Sport

Brisbane Lions win AFLW Grand Final boosted by O'Dwyer and Dunne

Dublin's Jennifer Dunne has helped Brisbane Lions win the AFLW Grand Final.
Dublin's Jennifer Dunne has helped Brisbane Lions win the AFLW Grand Final. Dublin's Jennifer Dunne has helped Brisbane Lions win the AFLW Grand Final.

Tipperary’s Orla O’Dwyer and Dublin’s Jennifer Dunne were crowned queens of the jungle after the Brisbane Lions came from behind to win a thrilling AFLW Grand Final 27-44 against the North Melbourne Kangaroos in front of a sell-out crowd of 12,616 supporters at Melbourne’s Ikon Park. 

The Adelaide Crows with three titles are the only side to have won more Premierships than Brisbane, who now have two in their trophy cabinet.

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It was the Lions' fifth Grand Final appearance and was all the more remarkable following the heroics of star forward Dakota Davidson.

Davidson sobbed on the sidelines after hobbling off the field in the third quarter of Brisbane’s narrow preliminary final victory over Geelong at home last week. She appeared to break down with a potentially serious knee injury that would rule her out of the Grand Final, but Davidson recovered and played through the pain barrier to boot two final quarter goals which took Brisbane to the promised land. 

"That was unreal, wasn't it?' Davidson said.

"That fightback from the girls in that last quarter. It's unbelievable. Unbelievable feeling.

"The ball wasn't near me in the first three-quarters.

"(Lions coach) Craig (Starcevich) always says it's all about moments, so I'm glad I took my two moments."

O’Dwyer lit up the contest early in the third quarter when she finished from close range after a succession of handballs. It was fitting that "Zombie" from Irish band The Cranberries blared from the PA system after the Sydney-born forward's goal gave the visitor’s the lead for the first time in the game. 

North Melbourne suffered a significant blow in the opening minutes when last week's best-on-ground player Jenna Bruton had to leave the field with a right foot injury that put a premature end to her Grand Final. 

The Kangaroos, playing in their inaugural season-decider absorbed the loss of Bruton to lead 14-13 at half-time and despite O’Dwyer’s classy goal were in front by seven points at three quarter time. But Brisbane would not be denied. 

The Lions stepped up a gear in the final term when they held the Kangaroos scoreless.  In so doing Brisbane set a new AFLW record for tackles, laying 110, four more than the 106 laid by Sydney in their away elimination final victory over Gold Coast last month. 

Lions coach Craig Starcevich has strong claims to being the greatest AFLW coach in history. He has led his charges to two premierships and only once have the Lions failed to reach the preliminary final stage under his tutelage. 

The Lions success has also been achieved despite not having an established home ground for seven seasons when they were forced to play across eight venues across Queensland. 

A measure of Starcevich’s coaching expertise is his development of three-time All-Ireland winner Jennifer Dunne. The Dubliner had never touched a Sherrin before this season but is now a linchpin of Brisbane’s defence. 

Playing at full-back Dunne finished the four-quarters with 4 disposals (1 kick & 3 handballs), and 1 tackle.  

O’Dwyer collected 11 disposals in midfield and also notched 7 tackles and gained 348 metres, second only to Jasmin Garner’s 452 metres for North Melbourne. 

On the opposite side, former Cork AllStar Erika O’Shea, worked her socks off to finish with 6 disposals (4 kicks & 2 handballs), 2 marks, and 5 tackles in the Kangaroos defence.  

Tipperary’s Niamh Martin collected 5 disposals (3 kicks & 2 handballs) and 1 mark at half-forward. 

Ecstatic Brisbane players celebrated their premiership with their bizarre mascot, a jerry can, which was placed at the boundary edge for the whole game. It was the only aspect of their memorable victory that didn’t make sense.

Despite the pain of defeat, disappointed Kangaroos coach Darren Crocker vowed his team would return stronger for another tilt at winning their first AFLW Premiership in 2024. 

“We spoke about climbing the mountain, and we’ve taken so many steps forward,” he said. 

“We put ourselves in a position to win that game, win our first ever AFLW premiership.  

“We were right there, but just couldn’t finish the job.  

“I just said to the girls, ‘Don’t be disheartened’ by it because we’ve learned so much about ourselves and we’ve come so far this year’.”