Newly crowned AFLW best and fairest Emily Bates says she used previous award winners — including two-time champion Erin Phillips — as inspiration in taking her game to the next level.
- Bates’s house flooded in the last rounds of the season
- The 26-year-old lost her dad at 15, and dedicated her medal to him
- She also paid tribute to club staff and the “sisterhood” among Lions players
“I’ve always idolised the players who have won this award,” Bates said on the red carpet after the W Awards on Tuesday night.
Bates was among the favourites to take the award after being named the AFL Coaches’ Association (AFLCA) player of the year, and after a season which saw her average upwards of 21 disposals, 10 contested possessions, five clearances and six tackles a game.
Nonetheless, the 26-year-old, who won the count by a solitary vote over Crow Anne Hatchard, said her victory had come as a genuine shock.
“The fact I was even in the conversation earlier in the week was astounding to me,” she said.
“It was such a close count, and I had quite a slow start, so I thought I was out of it. I [even] texted a few friends saying, it was all hype, don’t worry.
“So the fact I actually won is even more astounding.”
Best and fairest arrived to flooded house after trip to Perth
The Brisbane Lion was a popular winner among the Melbourne-based crowd after what was a trying season both personally and collectively.
With numerous COVID-19 outbreaks at most clubs, season six of AFLW saw the playing cohort deal with a range of challenges including last-minute changes to the fixture and mid-week games, all balanced alongside work and other responsibilities.
Then, with record flooding inundating Queensland in the final rounds of the season, Bates returned home from a win against the West Coast Eagles to find the bottom floor of her and partner Emma Zielke’s house under water.
While their teammates were first on the scene to help with the clean-up, Bates and now-assistant coach Zielke had to temporarily relocate to Bates’s mother’s place for the back-end of the season.
“But the fact I could just turn up each week and still deliver means a lot to me.”
Such an ability to focus on the task at hand is one reason why coach Craig Starcevich has described the vice-captain as “the epitome of the Brisbane Lions in how she prepares and how she plays”.
This season Bates again turned her relentless professionalism into the weapon that gave her the edge over her competitors.
Walking the tightrope as many AFLW players do between her professional working life and football, Bates this year chose to lean further into AFLW.
“Previously [with] a lot of my training, I’d do it while I was at work and then leave so that I could get home at a reasonable time,” she said.
“So this season I just made sure I never chose convenience over group sessions. It meant every afternoon, making sure I was at the Gabba with the girls, so I was constantly pushing myself and I wasn’t doing it alone.”
With season 7 just around the corner, in August, Bates acknowledged that there were further tough times ahead for the competition.
“[The short turnaround] is obviously a bit of a challenge, we don’t have that time for a mental refresh after just finishing the season.
“But in the long term, I think it will be a great thing for the competition not playing in summer, and having that clean air in terms of broadcast.
“So for the future, it’ll be a good thing. It’s just right now, it’s [trying to] wrap your head around getting into another season straight away.”
Mum in tears as Bates dedicates award to late father
Bates’s acceptance speech was one of the more heart-warming and entertaining of the competition’s inaugural years.
Her mother was in tears as AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announced three votes for E Bates in the final, dramatic round of the count, while Bates paid tribute to her father in her acceptance speech.
He died when she was 15, but introduced her to junior footy at the Yeronga football club, where he coached the local men’s side.
“He never got to see me get drafted, or play in the grand final, or anything like that,” Bates said during her acceptance speech.
The premiership Lion also paid tribute to the side which took her with its inaugural draft pick back in 2017.
With a host of teammates leaving when Gold Coast entered the competition in 2019 — including former captain and vice-captain Leah Kaslar and Sam Virgo — Bates never wavered in her loyalty.
On Tuesday, she attributed this to the “sisterhood” that had developed among her teammates, Breeanna Brock (the Lions’ head of women’s football) and coach Craig Starcevich, who shocked and delighted the crowd by doing a “shoey” (drinking champagne out of his shoe) while Bates was on stage.
The celebratory atmosphere was appropriate recognition for a player who can add the 2022 AFLW best and fairest to a growing list of accolades, including a premiership, three All-Australian selections, this season’s AFLCA award, dual club best and fairests and the club vice-captaincy.