Growing up Erin Phillips dreamed of playing Australian Rules Football in an elite Women’s league, whilst it took her longer to achieve than she would have liked she made the most of it when her dreams were realised and she had this opportunity. Erin made her debut with the Adelaide Crows at 31 years of age in February 2017 in Round 1 of the inaugural Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) season and over the duration of the first three seasons of the league she has undoubtedly been the most dominant player in the competition, winning a swag of awards in 2017 and 2019 including best on ground in the grand final, the league best and fairest, Adelaide Crows best and fairest, All-Australian selection and was co-captain of Adelaide’s premiership side.
In a video posted by the Adelaide Football Club on 29th March 2019 Erin spoke about some of her early football memories whilst looking at some photos from her dad Greg’s career with South Australian National Football League (SANFL) club Port Adelaide. Looking at the first photo where Erin is holding the premiership cup above her head, next to her dad Greg whilst they are doing a lap. Erin says “Yeah, so I would have been about eight I think, its just after a Grand Final, I think they played Glenelg and got my sisters and I and my cousin Kim actually and we did a lap of the oval with the team (after Port Adelaide won the premiership).” In the second photo Erin missing her two front teeth is smiling whilst she is held by Greg in the rain, Erin’s left arm is on Greg’s shoulder whilst she is being held on the right side of Greg. Erin comments “So this is after the 1990 premiership, this is actually the first time I was on the Oval and I do have really vivid memories of this picture and running around like I had just won the premiership too, and jumping in on photos, I was on the back of dad’s shoulders like the premiership picture with a fist in the air and did a lap, waving at people thinking that I just won a premiership for the Magpies, six years old already having a taste of what success is in front of a packed stadium too which was a lot of fun. You don’t realise at the time of how much of an impact that really does have on you as a kid and the memories that you do have, it was pretty cool times.”
Erin Phillips has had an extremely successful sporting career in two sports, Basketball and Australian Rules Football, being recognised for her brilliant performances by winning several individual awards in both sports and has also played an important role in her team winning championships/premierships.
Erin turned 34 years old approximately two months ago on 19th May 2019 and thankfully there is a far different landscape for women’s sport today than 21 years ago when Erin was 13 years old. In Australia several Women’s national sporting leagues have been established during the past 21 years including the W League (soccer), Women’s Big Bash League (cricket) and AFLW (Australian Rules Football), enabling 13 year old girls today to have greater opportunities and more options than was the case 21 years ago for girls like Erin.
After watching her dad Greg achieve success with Port Adelaide in the SANFL Erin had an ambition to play Australian Rules Football at the highest level and ideally following in her dad’s footsteps and represent the Port Adelaide Football Club. Greg is an inductee of the South Australian Football Hall of Fame, having played 343 SANFL games for Port Adelaide and four seasons for Collingwood in the VFL (now AFL). Greg was a member of eight Port Adelaide premiership teams in the SANFL including one in 1992 as captain. Erin excelled at Australian Rules football as a junior, however at 13 years of age she was told that she could no longer play football with the boys and stopped playing.
From 13 years of age Erin focussed her attention on basketball and achieved the ultimate success internationally, at club level in the WNBA and WNBL, playing on championships in both leagues whilst also playing as a guard for Australia’s national team the Opals. Erin represented the Australian Opals at five major championships including two as a starter and was a part of a medal winning team three times including a gold medal at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil, the first (and to this stage only) time an Australian basketball team has won a gold medal at senior level in a major championship.
From 2002/03 to 2007/08 Phillips played six seasons for Adelaide in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). Phillips flourished during her third season in 2004/05, excelling as a guard and in all three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07 she averaged more than 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Earning her first selection in the WNBL All-Star five at just 19 years of age in 2004/05 and maintained that high standard of performance for the next two seasons to be the only player selected in the WNBL All-Star five in all three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07. Whilst Erin’s time with Adelaide had a significant impact on her professional career, it has also shaped her personal life as it is where she met her future wife, Tracy Gahan, an American import who played as a power forward for Adelaide as a team-mate of Erin’s in 2006/07 and 2007/08. Adelaide suffered several close finals losses whilst Erin was playing for the club. Erin missed the end of the 2006/07 season due to a knee injury but returned during the 2007/08 season and played in the Adelaide side that won the 2007/08 WNBL Championship.
On 29th June 2013 an exhibition Australian Football League (AFL) women’s game was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, the game was broadcast on free-to-air television by channel seven and rated strongly. This exhibition game was successful and more exhibition women’s Australian Rules Football games were held in the following years. The AFL decided that a women’s league should be established and originally planned for this league to commence in 2020 by which stage Erin’s sporting career might have concluded.
With the success of the women’s Australian Rules exhibition games together with a significant increase in the number of girls playing football the AFL decided to fast-track the development of the women’s league, bringing it forward by three years to 2017. Erin signed with the Adelaide Crows as a rookie in September 2016 for the 2017 AFLW season and commented on the opportunity to play Australian Rules football “It’s definitely been a lifelong ambition. I’ve basically wanted to play football since I was born, having grown up in a sporting family watching dad play football professionally. Although 31 years later I get this opportunity, I’m just really grateful it’s come now. To kind of follow in his footsteps is just an amazing thing, something that I’m really excited about.”1
During her professional basketball career Erin had continued to harbour ambitions of playing Australian Rules football at the highest level but thought she would have to settle for living vicariously through her brother in-law Shaun Burgoyne. Shaun married Erin’s sister Amy in October 2007 and has had a decorated AFL career with Port Adelaide and Hawthorn, playing in four premierships and currently ranks ninth on the AFL all-time games list after Round 15 of the 2019 season with 368 games.
Before being recruited by the Adelaide Crows Football Club when she was 31 years old the only competitive games of Australian Rules football Erin had played since she was 13 years old were the annual Slowdown celebrity games between Port Adelaide and Adelaide in the early to mid 2000’s. Upon joining the Adelaide Crows Erin impressed with her leadership skills and football ability. It was clear that Erin had inherited her dad Greg’s football proficiency and as a result of a player vote Erin was appointed Adelaide Crows co-captain alongside key defender Chelsea Randall who had previously played in Western Australia for West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL) club Swan Districts.
An injury to her right quad hampered Erin’s 2017 AFLW pre-season, however despite this Erin was phenomenal during the inaugural AFLW season, predominantly playing in the midfield at an incredible level to win a swag of awards including the league best and fairest, the Adelaide Crows best and fairest, goal of the year, and the medal for best on ground during the Grand Final, playing in a thrilling and historic premiership with the Adelaide Crows after they defeated the Brisbane Lions by six points in the Grand Final. During 2017 Erin’s greatest strengths were her ball-winning ability, especially winning contested possessions whether it be on the ground or with contested marks, composure and the ability to make an impact on the scoreboard.
A quad injury resulted in Erin missing the first two games of the 2018 AFLW home and away season and taking no part in the second half of another game. Due to the right quad injury Erin predominantly played as a key forward in 2018 and was forced to use her non-preferred left foot to kick far more regularly. In her first game of 2018, mainly playing as a key forward Phillips kicked a then equal league record four goals in Round 3 against the Western Bulldogs and received the three votes in the league best and fairest award.
In between the 2018 and 2019 AFLW seasons Erin with expert help modified her running technique to reduce the likelihood of having soft-tissue leg injuries. During 2019 Erin was the most dominant player in the AFLW, just as she he had been in 2017, winning the league best and fairest with 19 votes from a maximum of 21, won the Crows best and fairest, was best afield in the Grand Final again with Adelaide becoming the first club to win two ALFW premierships.
On Sunday, 31st March midfielder Phillips achieved a dream by winning an AFLW Premiership with the Adelaide Crows on the Adelaide Oval, however she also suffered a serious injury, tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in her left knee late in the third quarter, an injury that required a knee reconstruction which might prevent her from taking part in the 2020 season, and possibly end her AFLW career.
Despite not being able to play in the final quarter due to her knee injury Phillips had 18 disposals, kicked two goals and won the medal for being best on ground in the 2019 Grand Final, achieving this feat for the second time, having also received the award in the inaugural AFLW season in 2017. After the announcement Erin had won the medal for being best on ground the Adelaide team all got around Erin and then her teammates Randall and Marinoff helped her up on stage. After receiving the medal for best on ground Erin commented “To the crowd, 53,000 people, oh my god, unbelievable. It is an absolute dream come true not just for our girls but for Carlton as well, to play in front of this crowd means so much to us and is amazing for women’s footy, it is just incredible, so thank you so much.”
In the first three seasons of the AFLW Erin Phillips has been phenomenal, dominating the individual awards in both 2017 and 2019 whilst playing in a premiership with the Adelaide Crows in both of these seasons. When the vast majority of the football community think about the first three seasons of the AFLW from 2017 to 2019 the first player they will think of will be Phillips.
Erin’s illustrious sporting career is comprehensively covered below, from playing basketball for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL, with several clubs in the WNBA and with the Australian Opals through to her first three seasons in the AFLW with the Adelaide Crows. Phillips’ off-field basketball roles with WNBA club the Dallas Wings are also covered. The article (although in length it is more like a small book) begins by covering Erin’s amazing 2019 AFLW season.
2019 AFLW season with the Adelaide Crows
On 13th April 2018 Adelaide Crows inaugural AFLW head coach Bec Goodard resigned from her role. Adelaide chief executive Chris Fagan commented “It was an absolutely amicable departure. We would have liked for Bec to continue coaching. She had to return to Canberra in order to continue her career with the police force which was really important to her – she’s been in there for 17, 18 years and she continues to progress through senior ranks. Through the acquisition of leave through her employer she was only going to find two or three months time to coach which made it practically impossible for her to do the job. She contacted me … it was just an obstacle we couldn’t overcome because of her commitment to her work.”2
In mid-April 2018 Phillips committed to the Adelaide Crows for the 2019 AFLW season however she was unable to officially sign with the club until the re-contracting period opened. At a press conference on 17th April 2018 Phillips commented “I definitely still feel I’ve got plenty of football left in me. I’ve got to at least have one season with no injuries, right? My goal is at least three more (seasons) and then see what happens after that. I’d love to just play football as long as I can. Obviously, having retired from basketball I know that there’s no going back. This will be my final retirement, if you like, when I do quit football. I want to be completely done, so I’ll play as long as I can.”3
Erin also responded to media speculation that Bec Goddard left the Adelaide Crows as a result of player ‘unrest’, saying “Probably the most disappointing thing to come out of this whole departure with Bec is that it’s just not true. I personally have a great relationship with Bec and I know the girls absolutely love her. It was just unfortunate that things didn’t work out, but we wish her all the best. It’s going to be strange without Goddard around. We’ll all miss her but we understand her position and where she sits. We’re confident that whoever comes in to the role can basically continue to do what she’s done for us. There’s only going to be one inaugural premiership coach in history and it’s going to be Rebecca Goddard, and that’s a pretty good title to have.”4
The AFLW expanded from eight teams in 2018 to 10 teams in 2019 with the new entrants being North Melbourne and Geelong. The league was split in to two conferences of five teams with Adelaide being placed in conference A along with the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Fremantle and North Melbourne whist the teams in conference B were Brisbane, GWS, Collingwood, Carlton and Geelong. The composition of the conferences was determined by the ladder position that the teams finished in at the end of the 2018 home and away season, with the teams that finished first, third, fifth and seventh placed in conference A and the teams that finished second, fourth, sixth and eighth in conference B. The two expansion clubs were randomly allocated to conferences with North Melbourne placed in Conference A and Geelong placed in conference B. The first and second ranked teams from each conference in 2019 would make the finals and would play a cross-over preliminary final against a finalist from the other conference with the top ranked team from each conference hosting a preliminary final against the second ranked team from the other conference.
As soon as the composition of the conferences were released the common consensus was that Conference A was considerably stronger than Conference B and this was exactly how the season played out. The average finishing position of the teams in conference A was 4th in 2018 compared to 5th for conference B. If the previous seasons ladder position was going to be the basis for splitting the teams into conferences, the average position for teams in each conference should have been the same which could have been achieved by having first, fourth, fifth and eighth in one conference and second, third, sixth and seventh in the other conference, which would have resulted in an average finishing position during the previous season of 4.5 in each conference.
On 23rd May 2018 Matthew Clarke was appointed as the Adelaide Crows AFLW Senior coach. Following the appointment Chris Fagan commented “Matt has been a part of the coaching team at the Crows for the past 10 years and has a strong understanding of our AFLW program as well as what we stand for across the Club more broadly. While his football experience is obviously impressive, Matt also has a brilliant strategic mind and brings a strong focus on personal development and culture which is important. As a Club, we went through a thorough process to get the best person for this role and Matt brings a wealth of experience and qualities which we feel will strengthen our women’s program. We are confident that under his tutelage the women and girls involved with our Club will continue to progress and excel both on and off the field.”5 In an AFL career from 1993 to 2007 Clarke played 258 games as a ruckman comprised of 130 games for Brisbane, 118 games for Adelaide and 10 games for St Kilda. Following his retirement Clarke has been Adelaide’s ruck coach since 2008 and continues in that role during 2019.
Of the 32 players on Adelaide’s AFLW list for 2019 including the two inactive players in Jess Allen (work) and the club’s equal leading goalkicker in 2018 Ruth Wallace (personal) 24 players had AFLW experience including 16 players that had played at least 10 games. The Adelaide Crows recruited well in the off-season with four of their selections at the 2018 Draft in Jess Foley (pick 30), Chloe Scheer (37), Danielle Ponter (48), and Hannah Martin (51) along with Irish Rookie selection Ailish Considine all playing the majority of Adelaide’s AFLW games in 2019. Jess Foley was recruited at 35 years of age and had been a basketball team-mate of Erin’s at the Adelaide Lightning more than a decade ago with the duo both playing in the Lightning’s 2007/08 WNBL Championship. Jess had been a spectator at the Adelaide Crows first AFLW game at Thebarton Oval in February 2017 and commented to Megan Hustwaite in a Fairfax Media article two years later “The ground was absolutely packed, there was a real buzz, the girls were awesome and Erin kicked a couple of goals that day which drew me in – inspired me to go out and give it a go. As I watched I thought ‘oh my gosh I just have to do this, I have to give it a go’. The way the girls celebrated after the match and ran to each other you could see they were pioneers and part of something really special. Watching that excitement, I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be part of that group.”6 During the 2019 season Jess became an integral part of the Adelaide Crows group, playing as the teams number one ruck following late pre-season injuries to two rucks, 2017 premiership player Rhiannon Metcalfe – ACL and Jasmyn Hewett – ankle, in the club’s practice match against Fremantle in mid-January.
Quad injuries had adversely impacted Erin’s first two AFLW seasons and trying to avoid a repeat of this issue in season 3 she went to The Michael Johnson Performance Centre in McKinney Texas searching for a running technique that would have her better equipped for the rigours of Australian Rules Football. Erin commented on her time at the Michael Johnson Performance Centre “A lot of it was really small technical based (things). They taught me to run again, my flexibility, my hip mobility. A lot of that was from being in basketball – I’m down in a stance at 90 degrees playing defence. It was trying to basically retrain my muscles to be able to be more flexible, be stronger and run properly. It was really interesting and it really helped.”7
In Round 1 of the 2019 AFLW season the two premiers from the first two seasons met each other with 2017 premiers Adelaide hosting 2018 premiers, the Western Bulldogs at Norwood Oval on Saturday 2nd February. Adelaide kicked the first goal of the game in the opening quarter through 19 year-old Chloe Scheer and led by five points at quarter-time, one goal, one behind to two behinds by the Western Bulldogs. In front of a crowd of 7,830 Adelaide were unable to add to their goal tally after quarter-time, scores were level at three quarter-time and no goals were scored in the last quarter, the Western Bulldogs outscored Adelaide two behinds to one behind in the final term to win a thriller by a point. Adelaide had more scoring shots – 12 to eight but inaccurate kicking resulted in them registering one goal and 11 behinds to the Western Bulldogs two goals and six behinds. In the post-game press conference Adelaide Crows AFLW Senior Coach Matthew Clarke said “Ultimately, if you kick inaccurately, it’s a result of the opposition’s pressure and they had us kicking from areas where we possibly shouldn’t have been.” Against the Western Bulldogs Phillips had 11 kicks, seven handballs, two marks, three tackles, kicked two behinds and polled two votes in the AFLW best and fairest with the two Western Bulldogs co-captains polling the other votes, midfielder Ellie Blackburn and forward Katie Brennan receiving three votes and one vote respectively.
At Ikon Park in Round 2 Adelaide trailed Carlton by 17 points late in the third quarter to place the club in grave danger of losing their first two games of the season for the second year in a row, however Adelaide finished the game strongly to kick six of the last seven goals of the match and won by 13 points. Playing predominantly in the midfield Erin had a team-high 13 kicks, team-high eight handballs, four marks, laid three tackles, kicked a goal and was voted best afield by the umpires to receive the three votes in the league best and fairest for the first time since Round 3, 2018 when she played mainly as a full-forward against the Western Bulldogs. Stevie-Lee Thompson who had played in defense during 2018 relished playing in attack against Carlton, kicking four goals to receive two votes in the league best and fairest.
Against Geelong at Norwood Oval in Round 3 Adelaide kicked four goals to one in the second quarter to set up a 29 point victory. Phillips started most centre bounces in the midfield but then frequently moved to full-forward. Erin kicked a superb set-shot goal from 25 metres out on the boundary line and kicked a game-high three goals. Phillips had 13 kicks – ranked second for the game behind fellow Crows midfielder Marinoff with 18, six handballs, three marks, laid three tackles and received the three votes in the league best and fairest for the second week in a row. Adelaide team-mates Marinoff and Randall received two votes and one vote respectively, Marinoff’s 33 disposals set a new record for most disposals in an AFLW game.
During Round 4 Adelaide hosted Conference A rival the Fremantle Dockers at TIO Stadium in Darwin, Northern Territory. Fremantle were one of two teams in conference A along with North Melbourne to win their first three games and with only two teams from each conference qualifying for the finals a loss to Fremantle would have severely dented the finals chances of the Crows. The game was very tight in the first half with Adelaide going to the main break with a three point lead, three goals five behinds to three goals, two behinds. Adelaide kept Fremantle scoreless in the third quarter whilst scoring one goal and three behinds themselves to extend their lead to 12 points at three quarter time. Adelaide dominated the final quarter, kicking five goals and three behinds to three behinds to record a comprehensive 42 point win, joining Fremantle on three wins but leap frogging them on percentage due to the big win to move into second place in conference A behind North Melbourne. Phillips was the best player afield against Fremantle with 25 disposals, 23 kicks to set-game-highs in both categories, two handballs, four marks, two tackles and kicked an equal game-high two goals along with three Adelaide team-mates – Eloise Jones, Stevie-Lee Thompson and Danielle Ponter. For the third game in a row Erin received the maximum three votes in the AFLW league best and fairest award.
For the second week in a row Adelaide played a conference A rival that was ahead of them on the ladder, playing undefeated North Melbourne at Werribee in Round 5. North Melbourne kicked the first two goals of the game to lead by 12 points with nine minutes remaining in the first quarter, however Adelaide were able to gain the ascendancy, kicking six goals to two from that point until three quarter time to lead by 12 points at the final change, six goals, three behinds to four goals, three behinds. Yet again Adelaide finished the game full of running, outscoring North Melbourne in the final quarter by four goals, one behind to two behinds to win by 35 points, enabling Adelaide to improve their record to four wins, one loss and overtake North Melbourne on percentage to move to the top of Conference A. Phillips predominantly played in the midfield opposed to North Melbourne captain Emma Kearney, but also spent time in the forward line. The match-up pitted the AFLW’s first two league best and fairest winners against each other with Phillips having won the award in 2017 followed by Kearney in 2018, in each season the winner polled 14 votes to receive the league’s highest individual award. In the Round 5 encounter Kearney won more of the ball, amassing 31 disposals to Phillips’ 23, however Phillips was able to make a significant contribution on the scoreboard, kicking two goals including a set-shot goal from 25 metres out after the final siren whilst Kearney was scoreless. After the game Kearney said that she had spoken to North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans about taking the head to head role on Phillips commenting, “I wanted to take it to her. I knew her weakness was probably her defensive work and I wanted her to be accountable around the stoppages. At the end of the day, the Crows won so it doesn’t really matter about the match-up too much.”8 Phillips received the three votes in the AFLW league best and fairest for an incredible fourth week in a row, with North Melbourne defender Jess Duffin, and Adelaide midfielder Ebony Marinoff receiving two votes and one vote respectively.
Adelaide’s Round 6 encounter with the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Unley Oval followed a familiar pattern with Adelaide holding a narrow advantage at three quarter-time before thoroughly outplaying their opposition in the final quarter to record a comprehensive victory. Adelaide led the Giants by eight points at the final change and scored four goals to nil in the final quarter to win by 32 points. Phillips had an equal game-high 24 disposals along with team-mate Marinoff, comprised of 12 kicks and 12 handballs, an equal game-high six marks along with Crows winger Deni Varnhagen, laid three tackles and kicked one goal. Phillips was in the league best and fairest votes for the sixth consecutive game, polling two votes, behind only fellow Adelaide co-captain Chelsea Randall with three votes.
A Round 7 road trip to Casey Fields against another Conference A rival, Melbourne concluded Adelaide’s 2019 AFLW home and away season. Victory against Melbourne would secure a finals berth whilst a loss would likely result in percentage determining the finalists as Melbourne and Adelaide would be level on premiership points. In another all Conference A game Fremantle hosted North Melbourne with the winner guaranteed to make the finals. Adelaide dominated throughout, restricting Melbourne to a solitary behind in the first three quarters whilst kicking eight goals, six behinds themselves, the Crows extended the margin in the final quarter to win by 60 points. Phillips had a game-high 22 disposals comprised of 14 kicks and eight handballs, three marks and three tackles but was inaccurate in front of goal, failing to register a major and kicking three behinds. Although Phillips didn’t kick a goal herself she and several of her team-mates were delighted when fellow midfielder Ebony Marinoff kicked the first goal of her AFLW career.
After starting the 2019 AFLW season with a one point loss to the reigning premiers – the Western Bulldogs the Adelaide Crows won six consecutive games to have a league best record of six wins, one loss and a percentage of 212.9% at the end of the home and away season to finish on top of Conference A, having the same win-loss record as the second placed Fremantle Dockers but a much higher percentage than the Dockers 141.2%. Fremantle secured their finals position by defeating North Melbourne by 27 points at Fremantle Oval in Round 7. North Melbourne finished third with five wins and two losses, followed by Melbourne in fourth position with four wins whilst the reigning premiers, the Western Bulldogs finished last in Conference A with two wins which were recorded in the first two rounds before having five consecutive losses. After losing their first two games of the season Carlton won four of their last five games of the season to finish on top of conference B with four wins, three losses and a percentage of 99.6%. Expansion team Geelong finished second with three wins, followed by the Brisbane Lions and GWS Giants with two wins apiece and Collingwood in last position with a solitary win. None of the teams in Conference B had a percentage above 100. Adelaide led the league for points scored with 396 – 43 points more than Fremantle whilst no other team scored more than 300 points. Highlighting how dominant Adelaide were, they also conceded the least points with 186 – 49 points less than the team ranked second in this category – Geelong. The average score in Adelaide’s games was 56.6 points for and 26.6 points against for an average winning margin of 30 points.
The Adelaide Crows record of six wins and one loss in 2019 was the second best record in the first three home and away seasons of the AFLW, only surpassed by the Brisbane Lions in 2017 who had six wins and a final round draw, however only one of the Lions wins was by more than 15 points. 2017 minor premiers the Western Bulldogs had five wins and two losses, with four of their wins being by less than 10 points. During 2019 Adelaide won each of their last five games by at least 24 points. Inaccurate kicking against the Western Bulldogs in Round 1 of the 2019 season prevented Adelaide from winning all seven home and away games.
On 19th March, it was announced that Phillips had won the 2019 Lucky Chicken Eggs AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year award with 51 votes, finishing five votes ahead of Fremantle midfielder Kiara Bowers. The top six was completed by four midfielders with teammate Marinoff in third place on 35 votes, Monique Conti (Western Bulldogs) fourth on 34 votes, Karen Paxman (Melbourne) on 32 and first year player Maddie Prespakis (Carlton) on 30. After polling one vote in Round 1 Phillips polled at least six votes in each game from Round 2 to Round 7 including the maximum 10 votes in Round 4 against Fremantle and Round 6 against the GWS Giants.
Adelaide were heavy favourites for the preliminary final they hosted at Adelaide Oval on 24th March against Geelong, a team they had defeated in Round 3 by 29 points. In the preliminary final Adelaide dominated the game from start to finish for the second week in a row, keeping Geelong scoreless to three quarter-time whilst scoring seven goals, six behinds themselves to lead by 48 points at the final change. The Crows kicked four goals, one behind to Geelong’s one goal, one behind in the last quarter to win by 66 points and advance to the club’s second AFLW Grand Final in three seasons. Erin was again one of the best players on the ground, having 23 disposals – ranked second for the game behind Marinoff with 27, 14 kicks, nine handballs, three marks and six tackles. Adelaide had three multiple goal-scorers – Ponter with three and Chloe Scheer and Marinoff with two each.
After finishing last in 2018 Carlton had an amazing transformation under Daniel Harford who was appointed the senior coach for the 2019 season. Carlton lost their first two games of 2019 but were then able to build momentum as the season progressed and advance to an unexpected Grand Final berth following an impressive 36 point preliminary final victory against Fremantle at Ikon Park. During Adelaide’s seven game winning streak entering the Grand Final their smallest winning margin was 13 points against Carlton in Round 2 with the Blues having led by 17 points late in the third quarter before being overrun.
Entering the Grand Final against Carlton Phillips ranked first in the league for metres gained, contested possessions and clearances and second for disposals. In all four categories Phillips and Marinoff were the top two ranked players. In an article by Daniel Cherny in the Age on AFLW Grand Final day Fremantle head coach Trent Cooper commented on Erin “What makes (Phillips) so great is her versatility. She’s basically as good a centre clearance player as there is in the competition and then she’s as good a forward as any player in the competition so it makes it really difficult to find the right player or players to play on her.”9
Erin ran onto the Adelaide Oval for the Grand Final carrying her two children, daughter Brooklyn and son Blake, leading the Crows onto the field alongside fellow co-captain Chelsea Randall. It was a very large crowd at that stage even with the top-deck of the Riverbank Stand having just been opened. Phillips started the game well to have the first clearance and first kick of the game. Carlton kicked the first goal of the game two and a half minutes into the first quarter through 18 year-old Maddie Prespakis after a 50 metre penalty. A few minutes later Crows midfielder Anne Hatchard kicked a goal to level the scores at one goal apiece. In the last four minutes of the opening quarter Adelaide kicked two goals to have a nine point lead at quarter-time. Early in the second quarter Phillips received a handball from Eloise Jones in the centre square, from just on the defensive side of centre Phillips executed a precision pass on her right foot, kicking the ball to Stevie-Lee Thompson’s advantage who marked the ball 50 metres out from goal, took a bounce and ran into an open goal to kick Adelaide’s fourth goal of the game and increase the margin to 15 points. Later in the quarter Erin kicked a set-shot goal from 20 metres out on a slight angle after receiving a free kick for a high tackle on her by Jess Hosking. Adelaide kicked six goals to one in the second quarter to extend the margin to 40 points at half-time.
With six and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter Erin on a lead dived forwards to mark a pass from Renee Forth on her chest. Phillips kicked the set shot goal from 35 metres out to register the first goal of the second half and increase Adelaide’s lead to 45 points.
With four minutes remaining in the third quarter Carlton retreated back into their defensive 50, Phillips followed the pass to Nicola Stevens who after receiving the ball ran to the left, Phillips trying to quickly change direction went to plant her left leg which gave way forcing her to ground. Phillips was stretchered off the ground due to her knee injury, receiving a rousing reception from the crowd and was consoled by Adelaide Crows team-mates and Carlton opponents alike whilst she was being driven from the arena in emotional scenes with many people fearing that Erin had injured the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in her left knee. It was the second suspected ACL injury suffered by an Adelaide player for the game with Crows 19 year-old forward Chloe Scheer injuring her knee in the second quarter just minutes after taking a spectacular mark, Scheer missed the entire 2018 football season due to an ACL injury.
After Erin’s injury no more goals were kicked in the Grand Final, and with both sides only adding a behind Adelaide comfortably won the game by 45 points, 10 goals, three behinds, 63 to Carlton two goals, six behinds, 18.
In an interview on channel 7 with Sam Lane between the final siren and the post-game presentation Phillips commented on her injury “It’s ACL, something I’ve done before and on the other leg – this was meant to be my good leg. Unfortunately that’s just sport, that’s how it is, that’s a risk you take when you play contact sport and unfortunately myself and Chloe, we’ll just get better and hopefully be back next season. I would like to (return). Obviously this is a tough rehab, I’ve been through it before but I’m going to give every opportunity I can to come back from this.” Phillips had injured the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in her right knee in January 2007 playing a WNBL game for the Adelaide Lightning on the road against Canberra.
Despite injuring her left ACL with four minutes left in the third quarter Phillips finished the Grand Final with 15 kicks, three handballs, three marks, four tackles, 10 contested possessions, and two goals – ranked second for the game behind teammate Danielle Ponter with three goals.
In the voting for best afield in the 2019 AFLW Grand Final Erin polled 11 votes to win the medal, finishing one vote ahead of fellow Crows midfielder Anne Hatchard, with the duo each receiving votes from all five judges. Five judges awarded votes on a 3, 2, 1 basis, Phillips and Hatchard were each voted best afield by two of the judges and one judge awarded three votes to Adelaide ruck Jess Foley. Erin also received two 2’s and a 1 to give her the edge over Hatchard who polled one 2 and two 1’s. Foley polled four votes to finish third followed by Crows co-captain Chelsea Randall with three votes and Carlton captain Brianna Davey with two votes.
The 2019 AFLW Grand Final between the Adelaide Crows and Carlton had an attendance of 53,034 at the Adelaide Oval making it the fifth highest crowd for an Australian Rules football game at the venue, it also set a new record for the highest attendance for a women’s Australian Rules football game.
At the Grand Final post-game press conference Adelaide Crows co-captain Chelsea Randall was asked about the bond she has with Phillips. Chelsea responded “Erin’s obviously such an incredible person both on and off the field. We just share a really special bond, I guess for Erin and I we’ve been through the journey right from the start as co-captains and kind of not really knowing each other really well or knowing the group because she has obviously spent time away in America in 2016/2017 when we came together and I was from Western Australia so we really didn’t know how to bring a random group of people together, and that bond not only with myself and Erin but with the playing group has just increased over the years, obviously we have had quite a number of girls, new players as well into the side and I think we have set a great culture at the football club, it doesn’t matter if you have spent five minutes in the footy club, we welcome you with open arms and you are part of the family straight away. For Erin and I, we complement each other really well, she is an incredible human being and she will be back, don’t you worry.”
On Monday 1st April Phillips won the AFLW Players’ Association Most Valuable Player Award, polling 143 votes to finish ahead of Fremantle midfielder Kiara Bowers on 107 votes with Collingwood defender Ashleigh Brazill third on 85 votes. Due to injuring her ACL Phillips was unable to attend and accept the award in person however in a statement she said “It’s a truly humbling experience to be voted by your peers as the most valuable player in the league. Individual accolades don’t sit that well with me because it’s your teammates and coaches who help you get to the level but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve in my AFLW career so far. There’s a huge amount of talent running around in the AFLW and it’s increasing every year. The future of the competition is brighter than ever and I’m honoured to be a part of it.” It was the second time in her career that Erin had won the AFLW Players’ Association Most Valuable Player Award, having also won the MVP award in 2017.
Erin’s fellow Adelaide Crows co-captain Chelsea Randall was voted the AFLW’s most courageous player for the third season in a row. Both of Adelaide’s co-captains featured prominently in the best captain award with Phillips polling 52 votes and Randall polling 45 votes to finish second and third respectively behind Carlton captain Briana Davey who won the award with 53 votes, a solitary vote ahead of Phillips.
After Erin became the first player to win the AFLW Players’ Association’s Most Valuable Player award twice an article written by Erin’s brother in law Shaun Burgoyne titled ‘Erin Phillips always strives for greatness was published on www.aflplayers.com.au. In the article Shaun wrote “I remember watching Erin play football from a really young age. Both her and my younger brother Phil played in the same football team together, so I was always at her games watching her play. She would always dominate against the boys and I remember thinking (along with many others) just how much natural talent she had when it came to playing footy. It was unreal. Unfortunately, like many other female footballers back then, by the time you reached teenage years you could no longer play with the boys anymore so Erin was forced to turn her attention elsewhere and that turned out to be basketball — which was a pretty good decision I suppose you could say!”10
In the article Shaun also wrote about Erin “When she wasn’t playing basketball she would be either watching football or when she returned from overseas to Australia, she would be kicking the football with her dad and attending games. So I guess you can say that she’s always maintained her skills. Erin’s athletically gifted yes, however, she has worked extremely hard to be where she is today. She trains harder than most people I know and her dedication is incredible. That drive to be the best is something no one can teach. You have to want it and Erin certainty does.”11
On 3rd April Phillips was a special guest on the ‘Credit to the Girls’ AFLW Podcast co-hosted by Nat Edwards and Lucy Watkin (third co-host Sarah Black was on leave). Erin was asked about the pressure of going into the 2019 AFLW league best and fairest award as favourite and responded “To be honest I don’t really think too much about it, it’s more just enjoying the night and catching up with so many people from your team, from other teams and celebrating what’s been a terrific AFLW year once again. I guess probably with everything that went on with my knee and stuff like that there were a lot of distractions, but honestly just going in and enjoy it. I don’t worry whether I win or not, its not why I play this game, I just love playing footy, so honestly there’s no nerves, more the nerves are if you feel like actually you are going to win, I gotta do a speech, I think that’s when the nerves, oh my god I’ve got to say something up on stage. It’s a great night, I missed Mad Monday because I was in an MRI machine, it was just really nice because I didn’t get to see the girls then and I went home pretty early after the Grand Final just because of the pain and I couldn’t stand up and dance like the rest of the mob were doing so I was just so glad to be back with, not all of them were there last night but most of them, and just to be around them made me feel so much better.”
Phillips entered the 2019 AFLW league best and fairest on Tuesday 2nd April as an overwhelming favourite, quickly gained the overall lead and maintained it for the rest of the count, in a display of remarkable consistency and brilliance she polled votes in all seven games. After receiving two votes in Round 1 against the Western Bulldogs Erin polled the maximum three votes in Round 2 against Carlton to move into the lead on five votes, ahead of Emma King, Ellie Blackburn and Emma Zielke who were in equal second place on four votes. Consecutive best afield performances in Round 3 against Geelong and Round 4 against Fremantle increased Erin’s tally to 11 votes and her lead to four votes over North Melbourne forward/ruck Emma King on 7 votes. Phillips polled her third consecutive three in Round 5 to increase her tally to 14 votes and guarantee victory in the count with two rounds remaining as her lead over her closest rivals in Emma King and Karen Paxman had increased to seven votes. Erin polled two votes against the GWS Giants in Round 6 and finished the season with her fifth best afield game of the season in Round 7 against Melbourne. Phillips finished the count with 19 votes, comprised of five 3’s and two 2’s, meaning that she was only two votes shy of polling the maximum 21 votes which equated to polling 90.4% of the maximum tally. Fremantle midfielder Dana Hooker finished in second place on 11 votes followed by Melbourne midfielder Karan Paxman in third place on 10 votes. Teammate Ebony Marinoff was one of four players to finish in equal fourth place on seven votes along with Emma King, Monique Conti and Fremantle midfielder Kiara Bowers who after being signed as a marquee player for the club in the lead-up to 2017 season made her much awaited AFLW debut in Round 1, 2019.
Erin set a new record for the largest winning margin of the AFLW best and fairest in 2019, finishing eight votes ahead of Dana Hooker, Phillips received the three votes in the league best and fairest five times representing 71.4% of the games she played. In all seven of Adelaide’s games during the 2019 AFLW season a club captain received the three votes, comprised of five for Phillips, one for fellow Adelaide captain Randall and one for Western Bulldogs co-captain Blackburn.
In his toast for Erin Phillips winning the 2019 AFLW league best and fairest award AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said “Your 2019 statistics paint an extraordinary picture, second for disposals in the competition, first for contested possessions, second for clearances, third for inside 50s, first for score assists, second for champion data ranking points and second for goals kicked… but I believe that while your stats are amazing they don’t fully capture the magnificence in which you play our game. You are an inspiration to all and simply you are the benchmark of our competition.”
After Gillon McLachlan finished his toast and Erin walked up to the microphone she was asked by the MC, Neroli Meadows “It’s been a massive few days for you but I am so glad that you were able to make it here tonight, what does this mean to you, because you look a little bit overcome even though you were the hot favourite coming in?” Erin responded “Yeah, it’s just obviously been an emotional past few days. When you live one of the best days and the worst in one it’s a lot of emotions to deal with. At the end of the day I am so incredibly lucky, I always consider myself so lucky that I even got this opportunity to play one game let alone in three seasons. So I am incredibly blessed to be a part of this amazing competition with amazing women in every team, so I am very lucky.”
Meadows commented “The moment when you were taken off on a stretcher, it felt as special as it was heartbreaking. You looked like you had a moment and took it all in, the Carlton supporters, the Adelaide supporters, the players, everyone was cheering you on and crying for you at the same time. Can you tell us what that moment was like for you?” Erin replied “Obviously initially I was in a lot of pain, I knew as soon as I got hurt that I’d done my knee. It was pretty emotional and then to get stretchered off and have both my teammates and the Carlton girls rally behind me along with the crowd was something personally I will never ever forget. It was really special and you know just goes to show how united we are in the AFLW, like I said it was something really special and I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I tried not to cry, but I failed.” Neroli replied “We were all crying so I think you had the right to.”
When asked about her playing future Erin said that no decision had been made, commenting “I’ll be 34 next month and I think the bigger picture is figuring out how to chase three kids soon. I’ll rehab, I’ll do everything I can. If I get back up and play, great, but if not, I’ll be pretty bloody happy to finish on that note.” At the time of the AFLW best and fairest Erin’s wife Tracy was 22 weeks pregnant with the couple’s third child due in early August.
Whilst Erin may have been nervous about the prospect of giving a speech if she won the 2019 AFLW best and fairest her speech was very well received. In her speech Erin said “I’d like to thank obviously my team-mates, Chelsea, we were so lucky to lead such an amazing group of women this season once again. To the coaching staff, Matt, I mean you just did unbelievable things with us this season, it’s just been incredible, I hope you enjoyed it just as much as we did, even your bad dad jokes, we still love them. I’d like to thank my family who especially in the last 48 hours have been incredible. My wife Tracy you know this is probably not what you want to do through pregnancy, put up with this, but you are my rock and you have just been incredible, all your support. I’d like to thank my mum and dad in particular, I am one of three girls, my middle sister Amy is here tonight, my dad obviously played footy and when I was born, people felt sorry for him because he didn’t have a son to play footy someday and carry the Phillips name. Dad, I know you’re watching and mum I hope I’ve made you proud, and you can stick it up those people who said that to you.”
Erin finished her speech by saying “Lastly to all the players in this room, you are incredible women and being a mother of two kids, or three kids on the way, its so good to have them grow up watching you guys play and do your thing, it is so inspirational and just like I said, I am so proud to be a part of this league. It is so special, yeah, I just thank you for letting me be a part of it so thanks so much.”
Phillips was one of nine Adelaide Crows players selected in the 40 player 2019 AFLW All-Australian squad and was selected at half-forward in the final 21 player team. Erin was one of five Adelaide players named in the team, being joined by Chelsea Randall – centre half-back, Ebony Marinoff –ruck rover, Stevie Lee Thompson – forward line and Anne Hatchard – interchange. Phillips was named captain of the All-Australian team and Randall was the vice captain giving Adelaide a clean sweep of the leadership roles.
In the ‘Credit to the Girls’ AFLW Podcast on 3rd April Erin was asked about the comment she made in her speech at the AFLW awards in relation to people feeling sorry for her dad when she was born because he didn’t have a son to play footy someday, and that these jokes will no longer be made because of AFLW. In the podcast Erin expanded on her comments, saying “My dad when we were growing up had a pub, I just remember so many times a bar full of guys particularly, saying ‘ah Greg, unfortunately you don’t have a son’ my dad would literally look at these guys and then look at us and say to them, ‘Well OK which one of my daughters should I give up?’ They would just be like ‘oh allright’. It stuck with me, when I started playing AFLW I just felt a sense of satisfaction now that those kind of comments like you said don’t happen anymore because of AFLW and it is special and now we are going to see father-daughter rules and one day a son-mother rule and daughter-mother rules I guess, it is all open now. For me that was just a moment that I have always just wanted to say. No parent should ever have to hear that and no kid should ever have to hear that, it was a pretty satisfying moment for me.“
In relation to the knee injury Nat Edwards asked “What is the plan from here in terms of the next steps, if you have surgery, all that kind of stuff?” Erin responded “Surprisingly it is not that sore, it is quite big because I have been walking around on it so the swelling is obviously there. Probably have it fixed some point next week, I am not sure when, I have to call the surgeon and try to book an appointment to see him, something I haven’t done yet today. Just start the recovery process which is obviously a long, long rehab and anywhere from eight to 12 months. I did my other knee 12 years ago so I kind of know what’s ahead and the good days and the bad. Just gotta take it literally with these kind of things one day at a time because it can do your head in otherwise.”
On the rehabilitation process from her knee injury and the possibility that she may have played her last ever AFLW game Phillips commented to http://www.womens.afl “Right now, I wouldn’t make any decisions because it’s all emotional and I know I’m at the bottom of a big mountain to climb, getting through this ‘rehab’. If I’m halfway through it and I say ‘Yep, I’m going to play again’, I will. I don’t think there’s much need right now to say yes or no.”
During the Adelaide Crows AFLW end of season awards night in Darwin on Friday 5th April Erin won Adelaide’s 2019 best and fairest, polling 150 of a possible 180 votes to finish ahead of ruck Jess Foley in second place on 140 votes with midfielders Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff in equal third place on 132 votes. In 2019 Phillips played all nine games for the Adelaide Crows, averaging 21.4 disposals, 14.3 kicks, 7.1 handballs, 12.8 contested possessions, 3.5 marks, 1.2 goals and 3.1 tackles per game. In all nine games that Phillips played in the 2019 AFLW season she had at least 18 disposals with a season high of 25 disposals against Fremantle in Round 4. At Adelaide Phillips ranked first in 2019 for contested possessions, contested marks, loose-ball gets, lead marks, clearances, inside 50’s, score assists and Champion Data ranking points. Other players to win awards at the Adelaide Awards night were Stevie-Lee Thompson winning the leading goalkicker award with 14 goals and Deni Varnhagen receiving the Best Defensive Player Award.
Along with being recognised by the Crows coaches by winning the best and fairest the players also acknowledged Phillips’ influence, voting her as their 2019 Player’s Player making it the third straight year that a club captain had received the award following Chelsea Randall winning the award in 2017 and 2018. Adelaide vice-captain Courtney Cramey commented on Erin “Flip is a hard-working, determined person who is the ultimate professional. She deserves every accolade she gets as she is so meticulous about how she goes about everything she sets out to achieve. She is strong in the mind and in the body, and a big softy on the inside.”12 Ebony Marinoff commented “Flip is a special human and one of a kind. I pinch myself that I get to play alongside such a competitive beast. She’s taught me so much and is a true inspiration. If I can keep feeding off her knowledge, hopefully in a few years I can carry a few traits of hers around on the footy field. She’s a genuinely honest soul who has done so much for our team, our Club and the game. I am proud of her and she deserves everything she gets because she’s got the toughest mind I’ve ever met. To see someone like her put her mind to something and just make it happen, it’s so special.”13 Jess Foley and Erin have the rare distinction of winning premierships/championships in national leagues in two different sports – the WNBL with the Adelaide Lightning and the AFLW with the Adelaide Crows and the deeds of Erin in the latter inspired Jess to have a go at playing Australian Rules football. Jess said “I’m very privileged to have gone to battle with this humble champion in two different codes. Erin deserves every accolade the game has, I’ve been in awe watching you work.”14
Junior sporting career
Erin Phillips was born in Melbourne inner suburb Carlton on 19th May 1985, her parents are Julie and Greg and she has two sisters Rachel and Amy. Erin was born when her dad Greg was playing his third season of Australian Rules Football in the VFL with Collingwood, after his fourth season with Collingwood in 1986 the Phillips family returned to Adelaide. As well as being a member of eight Port Adelaide premiership teams in the SANFL including one in 1992 as captain Greg was selected at centre-half back in Port Adelaide’s ‘Official Greatest team 1870 to 2000’. Greg played 20 state of origin games for South Australia, was selected in the 1980 All Australian team and won the Fos Williams medal in 1982 as South Australia’s best player against Western Australia.
As a junior footballer Erin had outstanding skills and playing as the only girl in her team she won the club’s under 13 best and fairest. On Foxtel program ‘Open Mike’ Erin commented on her time as a junior footballer “It was very special for a lot of reasons, SMOSH West Lakes was my football club then, they’re a very, very special club to me because they were just so inclusive and made me feel as though I wasn’t the odd one out.“ Erin’s dad Greg is the inaugural Senior coach of the Women’s SMOSH West Lakes team in 2019, with the team having a record of five games and three losses to be third on the ladder in the seven team South Australian Women’s Football League.
In a video posted on the AFLW website on 5th April, 2019 titled ‘Erin Phillips: The epitome of a game changer’ Erin spoke about the influence her dad Greg had on her wanting to be a footballer and her junior Australian Rules career, saying “I definitely dreamed of following in dad’s footsteps, he was my role model, I grew up watching him play football and naturally when you have a role model that is something you want to do. I cut my hair short just like dad and the boys I guess. It was actually my dad’s coach John Cahill who said that I was the best junior footballer he had ever seen, male or female. When I turned 13 I had to find another sport pretty much, so I chose to play basketball. There are a lot of similarities between basketball and football, especially for me making quick decisions in small spaces. Having played footy first when I was younger and then playing basketball I was fearless and wasn’t afraid of any contact.”
Growing up Erin played basketball as a junior for the West Adelaide Bearcats and went on to represent South Australia metro at under-age national championships in the under 16’s and under 18’s.
WNBL career with Adelaide Lightning from 2002/03 to 2007/08
At 17 years of age Erin made her WNBL debut with the Adelaide Lightning in 2002/03, playing limited game-time off the bench. When Erin made her debut with Adelaide Lightning and was attending two training sessions a day she was a student at Seaton High School. Phillips played six consecutive seasons with Adelaide and during this time established herself as one of the best players in the league.
In her first two WNBL seasons during 2002/03 and 2003/04 Phillips played a total of 45 games for Adelaide Lightning, averaging 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.6 steals per game. In her third WNBL season playing as a point guard Phillips took her game to a new stratosphere, playing 23 games for Adelaide and increased her scoring output per game by 250% from her previous season, whilst her assists rose by 442% and rebounds increased by 239%. Phillips averaged 15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game and was rewarded for her outstanding season with selection in the 2004/05 WNBL All-Star Five at just 19 years of age. During 2004/05 Erin ranked second in the WNBL for assists, equal fifth for steals with 1.5 per game and despite being shorter than most other players on the court ranked fourth in the league with 3.1 offensive rebounds per game.
During 2002/03 Adelaide lost a semi-final to Sydney on the road 70-72 in overtime, this was followed a season later by a 61 to 65 loss to Sydney on the road again in a preliminary final. In 2004/05 Adelaide finished fourth on the ladder with 13 wins and eight losses, three wins behind Bulleen and Sydney in second and third respectively and six wins behind minor champions the Dandenong Rangers. On the way to a road semi-final the Adelaide team were involved in a bad car accident in Sydney which resulted in players being injured and upset. The start of the game was delayed, Phillips displayed immense leadership and composure to play an exceptional game against Sydney, scoring 40 points however Adelaide suffered another heart-breaking loss to Sydney, being defeated in overtime in a shoot-out 93-94.
After Phillips break-out 2004/05 WNBL season rival clubs spent more time trying to curtail her influence on games. Despite the increased pressure and attention during 2005/06 Erin was able to maintain the high standard she set the previous season and was again among the league leaders in several statistical categories – leading the WNBL for assists per game and also ranked fifth for free-throw accuracy. During 2005/06 Phillips played 23 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging 16.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game. In 2005/06 Adelaide avoided playing Sydney in a final as Sydney finished outside the top four in fifth position. Whilst the opponent and venue was different the end result was the same with Adelaide losing a home preliminary final 81 to 83 to Canberra in overtime.
Whilst Erin achieved great success both individually and from a team perspective playing for Adelaide in six WNBL seasons from 2002/03 to 2007/08 a relationship built during this time would also have a significant impact on her life. Tracy Gahan was a team-mate of Erin’s at Adelaide for two seasons and later on became Erin’s wife with the pair marrying in the United States. For the third consecutive season Erin was one of the best players in the WNBL during 2006/07, however she was unable to play in the finals due to tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in her right knee in a collision with opponent (and Opals team-mate) Telly Bevilaqua during a road game against Canberra on January 20. On the injury to his star guard Adelaide head coach Chris Lucas commented “She’s pretty distraught at the moment. It’s terrible for the team. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached but to lose your engine room is disappointing.”15 During 2006/07 Adelaide again lost to Canberra in a preliminary final, this time in Canberra 74 to 82. In 2006/07 Phillips played 17 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging a career-best 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Phillips led the WNBL for assists per game and was named in the WNBL All-Star five for the third consecutive season in 2006/07, being the only player to earn selection in all three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07, achieving the feat at just 21 years of age.
The Adelaide Lightning made the WNBL finals in all six seasons from 2002/03 to 2007/08, however during the first five seasons in this six season sequence the club suffered some heart-breaking narrow finals losses and were unable to make the Grand Final. Adelaide Lightning commenced the 2007/08 WNBL season as one of the favourites for the championship, however after several narrow finals losses in the previous three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07 with Lucas as head coach many people expected that the only way Lucas would return as head coach in 2008/09 was if Adelaide won the 2007/08 championship. Erin made her return from her right ACL injury early in the 2007/08 season. Lucas didn’t even end up seeing out the first month of the 2007/08 season, three weeks into the season Chris Lucas was sacked as Adelaide’s head coach and replaced by Vicki Valk who had played in three WNBL championships with North Adelaide and Adelaide in the 1990’s. Allegedly a row between Lucas and Adelaide’s owner Vince Marino over the court-time of Vince’s daughter Angela played a part in Lucas and Adelaide parting ways. After Lucas was sacked Adelaide’s three assistant coaches and team manager quit the club. Replacing your entire coaching staff early (or more to the point at any stage) in a season is a worst-case scenario when you’re striving to win a championship, however despite this setback Adelaide elevated their performance to another stratosphere during the 2007/08 regular season, winning 21 games and having three losses to win the minor premiership, four games ahead of their two nemesis teams – Sydney and Canberra. Throughout 2007/08 Adelaide played a free-flowing entertaining brand of basketball, averaging a league-best 87.9 points per game, 6.4 points per game more than the second ranked team – Sydney Uni.
Adelaide hosted Sydney in a double chance semi-final but were comprehensively outplayed, losing 71 to 90. The following week Adelaide overcame their preliminary final hoodoo by defeating Dandenong 74 to 64 to make the club’s first Grand Final since 1999/2000. Sydney Uni’s home court was unavailable resulting in the Grand Final being played at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. In the 2007/08 Grand Final Adelaide reversed the result from their semi-final to defeat Sydney 92 to 82 to win the WNBL Championship. Renae Camino scored a league record 32 points in the Grand Final to be awarded the Grand Final MVP award. In the Grand Final Phillips scored 16 points – ranked second for Adelaide and took seven rebounds. Whilst Phillips wasn’t selected in the 2007/08 WNBL All-Star five two of her team-mates were – American import forward and future wife Tracy Gahan and Australian forward/guard Jessica Foley. Other members of the core rotation included Erin’s 2006 team-mate from the Opals 2006 World Championship winning team – centre Jenny Whittle, Camino, captain Sam Woosnam and Angela Marino. It was the fifth WNBL Championship for Adelaide, having previously won four championships in five seasons during the mid to late 1990’s – 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998. During 2007/08 Phillips played 20 games for Adelaide, averaging 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Gahan continued to play for Adelaide in 2008/09 and also played one season in the WNBL for the Dandenong Rangers in 2010/11. During her time in the WNBL Gahan was one of the best rebounders in the league, being ranked in the top five of the league for rebounds in all three seasons with Adelaide and her only season with Dandenong. Gahan was also an extremely accurate shooter, ranking in the top five of the WNBL for field goal accuracy in three seasons, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2010/11.
Phillips signed to play for WNBL expansion club SEQ Stars for their first (and as it turned out only) WNBL season in 2015/16. Due to an injury to cartilage in her knee she didn’t play a game for the club, early in November 2015 ruling herself out for the rest of the season Erin commented “It’s an overload injury basically. I’ve had some cartilage issues going on and training (for the WNBA) was hard but I was feeling pretty good. That was the problem. I was feeling too good and at a time and an age when I should be managing it, I wasn’t, I was just going hard. Cartilage stuff is difficult to rehab and I didn’t do it particularly well. I was originally told I’d be out four-to-six weeks and I’m at 13 weeks.” 16
During her six season WNBL career from 2002/03 to 2007/08 Erin Phillips played 127 games for Adelaide, averaging 11.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The pursuit of a WNBL Championship with the Adelaide Lightning was a driving force for her during her time in the league and as it turned out she achieved this goal in her last ever WNBL game in the 2007/08 WNBL Grand Final.
Career with the Australia Opals
Phillips made her debut with the Australian Opals in 2005 and was a regular in the Australian team for over a decade until her last international game at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where long-term Opals team-mate Penny Taylor captained the team for the second consecutive major championship, Erin and fellow South Australian Laura Hodges were joint vice-captains in Rio.
At just 20 years of age Erin was selected in Australia’s 2006 Commonwealth Games game team, with Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games she was able to represent the Australian Opals at a tournament played in her home country. The other members of the Australian Opals 2006 Commonwealth Games team were Lauren Jackson, Jenny Whittle, Jacinta Kennedy (nee Hamilton), Katrina Hibbert, Belinda Snell, Tully Bevilaqua, Jae Kingi, Laura Hodges (nee Summerton), Hollie Florance (nee Grima), Emily McInerney and Carly Wilson.
Australia finished on top of Group A, comprehensively winning their three games against England, India and Mozambique. All of the matches during the group stage were played in Regional Victoria with the Australian Opals playing at Traralgon Sports Stadium, Bendigo Stadium and Geelong Arena. Australia averaged a score of 101 points per game during the group stage whilst restricting their opponents to just 38 points per game. Australia’s smallest winning margin during the group stage was by 52 points, 95-43 against England. In their semi-final Australia played the second ranked team in Group B – Nigeria. A dominant first quarter by the Opals 33-5 set up an easy victory over Nigeria by 56 points 105-49. In the Gold Medal match against New Zealand on 23 March 2006 at the Melbourne Multipurpose Venue (now known as Melbourne Arena) Australia defeated New Zealand 77 to 39 to win the Gold Medal.
Phillips was selected in the Australian Opals team for the 2006 World Championships held in Sao Paolo, Brazil from 12 to 23 September. At 21 years of age Phillips was the second youngest member of the Opals team being two weeks older than power forward Emma Randall. Australia had won a medal at the previous three major championships – silver at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, bronze at the 2002 World Championships and silver at the 2004 Olympic Games. Jan Stirling was the coach of the Australian Opals with her first major championship as coach having been the 2002 world championships. Australia had a far from ideal preparation for the 2006 World Championships, only having one practice match against the USA five days before the start of the tournament. Four of the players ranked in the top six for minutes played for the Opals at the 2004 Olympics were in the Opals 2006 squad – Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Kristi Harrower & Belinda Snell. Whilst Phillips played limited game-time she did play in seven of Australia’s eight games during the 2006 World Championships. Australia won by forfeit over Lithuania in their opening game due to Lithuania not reaching Brazil in time for their game. In Australia’s second game of the tournament Phillips scored seven points, making two of her three field goal attempts and made three assists from 12 minutes court-time in a 40 point win against Senegal. The Opals comprehensively defeated Canada by 32 points to finish on top of Group A and be one of only two team’s at the tournament along with the USA to be undefeated during the group stage. In the eight-final round the Opals won all three games, however two of them were close victories, by four and nine points respectively against Spain and Brazil. Australia won their other eight-final round game against Argentina by 40 points and in this game Phillips scored two points, made four assists and had six rebounds from 13 minutes court-time.
Australia won their quarter-final against France 79-66 with Phillips scoring five points from 12 minutes court-time. Host nation Brazil led the semi final against Australia by seven points at three quarter-time, however Australia displayed tremendous skill and composure to control the final quarter 31-12 to win by 12 points, 88-76 and progress to the gold medal game. Four Opals played more than 30 minutes game-time in the semi final win against Brazil – Snell (38 minutes), Harrower (34), Taylor (32) and Jackson (31), whilst Jenny Whittle (26) and Laura Hodges (21) played more than 20 minutes. Four players played less than 10 minutes court-time – Telly Bevilaqua (7), Jennifer Screen (6), Emily McInerney (3) and Hollie Grima (2), whilst the two youngest members of the Opals – Phillips and Randall didn’t play any court-time. In a semi-final on the same day (21 September) Russia upset the USA 75 points to 68 to end the USA’s 50 game winning streak at major championships.
In front of a crowd of 4,500 Australia won every quarter of the gold medal game against Russia to win in convincing fashion by 17 points, 91-74. Four Opals played at least 30 minutes and scored at least 12 points – Taylor (28 points), Jackson (16), Harrower (15) and Snell (12). With the Opals being in control of the game all 12 squad members played some court-time. Phillips had one assist in two minutes game-time. During the 2006 World Championships Phillips played seven of a possible eight games, averaging 2.3 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.4 steals and 8.4 minutes per game. Despite ranking 11th for Australia for minutes played at the tournament Phillips made an impact with her passing when she was on the court, ranking fourth for assists per game behind Harrower, Taylor and Snell. Opals guard/forward Taylor was rewarded for her brilliant all-round tournament, phenomenal shooting and outstanding form at the business end of the tournament by being named the Most Valuable Player at the 2006 World Championships, ahead of team-mate Lauren Jackson. Although Phillips played limited game-time during the 2006 World Championships it was an unbelievable experience to be part of the first Australian senior basketball team to win a gold medal at a major championships and playing in a tournament of that calibre at such a young age held her in good stead for many big games that she would play in throughout her career both for Australia and for clubs around the world.
Phillips was one of 10 players from the Opals gold medal winning team at the 2006 World Championships that were selected for the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing, China during August. The two players that didn’t return were Emily McInerney and Jenny Whittle, with their places being taken by Rohanee Cox and Suzy Batkovic respectively. Australia won each of their first seven games of the tournament by at least 15 points to progress to the Gold Medal game against the USA. In the third quarter of the quarter final victory against the Czech Republic Taylor injured her ankle on a drive to the basket, took no further part in the game and two days later missed the semi final against China due to the injury. Phillips played in six of Australia’s first seven games of the tournament but played less than 10 minutes in each game, in the semi final against China Phillips played six minutes, making two of two three pointers, had two rebounds and one assist. The USA won the Gold Medal game against Australia in convincing fashion by 27 points, 92-65 after leading by 17 points at half-time. The biggest difference between the two teams was shooting accuracy with Australia making only a quarter of their field goals, comprised of 19 made from 76 attempts, whilst in a brilliant shooting exhibition the USA made 33 of their 56 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 58.9%. Hampered by the ankle injury Taylor played 23 minutes and scored six points, only two Opals reached double figures for points, Jackson and Snell with 20 and 15 respectively. Phillips was the only Opal not to play any court-time in the Gold Medal game. 2008 was the third successive Olympic Games that Australia won a silver medal, losing to USA in the Gold Medal game on each occasion. At the 2008 Olympic Games Phillips played six of a possible eight games, averaging 1.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals and 5.3 minutes per game. For the second major championship in a row Phillips was Australia’s second youngest player, she ranked 12th for games played and total minutes played and 11th for total points scored.
Phillips was one of seven players from the Australian Opals 2008 Olympic Games team to represent the Opals at the 2010 World Championships held from 23 September to 3 October in Ostrava and Brno, Czech Republic. The new additions to the Opals team were Liz Cambage, Abby Bishop, Jenna O’Hea, Mariana Tolo and Sam Richards, replacing Screen, Batkovic, Randall, Cox and Hodges. Four of the new additions to the Opals were younger than Phillips, the exception being Richards who is two years older. Erin moved up the rotation and played significantly more court-time than she had at her first two major championships. There was also a coaching change with Carrie Graf taking over from Jan Stirling as head coach. Australia won their three matches in group A and two of their three matches in the eight-final round, losing to USA 75 to 83. Australia played hosts, the Czech Republic in a quarter-final and trailed 51 to 52 at three quarter-time. The Czech Republic controlled the final quarter to outscore Australia 27 to 17 to defeat the Opals by 11 points 79 to 68. Poor field goal shooting proved costly for Australia, making only 20 of their 70 field goal attempts during the game for an accuracy of 28.6%, significantly lower than the Czech Republic’s 37.5%. Australia defeated Russia 78 to 73 and France 74 to 62 to finish the World Championships in fifth position. In the play-off for fifth place Phillips made three of her six field goal attempts and all five free-throws to score 11 points, ranked third for Australia behind frontcourt players Jackson and Cambage with 13 and 12 points respectively. During the 2010 World Championships Phillips played all nine of the Opals games, averaging 4.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 13.6 minutes per game. Phillips ranked third for the Opals for assists behind Harrower & O’Hea, equal fourth for steals, seventh for rebounds and eighth for points and minutes.
For the 2012 Olympic Games in London Phillips was part of a 15 player preliminary squad that played a three-game farewell series against Brazil in Victoria during late-June 2012. From the squad of 15 players Harrower, Snell and O’Hea were considered certainties to be selected in the back-court, however there had been much discussion as to which two other guards would join them in the final team. Controversially Phillips was one of the last three players cut from the Opals squad along with centre Mariana Tolo and guard/forward Hanna Zavecz. Sam Richards and Kathleen MacLeod won the battle for the last two guard positions in the final 12 player team. On missing out on selection for the 2012 Olympic Games Phillips commented “I honestly believed I was good enough to make the team. Carrie Graff [the coach] said my shooting wasn’t as dynamic as it used to be – so I went out and worked harder. Six weeks later, during the WNBA finals, I set a record for three-point shooting percentage.”17
At the 2012 London Olympics Australia finished second in group B at London, winning four games and having a four point loss in overtime to France. Australia won their quarter final against China by 15 points. Australia led the USA by four points at half-time of their semi final, 47-43 but were outplayed in the second half, losing by 13 points 73-86. It was the fifth consecutive Olympic Games that the United States had beaten Australia, having also won a semi-final in 1996 before defeating the Opals in three consecutive Olympic gold medal games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. The Jayco Australian Opals defeated Russia by nine points, 83-74 in the bronze medal game resulting in the Opals extending their medal winning sequence to five Olympic Games. In the gold medal game 37 year-old point guard Kristi Harrower played her last game for the Opals, retiring after representing Australia at eight consecutive major championships from 1998 onwards, most of them as the Opals starting point guard. At her final major championships Harrower ranked second for the Opals for minutes played and assists, and fourth for points. Although at 27 years of age Phillips had missed out on selection for the 2012 Olympic Games, she had been extremely close to selection and with Harrower’s retirement was well placed to remain in contention to represent Australia at the 2014 World Championships.
New Opals head-coach Brendan Joyce named a new look Opals line-up for the 2014 World Championships in Turkey from 27 September to 5 October, only three players that represented the Jayco Opals at the 2012 Olympic games also represented Australia at the 2014 World Championships – guard/forward Rachel Jarry, shooting guard Belinda Snell and forward Laura Hodges. Two of the last three players cut from the Opals 2012 Olympic games squad were selected for the 2014 World Championships – Phillips, and Tolo, the duo both started every game for the Opals in Turkey. Several players that had played for the Opals during the 2012 Olympics had retired, were injured or were unavailable, including Harrower and Screen (both retired), Jackson (injured) and Batkovic and O’Hea (both unavailable). Although Australia were the number 2 ranked women’s basketball country in the world they were on the same half of the draw as the number 1 ranked nation – the United States of America, whilst the third ranked country Spain were on the other half of the draw. In an Opals warm-up game against the USA just over a week before the start of the World Championships Australian centre Liz Cambage ruptured her Achilles tendon which forced her to miss the 2014 World Championships. Bendigo Spirit centre Gabe Richards joined the Opals in Turkey as a late replacement for Cambage. Other members of the Australian team at the 2014 World Championships were point guards Leilani Mitchell and Tessa Lavey, guard/forwards Penny Taylor and Rebecca Allen and front court players Natalie Burton and Cayla George.
After narrowly missing out on selection for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Phillips had her first game as a starter for Australia at a major championship in the opening game of the 2014 World Championships, being Australia’s starting point guard and was joined in the starting line-up by Taylor, Jarry, Hodges and Tolo. In the Opals opening game of the World Championships against Cuba Phillips had four assists – ranked equal second for her team in the 90-57 win. In each of Australia’s second and third games of the tournament against Korea and Belarus respectively Phillips had a game-high seven assists. Against Belarus Erin also scored seven points, had five rebounds and a game-high six steals – equating to a third of the 18 steals made in the game by both teams combined. Australia won all three of their Group C games by at least 32 points to finish on top of their group.
In the quarter-final Canada provided far tougher opposition than Australia’s group C opponents and after leading by only two points at quarter-time the Opals controlled the second quarter 17-7 to set up a 63-52 victory. Against Canada Phillips scored a game-high 16 points, making five of her 10 field goals, all five free-throw attempts, had three rebounds and two assists. The semi final between the USA and Australia was tight during the first term, with the Opals trailing by three points at quarter-time, however USA dominated the second quarter 23 to 14 to lead 42-30 at half-time. Australia kept pace with the USA after half-time with both teams scoring 40 points in the second half, resulting in USA winning 82-70. For the second consecutive game Phillips led all scorers, scoring 19 points, making six of 13 field goal attempts and all four free-throws. In a game in which only 10 three-pointers were scored Phillips and fellow Opals guard Mitchell both excelled beyond the arc – each making three of their six three-point attempts.
Australia started the bronze-medal game against hosts – Turkey in the best possible fashion, after Australia scored the first 17 points of the game they were never threatened, winning 74-44. In the bronze medal game Phillips scored six points, had six rebounds and two assists.
Under Opals head-coach Brendan Joyce the Opals played an up-tempo style of basketball and had the same five starters for every game of the tournament – Phillips, Taylor, Jarry, Hodges and Tolo. Whilst Jarry and Hodges played for the Opals at the 2012 Olympics, Taylor missed due to her knee injury and Phillips and Tolo both made the squad of 15 before both being in the last three players cut from the Opals 2012 Olympics Games team.
At the 2014 World Championships Phillips won her third medal at a major championship, having previously won gold at the 2006 World Championships and silver at the 2008 Olympic Games. At the 2014 World Championships Phillips played all six of the Opals games, averaging 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 26.2 minutes per game. Phillips ranked third for the Opals for points behind Tolo and Taylor, second for assists behind Taylor, fifth for rebounds and led the Opals for steals and minutes played, playing 157 minutes for the tournament – 19 more than the second ranked Opal – Taylor.
For the 2016 Rio Olympic Games head coach Brendan Joyce retained most of the Opals team from the 2014 World Championships and had Australia playing a similar style of basketball. Only three changes were made between the two major championships with Belinda Snell, Gabrielle Richards and Rebecca Allen from the 2014 World Championships missing out on a spot on the Opals 2016 Olympics Games team. The three additions for the 2016 Rio team were Steph Talbot, 2015/16 WNBL All-Star five member Katie-Rae Ebzery and Liz Cambage who was set to play a pivotal role for the Opals at the 2014 World Championships before suffering an injury to her Achilles tendon in a warm-up game. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Penny Taylor retained the captaincy and Laura Hodges and Phillips were named co vice captains after they polled the equal second most votes from the Opals team.
Whilst nine players represented the Opals at both the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games the way that these players were utilised by Joyce changed considerably and only two players were starters for the Opals at both major championships – Taylor and Phillips. The three players that moved into the starting line-up in Rio were point guard Leilani Mitchell, athletic forward Natalie Burton and centre Liz Cambage.
The Opals were strongly tested in the group stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics and although they won all five games, in three of these games they trailed by a double-figure margin before fighting back to win. Whilst the Opals were winning their games they weren’t working as effectively as a team as they did during the 2014 World Championships and had been reliant on some individual brilliance in some of their group games. In successive games an Opal broke the record for most points scored by an Australian at the Olympics. In the Opals 89-71 victory against France in their third game Taylor scored 31 points, having a game-high nine assists and made 10 of her 13 field goal attempts. In the Opals fourth game against Japan they trailed by two points at half-time and were thoroughly outplayed in the third quarter 21-11 to trail by 12 points with a quarter to play. Japan were outplaying Australia with their speed, fantastic outside shooting and disciplined style of play and twice extended the margin to 16 points early in the final term to loom as almost certain winners. Australia had a size advantage and looked to exploit this with Cambage and Tolo in the final quarter. Cambage was instrumental in the Opals pulling off a miraculous escape to win by six points, 92-86. Cambage scored 18 points in the last quarter and a total of 37 points to break the Australian Olympic record for most points in a game that Taylor had set just one game earlier against France. In their final group game Australia trailed Belarus 52-59 at three quarter-time but yet again comprehensively outplayed their opponent in the final quarter to get a 77-66 fightback victory after dominating the final term 22-7.
During the 2016 Olympic Games Milestones and misses published an article to celebrate Penny Taylor playing her 50th game for the Australian Opals at a major championship. A link to this article is below:
Australia won all five of their group A games to finish first in their group, two games ahead of three teams that had three wins and two losses – France, Turkey and Japan. In their quarter final the Opals played Serbia who finished fourth in group B with a record of two wins and three losses. Whilst Phillips started every game during the game stage, with Mitchell also in the starting line-up and taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities Phillips spent more time playing at shooting guard whereas during the 2014 World Championships Erin was the starting point guard. During the group stage Phillips had three or more assists three times including having five assists against France, she also scored nine points in this game. The consensus was that in order to win a medal Australia would need to play more consistently than they had during the group stage and get a more even contribution form their players. The Opals quarter final against Serbia was close throughout the entire game with the Opals leading by one point at three quarter-time 62-61. The Opals trailed by two points with 10 seconds to go and had possession of the ball, a shot by Tolo missed and Australia were defeated by two points, being knocked out of the Olympic Games at the quarter final stage.
Whilst USA were the hot favourites to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics the Australian Opals were widely expected to win a medal. Phillips commented on Australia’s shock quarter-final loss to Serbia “Believe it or not, losing that quarter-final was harder than not being selected for London. In Rio, we were good enough to beat Serbia but didn’t play our best. When the final siren went off, I’ve never felt such embarrassment and failure in my life. I really struggled mentally and emotionally after the Olympics. I didn’t want to deal with the pain so I just buried it inside and moved on. I will never, ever be able to get over Rio. But the lessons I have learnt from the disappointments is that not everything is going to go the way you had hoped. You just have to pick yourself up and remind yourself that at the end of the day it’s just a game, and unfortunately disappointments are a part of sport. I use disappointments to push me for what’s next. I remind myself that the lifespan of an athlete is very small and you have to make the absolute most of your opportunities. I often ask myself, ‘What do you want people to say about you when you’re finished?’ I want them to say that Erin Phillips always gave everything she had, whether in training or a final.”18
Career in Israel and Poland
From 2008 to 2013 during the WNBA off-season Phillips played for three European teams starting with Ramat Hasharon Electra in Israel during 2008 followed by two teams in Poland – Lotos Gdynia (2009-2010) and Wisla Krakow (2010-2013). During this time Erin played over 100 games in the Tauron Basket Women’s League and represented her polish clubs in the EuroLeague. During 2010 playing for Lotos Gdynia Erin ranked in the top 20 of the Euro League for assists and three pointers made per game and represented the Rest of the World in the EuroLeague All-Star game. In Round 4, 2010 Phillips was the EuroLeague player of the week, scoring 25 points, had four rebounds, six assists and six steals whilst committing just one turnover to have an efficiency of 37 to lead the league ahead of fellow Australian Opal Penny Taylor in second place with 33. In 37 minutes game-time Phillips shot the ball proficiently to make four of her two-point field goal attempts and five of her six three-pointers. Phillips was part of the Lotos Gdynia team that won the Polish Cup in 2009/2010.
In 2011 Phillips played 13 games in the EuroLeague for Wisla Krakow, averaging 14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, ranking in the top 15 of the league for minutes played, steals and assists, earning selection as a Polish PLKK All-Star in 2011. During 2012 Phillips played 16 games for Wisla Krakow in the EuroLeage, averaging 13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game, again earning selection as a Polish PLKK All-Star. Wisla Krakow made it to the quarter-finals of the EuroLeague in 2012. Wisla Krakow went back to back, winning the Polish cup in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
During 2015 Phillips played 7 games for Dynamo Kursk in the EuroLeague, averaging 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game, 1.3 steals and 28 minutes and 52 seconds court-time per game.
WNBA playing career
At the 2005 WNBA Draft Erin Phillips was selected by Connecticut Sun with a second round pick, selection number 21 overall. Phillips joined Connecticut a year after being drafted and made her WNBA debut for the Connecticut Sun on 21 May 2006, two days after her 21st birthday. One of Erin’s teammates at the Sun was forward Laura Hodges, the pair had also been teammates playing for Adelaide Lightning and the Australian Opals. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault had targeted Phillips as a possible recruit more than 12 months earlier and had visited Erin and her family in Australia. On the eve of Phillips’ WNBA debut Thibault commented “Dating back to Michele Timms, whom a lot of people think Erin is like, we’ve had a history of very good Australian players [in the WNBA]. It will take her a little while to learn my system but once she does she will do fine. She is a good passer and shooter, and one of the best rebounding guards we’ve had.”19 In her first season at Connecticut Phillips played 34 games including 13 as a starter and averaged 5.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists and 18.1 minutes per game.
Phillips didn’t play in the WNBA during 2007 due her right knee reconstruction but played eight games for Connecticut Sun in 2008 followed by 32 games in 2009. Whilst Erin didn’t start any games in 2007 she made 18 starts in 2009 and averaged 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 23.1 minutes per game to set new career highs in all three categories, also averaging 2.1 assists per game.
After not playing in the WNBA during 2010 Phillips joined Indiana Fever in 2011, playing a total of 78 games in her three seasons with Indiana from 2011 to 2013. Indiana finished first in the Eastern Conference at the end of the 2011 regular season with a record of 21 wins and 13 losses. After winning their conference semi final against New York 2-1 they were defeated in the conference finals 1-2 by Atlanta who were swept 3-0 in the WNBA Finals by the Minnesota Lynx. Erin played 31 regular season games in 2011, making a career high 22 starts, averaging 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 22.2 minutes per game. Erin set a new personal best for points per game and her field goal accuracy of 46.2% was just below the 46.4% she recorded in 2008. Phillips made 26 of her 61 three point attempts for an accuracy of 42.6% – ranked eighth in the WNBA. Erin’s Indiana Fever teammate, forward Tamika Catchings was named the 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player.
During 2012 the Indiana Fever finished the regular season second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 22 wins and 12 losses, three games behind Phillips’ former club Connecticut Sun. Erin played 29 regular season games in 2012 including eight as a starter, she averaged 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 22.2 minutes per game. Phillips shot the ball at 43.8% for three pointers – ranked third in the WNBA.
Indiana defeated Atlanta Dream in the Conference semi finals 2-1 and Connecticut Sun 2-1 in the Conference finals, in both series Indiana lost game 1 but showed resilience to win the next two games of each series. During the 2012 playoffs Phillips was elevated into the Indiana starting lineup, and took on increased responsibility due to guard Katie Douglas suffering an ankle injury in the conference finals.
In the 2012 WNBA Finals Indiana met Minnesota Lynx, in two regular season games between the two clubs Indiana had been defeated by two points at home and by seven points on the road. Minnesota had the best regular season record in the WNBA during 2012 with 27 wins and seven losses to earn home-court advantage for the WNBA Finals. The Indiana Fever defeated Minnesota Lynx three games to one in the finals to win the 2012 WNBA Championship, the first title in the club’s history. Indiana’s only loss for the series was 71-83 on the road in game 2, they secured the championship with a 86-79 win in game 4 on their home court, Bankers Life Fieldhouse. At 173 centimetres tall Phillips was the equal shortest player to participate in the 2012 WNBA Finals along with team-mate Briann January. Phillips played an integral role in Indiana winning the Finals, starting all four games, averaging 13.5 points per game for the series and was very accurate from long range, making 7 of her 15 three point attempts for an accuracy of 46.7%. In game 4 of the Finals Phillips scored 18 points and had eight rebounds to set new playoff career-highs in both categories. A strength of Erin’s game during the Finals was her ball handling and reading of the play to make steals, making 16 assists and six steals whilst having just 10 turnovers. Phillips was very accurate from long-range in the playoffs, having an accuracy of 51.7% for three-pointers during the post-season.
In the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games Phillips opted to play the entire 2012 WNBA season which led to her being unavailable for several Australian Opals training camps in preparation for the Olympic Games which hindered her chances of being selected in the Opals team and Phillips believed this was a major reason for her eventual omission of the Opals 2012 Olympic Games team. Australian captain Lauren Jackson on the other hand decided to prioritise the Olympic Games and miss the WNBA season until the second portion of the season after the Olympics had concluded. After Phillips won the 2012 WNBA championship with Indiana Fever she commented “It’s a huge relief. It definitely was a very tough year for me personally with the national team. But the sacrifice that I made with them was to stay here and prepare to try to win a WNBA championship.”20 On joining several Opals teammates as a WNBA Champion Erin commented “It gives me chills because the other Australians who’ve won championships are players I’ve looked up to. We want to make our country proud and keep a legacy going and set a standard for any other Australian players who get to play in the WNBA.”21
During 2013 Phillips battled a knee injury, playing 18 games for the Indiana Fever including six as a starter. In her first game of the season in the starting line-up on August 10 Phillips made a then career-high five three-pointers for the game. Phillips made a career-high 47.9% of three pointers during the regular season – making 23 of her 48 shots from long range.
The Indiana Fever traded Phillips to the Phoenix Mercury in 2014, where she joined long-time Opals teammate Penny Taylor and was also coached by a four-time Olympian with the Opals – Sandy Brondello. Phillips predominantly played as a point guard off the bench, however she did start just under a third of the Mercury’s regular season games. The Phoenix Mercury team included three players that were WNBA All-Stars in 2014 – Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candrice Dupree. Phoenix Mercury’s other starters were DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor once she had built match conditioning after returning from a knee injury and played several games off the bench.
Phoenix had a league-best record of 29 wins and five losses during the 2014 regular season, four games ahead of the second ranked team in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lynx, whilst Atlanta Dream led a tightly contested Eastern Conference with 19 wins. Erin played 33 regular season games for the Phoenix Mercury in 2014 including 10 as a starter, averaging 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 18.7 minutes per game. Phillips led the WNBA for three point accuracy – making 35 of her 78 attempts for an accuracy of 44.9%. On August 13 at Atlanta Phillips scored an equal career-best 21 points, making seven of her 10 field goal attempts. Twice in 2014 Phillips had a career-high seven assists in a game.
The Phoenix Mercury started the 2014 play-offs as the favorites for the championship and lived up to this billing, winning seven of their eight post-season games to win the 2014 WNBA Championship. Phoenix defeated the LA Sparks 2-0 in the conference semi-finals and faced their toughest test in the conference finals against the Minnesota Lynx. After winning game 1 at home 85-71 Phoenix lost a close game 2 at Minnesota 77-82. In the series deciding game 3 Phoenix recorded a comfortable victory 96-78.
Chicago Sky who were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 15 wins and 19 losses belied their seeding to progress to the WNBA Finals, winning each of their conference series 2-1, against Atlanta in the semi-finals and Indiana in the finals. Phoenix dominated the first two games of the 2014 WNBA Finals at home against Chicago, winning game 1 83-62 and game 2 97-68. On their home court Chicago Sky were a tougher proposition, however Phoenix prevailed to win game 3 87-82 and win the WNBA Championship, the club’s third title, having previously won in 2007 and 2009. During the 2014 play-offs Phillips played all eight games for Phoenix off the bench, averaging 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assist, 0.8 steals and 15.1 minutes per game. Phoenix head-coach Sandy Brondello was named the WNBA coach of the year and two Phoenix players were named in the All-WNBA First team – guard Dianna Taurasi and centre Brittney Griner.
After winning the 2014 championship with Phoenix Phillips changed teams in each of her next two WNBA seasons – playing 12 games as a starter for the LA Sparks in 2015 before missing the rest of the season due to a knee injury. Phillips joined the Dallas Wings in 2016, playing 32 regular season games including 12 as a starter. During 2016 Erin averaged 4.7 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 14.6 minutes per game. Erin shot the ball at a career-high 90.6% from the free-throw line – making 29 of her 32 attempts.
Just before the start of the 2017 WNBA season Phillips announced her retirement as a WNBA basketball player on 17 May, 2017, moving to an off-court role as Director of Player and Franchise Development at the Dallas Wings. Erin commented “After nine years, two titles and some great memories playing in the WNBA, I’ve now got the opportunity to start the next stage of my professional career in sport. Most importantly, this gives me the first opportunity since last October to spend dedicated time with my young family at our home in Dallas. I’ve loved every minute of my time with the Wings and want to thank them for their consideration and the professionalism they have shown throughout the process.”22
During her WNBA career Phillips played 229 regular season games, averaging 6.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 20.0 minutes per game. Erin started 101 regular-season games including a career-best 22 starts in 2011 for Indiana. Phillips was a valuable member of two WNBA championship winning teams, as a starter for the Indiana Fever in 2012 and off the bench for the Phoenix Mercury in 2014. During her three seasons with Indiana from 2011 to 2013 and her season with Phoenix in 2014 Phillips was one of the best three-point shooters in the league, making a combined 112 three-pointers from 251 attempts during this period for an accuracy of 44.7%. In all four seasons during this time Erin registered a three-point accuracy of at least 42.6%.
Two months ago Erin was named in the Indiana Fever’s 20th anniversary team on 16 May 2019. The 12 player team was heavily weighted towards the 2009, 2012 and 2015 teams that made the WNBA Finals. Erin was one of seven players that was a member of the Fever in their 2012 WNBA Championship winning season and one of two Australians in Indiana’s 20th anniversary team along with fellow guard Tully Bevilaqua who played six seasons with the Fever from 2005 to 2010.
Erin’s recruitment as an AFLW player and her 2017 season with the Adelaide Crows
Just under six years ago on 29 June 2013 an exhibition Australian Football League (AFL) women’s game was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, the game was broadcast on channel seven and rated strongly. These exhibition games continued until 2016 when they were expanded to include 10 matches across Australia and involve other temporary representative teams. The success of these exhibition games prompted the AFL to fast-track the establishment of the AFL Women’s league, commencing the league in 2017, three years earlier than initially planned. In the lead-up to the first exhibition game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs a draft was held on 15 May 2013 to select the two teams. Despite knowing that her WNBA club the Indiana Fever would never allow her to play a football game on the other side of the world in the middle of their season Erin nominated for the draft commenting “Playing a game on the MCG has been a dream of mine since I was born. When I found out that there was going to be a draft and a game, my heart skipped a beat and I was so excited . . . I have dreamed every night about playing in it. I wanted to nominate for the draft just to be a small part of history and to show just how much the game still means to me. Even though I will not get to play this year does NOT mean I won’t play in the future.”23
In December 2015 Erin signed to play with the Port Adelaide Football Club if they were granted a license to enter the AFL Women’s league, commenting “This announcement is pretty unbelievable … since I was born I’ve wanted to play football for Port Adelaide like dad. For this to happen now is quite incredible, quite surreal.”24 At a press conference on 15th December, 2015 announcing that Erin Phillips had signed to play with Port Adelaide Erin was asked “Have you thought about how it would work, splitting your time between football and basketball, or will football take number one priority?” Erin replied “Yeah, look obviously this is early days and we would like to get the license through for 2017 or for whenever it (the league) gets in. I believe it would one or the other. The amount of time I spend on court with basketball is a lot so I don’t think I could manage both, but in saying that, that’s a decision I have to make once the license gets through.” Erin was asked “How has Dad been through it?” Erin replied “He has been fantastic, he is such a supportive father, not just to me, my two sisters, so he has always said whatever you do just be happy. If you do something do it as hard as can and you’ll have fun. It is the same with dad everyday, very supportive.” Also in the press conference Erin was asked “How are your skills, do you ever have a kick?” Erin responded “Actually I do, I don’t like running unless I am chasing a ball, so usually a lot of my cross-training I do at Max Basheer (Reserve) before it was taken over, it will be with a ball, bouncing it and having a kick and things like that. It has been in my DNA since I was born, you couldn’t really get a football out of my hand, jumping on the back of my couch when I was younger screaming out ‘Hodges’ taking a speccy, its great.”
In March 2016 Port Adelaide abandoned their plans to enter the AFL Women’s league and didn’t apply for a license to enter the league, however later in 2016 the club established a women’s football academy. Eight clubs were granted licenses to join the AFL Women’s league for its inaugural season in 2017– Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney (GWS), Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs whilst another five clubs – Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast were granted provisional licenses, making them the most likely candidates to enter the league when it expanded in the future.
After she had signed with the Adelaide Crows in September 2016 Erin commented “When Port didn’t get the licence for a women’s team I honestly thought that was it, my time had passed at playing football. Then when the Adelaide Crows contacted me I was just so blown away how professional they were and how committed they were, not only just in getting me to play but how committed they were to the women’s game itself. They want to be the club of choice to not just young girls but young women to aspire to, whether they want to play football or whether they want to be a coach or work in administration. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and my family is really excited that after nine years of being away that I get to play a sport that I love in my home town.”25
After Phillips was recruited by the Adelaide Crows the club’s Head of Football David Noble commented “Signing an athlete of Erin’s calibre is a huge positive for the Club and for the wider competition. Erin has a real toughness and brings years of experience as a professional athlete at the highest level. She has true leadership qualities and I have no doubt she will immediately have a positive influence on our team.”26 Erin also took up a part-time role with the Adelaide Crows working across a number of departments including football, media and communications, commercial and development. Phillips was the sixth player signed by Adelaide, following marquee players Kellie Gibson and Chelsea Randall, priority picks Angela Foley and Courtney Cramey and fellow rookie Jasmine Anderson. On 12th October 2016 the Adelaide Crows selected 18 players at the inaugural AFL women’s draft, with their first selection at pick 7 they recruited 18 year-old midfielder Ebony Marinoff. After the draft Adelaide signed three free-agents, including key forward Sarah Perkins, increasing their list to the maximum of 27 players. Adelaide’s list of 27 players was comprised of 18 players based in South Australia and nine players based in the Northern Territory. Having players in different locations made preparing for games more difficult but the Adelaide Crows were committed to representing both South Australia and the Northern Territory.
At the time of receiving the offer from the Adelaide Crows Erin and her wife Tracy were settled in the United States of America in Dallas and Tracy was four months pregnant with their twins. Although joining the Adelaide Crows would allow Erin to fulfil a dream and play Australian Rules football the move also had significant risk as if she suffered a serious injury it could end her basketball career with the Dallas Wings in the WNBA. Tracy gave birth to the twins during early November 2016 in Dallas, having a boy Blake and a girl Brooklyn. Weeks later Erin, Tracy and their twins moved to Adelaide to enable Erin to join the Adelaide Crows and achieve a life-long goal of playing Australian Rules football in an elite league.
Tracy was extremely supportive of Erin pursuing her dream of playing Australian Rules football even though it meant moving from America to Australia half-way through her pregnancy. During her acceptance speech for the AFL women’s 2017 league best and fairest award Erin commented “When we were four months pregnant I said can we go to Adelaide so I can play footy and risk my WNBA, I was waiting for a ‘Are you joking’ and you said ‘Absolutely, I know it’s your passion and your dream’. Every bit of this is all owed to you and I can’t thank you enough.”
In a Players Voice article on 14th March 2019 Erin wrote “When it comes to footy, I have much to be thankful for.
I knew Rio was going to be my last Olympics and I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do afterwards. Tracy and I were trying to have kids, so I knew playing basketball overseas probably wasn’t the right option. Living apart and trying to raise kids? Not a great idea if you can help it.
I was at a massive crossroads. I was in that transitional mindset of, ‘Where to next?’ and I was finding it really hard. And then, all of a sudden, I got a phone call from the Crows.
It changed everything and it came at the perfect time in my life.
There’s a real sense that we’re building something in the AFLW. As it stands, the players are part-time and girls are often rolling up to training after clocking off work. We don’t get to spend much time together as a squad before the season starts, either.
But that’s OK. We’ve come a long way since we started, and we’ve still got some distance to go.”27
When appearing on Fox Sports program ‘Open Mike’ after the conclusion of the 2017 AFLW season Erin was asked by host Mike Sheahan ‘How did you decide who carried the twins?’ Erin replied “Well she (Tracy) was a little bit older than me and ready to give up playing professional sport and I was probably still not ready to carry. I try to spend every day staying in shape so I wasn’t ready to give up sport just yet to carry but she was in a good place and we were in a good place for her to carry, she‘s done a lot better than I will, let’s say that.” On playing in the AFL women’s league during the WNBA off-season Erin commented “It sat really nicely in the timing of the season, my WNBA season finishes around October so when I sat down with my team and said I was going to be playing footy in the off-season, there was a little bit of hesitation and concern, but they knew how important football has been in my life, so without giving me 100% blessing they said just come back healthy.”
Also in the ‘Open Mike’ episode Mike Sheahan asked ‘Erin, your sister Amy is married to Shaun Burgoyne, have you sought any advise from Shaun or has he offered any to you.’ Erin responded “Yeah, actually quite a bit, he is a pretty shy kind of guy Shaun, since this women’s league has started he’s actually been really, really involved. He has given me a ton of advice, especially just around stoppages, and I think no-one does it too much better than Shaun, again I am biased, he is such a smart player and it would be silly for me to not ask him for some advice so he’s been fantastic.” Erin commented about suffering an injury early in the 2017 pre-season to her right quad “The second session in I tore my quad and it was funny after that night I spoke to my Shaun and I said ‘I tore my quad’ and I think he asked ‘how many kicks did I do’ and I said ‘maybe like a hundred’ and he was like ‘a hundred kicks in your second session, are you crazy?’ I didn’t even know you could get kicking injuries, that was new to me. I spent the rest of the pre-season only on my left foot, I had to get medically cleared so the club was like ‘we’ve got to put you through a full session on your right’, so it was the last session before Greater Western Sydney where the shackles came off and on the right I went.”
After a week living back in Adelaide, Erin, Tracy and their twins Brooklyn and Blake moved in with Erin’s parents Greg & Julie which made looking after the twins easier and allowed Erin to spend more time with her family. Due to Erin playing basketball all year round and only having short breaks between seasons she hadn’t been able to spend much time in Adelaide since she left WNBL club Adelaide Lightning after the 2007/08 season to play basketball overseas.
In early January 2017 the Adelaide Crows players held a vote at a team training camp in Darwin to determine which players were included in the club’s leadership group. Adelaide’s leadership group had four players comprised of two co-captains – Phillips and Chelsea Randall as well as two joint vice-captains in Angela Foley and Sally Riley who were both based in the Northern Territory. Whilst it may seem strange for a player who had not played that sport for a team in a formal league for 18 years as was the case for Erin to be appointed as a co-captain Adelaide Crows coach, Phillips was the exception rather than the rule. During training sessions and other team activities Erin had proven to her team-mates that she certainly wasn’t going to be lacking anything in terms of her football skills and understanding of Australian Rules despite never having played in a structured Australian Rules Football league as an adult. With her experiences as a basketball player including being an Australian Opals vice-captain Erin had proven her leadership credentials. Adelaide Crows coach Bec Goddard commented on the two players appointed as co-captains “Both Chelsea and Erin are exceptional leaders who are extremely deserving of this appointment – I’m thrilled that they will forever be part of the Club’s history. Right from the start both Chelsea and Erin have been great role models for all of the players in the squad. They are elite in everything they do for the Club on and off the field and certainly have the skills to lead the group strongly.”28 On being named Adelaide Crows co-captain Phillips commented “It’s an absolute honour to be able to lead the team in our first season. I was thrilled just to be given the opportunity to play professional football and now to be named as a leader at the Club – I’m blown away. My dad was captain of his team during his playing days and he used to say what a privilege it was so it’s extremely special to be able to follow in his footsteps.”29
Adelaide won their inaugural AFLW home and away match on February 4th, 2017 at Thebarton Oval against GWs by 36 points with Erin playing a starring role, having 10 kicks, five handballs and kicked a game-high three goals to be the only multiple goal-scorer for the game and received the three votes as best afield in the league best and fairest. Phillips played predominantly as a forward in Round 1 and received three free kicks for being tackled high and receiving heavy knocks to the head. Having a limited pre-season and not being able to do as much endurance work as she would have liked was a factor in Erin spending more time in the Adelaide forward line in Round 1.
In Round 2 against the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval Phillips played predominantly in the midfield and had 13 kicks, four handballs, two marks and laid four tackles, her 17 disposals ranked second at Adelaide behind 19 year-old midfielder Ebony Marinoff with 18 disposals. For the second game in a row Phillips received the maximum three votes in the league best and fairest.
In a thrilling low-scoring Round 3 victory by three points against Carlton at Thebarton Oval in front of 9,006 spectators Phillips had an equal game-high 13 kicks, an equal team-high six handballs, an equal game-high five marks, laid three tackles and kicked a critical match-winning goal. Phillips’ 19 disposals led her team and only two team-mates had more than 13 disposals, Randall (17) and Marinoff (15). Erin won the AFLW goal of the year for her 60 metre goal with 11 minutes remaining in the last quarter against Carlton. Adelaide full-forward Sarah Perkins led out of the goal-square, with a tailwind behind her and clear space in front of the goals Erin launched a penetrating kick which landed five metres out from goal and bounced through for a spectacular goal to give Adelaide a two point lead, 16 to 14. The three club captains were voted the three best players on the ground in the AFLW league best and fairest with Randall receiving three votes, Carlton captain Lauren Arnell getting the two votes and Phillips receiving the solitary vote.
In Adelaide’s Round 4 victory by 23 points against Fremantle at Fremantle Oval Phillips had a team-high 18 disposals comprised of 10 kicks and eight handballs, laid four tackles and kicked a goal to receive the three votes in the league best and fairest award.
There was a massive build-up to the Round 5 clash between the Adelaide Crows and the Brisbane Lions at Norwood Oval, with both sides entering the game with a perfect record of four wins. The team that won the game would be almost certain to make the Grand Final and would be in the box seat to host this game. The Round 5 game more than lived up to the lofty expectations with Brisbane winning a thriller by three points to move to outright top position. Erin set game-highs for disposals and kicks with 21 and 18 respectively and laid five tackles, however was inaccurate around goal, kicking two behinds. The game against Brisbane was the only game of 2017 that Phillips didn’t receive a vote in the league best and fairest.
Adelaide lost two thrillers in a row, being defeated in Round 6 by Melbourne at TIO Stadium by two points. Phillips had an equal game-high 20 disposals along with opposing captain Daisy Pearce, a game-high 17 kicks, three handballs, and laid three tackles. The umpires judged Pearce best afield with Phillips receiving two votes.
In an interview on Radio Station SEN’s program AFLW Hour of power on 12 March 2017 Phillips commented on her schedule after the AFL women’s season concluded, saying “I fly back to Dallas on the 20th of April. We start training camp on the 23rd and our first game is May 15th, so it’s a very short preseason. It’s also my contract year in the WNBA. I haven’t thought about anything beyond September/October when I finish in the WNBA, but I would like to go around again with footy. I have a lot of decisions to make with Tokyo around the corner, and the Commonwealth Games next year. I try not to think too far ahead. Right now, I’m just enjoying this experience, it’s something different.” When asked ‘How has your body been … are there any injuries that might worry your WNBA team (Dallas Wings) Erin responded “I never feel good the day after a game, I play up to three, sometimes even four games in a week in the WNBA so at the end of that week I am pretty buggered. It’s pretty similar just playing one game of footy with the bumps, the amount of distance you cover and things like that, it’s probably similar to how I feel after playing two or three basketball games in a week. It’s a tough sport and it’s only after you play it that you really appreciate how hard it is.”
After back to back losses Adelaide needed to win a Round 7 away game against Collingwood to guarantee a Grand Final berth against Brisbane. At three quarter time Adelaide looked to be in a precarious position trailing by seven points at Olympic Park. With the stakes at their highest during the home and away season Phillips and her team played scintillating football in the final term, kicking five goals to nil to win by 24 points and book a spot in the Grand Final. With five and a half minutes remaining in the game Adelaide led by 12 points when Phillips put the result beyond doubt. A long kick inside Adelaide’s forward 50 was dropped, however Erin was in the perfect position, front and centre to pick up the crumbs, take a couple of steps parallel to the goals and kick a 20 minute snap goal that for the vast majority of its flight looked to be going through for a behind on the right-hand side of the goals, however late in flight the ball curled to the left and snuck through for a goal. Perkins and Phillips kicked seven goals between them comprised of four for Perkins and three for Phillips. In the fight-back victory against Collingwood Phillips had 17 kicks and 22 disposals to set game-highs in both categories, took five marks, laid three tackles and kicked three goals.
Adelaide finished second on the ladder, six premiership points behind minor premiers Brisbane and equal with Melbourne on five wins but a superior percentage – 157.3% compared to 141.0% for Melbourne. In the 2017 AFLW season the Grand Final was the only final played, with Brisbane and Adelaide qualifying for this match due to finishing in the top two positions on the ladder at the end of the home and away season.
Brisbane hosted the 2017 AFLW Grand Final against Adelaide in front of more than 15,000 spectators at Metricon Stadium. Little separated the two teams throughout in a game that went right down to the wire. A phenomenal right foot goal from Kellie Gibson from 35 metres out on the boundary on the non-preferred side for a right-footer in the opening minute of the Grand Final gave Adelaide a six point lead, the same lead they had at half time, having kicked two goals, seven behinds to Brisbane’s two goals, one behind.
One and a half minutes into the third quarter Phillips gathered the ball in the right forward pocket 10 metres out from goal, despite having two Brisbane players within two metres of her she took a few steps away from goal to evade a tackler and kicked a snap goal on her right foot 15 metres out from goal on an angle just before being tackled by Breanna Koenen to extend Adelaide’s lead to 12 points. With four minutes remaining in the third quarter Deni Varnhagen received a handball from Sarah Allan in the centre of the ground ran 10 metres and kicked the ball deep inside Adelaide’s forward line, two Crows and two Lions chased after the bouncing ball, realising that a team-mate could contest the ball Phillips summed up the situation and trailed the other three players in, the ball was knocked backwards, a Crow and a Lion both went to ground and Phillips picked up the ball 15 metres out from goal and snapped another goal as one Lions player tackled her and another Lions player dived at her attempting to smother, Erin’s second goal of the Grand Final increased Adelaide’s lead to 13 points. In the last 80 seconds of the third quarter Phillips provided another highlight, Crows team-mate Courtney Cramey cleared the ball from defense, kicking to the half-back line, Phillips judged the flight of the ball and timed her jump superbly to have her knees land on the back of Brisbane captain Emma Zielke, falling backwards Phillips held onto a chest mark despite two other Lions – Tayla Harris and Nicole Hildebrand also being in the marking contest.
Adelaide led by 12 points at three quarter-time, however Brisbane had most of the play in the final quarter and reduced the margin to six points late in the game. Extra time would have been played to determine the winner if scores were level at the end of the fourth quarter. The final siren went with the ball inside Brisbane’s forward 50 and the Adelaide Crows retaining a six point lead, having scored four goals 11 behinds to Brisbane’s four goals, five behinds.
In Adelaide’s six point Grand Final victory against Brisbane in front of 15,610 spectators at Metricon Stadium Phillips had a game-high 26 kicks, a team-high seven marks, a game-high 28 disposals, 11 inside 50’s, laid a game-high seven tackles, had an equal game-high six clearances and kicked an equal game-high two goals which equated to a quarter of the goals kicked by both teams combined. Phillips had few easy possessions, amassing 19 contested possessions and was one of only four players to have more than 19 disposals for the game.
Phillips received 11 votes in the Grand Final best on ground award to finish two votes ahead of her Adelaide co-captain Chelsea Randall to win the medal. Three of the four judges gave Phillips the maximum three votes whilst one judge gave Phillips two votes and Randall three votes for her performance in nullifying Brisbane marquee key forward Tayla Harris. Underlining just how dominant Adelaide’s co-captains were in the most important game of the season all four judges had Phillips and Randall as the best two players on the ground.
Highlighting just how difficult it is for a player to win the league best and fairest and the medal for best on ground in the Grand Final in the same season, since the AFL began awarding the Norm Smith Medal for best afield in the Grand Final in 1979, no played achieved the feat of winning the Brownlow Medal and Norm Smith Medal in the same year until Richmond midfielder Dustin Martin achieved this feat in 2017. Below are links to a couple of articles published on Milestones and misses in September and October 2017 celebrating Dustin Martin’s achievements:
In the post-game press conference after the 2017 Grand Final win Erin commented on being part of the Adelaide Crows premiership team “It’s definitely really special, right up there with winning a world championship gold. Just the love and support from the community and South Australia and the Northern Territory and from the football club … it’s just amazing.” Later in the press conference Erin was asked “Now that the season is done how much have you enjoyed just having the chance to play footy?” Erin responded “I have had so much fun, I am very grateful because this league might not have started for another two or three years and that may have passed my sporting life-time. I remember Bec wrote me a note, she wrote us all a note but in mine it says ‘go and have some fun doing something we should have been able to do 17 years ago’. Just to be able to be doing this now and I have met so many past players, Bec could have quite easily played the game, just looking at her and reminding yourself you’re so lucky to be a part of this competition and I am so lucky that it didn’t pass me by really.”
“Even though I would never trade any of my experiences with basketball, there has always been a part of me that has wished to play football since I stopped when I was 13. It feels like I’m dreaming. To be able to pave the pathway for young girls who want to play footy is a privilege. There will be a huge number of girls now who will want to play but would not have pursued the sport because they never thought there would be that opportunity. I am beyond excited.”30
After the Adelaide Crows 2017 Grand Final victory head coach Bec Goddard commented on John Farnham’s song ‘You’re the voice’ becoming a theme song of the Crows in the inaugural AFL women’s season, saying “Erin and I really love John Farnham and early in the piece we forced it (the song) on the young girls and they’ve grown to love it as much as we have. It’s quite true, we are the voice of this competition and we had the chance to turn the pages over from a football history that’s been missing with women playing it at the elite level. It was our chance to write the story. We’ve got that little part of history, that we’ve made the best and lasting first impression of season one.”31
The day after Adelaide won the 2017 Grand Final co-captain Chelsea Randall was asked on SEN program AFLW Hour of Power “At what point did you know that Erin Phillips was playing for the Crows, what were your thoughts on that and how did she become captain in her first season when she hadn’t played footy for so long”? Chelsea responded “We found out in the early months when she was drafted as a rookie, really excited when I found out, she brings so much knowledge and experience behind her in her elite sport in basketball. We were all just excited to meet her and see what she was like. She is just such a down to earth person, such an incredible person and obviously that just shows through, she only spent a couple of months with us and she just got the trust of the group and was co-captaining alongside myself. That was chosen from the peer group and just goes to show the amount of respect that we have for her.”
At the conclusion of the 2017 season Erin commented about having no expectations for her season, saying “I haven’t played for a long time. I really wanted to enjoy this year and not take it for granted. It’s something that I never thought would come around.”32 Whilst she may have had no expectations at the start of the season Erin consistently delivered outstanding performances for the Adelaide Crows, playing all eight games in 2017, averaging 15.5 kicks, 4.5 handballs, 2.9 marks, 1.3 goals, 3.8 tackles, 4.6 inside 50’s and 97.9% time on the ground per game. Displaying a wide-ranging skill-set Phillips led the AFLW for kicks, score involvements and contested possessions per game, ranked second for inside 50’s and clearances, fourth for disposals and goals, equal seventh for contested marks, equal eighth for goal assists and equal 13th for marks. Only three players that ranked in the top 21 of the AFLW for goals per game averaged more than 13 disposals per game – Phillips with 20 disposals per game along with Western Bulldogs midfielder Ellie Blackburn (19.4) and Fremantle midfielder Kara Donnellan (16.4).
The profile for Phillips in the AFLW Prospectus 2018 said “Phillips won almost every award available last season. She dominated the stats as the top ranking player in the AFLW. The fitness base that she brought into the season showed, as she played 68 minutes per game on average, more than any other midfielder.”33
Erin Phillips was selected at half-forward in the 2017 All-Australian team and was one of five Adelaide Crows players selected in the team along with Courtney Cramey – full-back, Chelsea Randall – half-back, Sarah Perkins – full-forward and Ebony Marinoff -interchange. Adelaide had the equal most members of the All-Australian team along with their Grand Final opponent, Brisbane. Erin was selected as the All-Australian team’s vice-captain with Melbourne midfielder Daisy Pearce being named captain.
Phillips went in to the AFL women’s league best fairest as the favourite and led the count from start to finish, being voted best afield in the first two rounds, she polled votes in six of her seven games, the only exception being Round 5 against Brisbane, and even then she would have still been in the mix having had a game-high 21 disposals. In the first four rounds of the season Phillips polled votes in every game, including three best afield performances to have a tally of 10 votes, two ahead of Brisbane midfielder/forward Kaitlyn Ashmore. After missing out on votes in Round 5 Phillips polled two votes in both Round 6 and Round 7 to finish the count with 14 votes and win the AFL Women’s league best and fairest, finishing four votes ahead of fellow midfielders Ellie Blackburn – Western Bulldogs and Karen Paxman – Melbourne.
The profile for Phillips in the AFL Record Season Guide 2018 said “A prolific ball-winner Phillips has clean hands at ground level, and is a strong mark overhead. The co-captain played a key role in the Crows’ premiership triumph.”34
In the Adelaide Crows 2017 best & fairest Ebony Marinoff led after 2 rounds with 30 votes ahead of Phillips on 27. Phillips gained the lead in the next 2 rounds to increase her tally to 55 votes after Round 4, ahead of Marinoff on 51 and Randall on 49. This trio filled the places at the end of the count with Phillips winning Adelaide’s best and fairest on 108 votes, ahead of Randall on 100 votes and Marinoff on 92 votes.
Phillips added to her array of awards by being voted the AFL Players Association 2017 Most Valuable Player, polling 204 votes to finish ahead of Melbourne midfielder Karen Paxman on 149 votes and Carlton forward Darcy Vesio who was the league’s leading goal kicker on 132 votes. Phillips was runner-up in the best captain award, receiving 30 votes to finish behind Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce on 63 votes.
In April 2019 Erin commented in a video on http://www.womens.afl/ on how her experiences at the elite level in basketball was able to help Adelaide “When I first arrived at the Crows I brought professionalism, experience from having played in the Olympics, overseas, being a professional athlete. I definitely knew how to push myself to the limits. I have always wanted to be the best I could ever be so I have put my body through so much to be where I am today, to be able to I guess instil that into our team was something pretty special. One day when I am grey and old which is probably not too much longer I will reflect back on that inaugural season as not just a victory for the Adelaide Football Club, but it was pretty much a victory for women’s sport in Australia. I mean there were trailblazers before the AFLW, I mean they are all game changers, so we are just another generation who is paving the way.”
On 4th April 2017 Erin was interviewed by Mike Sheahan on his Foxtel program ‘Open Mike’, during the interview Erin commented on same-sex marriage in Australia “I think it needs to be legal, and not from a selfish point of view, but from a basic human rights points of view. It is (legal) in America. I find it really funny when I came back home to Australia and it is a big deal, because in America, it isn’t a big deal. We are a country that should be so far in advance of this, and the fact that we are still here in 2017 still debating it … is disappointing, especially because the right to get married in my country wasn’t available.” Erin spoke about being a role model, commenting “There are a lot of people who are worried about what other people think of them. Tracy and I don’t worry about that kind of stuff. I am very comfortable in my own skin and I am comfortable in my own marriage. If we can be role models for girls who are gay or straight … in a positive way, how good is that.” Later in the interview discussion turned to remuneration, as a rookie listed player Erin received $8,500 for her 2017 AFL W season, however she could have lost significantly more than this had she suffered a long-term injury, commenting “I was risking $110,000 American contract which is my livelihood, which pays the bills.” If Erin had of suffered a long-term injury playing footy her contract with the Dallas Wings would have been void due to getting injured playing a full-contact sport. Erin said “It also shows the support from Tracy, my career in basketball supports all of us, now my two kids, it was a massive risk but the risk was worth it rather than having the risk of not being a part of this so I sat pretty comfortably with that.”
In a PlayersVoice video published on 2 November 2017 Erin and Tracy spoke about their relationship and the legal status of same-sex marriage. Tracy commented “When I met her there was something that was different, I mean to be honest I had never dated a women before so I didn’t have that feeling, it was just like there was this person and I was like I’ve got to get to know her, I have got to be around her, I wanna hang out. It was just something about her though that I had to be like closer to her.” On getting married Erin said “We decided to elope, to Maui (Hawaii) one, because I never get enough time to plan anything because of my schedule and then two, just trying to co-ordinate a big wedding was a nightmare and I don’t think it was something that we both really wanted.” Tracy adds “Especially with two families in two different countries, it was like somebody was going to miss out.” On same-sex marriage Erin commented “It’s a lot easier for people in America right now. Obviously it’s legal here and we really didn’t even have an option to get married in Australia. It had to be somewhere in America, New Zealand or Europe” and later in the video said “I definitely think it will inevitably become legal (in Australia).” Tracy commented “Don’t get us wrong “It is still growing here (America) and it is not completely accepted here either, its legal so that is a huge step for us and that’s been obviously amazing, especially with having kids, like when we were at the hospital and I gave berth, we’re both on the birth certificates we are their parents and I don’t think that would be possible in Australia right now with not recognising our marriage.”
In December 2017 same-sex marriage became legal in Australia however it was a drawn out process. Politicians could have voted to legalise same-sex marriage, however a postal vote of Australians was held to determine if a change should be made, and this change was implemented after 61.6% of people in mid-November 2017 voted to legalise same-sex marriage.
On Sunday June 9, 2019 Erin was at a pride march in the Capital of the United States of America – Washington DC when a man threatened to fire a gun. Afterwards Erin tweeted “I was only about 100m from a suspected shooting at the DC Pride parade. Ran and hid with the thousands of others in complete fear. How has the world come to this? The world my kids will grow up in.”35 Police later confirmed that no shots were taken however the panic caused by the threatening to fire the gun resulted in seven people being taken to hospital.
As expected premiership co-captains Phillips and Chelsea Randall were voted in by the Adelaide playing group to continue in their roles as Crows co-captains for the 2018 season. The Adelaide five player leadership group was completed with three vice-captains in Angela Foley, Sally Riley and Courtney Cramey. On the reappointment of Erin and Chelsea, Adelaide Crows coach Bec Goddard commented “Erin and Chelsea are exceptional leaders who did a fantastic job during the inaugural season and I’m thrilled they will be continuing in the captaincy role. There’s no doubt that they were both inspirational on and off the field in the first season and we know they will continue to lead the group strongly.”36
In the week before the 2018 AFLW season commenced Phillips strained her right quad which forced her to miss the first two games of the season, in Round 1 against their 2017 Grand Final opponent the Brisbane Lions, Adelaide were defeated by 12 points at Norwood Oval. Erin was ruled out of Adelaide’s Round 2 game against Melbourne at Casey Fields and travelled with the team to Melbourne to contribute in any way she could off the field. On the Tuesday in the lead-up to the Round 2 game against the Demons Phillips commented “It’s disappointing I won’t be out there to help the team on Saturday but the medical advice is that I should rest this week. I know the girls are really keen to respond after the loss to Brisbane and it’s a great opportunity for our young players to get some more exposure at the highest level. I’ll help however I can off the field this week and will be doing everything I can to play in round three.”37 In Round 2 at Casey Fields Adelaide and Melbourne each kicked a goal in the first quarter, however Melbourne dominated the second quarter, kicking four goals to one to have a 20 point lead at half-time, the margin extended after the main break with Melbourne winning by 32 points.
After losing their first two games of the 2018 season Adelaide had very little margin for error over the remaining five rounds if they were to fight back and make back to back Grand Final appearances. In her Round 3 return against the Western Bulldogs at Norwood Oval Phillips played predominantly at full-forward and was phenomenal in a best afield performance. Erin kicked the Crows first goal on the quarter-time siren after taking an intercept mark 25 metres out and kicking the set-shot goal. Two thirds of the way through the second quarter Phillips took a strong contested mark against Libby Birch and kicked the set-shot goal from 30 metres out.
In the second half against the Western Bulldogs Phillips started centre bounces in the midfield and then moved forward, kicking another two goals in the second half including a goal of the week nomination. The ball was deep in Adelaide’s right forward pocket, Phillips picked the ball up off the ground, stepped away from goal to evade a couple of Western Bulldogs opponents including Emma Kearney and whilst moving parallel to the goal-line and two metres in from the boundary line kicked a skilful right foot snap goal that put Adelaide five points up with 10 minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the game. In the post-game press conference Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves commented “I would like to see what Erin can produce at 100 per cent with a year of footy, because if that’s her at 65, 70 per cent with her quad, god help everyone.”
Phillips finished the victory against the Western Bulldogs with a then equal AFLW record four goals with Jenna McCormick being the Crows only other goal scorer for the game with two. Phillips finished the game with 12 kicks – ranked second for Adelaide with Chelsea Randall, behind Ebony Marinoff with 15, had three handballs, three marks and laid two tackles in Adelaide’s seven point victory, 41 to 34. Phillips received three votes in the AFLW league best and fairest was named the Round 3 Most Valuable Player, receiving 53% of the vote from fans to finish ahead of Alicia Eva (28%) and Emily Bates (19%).
In an away game at Blacktown International Sportspark in Round 4 against the GWS Giants played in rain Adelaide trailed by nine points at three-quarter-time. Adelaide finished the game strongly to outscore the Giants one goal, four behinds to one behind to draw the game two goals seven behinds apiece. Phillips again played predominantly as a forward and had a rare game where she wasn’t listed in Adelaide’s best players in the official AFLW Records.
Erin started the Round 5 game against Carlton at Norwood Oval and played her role in the Crows opening up a sizeable lead in the second quarter. In the second quarter Phillips kicked the ball off the ground and had some quad awareness. With Adelaide in a commanding position Phillips didn’t play after half-time. At half-time Phillips commented to channel 7 “I’ve still got a bit of a sore quad so while we’ve got a pretty nice lead, I’m just going to hand back until needed. [I’m] just being really cautious. I’ve got a lot of experience now with this quad. It’s not too serious, just trying not to make it any worse.” Despite not playing in the second half against Carlton Erin was still listed in Adelaide’s best players.
Although still hampered by her quad injury Phillips didn’t miss any more games for Adelaide in 2018 and was one of her club’s best players in a thrilling four point victory against Fremantle at TIO Stadium in Round 6, predominantly playing at full-forward she had six kicks, three handballs and kicked a game-high three goals.
After losing their first two games of the 2018 AFLW season the Adelaide Crows recorded three wins and a draw in their next four games to remain in finals contention with one round remaining in the season. After Round 6 Adelaide were fourth on the ladder with 14 premiership points, two premiership points behind the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne who played each other in the final round, and percentage behind third placed GWS.
Results in the other games during Round 7 went Adelaide’s way and in the last game of the home and away season the equation was simple, if Adelaide defeated Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval in Melbourne they would make the 2018 AFLW Grand Final. Adelaide started well and led by 11 points at half-time but had a massive set-back with inspirational co-captain Chelsea Randall who had 14 disposals and took five marks in the first half being ruled out of the second half due to concussion. Adelaide were over-run in the second half by Collingwood who kicked five unanswered goals to defeat Adelaide by 21 points. After playing predominantly at full-forward during the 2018 season Phillips returned to playing in the midfield for the Round 7 game against Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval. Erin had 14 kicks – ranked equal second for Adelaide behind Marinoff with 15, three handballs, two marks and laid four tackles.
The Western Bulldogs defeated the Brisbane Lions in a wet 2018 AFLW Grand Final at Ikon Park by six points. The youngest player in the AFLW for the 2018 season Western Bulldogs forward/midfielder Monique Conti who had her 18th birthday three and a half months before the 2018 Grand Final won the medal for best on ground in the Grand Final. Below is a link to an article published on Milestones and misses to celebrate Monique Conti being named best afield in the 2018 AFLW Grand Final.
During the 2018 AFLW season Phillips kicked 1.4 goals per game, ranked fourth in the league behind Brisbane Lions small forward Jess Wuetschner (1.6 goals per game) and Western Bulldogs duo Brooke Lochland and Katie Brennan in equal second place (1.5). Phillips ranked equal seventh for total goals kicked in 2018 with seven. Although Phillips played predominantly as a forward throughout 2018 she ranked 25th in the league for kicks per game, equal 33rd for disposals, 13th for marks inside 50 and 15th for clearances. Phillips averaged five score involvements per game to lead the league amongst players that played at least two games for the season.
In 2018 Phillips played five of a possible seven games for Adelaide, averaging 9.2 kicks, 2.8 handballs, 1.6 marks, 1.4 goals, 2.2 tackles, 2.0 inside 50’s and 86.8% time on the ground per game. Phillips was not named in the 40 player 2018 AFLW All-Australian squad, however four of her team-mates were – Chelsea Randall, Sarah Allen, Ebony Marinoff and Angela Foley. Randall was the sole Adelaide player selected in the final 21 player team and was also selected as captain with Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce named as vice-captain.
In three of her five games during 2018 Phillips received at least 21 votes in the Adelaide Crows best and fairest, and she polled at least eight votes in her other two games as well, receiving 15 votes against GWS in Round 4 and eight votes against Carlton in Round 5.
Despite a quad injury causing Phillips to miss two of Adelaide’s seven games of 2018 and remain on the bench for the second half of the Round 5 game against Carlton she finished seventh in Adelaide’s best and fairest on 92 votes. Phillips successor as Crows best and fairest winner was the club’s other co-captain Chelsea Randall with the defender amazingly polling 162 of a possible 168 votes during the count. Key defender Sarah Allen was second on 129 followed by midfielder Ebony Marinoff in third place on 123 votes. Phillips was a joint winner of Adelaide’s goalkicking along with first-year forward Ruth Wallace with the duo each kicking seven goals.
Western Bulldogs midfielder Emma Kearney won the league’s 2018 best and fairest award, polling 14 votes, to finish five votes ahead of three players in equal second place – Fremantle midfielder Dana Hooker, GWS Giants midfielder Courtney Gum and Collingwood defender Chloe Molloy. Kearney had an exceptional season as a midfielder, both on the inside and the outside, averaging a league-high 15.4 disposals per game and also led the competition for metres gained per game. At 36 years of age Gum was playing her first AFLW season in 2018 and she also won the AFL Player’s Association AFLW MVP Award in her debut season. Molloy after a decorated junior career as a forward was selected by Collingwood at number three in the 2017 AFLW draft and thrived in a new position in defense during the 2018 season to win the league’s Rising Star Award.
In the AFLW 2018 Coaches Association Player of the Year Award Phillips polled votes in three of her five games, being the only player to receive the maximum 10 votes in Round 3, she polled six votes in Round 6 against Fremantle and five votes in Round 7 against Collingwood – being Adelaide’s top ranked player in each game. Erin polled 21 votes for the season to finish three votes behind 10th placed finisher Ebony Antonio. Adelaide Crows co-captain Chelsea Randall and Western Bulldogs midfielder Emma Kearney were join winners of the award, each receiving 42 votes.
Retirement as a basketball player and off-court career in basketball
After playing the 2017 WNBA pre-season with the Dallas Wings and having a team-high four assists in a game against San Antonio Erin retired as a WNBA player and was appointed the Director of Player and Franchise Development for the Dallas Wings with the club’s President & Chief Executive Officer Greg Bibb commenting “Erin has experienced success at every level of the game of basketball and has been a valuable member of our organization since joining the team. Erin and her partner Tracy, along with their children, make the Dallas-Fort Worth area home, and we are excited to have them remain with the Wings family moving forward. Having someone with her level of experience and past success involved with our team, both on and off the court, will help the Wings organization continue to grow and progress.”38 Erin’s role included on-court player development, game planning, scouting and draft preparation, strength and conditioning and community engagement.
Dallas had 16 wins and 18 losses during the 2017 WNBA season to finish fourth in the Western Conference and had the seventh best record in the league. In a single elimination game the Dallas Wings were defeated by the Washington Mystix 86-76. Dallas wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith finished ninth in the WNBA MVP Award and was named the Western Conference Player of the week once, Dallas forward Glory Johnson was also named the Western Conference POTW once. In the league’s Rookie of the Year Award with a single vote cast by 40 sportswriters and broadcasters, Dallas guard Allisha Gray was a comprehensive winner, receiving 30 votes to win the ROTY Award by 20 votes from the only other vote recipient – Atlanta Dream guard Brittany Syke.
In October 2017 the Dallas Wings appointed Phillips as an assistant coach, Erin commented “I am extremely excited for this opportunity to work with and alongside Fred. He is an amazing teacher with invaluable knowledge for the game and it’s a privilege to be able to learn from him day in and day out. I can’t thank him and Greg Bibb enough for providing me with this next step in my coaching career. The future of this young Dallas Wings team is incredibly bright and I know the best is yet to come.”39 In her role as assistant coach Erin would focus on guard play, player development and scouting.
It was the first time that Phillips had held a full-time coaching role. Fred Williams was in his third season as the Dallas Wings head coach in 2018 and his ninth season overall as a WNBA head coach.
After the 2015 WNBA season the Tulsa Shock relocated to Dallas and changed their name to the Dallas Wings, the club had been founded in Detroit, Michigan before the 1998 WNBA season and competed in the WNBA for 12 seasons as the Detroit Shock from 1998 to 2009 before moving to Dallas before the 2010 WNBA season.
One of Erin’s former Australian Opals teammates Liz Cambage was selected by the Tulsa Shock with the second pick overall at the 2011 WNBA Draft. Cambage played the 2011 and 2013 seasons with Tulsa, and was a WNBA All-Star in her rookie 2011 season. Phillips and Cambage were Australian Opals team-mates at two major championships, the 2010 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games and would have been team-mates at the 2014 World Championships except Liz suffered a right Achilles injury the week before the tournament began. Cambage recalls “That was one of the toughest moments I have been through. She (Erin) was messaging me every day even though they were in tournament they were in World champs. She was linking in and checking up if I was alright. When stuff goes that bad, that really shows you who’s really there for you.”40
Shortly after Phillips was traded to the Dallas Wings by the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for two draft picks on 1 March 2016 she began thinking about the prospect of playing with Opals team-mate Cambage. The Dallas Wings retained the rights to Cambage from their Tulsa Shock days and Erin contacted Liz about the possibility of playing together.
In January 2018 Erin announced that she had retired from basketball, posting an article on Players Voice titled ‘It’s time to draw the curtain.’ At the start of the article Phillips wrote:
“You know those stories where an athlete announces their retirement and rides off into the sunset, happy and content with how it all finished?
This isn’t one of them.
It’s time for me to close the door on my career as a basketball player. It has been the most incredible journey – but this wasn’t the ending I’d hoped for.”41
On Australia’s shock quarter-final loss at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games to Serbia Erin wrote “I had never really considered that the last game I’d play for Australia could be the one that hurt most.
We were ranked No. 2 in the world and had high hopes ahead of the tournament. We were unbeaten in the group phase, but after an abysmal 26 turnovers, it all came to a painful end to the 14th ranked Serbians. It was the first time since 1992 the Opals hadn’t won a medal.
I can still hear the Serbian girls scream with excitement at the final siren. I remember the faces of my teammates. The silence and disbelief in the locker room. The tears and the sobs.
I was incredibly down after Rio. I felt ashamed, humiliated and even lost. I didn’t know if I had the energy or the passion to keep pushing myself through more camps, more tours, more time away from my family.
The feeling of regret was not how I imagined it ending. I don’t know if it will ever go away. I try not to focus on it, but unfortunately it will stay with me forever.”42
Erin went on to write “The regret I felt from Rio was also one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and is a constant reminder that every time I step on the field, it could be my last.
So although I would have liked to have written a different ending, I also realise I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career like this and I will never take it for granted.
I played in two Olympics. I lived in the US and Europe. I travelled all over the world. Experiences that are so invaluable and that have helped shape who I am today.”43
Whilst playing for the Australian Opals at the 2010 World Championships in the Chzech Republic Phillips and Cambage had been room-mates. Two of Erin’s team-mates from the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team were on the 2018 Dallas Wings roster, centre Liz Cambage and centre/power forward Cayla George.
The two standout players for Dallas during the 2018 season were Cambage who was in contention for the league’s MVP award and point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, with the duo each averaging over 17.5 points per game however no other player averaged more than 10.0 points per game for Dallas. Whilst Dallas remained in playoff contention late in the season they had not met internal expectations. On 12 August, 2018 the Dallas Wings relieved Fred Williams of his duties as head coach with immediate effect. Taj McWilliams-Franklin was appointed as interim head coach, having been an assistant at Dallas from 2017 onwards. At the time of the coaching change Dallas had a record of 14 wins and 17 losses, to be ranked eighth in the league. On the coaching change Dallas Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb commented “Following today’s game, I made the decision to change direction in regards to our head coaching position. I felt this move was necessary. The season has not met our expectations. I have asked Taj to serve as our interim head coach and I have the upmost confidence that she and our staff will do everything possible to put us in the best position to win. I wish Fred the best moving forward. Our focus remains on qualifying for the playoffs and ultimately competing for a WNBA championship.”44
The Dallas Wings faded as the season progressed, having one win and seven losses in August, however that one win was against the Las Vegas Aces who were in a battle with the Wings for the last-play-off spot and the victory in this game secured Dallas a play-off berth one game ahead of Las Vegas. Dallas finished the regular season fifth in the Western Conference and eighth overall to secure the last play-off berth with a record of 15 wins and 19 losses. In the first round of the play-offs the Dallas Wings played a single elimination game against the Phoenix Mercury on the road and were defeated 83-101. Cambage led the league in scoring with 23.0 points per game, had 9.7 rebounds per game to rank second in the league and she also finished runner-up in the WNBA MVP award behind Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart. During the 2018 season Cambage set a single game WNBA scoring record with 53 points against New York. Cambage was selected in the 2018 All-WNBA first team and point guard Diggins-Smith was selected in the All-WNBA second team.
On 14th March 2019 an article written by Phillips titled ‘When my two worlds meet’ was published on the Players Voice website. In the article Phillips wrote about the opportunity to have two distinct sporting roles, one as player in the AFLW for the Adelaide Crows and one as an assistant coach in the WNBA with the Dallas Wings. Erin commented “I hope to be playing for the Crows and coaching the Wings for a while yet.
Footy gives me that physical, competitive outlet I’ve had all my life and coaching basketball in the best league in the world provides a real mental and strategic challenge.
People often ask me what role I prefer more. The honest answer is: both.
I love them for what they are. As a player, you have more direct control over the outcome of a game whereas, as a coach, you’re equipping others with the tools and information to get the job done. But the satisfaction of winning is no different either way.”45 Erin also spoke about how coaching improves you as a player, writing “The saying goes that, in a perfect world, athletes would coach before they play.
It’s true. If you were able to work as a coach first and a player second, you’d see things in a very different light. You’d watch more vision, understand people, appreciate strategy and better know your opposition. Coaching would make you a smarter athlete.
That’s all great in theory, obviously, but it doesn’t factor in a little thing called biology.
I mean, when was the last time you heard of a coach retiring to become a player? Maybe I should make a comeback to basketball?!
This is where I count myself incredibly fortunate. I can take my coaching experiences and, where appropriate, apply them to my career as a footy player. Matthew Clarke has given me opportunities to take some drills at the Crows and I work with the young midfielders most training sessions. I love that. Watching your teammates get better is every bit as satisfying as kicking a bag yourself.”46
After Phillips won the AFLW 2019 league best and fairest award MC Neroli Meadows said “Now as many people know you have a brother in law that goes OK at this caper as well in Shaun Burgoyne. I may have run into him and he may have told me a little bit of a secret. Is it true that there’s a chance that you weren’t actually going to play this season because you were considering applying for a senior coaching role in the WNBA?” Erin replied “Yeah, I’ll get him back. I was asked to potentially interview for the Dallas Wings head coaching job after our current coach was fired and for that to happen would’ve meant not playing AFLW, and I politely declined. It’s obviously not guaranteed that I would get the job, but I wasn’t going to risk not playing AFLW. I just wasn’t ready to be done.”
On 18 December, 2018 Brian Agler was appointed as the head coach of the Dallas Wings. Agler has been a coach for more than 30 years and is in his 13th season as a head coach in the WNBA. Twice Agler has been the head coach of the WNBA Championship winning team – 2010 with Seattle Storm when he was also named the WNBA coach of the year and 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks.
In October 2018 Skylar Diggins-Smith announced that she was pregnant, she had her first child in April. In January 2019 Liz Cambage requested that the Dallas Wings trade her, A deal was eventually completed in mid-May with Cambage being traded to the Las Vegas Aces in exchange for guard Moriah Jefferson, centre Isabelle Harrison and 2020 first and second round draft picks. Diggins-Smith has participated in some training sessions with the team and is expected to return to playing games for Dallas later in the season although no timeline has been set.
With pick 5 at the 2019 WNBA Draft Dallas selected Arike Ogunbowale a guard from Notre Dame. Arike had a decorated College Career, breaking Skylar Diggins-Smith’s record for most career points at Notre Dame. Ogunbowale made critical plays when the game was on the line, hitting buzzer-beaters in the semi-final and championship game of the final four in 2018.
Although Dallas have lost their first five games of the 2019 WNBA season they remained competitive, with three of their losses being by less than five points. Dallas won five of their next 11 games to now have a record of five wins and six losses to be. During the first 16 games of the season 11 players played at least eight games for Dallas however only two players have started more than 11 games for the season – Kyla Thornton and Allisha Gray each with 14 starts from 16 games, 11 players have had at least one start, including five players that have started at least nine games. Arike Ogunbowale leads the Wings with 15.1 points per game, ranked 13th in the WNBA and was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month for June. Another six players average between six and 12 points per game for Dallas.
During her decorated sporting career Phillips has achieved many significant milestones and has also suffered some major setbacks, these experiences as well as her sporting IQ and teaching ability have her well placed to have a lengthy coaching career in the WNBA.
When asked on SEN Program AFLW Hour of Power in March 2017 “If you had your time over again and AFLW was alive and kicking like it is now when you were say 18 what would you choose, basketball or footy?” Erin responded “Back then, if there was a way, I would probably keep playing football. At the same time, though, I’m so fortunate for what basketball has given me. I’ve got to travel the world and play in two Olympic Games. I’m disappointed the AFLW wasn’t there when I was younger, but I’m really grateful for what basketball has given me and I would never trade it for anything.”
In a video posted on the AFLW website on 5 April, 2019 titled ‘Erin Phillips: The epitome of a game changer’ “Even though I do wish the opportunity to play footy was there when I was 13 there is nothing that I would ever, ever change. The best part that I love about the AFLW is that I have a son and I have a daughter and they will grow up together and they wont know any difference between AFL and AFLW.”
It is a massive progression from 21 years ago that now young girls have a choice and know that it is possible to play basketball or football at the highest level, or possibly even combine both at the same time as 19 year old Monique Conti is doing. To reach the pinnacle in a sport is a tremendous achievement, during her sporting career Phillips reached the pinnacle in not one sport but two, first of all basketball, followed by Australian Rules Football.
As a basketball player Phillips achieved just about everything you could wish for as a player, being selected in the WNBL All-Star five three times and played in a WNBL Championship with Adelaide in 2007/08. Erin also played in several championships overseas in the WNBA and in Poland and was able to make an impact either as a starter or off the bench.
It was with Australia’s national women’s basketball team, the Opals that Erin had the widest range of experiences, being part of a team that achieved something that many people thought wasn’t possible in winning gold at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil. However Phillips also experienced the opposite end of the spectrum with the Opals suffering a shock quarter-final loss to Serbia at the 2016 Olympic Games which was also in Brazil.
During 11 years with the Australian Opals from 2005 to 2016 Phillips role also varied significantly, most tellingly from the 2012 Olympic Games where she was one of the last three players cut to the 2014 World Championships where she started every game for the Australian Opals and led her country for minutes played. Phillips was one of only two players along with Penny Taylor that was a starter for Australia at both the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games.
When the AFL Women’s league was first considered a possibility and exhibition games were played Phillips nominated for the first draft in the lead-up to a 2013 game between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne because she wanted to be a small part in history even though she knew she would be unable to play due to her playing commitments on the other side of the world in the WNBA.
Erin was able to achieve a lifelong dream in playing Australian Rules Football at the highest level for the Adelaide Crows in the inaugural AFL Women’s season in 2017. Adelaide Crows head coach Bec Goddard and Phillips used John Farnham’s song ‘You’re the voice’ as a theme song and the team including younger players embraced it and the ability to write the pages of history. The Adelaide Crows achieved this in a major way by winning the 2017 AFLW premiership and Erin well and truly overshot her aim of wanting to be a small part of history. In two of the first three AFLW seasons, season one in 2017 and season three in 2019 Erin had two of the most dominant individual seasons in a team sport imaginable, winning just about every award she was eligible to win including the league best and fairest and best on ground in the grand final. Phillips was a dominant force in the midfield with her ability to win the contested ball and also make an impact on the scoreboard with her ability to kick goals.
In the first three AFLW seasons from 2017 to 2019 Phillips played 22 games for the Adelaide Crows, averaging 13.6 kicks, 5.2 handballs, 3.3 tackles, 1.3 goals and 1.9 league best and fairest votes per game. Highlighting her consistency Erin had at least 15 disposals or kicked at least three goals in 20 of her 22 games including four games where she had at least 15 disposals and kicked at least three goals. The two exceptions are Round 4 and Round 5 2018 when hampered by her right quad injury she played predominantly at full-forward, having 12 disposals against GWS in wet conditions in Round 4 and having seven disposals against Carlton in Round 5 before going to the interchange bench in the second quarter and taking no further part in the game due to quad awareness.
During her phenomenal sporting career as a basketball player and a footballer Erin Phillips has experienced the highest highs and lowest lows, skill, sporting IQ and a fierce determination have been key factors that have enabled her to experience the ecstasy of team and personal success and overcome the agony of setbacks, whether it be long-term injuries or heartbreaking losses by her team. Whilst we don’t know if Erin will be able to recover from her knee injury suffered in the 2019 AFLW Grand Final victory with the Adelaide Crows and continue her football career in the 2020 season we know that she will do all in her power to come back. If Erin does make it back for the 2020 season the sporting community will cherish being able to watch her for play a fourth season with the Adelaide Crows in the AFLW, however if she is unable to make it back due to her knee injury the incredible sporting career of Erin Phillips will still have more chapters to be written in a coaching capacity in the WNBA and the AFLW.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
7 Sunday Herald Sun, My legs just kept failing by Lauren Wood, page 80, 31 March 2019
9 The Age, The Statistics tell the story: how can you stop Adelaide’s champion Erin Phillips? by Daniel Cherny, Sport page 10-11, 31 March 2019
33 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2018, 1st edition, page 13
34 AFL, AFL Record Season 2018, page 1,098