Why The AFLW's Top Award Needs To Be Named 'The Erin Phillips'
“ERIN PHILLIPS WINS THE ERIN PHILLIPS MEDAL”.
This headline fittingly sums up last night’s W Awards -- the AFLW’s night of nights where two-time Adelaide Crows premiership player Phillips claimed the League's Best and Fairest medal in a canter.
It’s far from a knee-jerk reaction to call on the AFL to name the medal after Phillips, who has now won the accolade twice in the women’s competition's first three seasons.
But this is more than honouring the superstar with a gong purely because of her phenomenal on-field feats. The 33-year-old Olympic basketballer and former WNBA star has won and done it all in the League’s formative years -- two flags, best-on-ground in both Grand Finals, two-time AFL Players Association MVP, All-Australian representative and All-Australian captain. Just to name a few honours.
Five best-on-ground performances propelled Phillips to the top of the leader board last night as she polled 19 of a possible 21 votes.
She is simply the best player in the AFLW -- but her impact runs deeper than the centre square or forward line.
Phillips is a groundbreaker, trailblazer and a history maker.
The daughter of South Australian footballing great Greg Phillips, who also played League Football for Collingwood, Erin kicked the footy as a kid but like a generation of girls had to give up the game because there was simply no pathway for females to play the game. So, she carved out an outstanding basketball career in Australia, then the US, and after representing her country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, returned home to Adelaide to play in the inaugural AFLW season. It was a huge coup.
And she dominated.
Phillips was judged best afield in the Crows’ historic Premiership; she ran through the banner at the start of the game with her baby twins Brooklyn and Blake, then later celebrated sweet victory with the babies in the Premiership cup.
She then notched another first by taking out the very first league Best and Fairest. On that April night in 2017, Phillips’ natural reaction upon winning, kissing wife Tracy, was captured and the image became iconic. She spoke lovingly and described the incredible support from her partner in her acceptance speech. At a time when gay marriage wasn’t legal in Australia.
On Sunday, Phillips produced yet another stunning performance as Crows co-captain and helped guide her side to the ultimate success. But, devastatingly, she injured her knee during the match and was taken from the field in tears. As she was loaded on to the medical buggy, her teammates rushed to embrace her, then the opposition came, and the record 53,000-strong crowd at The Adelaide Oval rose and applauded her as she left the field of play. A heartbreaking moment became a moving and iconic one.
I was privileged to be in the room last night at the W Awards as Phillips hobbled up to the stage to accept the medal and make her speech.
The following snippet stood out, and will stick with me:
When I was born, people felt sorry for [my dad] because he didn’t have a son to play footy with someday, to carry the Phillips name.
Dad, I know you’re watching and Mum, I hope I’ve made you proud and you can stick it up those people who said that to you.
Phillips instantly became the face of AFLW, the poster girl for the Women’s League Aussie Rules had been crying out for. She has inspired little girls who can now continue their footy journey, she has inspired women to take up the game at any age, background or ability, and she has inspired her opponents and teammates alike.
She is the hero, the role model and the example we needed.
So, while Phillips is the best and the fairest, her influence and achievements stretch far beyond the boundary. In just three years, she has created a powerful legacy and a benchmark.
Many, many wonderful players and administrators -- pioneers in every aspect -- contributed to the creation of a national women’s AFL competition, and they are so very worthy of acknowledgment and honours.
But it’s Phillips who has really brought this new burgeoning League to life with her incredible skills and talent, professionalism and leadership, and by simply being herself. An athlete, a wife, a mum and a daughter who was once told she couldn’t play footy anymore.
The medal for the best player in an AFLW season is worthy of a name, and Erin Phillips is most worthy of having the accolade named after her.