26/02/2024

Erin Phillips as an Adelaide Crow and Port Adelaide player. (Picture: Jack Hudson; portadelaidefc.com.au)

Port Adelaide has a lot on its mind after a poor start to the AFL men's season, but Erin Phillips should remain priority number one.

Port Adelaide has a lot on its mind after a poor start to the AFL men’s season, but Erin Phillips should remain priority number one.

Sitting at 0-4 in the AFL, the board room at Port Adelaide would be buzzing with ideas on how to turn the year around. Immense pressure from members who are demanding answers, coach Ken Hinkley and chairman David Koch are both under fire, and a promise to play the Port Adelaide way is being questioned after lacklustre performances.

Enter Erin Phillips. As the AFLW season comes to a close for 2022, there has been no player’s future more heavily discussed than Phillips. Will she stay or will she go?

Regardless of what Phillips chooses to do, there is one thing without a doubt, Port Adelaide must throw everything it has in its AFLW coffer at the 36-year-old to cross over to Alberton, a promise both club and player made to each other seven years ago.

Starting AFLW with a bang

In what feels like a whirlwind, the 2022 AFLW Grand Final marked the completion of the sixth season of the competition. Its increasing popularity and continuous expansion to incorporate all clubs, driving its continued growth.

The competition’s popularity is reflected in women’s leagues and Auskick around the country. The future is looking increasingly brighter for AFLW over the coming years.

It is undeniable that Erin Phillips has been one of the stars since the competition’s inception. So much so, you could mount an argument that she has been the best player in the game thus far. A six-year career that has entailed every achievement and emotion that we have come to expect from Australian Football.

In 2017, Phillips exploded onto the scene with the Adelaide Crows. Her season was undeniably dominant. While there is always going to be a first for everything, and no one knew what to expect in the first season, no one expected what she produced, taking home the ‘quadrella’ in her debut season.

A feat she could have only dreamt of back when she was kicking the footy with dad at Alberton all those years ago.

Chelsea Randall and Erin Phillips with the AFLW premiership cup. Picture: afc.com.au

An AFLW premiership in your debut season would be enough for most, but not Phillips. She tore the women’s game apart.

She polled 14 votes in the eight-game season, four votes clear of her nearest rivals. Phillips was clearly the AFLW Best and Fairest for its first season. The voting was replicated in Adelaide’s Best and Fairest, as she took out the club’s first honour.

The pinnacle of the season, however, came in the inaugural AFLW Grand Final. In possibly the most dominant display the AFLW has seen to date, Phillips was relentless.

She amassed 28 disposals, 19 of which were contested, seven marks, seven tackles and kicked two goals. The performance resulted in her unanimously being judged best afield.

Mixed emotions of 2019

Such is her drive to succeed, Phillips wasn’t finished there. After a disappointing 2018 season by her standards and her fellow Adelaide teammates, Phillips’ prowess returned to the fore in 2019.

Not only did she recover her 2017 form, but she also repeated her feats. That’s right, she took out the ‘quadrella’ again!

Now it’s hard enough in any national sport to win a premiership or be named the best player for a season, but what Phillips did in three seasons was nothing short of extraordinary.

At the close of her third season in AFLW, Phillips’ honour roll was so great, that there was no doubt she was the best player in the game.

This dominance, however, wasn’t without tragedy. Arise the third quarter of the 2019 AFLW Grand Final with 3:59 to go.

An errant switch kick from Carlton’s Charlotte Wilson, allowed Phillips to apply pressure on Nicola Stevens. Then it happened, the terrifying, innocuous, stutter and stumble that AFL fans have come to fear. Phillips’ ACL had given way.

Erin Phillips is stretchered off during the third quarter of the 2019 AFLW Grand Final Picture: womens.afl

The next ten minutes were full of silence, shock and sadness for everyone watching on. Everyone had been witnessing another Phillips master class on Grand Final day, then suddenly it was over.

At this point, this article might suddenly not be making sense to some, but don’t fret, you read correctly. Phillips was stretchered off with almost four minutes to go in the third quarter of the grand final and was still judged best afield on the day. Compare that feat to any other sporting feat in history. You would be hard-pressed to find another like it.

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The ACL recovery and comeback

As with everything Phillips does, she wasn’t going to let this injury stop her. After all, she had dreamt of playing footy her whole life.

At 33 years of age, it would be hard to see an AFL men’s star returning from such an injury. We saw exactly that with Chris Judd, but retirement never crossed Phillips’ mind once, she was coming back.

The recovery, time and effort required to return to the highest level is phenomenal, but Phillips just oozes such grit. Without hesitation, she packed up and headed to Dallas, USA to Michael Johnson Performance to ensure she had every possible chance to return at 100 per cent.

Consequently, missing the start of the 2020 AFLW season became more about good timing than good fortune. Ravaged by COVID, the season would ultimately be called off after six games, Phillips only played the two games.

This almost proved a blessing for Phillips, as she gained extra time to prepare herself for Round 1, 2021. This time proved pivotal, as come Round 1 of the next season, she was back to her contested best, dominating the stoppages and stamping her claims yet again as the league’s best.

Her efforts helped drive the Crows to another grand final appearance, unfortunately falling short on her third attempt.

Decision time

Present time, season 2022. At the age of 36, Phillips is still a marquee player. Recognised now more as a veteran of the game, given most AFL men’s players are long retired at this point, but she is still showing the class that’s seen her at the pointy end on so many occasions.

Yesterday Phillips took the field for her fourth AFLW Grand Final appearance, winning her third premiership. The result gives her an honour roll that must be seen to be believed.

Three premierships, four grand final appearances, two-time league best and fairest, one-time AFLW coaches association player of the year, a three-time All Australian, two-time club best and fairest and two-time club leading goal kicker. Many 300 game players wouldn’t share such an illustrious list of achievements.

It’s not about the stats and accolades though, it’s how she goes about it. Phillips doesn’t give up, as seen during her injury rehabilitation.

She works tirelessly and is more than willing to get down and dirty when her team needs it. Her contested numbers are incredible, she just doesn’t lose her battles.

For one of a better word, Phillips lives the Port Adelaide ‘Creed’. It’s in her blood, it always was and it always will be.

The Port Adelaide ‘Creed’. (Image: portadelaidefc.com.au)

Port Adelaide is in her blood

The other overhanging thought on Phillips’ mind will be that of her father, Greg Phillips is one of Port Adelaide’s greatest ever. In a team that dominated South Australian and National football for so many years, that is no mean feat.

In his own right, Greg Phillips’ honour roll is equally as impressive as his daughter’s. He is a club best and fairest, an eight-time premiership player, an All Australian, a five-time State of Origin representative and was named centre halfback in the Port Adelaide 1870-2000 greatest team.

Greg Phillips with daughter Erin Phillips during his playing days. (Image: portadelaidefc.com.au)

With such a resume, it’s easy to see that success runs in the family, and football is in the blood. Unfortunately for Crows fans, Phillips deep down bleeds silver, teal, black and white.

It’s this drawcard to follow in her father’s footsteps that must-see Port Adelaide do everything in its power to ensure that happens.

They should already have her name etched into locker number 22, there are no alternatives. Port Adelaide prides itself on being a family, so this is its ultimate test. Phillips has always been part of it and now is the time to ensure she comes home.

Not just a footy star

It’s easy to look at the last six years of Phillips’ sporting career and call her a great. However, she started well before then.

With limited opportunities during her early days to play football, basketball was where she found her first love at the highest level.

Phillips made her professional basketball career debut with the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL in 2002 as a seventeen-year-old, and as is the way with her, success quickly followed. Her WNBL career stretched until 2008.

During this time she was awarded an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship, was a WNBL champion, made three WNBL All-Star Fives and was a two-time league leader in assists.

From 2006 to 2015, Phillips dabbled her hand overseas in the WNBA, EBLK and Women’s EuroLeague. In Europe, she was a EuroLeague All-Star in 2010 and won three championships with Polska PLKK whilst making two All-Star teams.

In the WNBA, Phillips became a two-time champion, with two different teams. Phillips is also a multiple-time Opals representative, taking home a silver medal at the Beijing Olympic Games, which sits nicely beside her 2006 Gold and 2014 Bronze medals earned at world championships.

Phillips playing for the Opals. (Image: @BasketballAus/Twitter)

Before retiring from basketball to focus on AFLW, Phillips spent time as an assistant coach in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings, the same team she finished her career with.

Had it not been for her undying want to play AFLW, there is a strong chance in 2017 that Phillips may well have been appointed head coach. That’s the leadership, insight and understanding of the game she radiates.

All in all, success just seems to follow Phillips wherever she goes and right now, that’s one thing for which Port Adelaide is begging for, its members weep for it.

Her experience and leadership, are strong traits desperately required in a new club’s first season.

Inclusiveness and equality

Aside from sport, it’s no secret that Phillips is also a member and role model of the LGBTIQA+ community. Driving events such as Pride Round, and being open and honest publicly about her beliefs, are just another part of her wonderful traits.

Perhaps her most iconic showing of such was the sharing of a kiss with her wife Tracy Gahan after being named the inaugural AFLW Best and Fairest. The moment reinforces everything that Phillips stands for and believes.

This is yet another trait destined to align with Port Adelaide culture. The club is deeply invested in equality, fairness and anti-discrimination. You would be hard-pressed to find another AFL club that invests as heavily in culture and its beliefs.

Port Adelaide is renowned for its strong indigenous program already, including an aboriginal academy. It has a partnership with Foodbank SA supporting the fight to end hunger and a strong ‘Power to End Violence Against Women’ campaign.

The further you dig, the more it all just makes sense. In AFLW Round 1 later this year, the Port Adelaide women’s team must run onto Adelaide Oval led by number 22 Erin Phillips.

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