St Mary’s fought off a resilient Heidelberg outfit to claim the 2023 Cleaning Melbourne Division 2 women’s premiership by 11 points in an entertaining Grand Final at Preston City Oval.
The Tigers produced two separate two-goal bursts during the match and were in front halfway through the final quarter, before two late goals from the Burra sewed up a 6.8 (44) to 5.3 (33) victory.
In their second Grand Final, St Mary’s found the extra energy needed in the last term to claim premiership success for the first time in the women’s competition, while Heidelberg were excellent in matching their opponent’s efforts during the afternoon, giving the Burra their narrowest victory since Round 7.
Jessica Hardy was awarded with the best on ground medallion for yet another dominant performance in midfield.
On top of winning clearances for her side, she created strong attacking pressure and took a brilliant, contested mark inside 50, which she converted for a major, to put the minor premiers in front late in the game.
Another prominent player for the Burra was co-captain Elyssa Rees, who led her team by example, taking the game on and constantly getting involved in critical contests through the middle.
Brigid McEntee was one that challenged Hardy for the best on ground medallion with a superb four-quarter effort, meanwhile Meg Girolami kicked two crucial goals in the second half.
Heidelberg’s Mia Tascone was a clear standout and played a huge role in the Tiger’s surges throughout the match while teammate Emily De Sando was silky as always in traffic, consistently finding an ability to create space when there was none.
The first quarter saw St Mary’s play the majority of the term in their forward 50, eventually capitalising on this dominance with a Sarah Johnston major.
The minor premiers looked as dominant as they have been all season, with Jemma Chesser standing tall in the forward line and creating many opportunities to score herself.
Heidelberg’s defenders had to work hard to keep the Burra from adding anymore scoreboard pressure, with Tascone getting in and under to force stoppages for her side.
With a nine-point lead intact, the second quarter started similarly to the first, with the ball being controlled by St Mary’s.
However, a turnover from the Burra allowed Heidelberg to transition and as a result, Rianne Coldebella ran into the open goal to kick the Tigers’ first of the afternoon.
What made the goal an even bigger blow for Troy Bickerton’s side, was that the umpire gave another free kick to Coldebella following the goal, which allowed her to go back and slot a second major just moments later to suddenly give Heidelberg the lead.
The goal put the momentum in favour of the Tigers for the remainder of the quarter, with the Burra only managing one more behind for the half to trail by two points at the main break.
What followed was a third quarter full of entertainment, which showcased the strengths of the two sides doing battle for the competition’s premiership.
The first lead change of the quarter came through an unbelievable goal from competition leading goalkicker Meg Girolami, who had been kept quiet in the first half. She got on the end of a couple of handballs from her Burra teammates before slotting a terrific major from tight on the boundary line.
With that goal three minutes in, St Mary’s looked to go on with the job, but it was the Tigers who fought back with a great couple of minutes of play
Tessa Hankinson ran into the open goal to slot her side’s third goal of the day before Heidelberg won the next centre clearance, allowing Emma Rowe to create the space she needed to kick her first goal of the match and help give her side a seven-point buffer.
Nikki Watts was also impressive in the term for the Tigers, battling hard all over the ground to take reliving marks and send her side forward.
But a third lead change for the quarter would soon come, with St Mary’s having a scintillating minute of their own.
First it was Girolami who ran back with the flight of the ball to take an outstanding grab close to goal which she converted before the ferocious attack of McEntee was rewarded with a bouncing major just 30 seconds later.
The Burra moved to a five-point lead as a result and while the Tigers were determined to win the advantage back, they could only muster two more behinds, going into a highly anticipated final term down three points.
Again, the minor premiers started the final term well, keeping the ball inside their attacking half.
But against the run of play, Heidelberg produced another brilliant transition, as Grace Papagianis and Tessa Hankinson linked up to help find Emma Rowe, who kicked her second to put the Tigers back in front.
It became a one-point ball game shortly afterwards, taking the atmosphere of the contest up a notch.
But it would be Jessica Hardy who provided the St Mary’s fans with joy, as she took a strong mark inside 50 which she converted truly to see the minor premiers steal the advantage back.
The Burra would take control for the remainder of the game, as a quick snap and goal from Charlotte Evans in time on sending the Burra into party mode, going on to win by 11 points in a great Grand Final.