Reigning league Best and Fairest Ally Anderson (Photo: Brisbane Lions)

Brisbane's Ally Anderson is embracing the privilege of returning to the MCG for the preliminary final this weekend, after featuring in the inaugural exhibition game held at the home of football in 2013.

There are few AFLW players that can say they’ll be making their ‘return’ to the MCG in Saturday’s preliminary final. Brisbane’s Ally Anderson is one of them.

A mark of how far the competition has come, the AFLW will be playing its first match on football’s hallowed turf, with Brisbane and Melbourne fighting off for a grand final position.

Anderson, along with teammate Emily Bates first played on “the home of AFL” in 2013, in the inaugural women’s exhibition game.

It wasn’t in the Lions colours though, instead contesting the very first Hampson-Hardeman Cup in the red, white and blue of the Bulldogs.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, memories of that day seem far in the distant past for Anderson with how far the competition has come.

“I can barely remember to be honest. It was so long ago, nearly 10 years,” Anderson said.

“You still have those feelings of this surreal ‘pinch me’ moment. I’m sure it’s going to be pretty similar again on the weekend.

“To do that first game and be here now nine years later, and to be able to do it again is such an exciting moment.

“It’s such an exciting time, and the fact that we have the privilege to be the first AFLW team along with Melbourne to be able to do it is such an honour. I know I’m really excited and all the girls are really excited, so can’t wait to get out there and take in the experience and enjoy the ground.”

Melbourne and Bulldogs players shake hands after the very first women’s exhibition match in 2013. (Photo: Melbourne FC)

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It will be the largest capacity ground an AFLW game has been played at. Games have previously been hosted at the likes of Marvel Stadium, Optus Stadium and Adelaide Oval.

Over 53,000 showed up to watch the 2019 Grand Final at Adelaide Oval. Over 35,000 packed out Optus for the first AFLW Western Derby in 2020.

Its yet another step forward for the competition as it grows to a full 18-team structure in the upcoming season, currently slated for August 2022.

While the competition has been founded on playing at community grounds, drawing larger and larger crowds to boutique stadiums will only see more reward.

This is of course for the players too. Having played last weekend’s qualifying final at the Gabba, the atmosphere helped the Lions charge over the Pies by 50 points.

“People are a little less spread out [at the Gabba], but they make just as much noise or even louder because of the echoing,” Anderson said.

“Because of the great conditions we all thrive on that. We get up and about and the crowd get up and about, and our fans get out to support us. Similar sort of atmosphere, probably even louder.”

The match up ahead

A Melbourne vs Brisbane preliminary final is shaping up to be one of the games of the season.

The Round 7 match up was a three point thriller, coming down to a kick after the siren which Brisbane’s Greta Bodey missed. Their match ups in 2018 and 2021 were also decided by single digit margins.

Since that game, both sides have gone undefeated. While Melbourne survived a narrow scare against Carlton, Brisbane has arguably been the better form side.

The Lions have won their last four matches by an average margin of 57 points. It’s leading Anderson to believe this weekend’s result won’t be the same as the last.

“We’ve learnt a lot from that game, and I’m sure they have too,” she said.

“It’s going to be a very interesting and pretty tight competition. Going to be good to get out there and see who gets the job done on the day.”

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On-field, there’s set to be fierce battles across every line.

Melbourne hosts one of the best contested midfield groups in the competitions, with the likes of Lily Mithen, Eliza McNamara, Tyla Hanks, and Eliza West all performing excellently throughout 2022.

Conversely, Brisbane is adept at shutting those kinds of players down. Between Anderson, Emily Bates, and Cathy Svarc, its defensive work out of stoppage is unparalleled.

The match-up on Tayla Harris will be a hard one to nail down, after she got off the chain in the second half in the last meeting and clawed the Dees back into the lead.

But even off-field, there’s factors to consider. The Lions are riding a wave of momentum from a dominant victory, while the Demons haven’t played in 20 days.

“We had the week off, which I think worked in our favour,” Anderson said.

“To blow out the cobwebs last weekend was good, but at the same time, finals is such a different story. You never know what the team will bring, or how people will star.

“They might come out firing, they might come slow, you don’t know with finals. It’s all on the day.

“Personally, I think with our preparation, we’ve done everything we could, and we’re ready to take on Melbourne on Saturday. It’s just show up on the day and play as hard you can and play it like it is our grand final.”

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