, putting an exclamation mark on what had been a dour arm wrestle between the two sides.
First division newcomer West Brunswick was resigned to a heartbreaking third consecutive grand final loss, the Magpies having resisted the Saints’ early domination to take the lead during the third quarter and remain within a kick of a fairytale premiership until Cropley’s stunning finish.
If there were any demons still lingering in the minds of the Saints’ players after their shock grand final loss in the competition’s first season, they were brushed aside by first-year coach Tommy Purcell and his team’s on-field leaders, who applied tremendous pressure around the ball all afternoon.
The Saints were unable to separate from West Brunswick until the dying moments despite the ball living in their forward half most of the day, but Purcell said the side remained confident in its original game plan.
“Tactically we didn’t change much, we just relied on our persistence and some great solo efforts to keep moving the ball forward,” he said.
“I’m really proud of the girls, they just showed such strong resolve and grit all day.”
St Kevin’s trapped the ball in their half for the first 20 minutes of the opening term, but the Saints’ key avenues to goal in Sarah Cameron and Margaret Gleeson (40 goals between them this season) were shut down by relentless team defence from the Magpies, led by fierce efforts from French national Coline Duquet.
After a mark on the goal line from Scarlett Dunell thwarted a Magpies counter-attack and left the score nil-all at the first break, any point became critical, leading to a tense territory battle between the two midfields.
The decisive factor was the Saints’ superior ability to drive the ball forward, with Jess Joyce and Bree Doyle the standout clearance players on the ground.
After Helen Lawrence was escorted to the goal square to give West Brunswick a one-goal lead from a 50m penalty, the Magpies began to surge forward in greater numbers and threatened to overwhelm the Saints, but their rebellion against the run of play was crushed when Joyce skidded through a goal from 40m out late in the third quarter.
St Kevin’s defender Ellie McLinden was awarded the best-on-ground medal after her aerial dominance in the second half, marking strongly above her head despite the slippery conditions.
Saints co-captain Ali Hynes said she was proud of her side for holding its nerve amid the tense third term challenge from the Magpies.
“It was more exhausting than frustrating, but we knew we’d be able to get there in the end,” she said.
“The thing that really got us across the line was the depth of our team- if one person hadn’t put in the same level of effort, I don’t think the result would have been the same.”