AFLW award vindicates code swap, says former Matilda Briana Davey

Collingwood star Brianna Davey says her AFLW best and fairest award triumph vindicates her decision to quit football to focus on Australian rules. The former Matildas goalkeeper turned her back on the round-ball game in 2016 to take up a marquee spot with Carlton ahead of the inaugural AFLW season in 2017.

Now at Collingwood, Davey capped off a stellar 2021 AFLW season when she tied for the league best and fairest award with Fremantle star Kiara Bowers, with the two midfield guns collecting 15 votes each. Davey polled the maximum three votes in five consecutive games, and was also named captain of the All-Australian team after averaging 23.1 disposals for the season.

“Football can be a rollercoaster of emotions. There can be some very big highs and some very low lows,” Davey said. “I came across from soccer and a lot of people questioned that and I know at times I did think ‘have I made the right decision?’

“And I think this solidifies that I have. I always thought I had made the right choice because I love footy so much. This sort of thing just, I guess, gives you a bit of recognition and shows that hard work pays off – so that’s probably why it’s emotional for me.”

Davey made her Matildas debut as a 17-year-old in 2012 and also played in the W-League for Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City and in Sweden for Linkopings FC. After being left out of the Matildas squad for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she took up Australian rules football at state league level, then featured in AFLW exhibition matches.

She won her second W-League championship with Melbourne City as a 21-year-old in 2015-16 but didn’t feature in professional football again. Davey spent three years at Carlton, winning two bests and fairests and captaining the Blues in 2018 – when she ruptured her ACL – and 2019, before requesting a trade to Collingwood.

She has been co-captain alongside Steph Chiocci for her two years at the Magpies and led them to this year’s preliminary final. Given her injuries and late re-introduction to the sport, Davey believes she can still elevate her game.

“To be honest, I do think I’ve definitely got another level in me,” she said. “Hopefully with the team we can build form and obviously all our individual players can all build form too – and we have to. This competition is just growing and so quickly, it’s just become such quality and it’s building every year so we’ve got to keep up with that.”

On Tuesday night, early vote leader and Western Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn and GWS young gun Alyce Parker had 14 votes apiece, while Melbourne gun Karen Paxman finished on 13.

Meanwhile Bowers named vice-captain after averaging 21.2 disposals and 10.3 tackles per game. The Docker came close to being ineligible for the award after she was suspended for a dangerous tackle on Melbourne’s Eden Zanker but had her one-match ban overturned at the AFL tribunal.

The 29-year-old’s story is also one of resilience. Bowers was one of Fremantle’s first signings but missed the first two AFLW seasons through knee injuries before coming to the fore, finishing second behind Maddison Prespakis in last year’s best and fairest.

“To Freo, the club, obviously, you got me in and then I didn’t play for two years,” Bowers said. “You could’ve flicked me off pretty easy but you stuck with me and then you knew that I was going to be an alright player – so I appreciate all the time and effort you guys put into me.”

Last week, Davey won the AFL Players Association most valuable player award with Bowers runner-up, while Bowers claimed the AFL Coaches Association champion player of the year award in March.

Earlier in the night, Melbourne young gun Tyla Hanks was named the 2021 AFLW Rising Star. Hanks won the award with 48 votes, ahead of Richmond’s Ellie McKenzie (32), West Coast’s Mikayla Bowen (22), St Kilda’s Tyanna Smith (19) and Brisbane’s Nat Grider (10).