Why the Roos are hoping history does not repeat in the AFLW grand final

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Legacy is on the line for North Melbourne in Sunday’s grand final against the Brisbane Lions, with Kangaroos coach Darren Crocker and his players aiming to emulate their rivals by cementing their place in AFLW history as premiers.

The Lions are playing in their fifth grand final, and won the flag in 2021 when they beat fellow powerhouse Adelaide, and Crocker, speaking on Saturday ahead of the grand final at Ikon Park, said the moment was there for North Melbourne to seize their first AFLW premiership.

North Melbourne’s Emma Kearney and Brisbane’s Bre Koenen with the trophy ahead of Sunday’s AFLW grand final.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

“It is amazing for the current group, our program, to be in a position where we’ve spoken about [that] you only get the opportunity to be the first once, and we’ve got that opportunity right in front of us to create a legacy,” said Crocker.

“It would be enormous for us, as a club and the women’s program. We feel we’re in a really, really good space. It’s been a journey but to now give ourselves an opportunity to win our first ever AFLW premiership would be pretty special.”

But to do so, North Melbourne will have to overcome a foe they have never beaten, having lost all four clashes with the Lions in their AFLW history.

When asked if this record was playing on Crocker’s mind, the coach’s response was a curt “no”.

North’s Emma Kearney and coach Darren Crocker with Brisbane’s Bre Koenen and coach Craig Starcevich on Saturday.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

Despite the disparity in finals experience, the Lions head into the match as underdogs, which skipper Bre Koenen said they’ll take in their stride.

“[We were] probably fairly underrated at the start of the season, probably weren’t expected to get here … to be here now is probably a surprise for everyone, ourselves included,” she said.

“So we’ll just take it within our stride, and we’re here for a reason now. So we’ll give it our best shot.”

The Lions are a far different team to previous grand final sides due to significant list turnover, which included the departure of stars Emily Bates and Greta Bodey to Hawthorn last year, after the Lions lost the premiership decider to Melbourne.

“I think we’ve got a totally different group,” Koenen said. “We obviously reviewed that game [the grand final loss to Melbourne] shortly after but totally different feel this week, different opposition.

“You can’t really compare the two, I don’t think, but we’ve looked at that [grand final] in the past and we’ve learned from it, so hopefully we can go one step further this weekend.”

Lions coach Craig Starcevich noted that Koenen, plus the likes of star defender Shannon Campbell and last season’s best-and-fairest winner Ally Anderson appearing in their fifth grand final, and All-Australian winger Sophie Conway in her fourth, would help the team with their preparation and keep them focused and calm.

“That helps,” he said, adding, “But essentially, once the game starts, it’s now, ‘Let’s go, it’s everyone out there to try and win the game’.”

Also aiding the Lions’ arsenal is the availability of star goalkicker and All-Australian forward Dakota Davidson, who looked to go down with a serious knee injury in the stirring preliminary final victory over Geelong last weekend.

Starcevich confirmed that Davidson was poised to play on the big day, and she completed the Lions’ final training session.

“Last Saturday night, it was looking a little bit like it was going to be a bad one, but she had a scan pretty soon on the Sunday and got going and trained really strongly … did the whole set. So, yeah, she’s good to go,” he said.

With both sides having played a myriad of close, important games this season, the Roos and Lions are prepared for the grand final to go down to the wire.

To book their spot in the grand final, the Kangaroos held on against an attacking Adelaide by a mere point, while the Lions squeezed through via a late goal for a four-point victory over Geelong.

North Melbourne captain Emma Kearney said her side had practiced to either win or save a game in the dying minutes.

“[Last weekend] we were able to put into practice a lot of our game state stuff and how we can save the game, and we didn’t do it quite perfectly against Adelaide in the prelim,” said Kearney.

“There were areas that we can still improve on. But we did it well enough that we were able to hold off their attack that last three minutes.”

Koenen echoed Kearney’s thoughts.

“We’ve been training them sort of all year, those instances, and it becomes really important in finals”.

North Melbourne and Brisbane will play in the grand final at 2:30pm on Sunday at Ikon Park.

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