DESPITE losing to Adelaide in round two, Carlton coach Daniel Harford walked away that day knowing his team could compete with the best.
The Blues and Crows will meet again on Sunday at Adelaide Oval in the NAB AFL Women’s Grand Final, with the visitors expected to test the Crows, who will start heavy favourites.
Carlton led the early-season match at Ikon Park by 17 points late in the third quarter, but Adelaide scooted away to win by 13 points. The Crows have won all three AFLW matches between the teams dating back to 2017.
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"That was the moment I first thought we were capable of doing something, because I knew how good they were. We pressed them that day, even though it was at our place," Harford said at Saturday’s Grand Final media conference at Adelaide Oval.
The first-year coach has helped revive the Blues, who struggled last season and finished on the bottom after a bright 2-0 start.
He said the return of captain Bri Davey from a serious right knee injury, the addition of star youngster Maddy Prespakis, and some astute recruiting had been factors in the turnaround.
Harford said his players will approach Sunday’s game the same they had all season, with a focus on playing their way and continuing to improve.
"We’re just riding the wave at the moment. It’s been a really pleasing journey to be part of (and) to see the girls develop like they have," he said.
"Not a lot changes with our girls … they’re enjoying themselves. Australian Rules Football is the greatest game on the planet, so why wouldn’t you try having a good time doing it and we try to instill that belief and that vibe into the group."
Davey, a star defender who also has played in the midfield and forward this year, said she had been pleased with her team’s desire to get better.
"It’s been a pretty drastic turn of events, from wooden-spooner to a Grand Final. It’s been a complete flip, but I’ve always had belief in this group and we have a really talented list," she said.
"The last four game we’ve started to hit form and we’re definitely excited.
"We’ll be trying to focus on what we can and trying to pressure them."
Adelaide coach Matthew Clarke, also in his first season in charge, has his team playing a fast, aggressive style that has been them overpower other teams.
The Crows demolished Melbourne in round seven and were a class above Geelong last weekend.
Clarke, who worked with the Crows’ AFL team in Sydney on Friday night, said he was relaxed ahead of the Grand Final, although "the nerves might kick in at 12.30 tomorrow."
He said gaining midfield ascendancy would be crucial to the result and is expecting a great game.
"Both teams are pretty balanced and the talent is spread pretty evenly."
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Adelaide co-captain Erin Phillips said the Crows had enjoyed the "abnormal" week and were quietly confident of handling the pressure of being favourites and playing at home in front of a big crowd.
Thirteen of Adelaide’s 21 for Sunday played in the 2017 premiership team.
"The best part of this group is the maturity from year one to now (and) nothing seems to faze them. They don’t get caught up in the external noise and that’s been a big part of our success this year," Phillips said.
"It’s a great week for women’s footy. It’s why we play – to be involved in weeks like this."
Phillips, who has enjoyed a brilliant season and is one of hot tips to win the competition’s best and fairest awards, said the Crows could not afford any complacency.
"Having played in one does prepare you a bit better, but I’ve been in enough finals and big games (playing basketball for Australia and teams here and overseas) to know that anything can happen on the day.
"You have to bring your absolute best. Anything less is not good enough."