Erin and Daisy: One final hurrah as new AFLW era dawns

SATURDAY'S Grand Final will mark the end of the first, rich chapter of the NAB AFLW competition.

It's the final decider to be played before all 18 teams enter the league for the first time, and you suspect in the future, this period will be considered an oddity, a time before the competition was whole.

But that's not to diminish the efforts and achievements of the 14 current sides, and not the least the two teams who will play off for the 2022 premiership (part one) in Adelaide and Melbourne.

Call it what you will – the big dance, the last dance, the end of an era, or the start of a new one.

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The W Show discuss the 2022 NAB AFLW Grand Final

It's a graduation of sorts, and all the focus will be on two women: Daisy Pearce and Erin Phillips.

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It takes a special sort of person to be known by just one name in the AFL or AFLW. Think Eddie (Betts), Buddy (Franklin), Jack (Riewoldt).

In the AFLW, it's Daisy and Erin. And the time may have come to say farewell to these early champions of this league, or at least goodbye to the way we know them.

It's difficult to understand the weight that comes with being the face of a fledgling competition, a movement, a revolution in the context of a 100-plus-year establishment.

All Australian Vice-Captain Erin Phillips of the Crows (left) and All Australian Captain Daisy Pearce of the Demons pose for a photograph during the The W Awards on March 28, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

But these two future Hall-Of-Famers have carried themselves, their teams and the AFLW with class, professionalism, and a quiet determination to prove women belong on the football field.

Daisy Pearce had a rare cut-through in the pre-AFLW days, she was one of the few women who were known as a footballer (and a midwife. Can't forget the novelty of having a second job away from the game).

An undisputed champion of the then-VWFL, Pearce had an astounding record at the Darebin Falcons – 10 premierships and six VWFL/VFLW best and fairests – and her name has been added to the VFLW best and fairest medal (Lambert-Pearce medal).

(L-R): Melbourne's Tyla Hanks, Daisy Pearce and Lily Mithen sing the team song after a win in round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

She's not the first AFLW player to give birth, but she's the most well-known, and that carries its own pressures and many, many questions.

While it's possible we never saw the very best of midfielder Pearce on the AFLW stage, her constant reinvention as a half-back flanker and now mid-sized forward is testament to her laudable football IQ.

Retirement questions have swirled around Pearce this year – possibly an indication of the competition's maturing, that such speculation is now entering the public domain.

Her options are many: continue to play (she was named All-Australian this season), coaching (Geelong is on the record as being very keen), an expansion of her commentary commitments or simply taking time to spend with children Sylvie and Roy.

Melbourne's Daisy Pearce plays with twins Roy and Sylvie after a win in round three, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

And then there's Erin Phillips.

The first champion of the AFLW, it's likely at least one award will bear her name upon her eventual retirement.

Daughter of South Australian football royalty in Greg, Phillips has carved out her own sparkling sporting journey, following an WNBA and Australian Opals career with an Adelaide masterclass.

Crows superstar Erin Phillips with the 2019 AFLW best and fairest award. Picture: AFL Photos

She's won AFLW best and fairests in 2017 and 2019, Grand Final best-on-ground medals in the same seasons (the latter off just half a game), is a three-time All-Australian (captaining in 2019) and brought a combination of strength and smarts few have been able to match in the midfield or up forward.

While knee injuries have affected the past few seasons of the 36-year-old, she's still a very dangerous prospect.

Whether Phillips decides to suit up for her family club Port Adelaide in its first season, stick with the Crows or hang up the boots (she's got three children with wife Tracy: Brooklyn, Blake and Drew) remains to be seen.

Erin Phillips with her son Drew at Adelaide training on November 3, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

What's next for an AFLW competition without these two figureheads?

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Like any graduation, the influence and professionalism of Pearce and Phillips has ensured that the next generation is ready to lead.

Melbourne's Daisy Pearce speaks to the media at the AFLW Season 2022 announcement on December 2, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Regarding the two teams who will face off on Saturday, Chelsea Randall remains a strong leader at the Crows, while the wily Karen Paxman is still in fine touch on the wing for the Demons.

And there are two waves of players beneath them – Crows Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard, along with Dees Lily Mithen and Maddi Gay, with youngsters Eloise Jones and Tyla Hanks ready to take the competition by storm.

If this is farewell, thanks Daisy and Erin. You'll pass the baton onto a group of players that's ready to lead this competition into the future.

It may be the end of the chapter. But there's still one hell of a book to be written.