Brisbane Lions roar home in fourth quarter to win epic AFLW 2023 grand final

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The Brisbane Lions have turned their grand final fortunes around at Ikon Park, winning their second AFLW premiership by beating North Melbourne 7.2 (44) to 4.3 (27) in front of a crowd of 12,616.

Lions coach Craig Starcevich wasn’t lying when he said star forward Dakota Davison was ‘good to go’ after she had gone down with what initially looked like a serious knee injury in last week’s preliminary final against Adelaide.

Related: AFLW 2023 grand final: North Melbourne 27-44 Brisbane – live reaction

After a quiet first half, a shot on goal that went through for a rushed behind seemed to spark the proud Gunditjmara woman and in the last quarter she took two strong contested grabs and converted them to put the Lions in front.

From there, the game was effectively over. A late free kick in front of the Kangaroos’ goal to Ellie Hampson drew the ire of the largely blue and white crowd, but she converted to put the result almost beyond doubt.

Brisbane captain Bre Koenen, who was immense and was ultimately awarded best on ground in a unanimous decision, joined the party late with a goal of her own to make the margin 17 points and allow Lions fans to start their celebrations.

In the opening two minutes of the match, gun North midfielder Jenna Bruton made an incredible smother but injured her Achilles on the way down and had to be helped from the ground by two trainers. It was a huge early loss for the Kangaroos, given her best-on-ground performance in the preliminary final and grand final experience as a premiership Bulldog back in 2018.

Unsurprisingly given the strength of these sides, the game was an arm-wrestle from the start. It appeared that the first quarter would end goalless before a wayward kick from young Roo Taylah Gatt found Jasmine Garner inside 50.

The AFL Coaches Association AFLW Player of the Year and AFLPA MVP did not lower her colours all day, converting with a classic booming kick to the roar of the blue and white faithful and scoring another in the next quarter.

Brisbane’s opening goal after five minutes of the second quarter appeared to be unintentional from Charlotte Mullins as the ball bounced awkwardly through an empty goal square.

The Lions began to look dangerous and ready to take on the premiership quarter. As she did successfully in their last meeting back in round four, Koenen was moved onto Garner to try and stem the tide, after she’d had some close attention from Cathy Svarc in the first half.

The tackling pressure from both sides went up a notch after half-time after an incredible 13 first-half tackles by Brisbane’s Courtney Hodder. The Lions’ Irishwoman Orla O’Dwyer was on the end of a fantastic link-up, kicking to an empty goal square to put Brisbane in front for the first time, quickly followed by The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ ringing out across Ikon Park.

The “North Melbourne” chant went up as a scrappy few minutes followed, with repeated ball-ups. It seemed to lift the Kangaroos, who eventually found Shierlaw who took a courageous mark. On a 45 degree angle, she threaded the needle to send the faithful into a frenzy and put North back in front.

A Kangaroos attack followed from the next centre ball-up, with Riddell running straight down the middle to launch it inside 50. A fierce tackle from Alice O’Loughlin was eventually rewarded to make the margin seven points.

North will rue their missed opportunities, with 34 inside 50s to Brisbane’s 21 for the match. The Lions were effective in shutting down former Lion Tahlia Randall’s famed ability to take contested marks in the forward line.

The Lions’ defence stepped up with vice-captain Nat Grider winning 16 intercept possessions, while young gun midfielder Belle Dawes played her role with 20 disposals and an uncanny ability to feed her teammates the ball.

Early in the fourth quarter, Sophie Conway was taken from the ground by the Lions’ medical staff due to a suspected head knock, before coming back on the ground late to celebrate the win.

Brisbane went into this season as the third-youngest team in the competition, and had to debut nine new players as a result of repeated expansion and trade raids. This win will feel like a vindication for the Lions’ patience and flexibility this season.