THE LAST year of AFLW has been full of big moments. Some have come on the field, others off it including award winners and coach turnover.
Reflecting back on AFLW in 2023, what was your club's biggest moment?
The last undefeated side
With its 10-point victory over Melbourne in round six, Adelaide was the last remaining undefeated side, and it was a win that set up its minor premiership. It required meticulous planning and execution, breaking down Melbourne's game style and preventing it from continuing the high-scoring trend it had established over the first five rounds of the season. More impressive was that the Crows started slowly, held to their first scoreless quarter of the season in the opening term, and worked back into the game from there.
It is impossible to look past Brisbane's Grand Final victory as the club's biggest moment of the year. While all flags are hard to come by, reaching this one required an especially difficult road to be trodden by the Lions. Player movement, a round one loss to start the season, dropping games they should have won against Collingwood and St Kilda, and a realistic chance of falling out of the top four altogether with a week left in the home and away season. But what the Lions never wavered in was their ability to bring great footy against great teams, which ultimately landed them a second AFLW flag.
The new regime gets off to a strong start
A round one victory over Gold Coast set the standard for what the 'new Carlton' was going to be. After a much-publicised review into its AFLW program during the off-season, the club replaced some key roles, including bringing in head coach Mathew Buck. A strong performance against the Suns to start the season was a result of team-wide buy-in and serious work rate. It was a win built on pressure and resilience, even in the face of a late Gold Coast surge.
A pair's triumphant return
There was a lot of pressure on the re-grafted ACLs of both Brianna Davey and Britt Bonnici coming into the season, and in round one both players proved just how ready they were to be back on the field. Davey's return against Melbourne had the rest of the competition on notice, with 35 disposals, 11 clearances, and a goal, while Bonnici's consistency throughout the year provided the Pies with stability and ultimately resulted in her first club Best and Fairest award.
Plenty of expectation hung on Essendon ahead of the season as the highest achieving expansion side in season seven and an assumption it would go even better in 2023. The Bombers largely lived up to that expectation, beating eventual preliminary finalist Geelong in a highly-contested match, and beating season seven finalist Richmond. It wasn't all smooth sailing along the way, epitomised by a shock loss to West Coast, but the Bombers reached finals in just their second season and can continue to build from there.
Leaders get it done against the Saints
As part of an inconsistent season as the Dockers established themselves under new coach Lisa Webb, their round eight win over St Kilda was their best of the year. Ending the Saints' four-game winning streak, it was Fremantle's leaders that stepped up to make it happen. Captain Hayley Miller and inaugural Docker Gabby O'Sullivan each kicked two goals after struggling through injury for much of the year, while vice-captain Ange Stannet hit the scoreboard while also playing a crucial role through the middle of the ground.
A semi-final to remember
The Cats were the team to sound the death knell for reigning premier Melbourne, becoming the side to knock the Demons out of finals in straight sets. Prior to their semi-final meeting in November, Geelong and Melbourne had played just once, back in September, resulting in a 49-point loss for the Cats. This time around, Geelong got the early lead and put the Demons on the back foot. Although seriously challenged by Melbourne late in the game, Geelong stood tall, backed in its mix of youth and experience, and won its way to a preliminary final.
No Rowbottom, no worries
Heading into round 10, Gold Coast's fate was in its own hands. Beat Essendon and it was into finals for the first time since 2020, but it had to do so without star midfielder Charlie Rowbottom due to an injury incurred the previous week. A four-goal second quarter set the Suns up beautifully to confirm their place in the top eight. Claudia Whitfort and Lucy Single carried the midfield in Rowbottom's absence, while Alison Drennan and Maddy Brancatisano offered great support.
The arrival of Zarlie Goldsworthy
Without powerhouse midfield duo Alyce Parker and Bec Beeson in the side, teenager Zarlie Goldsworthy carried the Giants over the line in a thriller against Carlton in round eight. Playing both through the midfield and up forward, Goldsworthy became the youngest player in the competition's history to kick five goals in a game, while also winning 24 disposals and laying 12 tackles. It was arguably the performance that ultimately saw Goldsworthy named the Rising Star, and even better for the Giants, the emerging star signed a long-term deal to stay at the club soon afterward.
The bragging rights continue
Despite Sydney's significant improvement, fellow expansion side Hawthorn got the better of it once again in 2023. In round seven the Hawks got off to a shaky start before forcing the game onto their terms allowing the Swans no breathing room. It was a team-wide performance that focused on taking away its opponent's best assets. Aine McDonagh and Kristy Stratton each kicked two goals on the way to Hawthorn's best win of the season.
Straight sets exit
As the reigning premier, and after keeping the bulk of its premiership list together, expectation was high that Melbourne could be the first team to win back-to-back flags. Undefeated across the first five rounds with an average winning margin of 53.8 points, that expectation grew. So, when the Demons were resolutely knocked out of finals in consecutive weeks by North Melbourne and Geelong it was a fall from a great height from which the club must now re-establish itself.
Preliminary final victory
Throughout the home and away season North Melbourne had lost to each of its fellow top four qualifiers, none more devastating than its last gasp round nine loss to Adelaide. For this reason, the fact that the Crows were the final obstacle between the Roos and a maiden Grand Final appearance made the game even more significant. In a tight match where Adelaide got back within a solitary point with minutes left on the clock, North Melbourne's ability to turn that round nine result around and, in the face of a similar situation come out on top instead was momentous, booking a ticket to the Grand Final in the process.
The perfect send off for Erin
Port Adelaide's second season in the AFLW had been a frustrating one, unable to bring consistently good football but showing genuine flashes of potential. Faced with an equally frustrated Greater Western Sydney side come round 10, after Power captain and star of the game Erin Phillips had announced her retirement from the AFLW, Port Adelaide stepped up to the challenge. Posting its highest ever score and third ever win, the side was even able to focus on getting Phillips a final career goal during the game to give the star the ideal send off at Alberton.
Mon wins big
At just 23 years of age, Monique Conti polled more AFLW Best and Fairest votes than any player before to win the highest individual player honour at the W Awards in November. Now with a premiership medallion, a Grand Final best on ground medal, and an AFLW Best and Fairest award, Conti is in rare air, joining just Erin Phillips in winning all three during their career. The scary part is just how much footy is still ahead of Conti.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Fremantle that ended its four-game winning streak, St Kilda was tasked with bringing down Brisbane, and against the odds it did just that. Armed with former Lion Jesse Wardlaw and a determination not seen from the Saints in some time, they unsettled the eventual premiers, got under their skin, and handed Brisbane its biggest loss in nearly three seasons. The win also kept the Saints in finals contention going into the final round of the season and was arguably the biggest win of the club's history.
Winless to finals victory
It's a story that has been well told, winless in their first season the Swans rocketed up the ladder to reach finals in 2023. It wasn't just about making finals for them, either, but becoming the first club of the final four expansion sides to snag a finals win. It took a tremendous amount of growth to even get that first win in round one, let alone claiming an elimination final victory when key forward and leading goalkicker Bec Privitelli went down with injury early in the game.
Just seven weeks after parting ways with head coach Michael Prior, West Coast signed women's footy pioneer and Melbourne premiership captain Daisy Pearce as its fourth AFLW coach in its history. With a stuttering start to its AFLW program where the club has never won more than two games in a season, the appointment of Pearce, someone who has been ingrained in women's footy for a long time, provides West Coast with a chance to build something impressive and sustainable.
After the Western Bulldogs made a return to finals in season seven, their first since 2018, the club signed coach Nathan Burke to a two-year contract extension. From there, things didn't go to plan for the Dogs, winning just one game in 2023 and Burke repeatedly making comments to media about his players' professional standards and lack of football craft. It didn't take long after the season for Burke and the Dogs to part ways, leaving the club one of four to make a change in the head role this off-season.