Reilly magic sends Sharks into WAFLW decider

A MATCH-WINNING performance from East Fremantle forward Chloe Reilly helped sent the Sharks into their second successive WAFL Women’s Grand Final after defeating South Fremantle by 23 points at Fremantle Oval on Sunday.

In a game that had a bit of everything, from high scoring to dour defence, and then a last quarter struggle, it took until the 10th minute of the final term for East Fremantle to finally break the Bulldog shackles, 7.3 (45) TO 3.4 (22).

Reilly booted four goals in the win, but none more critical than her two last quarter goals, that came back-to-back within two minutes to ultimately seal the deal. To that point, South Fremantle had attacked hard and drawn within four points in the opening minutes of the final term, but after Katelyn Catalano won a crucial one-on-one in defence, the Sharks raced it up the other end and Reilly applied the maximum penalty.

Leading into the game, South Fremantle had been reportedly rocked by illness, but it was key forward Bethany Bond who put that to the back of her mind and snapped truly for the preliminary final opener. With fellow tall Ariana Hetherington setting her up and being active around the ground, the Sharks were still switched on.

State Academy top-age forwards Georgie Cleaver and Anjelique Raison would combine for the Sharks’ first of the game, before small forward Noa McNaughton showed her class with a great run-down tackle up the other end, followed by a one-two then running goal. When the first siren sounded, the Bulldogs were up by a straight kick.

That would soon chance in the second term as some clever play from the experienced Larissa Versaci found Grace Freeman all alone inside 50. Freeman duly delivered off the set shot. Yet again the Bulldogs had the answers though, with double bottom-ager Renee Morgan earning a 50m penalty and kicking truly to extend the lead back out to six points.

Enter the first half of the Reilly show. Thanks to another clever play from Versaci, Reilly won it at the top of the goalsquare and kicked truly. Then less than five minutes later, a brilliant clearance out of a stoppage on a wing set up Reilly for her second and suddenly the Sharks were in front for the first time.

Cleaver had a chance to extend it out to two kicks later in the term but sprayed it wide, and the Sharks headed into the half-time break with a seven-point advantage.

South came out hard early in the third term, but unlike the seven-goal first half, neither team could find the big sticks. Time and time again the Bulldogs would get deep, but the likes of Ashleigh Gomes, Beth Beckett and Hayley O’Donnell were holding up well helping out in defence, while Mylee Leitch was winning touches playing further afield.

Despite having most of the forward half chances, South could only score three behinds to one, though credit goes to the likes of Liusaidh Gilchrist and Lauren Vecchio who were phenomenal in stopping East Fremantle attacks.

For the first nine and a half minutes of the final term, it looked like the Bulldogs would finally breakthough, with a Hunter Cronin behind the only score in that time. Then, after Catalano won her one-on-one against McNaughton, the Sharks pushed forward, grabbed the heartbreaking goal to Reilly and never looked back.

Though the Sharks would end up winning by what looked like a comfortable 23-point margin, had Catalano dropped the mark 25m out from goal, it would have almost certainly have ended in a McNaughton goal and South go ahead with eight minutes on the clock. Instead, East won it and was able to go on with it, securing a grand final spot for a second successive year.

Outside of Reilly, Versaci was a standout for the Sharks, kicking the final goal of the game, but setting up numerous others and finishing with 17 disposals. Likewise, the midfield of Sharon Wong, Gomes and Beckett all had their moments, with Fish and Leitch also impressive, and Ashlee Atkins and O’Donnell among the best.

For South Fremantle, Gilchrist and Vecchio were rock solid all game, and Morgan was a standout midfielder. All three picked up an equal game-high 17 disposals, while Hetherington, McNaughton and Pia Durk were others who caught the eye.

East Fremantle now advances to the 2023 WAFL Women’s Grand Final to tackle reigning premiers Claremont, while for the Bulldogs, the loss marks the end of the road. Out in straight sets, but not without a fight, and deserving of being there in a much improved season for the red and white.

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