With so many teams battling for the last spot in VFLW finals, there was a feeling amongst the competition that whoever made it wouldn’t be wasting the opportunity.
The Southern Saints are that team. Their enemy: Port Melbourne, Sunday 2PM, at North Port Oval.
It was a race against the Bulldogs, Carlton, North Melbourne and even Hawthorn to claim a precious finals berth.
Every week for the past month has been an elimination final for the Saints, playing challenging opponent after opponent without rest.
Co-captain Deanna Jolliffe, or ‘DJ’ to her teammates, says the intensity of the run home hasn’t ground the Saints down yet.
“We’re still fit and firing as ever. We’ve used those last two weeks as sort of our finals build up,” Jolliffe told The Inner Sanctum.
“We know what it takes to play under pressure, and what we need to do to get the job done.
“We work really well off our pressure. We tend to take a few more risks in the game when we know it’s on the line. Our brand of footy, we play better with that pressure on ourselves.”
With that lost spot on the line, the Saints managed to win three of their last five games.
They defeated tomorrow’s opponents Port Melbourne, Carlton and North Melbourne on their way to the elimination final.
Jolliffe said both her and her teammates were well aware of the task they had ahead of them.
“The Doggies knew they had to win their last two games, and we did as well,” she said.
“We were fortunate to get the job done in those two games where we really needed it. We really deserved it.”
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Tyanna the team-lifter
With a strong list of AFLW talent to choose from heading into the finals, there’s one name that stands above the rest.
Pick six in the 2020 draft Tyanna Smith has been one of the Saints most consistent players in her three games to finish the year.
She’s continued a strong debut season in the AFLW by turning herself into a proven match winner.
Averaging 16 disposals, four marks and six tackles, Smith has been lifting the entire team around her.
Fellow Saints leadership group member Mel Bertuna can’t overstate what she adds to the team.
“She just adds so much,” Bertuna told The Inner Sanctum.
“She displays so much of her talent, and everyone can see that. Everyone bounces off that and thrives of it as well.
“We love playing with her and watching her play and coming in clutch in moments that we really need her to. In that aspect everyone’s excited to see what she can do, I sure know I am.”
While Smith is known as a fairly quiet and humble player, Bertuna says they see a different side of her in the changerooms.
“Once you peel back the layers, she’s quite a funny girl. She brings a lot of culture,” she laughed.
“All the AFL girls that have come down and started playing with us brought a lot of culture and a lot of learning to us all.”
Having been bolstered by the return of fellow co-captain Frankie Hocking at the end of the season on return from injury, all the Saints’ weapons are fit and firing.
So why, Jolliffe asks, can’t the Saints win the flag from sixth?
She points to the drive, work ethic and experience that they’ve built up through a month of fighting for the position already.
“[Hocking] brings a lot of voice and a lot of depth to our team,” Jolliffe said.
“I think having her out there brings so much more liveliness to the game, and everyone feels so much more safe knowing that she’s out there and she’s got all of our votes.
“I don’t think there’s any team in the top six that can’t go all the way.”
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