On September 23rd, 2022 on a Friday night, history was etched into the minds of Hawthorn supporters, as well as the books, as the night the girls secured their first victory.
In front of a sell-out crowd at the Swinburne Centre for the second time this year, the team came from 26 points down halfway through the first quarter to secure a nail biting four point win over the Sydney Swans.
Defensive line coach Brady Gray had a new member debut, with young Emily Everist teaming well with fellow draftee Mackenzie Eardley to form the key back pairing that helped keep the Swans to five points after quarter time.
In attack, forwards coach Lou Wotten had the services of experienced pair Tegan Cunningham and Aileen Gilroy as targets up forward to help guide young Aine McDonagh, Tahlia Fellows, Zoe Barbakos and Sophie Locke.
The team were able to make use of the 27 inside 50’s this week to record ten scoring shots at a conversion rate of 37%, which’s one of the highest seen this year.
Midfield coach David Mackay this week saw five different centre bounce combinations utilised, with the combination of Lucy Wales, Tamara Smith, Charlotte Baskaran and Tilly Lucas-Rodd securing two clearances out of four centre bounce attempts as a combination.
The midfield were led defensively by skipper Lucas-Rodd, #2 draft pick Jasmine Fleming and the tenacious Tamara Smith, who recorded a staggering 41% of the team’s total tackles between them.
In what was a battle between two teams in their infancy, the small but vocal Hawthorn faithful who had gathered on Grand Final Eve witnessed a monumental comeback for the ages.
In the game itself, there were moments that changed the momentum of the match and would ultimately decide the outcome in Hawthorn’s favour.
After being jumped by the Swans who kicked the first four goals of the game, Hawthorn needed a spark to ignite them.
Enter Tahlia Fellows, having never kicked a goal in her AFLW career, creating a contest against a larger opponent and kicked Hawthorn’s first goal of the match.
Tahlia would finish the night with three majors from her nine disposals, alongside four tackles and a hand in one of the most scintillating passages of play seen this year.
In the last half of the first quarter, Hawthorn’s veteran defender Jess Duffin stood up to ensure the Swans attacking raid were repelled by taking three massive contested marks inside five minutes, allowing the team a reprieve from the Swans attacking onslaught.
At quarter time, Bec Goddard unleashed an almighty spray, imploring the team to up the ante with their effort and attack on the ball, which had been a hallmark of the first four rounds but had been missing for large chunks of the quarter.
The spray seemed to ignite the fire in the belly of the team as the attack on the ball and the ferocity increased ten fold.
The girls attack on the contest increased, leading to the team winning the tackle count for the 5th week running and having each player make multiple tackles in the 74 tackle count.
In the second quarter, Aileen Gilroy (being deployed as a deeper forward), was able to upset the oppositions concentration, resulting in multiple 50 metre penalties of which we converted from, leading the Hawks trailing by seven points at the main break.
The third quarter was where the team shone brighter than even the most optimistic supporter could have imagined.
This quarter also had a three part passage of play that will sit comfortably amongst any play of 2022 for the Hawks, male or female.
Firstly, Tahlia Fellows won the ball on the grandstand wing and despite losing her feet handballed to a flying Akec Makur-Chuot.
Secondly, Akec dummied to kick, wrong footing the Swans opponent before kicking deep to a running Gilly, with a pass as lace out as you’ve seen in any Hawks game, past or present.
Thirdly, Gilly played on and in her trademark Gaelic style, bounced the ball before snapping a major to put the team in the lead.
Akec soon after had a hand in an incredible defensive play that summed up the heart and character the team has displayed week in and week out.
The Swans had broken away on the hillside wing and looked certain to goal when a kick into the forward 50 cleared the Hawthorn defenders. The Swans thought they were about to rack up goal number five but Akec had other ideas.
Akec sprinted over 100 metres from the opposite wing and with one final lunge rushed the ball over the line for a behind, foiling a near certain goal in a Herculean effort.
Not to be outdone in the defensive pressure stakes, two of our young draftees put their bodies on the line in the last five minutes of the quarter to thwart attacking opportunities for the Swans.
Jasmine Fleming emulated Akec’s determination and never give up attitude minutes later where she ran 70 metres to turn a Swans break away attacking raid into a contested ball situation, laying a crucial tackle.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, young Laura Elliott made a vital tackle that resulted in a holding the ball call that allowed the team to head to the final break in front.
While Laura didn’t see much of the ball throughout the evening, her ability to impact the contest when it was her time to go as a young player shows that the endeavour in the players is first class.
The final quarter was a see-sawing affair which needed someone to stand up and take control. That person was young Lucy Wales, who had two moments of brilliance that kept the team in front.
Firstly, she made a crucial run down tackle in the centre square against Swans midfielder Aimee Whelan, resulting in a holding the ball decision.
Then, with less than a minute on the clock, the 19 year old five gamer took a massive contested mark on the edge of the Swans forward 50,allowing her to chew up some vital seconds on the clock and ensure victory for the team in an epic comeback.
Wales finished the game with 11 disposals, four marks, four tackles, two clearances and 23 hitouts, while also attending 11 out of 12 centre bounces.
When the final siren sounded, the jubilation and relief was etched on the face of the players and coaching staff, who had finally gotten just reward for their hard work and efforts that had been demonstrated so far in the season.
With four points now secured, the girls face the West Coast Eagles on Friday night, buoyed with the confidence and knowledge that their best effort and endeavour is going to potentially take them towards more victories this season.