Grand finalists Glenelg and their Jason Fairall journey

Glenelg coach Jason Fairall. Image: Glenelg FC

Senior women’s coach of the Glenelg Tigers, Jason Fairall sits comfortably with the knowledge that his side’s place in this weekend’s SANFLW Grand Final is the result of many years of work.

Following a brief period as caretaker coach in 2018, Fairall took over as senior coach at the beginning of 2019 and suggests that this opportunity is less about this year and more about the culmination of four. 

“It’s quite simplistic to say that our journey started this year but in truth it actually started when I took over as caretaker coach,” he said. 

“The journey we’ve been on since then has all been geared towards hopefully getting the moment we get this weekend. 

“Last year was a little bit of a disappointment for us but when you plot how we’ve gone based on how we’ve rebuilt our program it actually makes a lot of sense.” 

It’s about the bigger picture in regards to the club’s women’s football program at Glenelg, especially with Fairall suggesting that it “wouldn’t be all doom and gloom” if they were to lose this weekend. 

“No doubt we want to get a result this weekend, but the fact that the players have had a chance to see what it looks like when we get some things right, points to the fact that we’re tracking in the right direction,” he said. 

“I think it means that we’ve got our culture right and that we’ve rebuilt the program in a pretty methodical way that seems to have resulted in improved performance.” 

However don’t be mistaken into thinking that this talented and success-hungry side won’t do everything to win on Saturday. 

The Tigers were emphatic in their demolition of minor premiers Norwood two weeks ago, dominating possession (204-171), clearances (27-20) and inside 50s (40-11), keeping the Redlegs to just one goal. 

“It was our best performance since I’ve been here, no question about it,” Fairall said. 

“Since I started, [we have actually] tried to change the way we play but it has probably taken until now before the players can actually see and feel what it’s like.

“It’s just that little bit of experience and understanding now.

“That was the first time in my time at the club, that we didn’t make any changes [between games], so that points us in the right direction too.”

Whilst Fairall has been instrumental from the sidelines, there have been a number of individuals on the field who have had much the same impact, most notably AFLW star Ebony Marinoff, who returned in round ten. 

“We’ve had Ebony back for the last three years and she’s a ripping person who just wants to be here, so that’s a big tick for us,” Fairall said. 

“I think back to the last couple of times she has came back and we almost weren’t ready for her and to be able to benefit from having her in the side.

“But clearly this year we’re a lot more high performing so for her to come in and you look at her stats and it’s great.”

But as the former Morphettville Park women’s coach suggests, it’s been an all-round team effort that has got the side to where it is now. 

“The thing that annoys me a little bit sometimes is the misconception out there that we’re only doing what we’re doing with those two [Caitlin Gould & Marinoff] coming back,” he said. 

“We’ve had 17 first-year-players roll around this year to become second year players and that to be honest is gold, because you can’t buy experience.

“Jess Bates for example has come along in leaps and bounds now being her second season in the system.”

Bates was one of three Glenelg players who were named in the SANFLW team of the season on Tuesday night, as she was joined by teammates Brooke Tonon and Ellie Kellock. 

“We tried Brooke in a new position this year and it was only late in the pre-season that we decided to do that, but her ability to adapt and grow in that role has been incredible,” Fairall said.

“There’s also Sheridan Howe who’s been in our system since year one who’s actually had a great pre-season and she’s been pretty instrumental for how we want to defend.”

“And Meara Girvan Is a first year footballer; she was a state league netballer and was the last person put into our squad and she hasn’t missed a game.”

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Glenelg will face a West Adelaide full of confidence, on the back of their barnstorming preliminary final win against Norwood, but they have a clear understanding of what to expect. 

“I’m not surprised that West got through, they’re a tough, hard, competitive side that’s really good inside the contest,” Fairall said.

“They’re really good marking in the air in the contest, they’re a four quarter team who make it really hard for the opposition.

“I don’t think that’s changed from round four but I think they’re playing better [now] from then, and so are we.”

But the Tigers haven’t made the grand final by mistake either, and as Fairall points out there is a lot to like statistically about his side. 

“We’re the number one tackling team, we’re the number one clearance team and we’re the number one forward 50 entry team,” he said. 

“We’ve got our weapons, they’ve got theirs and we’ll see how it plays out because they are a little bit contrasting in styles which will make for an interesting tactical battle as well.” 

The Tigers have won their last seven Statewide Super women’s league matches, a run which began with a draw against Sturt, the defining moment of the season according to Fairall. 

“After that game the leaders took a fair bit of control and ran their own players meeting and filtered through some feedback through to us coaches,” he said.

“We took that on board, they took our feedback for them on board and suddenly it all came together.”

Glenelg is yet to win a SANFLW premiership, but are a part of an entire football club which is on an upwards trajectory, one which includes the ever-increasing inter-twining of the men’s and women’s programs. 

“We had the trip to the NT in late January where both the men’s and women’s programs were up there and I have to be honest, that was a watershed moment for our club,” Fairall said. 

“It was club-building, not just team-building.

“And we’ve had some of the men’s leaders come in [this week] and discuss what 2019 was like for them when they won the flag and connecting what we’ve been doing with that they did to justify it a little bit.

“That doesn’t happen unless our club culture is really strong and we’re all connected and united.”

Glenelg will take on West Adelaide in the SANFLW grand final, this Saturday at Thebarton Oval from 12.10pm

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