2017 AFL International Cup
Great Britain Swans
3rd Place – Women’s Division
BY TIM MILLER
Having come together as a team just eighteen months before the tournament, it was an excellent effort from the Swans to come within a few points of a Grand Final berth. Their ferocity and determination at the contest stood out all tournament, and while they lacked composure at crucial stages in losses to Canada and Ireland, that will come in time. Tournament-ending injuries to Rachel Hunt (knee) and Lucy Jones (ankle) threatened to derail their campaign, but the Swans’ depth and spirit held them in good stead to combat these blows.
A dominant 142-point win over Pakistan in Round 1 got the Swans off to a flyer, and a gritty 9-point victory over Fiji in the mud at Peninsula Grammar secured the Brits a semi-final berth. And while a 31-point loss to reigning champions Canada ended their undefeated run, the Swans were still full of confidence heading into a do-or-die clash with Ireland.
Despite leading for much of the day, a late Irish flurry saw the eventual champions deny the Swans a fairytale Grand Final berth, but it was nonetheless a supremely courageous effort to take the match down to the wire. As had been the case all tournament, it was the Swans’ attack on player and ball alike, as well as their fierce tackling pressure, that very nearly brought about a major upset.
Those same traits were on display in the third-place final, as the Swans recovered from a sluggish start to farewell coach Garth Nevin in the best possible fashion with a backs-to-the-wall triumph over the USA. The Freedom held the ascendancy for most of the game, but the Swans whittled the margin down to under a goal midway through the final term, before a magnificent final five minutes from midfield talisman Frankie Hocking tipped the scales their way.
Ultimately, it was a stunningly successful maiden International Cup from the Swans, who, having not only finished third, but have proven they can match it with the best sides in the world, are well placed to not only continue to soar at next month’s Euro Cup, but to finally break the Canada-Ireland duopoly in Melbourne in the years to come.
The Swans didn’t have a major focal point inside 50, with plenty of players chipping in here and there for goals in a fluid forward line. But Rania Ramadan’s silky skills and penetrating kicking was a highlight for the Swans all tournament. Beginning with a three-goal haul against Pakistan, Ramadan may not have added to her goalkicking tally until the final minute of the Swans’ thrilling win over the USA, but her athleticism and imposing figure allowed her to influence the game further up the ground as well. Was particularly influential in defeat against Canada, where she never failed to provide a contest and roamed all over the ground as she pleased. An honourable mention must go to Danni Saulter, whose smarts around goal were on display throughout the tournament as she finished with nine majors to lead the way for the Swans.
The Swans’ midfield stocks stood up superbly throughout the Cup, with their fierce pressure and appetite for the tough stuff allowing them to take control of the coalface more often than not. And in that regard, Frankie Hocking was a standout. Her role as the Swans’ designated “Ms Fixit” became more pronounced as the tournament went on, spending time up forward, in defence and even in the ruck. But it was as a pure midfielder that Hocking did most of her damage. She saved her best for when it mattered most, colossal in the Swans’ gallant loss to Ireland and even more influential against the USA. Trailing by 5 points with just minutes remaining against the Freedom, it was Hocking who stepped up with a sublime finish to a memorable match, first marking strongly and converting an ice-cool set shot to give the Swans the lead, before following up with a fierce chasedown tackle and yet another strong contested mark. All within a minute. She will take some beating for the Swans’ tournament MVP.
The Swans’ defence didn’t have much to do in their first contest, but that changed as the tournament progressed. And while it was a combined team and coaching effort that enabled the Swans to concede just 14 goals for the tournament, Louise Smith deserves some praise. Her calmness and composure when under siege during losses to Canada and Ireland was eye-catching, and the loss to the Northern Lights in particular would have been much greater but for her efforts on the last line of defence. She wasn’t afraid to stand under a high ball or two, either, while her cleanness when it hit the deck was just as impressive. Honourable mentions must also go to Melanie McDevitt and Beth Bailey, who improved as the tournament went on to become pillars in the Swans’ defence, though an injured hand saw McDevitt miss the third-place final.
Match of the tournament:
Their chances of winning the International Cup may have already been over, but there was no chance of the Swans easing up in their third-place final clash with the USA. But midway through the third term, it appeared as if the Freedom were on course to finish their campaign with a victory, kicking three goals out of four to move out to a game-high 12-point lead. To their credit, the Swans never relented, drawing the margin back to under a goal before Frankie Hocking’s five glorious minutes saw the Swans grab a remarkable come-from-behind win in what proved to be Garth Nevin’s final game as coach.
The Coach’s Take:
Garth Nevin on the team: “They were brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The girls are first to the ball, they’re strong at it. We’ve been building up to this for about two years. To come back from a goal down [against the USA] to win, I’m very proud. They all played together like I knew they would.”
On the support: “We’ve got friends and family that have come across from all over the world [to support the team]. We’ve got a parent who has come all the way from Scotland. Everybody has come, and we can’t thank the public and all the other teams for getting around us. It’s wicked, and we’re very appreciative.”
On retirement: “I’ve absolutely loved it, the women are amazing, they’re a great group. It’s just that I’ve got two kids at home, and leaving the wife for three weeks is a bit hard. It’s a bit of happy wife, happy life. I’ll still help out, and I’m happy to assist and make sure that the Swans keep going forward. I’ll still be a part of it, but officially I just can’t give it as much time.”
On the future: “In terms of the Euro Cup, I’d be very confident from this lesson that, should the group all stay together, I’m pretty confident we can demand to be the top European team. We’re introducing a quarterback-style game, so we’ll get that going. The girls will try and play on a bit quicker, and more clinical as well- if we catch it above our head, we’re moving forward quite easily.”
Round 1 – Swans 20.22.(142) defeated Pakistan 0.0.(0) at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2 – Swans 5.3.(33) defeated Fiji 3.6.(24) at Peninsula Grammar
Round 3 – Swans 0.3.(3) defeated by Canada .10.(34) at Plenty War Memorial Reserve
Semi Finals – Swans 2.3.(15) defeated by Ireland 3.5.(23) at McAlister Oval, Royal Park
Finals – Swans 5.2.(32) defeated USA 4.1.(25) at McAlister Oval, Royal Park
Tournament Goal kickers:
Danni Saulter leading the pack with 9 goals. Other goal kickers from the Swans were Rania Ramadan, Stacey Hughes, Frankie Hocking, Caroline Sellar, Laura Turner, Charlotte-Ellen Eales, Alex Saulter, Rachel Hunt, Jessica Milford, Louise Darby, Beth Bailey, Lisa Wilson.
Best on Ground for IC17:
Frankie Hocking, Rania Ramadan, Danni Saulter, Laura Turner, and Lisa Wilson.
World Team Selection:
Beth Bailey (Centre Half-Back)
Lucy Jones (Half-Forward Flank)
Danni Saulter (Forward Pocket)
Frankie Hocking (Interchange)