Updated: Aug 31
The AFL London Women’s Conference Grand Final. It came and went in the blink of an eye, with our South East London Giants' women facing down the daunting task of toppling the undefeated-in-conference-division London Swans.
The game may have been Australian but the weather was resoundingly British - wet, grey and overwhelmingly miserable. However, in the face of such turbulent conditions, the Giants were undeterred - stepping up to take on the big dance as fearlessly as they’d stepped up to every challenge the 2023 season had set them prior.
As was predicted, the match was a showstopper. Intense, physical, fast and full of determination; the standard of play was a testament to the quality of each and every player on the field. Besotted with finding a way to win, both sides’ dedication to the contest was unquestionable.
With the match on a knife’s edge for just about the full 60 minutes, goals came at a premium. Unfortunately, so much so that the Giants were unable to find an answer for the Swans stoic defence, which stood up in the face of relentless orange and black pressure.
Ultimately, we were all there and we know what happened. The Swans won by two goals and the Giants were forced to settle for second best. But the scoreline fails to encapsulate the effort on display out there - effort that reflected months of hard work and commitment. So, let’s try and encapsulate each player’s effort a little better here.
Our stalwart full back. Never complains, never quits and doesn’t get even hardly the plaudits she deserves. The Grand Final was no different. Tasked with the hardest job in football - keeping a full forward quiet, Helen was terrific. I still have no idea who the Swans’ full forward was and as coach, if I’m not worried about them, that serves as the perfect testament to the full back. Helen has been a figure of the club since before my time but in the brief time I’ve had the pleasure of coaching her she’s given me nothing but her best. A terrific role model for the rest of the squad, her even temper means my heart rate can rest easy knowing we always have a safety net down back.
Another quiet achiever, Em floats under the raider, going about her business in the backline. One thing Em has managed to perfect in her years of footy is consistency - week in, week out she can be relied upon to do what is asked of her. Against the Swans, injuries meant she found herself afield perhaps more than she may have expected. Nevertheless, Em was undeterred, delivering a quality performance that if nothing else, made her opponent’s day all the more challenging. Em perfectly underscores what our team does best - win, lose or draw, we never make it easy on our opponents.
“Wish we had Janis”, “Gee, Janis would be handy this week”. What a pleasure it was to finally add Janis to the mix this season - and confirm that this battering ram off of half-back does indeed exist. It took all of thirty seconds to understand why so many within the Giants hold Janis in such high esteem. Never have I seen such brutal intentions on a football field, attacking the Sherrin like a Lion to its prey and dispatching it off the boot 50+ metres with disdain. Having Janis available for a Grand Final was a welcome treat, adding another layer to our backline and raising the overall standard of the team. I hope to see her on the field again, but regardless of what the future holds, it was a pleasure to see such a force of nature in full flight.
Emma "Gransky" "Titskey" "Winskey" "Harry's Sister" "So Lonskey" "Grillskey" "Canski" "Frill Sleeve" "Broksey" "Brookskie" "Brookesie" Brookes
Speaking of forces of nature, for someone who has made a living looking out for others when injured, Brookesie could stand to keep an eye on herself every once in a while. The Grand Final in particular exemplified why she is so much fun to coach - it’s like letting a pitbull loose on the opposition each week. The sheer number of nicknames tells you everything you need to know about her. Battling an elbow injury that I can only assume would have had anyone else asking to be put under, Brookesie only death-stared me once when I told her she’d be tagging the Swans’ most dangerous player, an incredible display of self-control. What occurred during the game itself was an equally incredible tag against a quality opponent and Brookesie’s efforts only further solidified her as one of the squad’s most valuable members.
Emily "Emmy" Bouwman
A relative novice to the game of Aussie Rules, Emmy showed a level of game sense and faith in her instincts indicative of a far more experienced player. This season has seen Emmy improve her footy more-so than just about anyone - becoming more sure of her skills and her role within the team. It was only fitting that the Grand Final be the day where Emmy put on her best display of the season, bringing some English flair to the match with a brilliant bit of goalkeeping. It is unfortunate that we are losing her to New Zealand next season, because Emmy will be a more significant omission from the squad than she will ever believe.
Claudia "Kwoka" Kwok
Nothing Kwok does is orthodox. She always finds her own way to execute both on and off the field - and that’s why I love coaching her. Lazy people call it x-factor but the truth is, Kwok is simply an original. A footy field always brings forth part of someone’s personality, sometimes putting the spotlight on some facets more than others. For Kwok, it’s her work ethic, something I hope the NHS relish because they’ve cost her about £300,000 worth of member’s draw money. Kwok can always be relied upon to turn up and max out her effort, she’ll always happily take on different positions without a second thought too. In other words, she’s a coach’s dream.
Joanna "Jojo" Koulaxizellis
The Isle of Wight local is always a welcome addition to the squad whenever she makes her way back down to London and boy, was Jojo a godsend come the Grand Final. With late injuries plaguing our backline, Jojo’s experience really bailed us out and made sure our back six was solid. The fact the rest of the team become so excitable whenever she makes an appearance speaks volumes of Jojo’s importance to the club and I think her efforts in the Granny were an appropriate testament to this. It was a great relief seeing her out there.
Isabella "Bella" Raco
Another one of our slightly unorthodox NHS employees, Bella’s commitment to going without studs on the footy field is…interesting. But who doesn’t love interesting? Forced to wear boots due to the weather, Bella overcame this obstacle and looked as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Floating up and down the wing and half forward line, looming as an ever-present threat to the Swans. For someone new to the club, Bella’s commitment to doing things her way was admirable and her affinity for wearing trainers serves as a fitting metaphor for how self-assured she is. Her tackling is also a sight to behold and I’m glad it was the Swans on the receiving end and not me.
Alex "Steve" Stephens
Is she a forward, a half back or a winger? Steve’s biggest problem is her ability to play almost every position well. A true utility. Having demanded to spend more time up forward this year, her five goals throughout the home and away season justified her request. Come Grand Final day it had become clear that the half forward line is where Steve belongs and although she was unable to find a major on the day, her efforts curtailing number 81’s influence should be applauded. No matter the job she is tasked with, I can trust Steve to always get it done.
Lydia "Rimmer" Rimmington
Fast, feisty and always up for a run around, Rimmer’s wholehearted commitment to each and every contest should never be questioned. Although the game of Aussie Rules is yet to become familiar, her eagerness to improve shows that she has potential in abundance. The Grand Final saw her thrown around in various positions to cover for injuries and she provided a resilient presence at the contest throughout. Rimmer’s persistence is her greatest asset, something I’m always reminded of whenever I recall her first Aussie Rules goal early in the season - a dribble off the ground as she scrambled out of a pack.
Laura "Crusty" Crust
One of the club’s OG’s, Crusty is as headstrong as they come. Having rustled the Wildcats’ feathers in the preliminary final, she came into the big dance off the back of some of her strongest performances of the season. Floating across half-forward, she threatened all day long, making the Swans defenders sweat by ensuring they defended honestly. Although her efforts went unrewarded on this occasion, Crusty’s experience and willingness to meet the fight head-on ensured we were in the contest right from the first bounce.
Alyssa "Tuddy" Tuddenham
One of the season’s most improved performers, Tuddy went form being someone with potential to dominate in the air to someone who legitimately has one of the strongest and most reliable pairs of hands in the competition. Despite less than suitable conditions for a key position player, her intelligent leads and ability to capitalise on opportunities when they presented themselves gave us every chance up forward. Tuddy took great strides this season and it was a relief to see her run it out largely injury-free. Ahead of next year, the Giants new full forward looks primed to take the competition by storm.
Chloe "Old Chloe" Sharman
Another one who improved out of sight as the year went on, a blind man could have seen that O.C’s footy IQ really developed this year. Turning potential into profit, this rugby-by-trade footy revelation possesses a physicality like no other - equal parts strength and speed. Being the only Giant to register a score in the Granny, O.C fought valiantly across the forward line all day. Flirting with a goal sums up her season quite well, and makes me confident that next year will see her take yet another stride and begin challenging the likes of Massie, Steve and Hyner for the golden boot.
Chloe "New Chloe" White
“I won’t be offended if you don’t play me on the weekend, Joe.” Can you believe that? Humble as anyone I’ve ever met, Chloe has gone to Nikki’s school of ‘not quite grasping how good you are’. Fortunately, she is surrounded by a group of talented and supportive team mates to give her potential every chance to blossom. Chloe’s confidence appeared to take great strides as the season went on, culminating in an impressive finals series that showed just how good this future star can be. I know I’m not alone when I say I’m excited to see what the future holds for new Chlo’s footy career.
Marianna "Mazza" Graham
Unsung hero is putting it lightly. One of the squad’s most skilled players, it’s insane to think much of Mazza’s influence on this group occurs off the field. From making sure AFL London itself stays afloat and that there’s always a befuddled and slightly tipsy (guilty as charged) umpire for each game, to being a calming voice both before and during matches for the less-experienced players to lean on. I’d argue that Mazza’s understated leadership and love-of-the-game-first attitude mirrors that of her beloved Collingwood Magpies.
From the old school to the new school, Emily Holland is another one who is primed for a breakout year after showing great week-to-week improvement as a rookie. Always willing to learn, she is one of the most coachable players in the squad. Making it to and succeeding in Grand Finals rely on players being able to recognise their role and put the team first - an attitude Emily embodied without a second thought. I’m sure the squad appreciated her game-day sacrifices more than she knows.
Ellie "Shyner" Hyner
To spend an entire season being played out of position is one thing, constantly battling injuries because of it is another, but when you consider that despite all of this she always found it within herself to get back out there and fight to the bitter end. Calling Hyner courageous seems a gross understatement - but its all I’ve got. Very rarely will someone with almost two decades of experience in the footy-sphere find themselves awestruck by someone’s toughness, but in this particular Grand Final it happened twice (we’ll get to case number two soon). Ellie Hyner is as tough as an old boot and deserves endless applause for her ability to stand up in the face of pressure, take on one of footy’s toughest positions as a rookie and be relied upon so heavily as a leader despite being so new to the game. Hats off to a real gem.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said. Nat Fyfe and Nathan Buckley eat your hearts out. They say to win the best-on-ground in a Grand Final is the greatest achievement in football - being the best player on the biggest stage. Massie achieved this. Doing so in a losing effort is even harder, something the Aussie Rules world rarely sees. Massie achieved this. Doing so while spending more than half the game with a fractured leg had, as far as I know, never been done before until…Massie achieved this. It was ridiculous, it was outlandish and I loved every minute of it. To dominate a game in the manner she did with so many factors going against her was really special. Nothing else I can say other than thank you Mass, for showing everyone down at Motspur Park that day what it means to be a Giant. As a coach, I’ve never been prouder and as a footy fan I’ve never been more flabbergasted.
Felicity "Filly" Geary
An interrupted preseason at best, dealing with the pressure of being last year’s most improved, Filly didn’t make it easy on herself to come back into a side and regain her position - particularly one performing at such a high level. And yet, as she often does, Filly silenced any critics. Come Grand Final day, proving that effort trumps anything else, that deep-forward position alongside Tuddy was once again hers. On a day that was more difficult for forwards than anyone else, she toiled away admirably, showing everyone on the sidelines that Filly is back and she means business.
Georgina "Georgie" Alvarez
It’s easy to be disappointed, dejected or despondent when the opportunity to play in a Grand Final is curtailed by injury. A troublesome hamstring meant our new half back’s day on the field ended prematurely. Her day wasn’t over however, and the support she provided for her teammates off the field really helped us stay in the game and go toe-to-toe with the league’s best for as long as we did. This was a sight to behold considering how new to the club Georgie is - she has truly captured the SELG spirit quicker than anyone could have imagined and in the face of an injury, when the support of a lesser teammate would have wavered, Georgie maintained her love for the club all day long.
Karli "Ginge" Smith (VC)
Ginge, with more than a decade at the club, is the real Giant’s OG. Nobody deserved this opportunity more and there’s nobody I would’ve been happier for should we have got over the line. Unfortunately, this year at least, it wasn’t to be, but Ginge spent this season building a legitimate case for most improved - stepping out of her comfort zone and into the backline. Her season off half back came out of necessity, and Janis offered some relief on this front come Grand Final day but its worth reiterating that the former club captain did nothing but make sacrifices for the good for the group all year. From relinquishing the captaincy to learning a new position, if ever you needed a reason to understand why she is held in such high regard by those around her - you’ve got your answer.
Susie "Suskey" Carr (C)
A true leader is someone who is able to trust themselves more-so than anyone else, because why should others follow someone who is uncertain of where they are going? I won’t lie, when I presented Suse with the opportunity to become skipper at the beginning of the year, I knew she wasn’t yet sure of herself but I felt with so many fresh faces, the squad needed someone new at the top. It was a risk. But it paid off in spades. When thrust into a pressure situation, some people sink, others swim - Susie soared. I couldn’t have asked for a better leader and role model for the squad to get behind - both on field and off. Every now and then, you get a sense that a team is on a journey, capable of doing something special. This year, a Grand Final always beckoned and watching on as Suse led the Giants onto the field week-in, week-out, I knew we would get there. The team is in good hands - onya skip.
There were a number of players who didn't get to play in the Grand Final but were integral in getting us there
Nicole "Nikki" Low
Nikki is an incredible team manager so it kills me to say it sucked seeing her resigned to that role because of injury, as she’s a far superior footballer. It was a pleasure to see her become more and more confident on the field with every minute she played - from her efforts in the All-Stars game preseason, to her final home and away match of the year. Nikki’s football came along way but it was her faith in her ability that really took her to another level. Couple of bounces on a kick out? You love to see it. I hope to see her back out on the park again soon but if not, heck of a year mate.
Emily "Trimmer" Rimmington
Trimmer did something really important this year, she earned the squad’s trust as a player. For someone new to the backline - the most important thing is getting the respect of your peers. Season number two saw Emily become a staple for us down back and someone who can be relied upon to carry out what is asked of her. She was missed come Grand Final day, simply by way of giving us some match-up flexibility against the Swans pesky small forwards. Nonetheless, she capped off a great second season with a well-earned holiday.
Natalie "Nat" McPherson
Damn, did we miss Nat’s presence on Grand Final day. How quickly you get used to a good thing and when it’s gone, you forget what life was like without it. Nat stormed onto the Giants scene midseason and swiftly became an integral part of the squad. Not only did she earn herself a player’s player, but Nat’s arrival took the level of the entire group up a notch, especially on the training track. The best trainer at the club, it always says a a lot about a person when they bring a game-day attitude to a Tuesday night session. Please come back for another run around next year.
When it comes to kicking the footy, Dayna’s timing is impossible to teach. Her football (soccer) background really shines through on this front and that booming boot of hers bailed out our backline on several occasions throughout the year. Personally, I’m a big fan of just how much she appears to enjoy not only laying a tackle but being tackled herself, always getting back to her feet right away and hitting the next contest just as hard. Another one who needs to sort out her holidays with next year’s fixture in mind.
Would Shani playing Grand Final day over holidaying in Bulgaria have made the difference? Sadly, we will never know. Jokes aside, it was difficult not to feel dejected having seen how capable Shani quickly became on the wing - leaving behind a hole for us to fill on Grand Final day. With my guilt tripping over, Shani is another one of those less experienced footballers who improved at a rate of knots from game to game, quarter to quarter. Staking her claim as a winger early in the year, her tenacity and ability to keep her feet really helped Shani make the position her own. Incredibly excited to see what she can produce next year.
Elise "Syd" Bickley
Syd quickly became a strong player for us, brimming with potential and improving at a rapid rate, but more importantly, Syd was a terrific person to have around the club. Her arrival and subsequent departure really tested the resolve of the squad, left reeling without her bubbly personality around at training and on game day - a testament to her remarkable character. Although the squad was able to come together and really bring out the best in one another, highlighted by an incredibly deep finals run and strong finish to the year, there will always be a Syd-shaped hole at the Giants. Incredibly coachable and always willing to learn, she was a great asset and a pleasure to coach.
Not getting to play as many matches as they may have liked this year, Shannon continued to be an ever present figure at training, matches and social events. Shannon continues to improve year on year and the positive effect they have had on the playing group is clear for all to see.
Melissa "Shelly" Williamson
Shelly had a great pre-season hit out in Cardiff, jumping right in to the team after only just joining the club. Although not being able to get to as many training and game days as she would have liked, the support from the sidelines and the embracing of "Shelly" made her an instant hit with the group and we hope to see more of her in future seasons.
Danielle "Dani" White
New to London, new to playing footy and killing it on both fronts. It was a pleasure having Dani join us through the midseason draft and watching her gain more and more confidence week-to-week. The culmination of her hard work at training was most on display in our Preliminary Final win, where Dani displayed a footy IQ well beyond what someone with her limited on-field experience should possess. We hope to have her around next year and I’d certainly have her down as one to watch as a potential most improved.
Natascha "Tash" May
Although not taking the field this season, Tash was instrumental behind the scenes supporting the team all season. In particular rallying the former players to send their best wishes ahead of the Grand Final proves that once a Giant, always a Giant.
Derellanne "Irish Dee" Knowles
Another not to take the field this season but Dee's impact from the sidelines is summed up in 2 words: Loud & Proud. Whether it is the catch-phrase "C'mon you f**ks" or stalking the sidelines in to the oppositions interchange, we are so grateful to have this force of nature on our side.
Giants: 0.1 1
London Swans: 2.3 15
Breast & Fairest: Susie Carr
Dick of the Day: Georgie Alvarez
Best on Ground (umpire voted): Lucy Massie