Wollongong Saints meet Western Magic in AFL Sydney grand final

On target: The Wollongong Saints before training this week as they prepare for the AFL Sydney grand final. Picture: Robert Peet
On target: The Wollongong Saints before training this week as they prepare for the AFL Sydney grand final. Picture: Robert Peet

They’ve combined to kick 112 goals this year and now Rylee McGartland and Eleri Morris will spearhead Wollongong Saints premiership defence in Sunday’s grand final.

McGartland, who has been part of the GWS Giants development series, has been the competition’s leading forward with 71 majors in 16 games.

But the Saints have proven to be anything but one dimensional, with Morris kicking 41 goals and Nicola Kennedy 24 in a campaign where they’ve lost two games on their way to qualifying for the decider.

The premiers have had to do it the hard way during the finals, after Sunday’s opponents Western Magic beat them by 13 points in the major semi-final. 

In a growing AFL Sydney division one rivalry, the Saints have a 4-2 head-to-head record against the Magic in the past two years, which includes 22-point win in last year’s grand final.

“Having to play last week isn’t necessarily a disadvantage,” captain Kat Gow said.

“It made sure we work on a few things we didn’t do against the Magic in the semi, so hopefully we can turn it around on Sunday. 

“We just need to create more space around the stoppages, they were able to make the game a lot more congested and their midfield used the ball well from there.

“I think it helped change our mindset a bit, we’ve only lost two games all season and maybe you can become a bit complacent when you’re winning almost ever week.”

The Saints only led by six points at three-quarter-time in the preliminary final against the East Coast Eagles, but kicked an unanswered 4.3 in the final term to seal a 9.7 (61) to 4.4 (28).

Proving their status as one of the region’s most successful senior teams, this will be the Saints fifth grand final in nine years, winning premierships in 2011 and last year.

“We do have a pretty good record,” Gow said. 

“But when you get to a grand final final, you want to go on and win it.

“I think our experience showed last week. The game was on the line in the last quarter and you could see the composure under pressure, so that’s what we need to bring again on Sunday.”

Similarly, the Saints kicked 3.2 in the final term of last year’s grand final, holding the Magic scoreless after just two points separated them with one quarter to play.

Former GWS Giants player Kate Stanton missed the major semi-final with an ankle injury, but returned against the Eagles and will take her place on Sunday. 

As one of the quirks of playing in the Sydney competition, the Saints will have to board the team bus at 6am, with first bounce at 9am. 

“Yeah, it’s not ideal,” Gow said. “But that’s just part of the competition. We’re no strangers to early starts when we play in Sydney, we just have to make sure we’re ready to go when it matters.”

AFL SYDNEY

Women’s division one

Sunday (9am)

WESTERN MAGIC v WOLLONGONG SAINTS at Blacktown International Sports Park

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