AFLW Grand Final: A Day in the Life

My AFLW Grand Final plans changed a couple of days out from the game. I was looking forward to sitting with the Almanac group which had grown each week during the AFLW season, introducing me to new friends and fellow women’s footy enthusiasts when an exciting opportunity came my way.

 

I was offered the gig to write the AFLW Grand Final match report for The Guardian.

 

Holy guacamole.

 

It changed the outlook of my day completely. I was now required to submit a report on the siren, meaning I would have to be writing the report while watching the game. A very stressful prospect.

 

I rocked up to Princes Park around 10:00am just before the storm hit and I cursed myself for not bringing an umbrella. I naively thought sitting in the press box all day would protect me but I had a 10.40am pre-match interview with Isabel Huntington in the Bulldogs rooms which were on the opposite side of the oval. There was no way to get there undercover.

 

I apologised to Izzy for looking like a drowned rat before I spoke to her and she laughed. ‘We’re all going to look like drowned rats today!’

 

I was nervous to speak to Izzy, she’s so young and to be have been injured so early in the season after going pick one in the draft, to see your team play in the Grand Final must just bring a wave of emotions.

 

She was professional in her approach with me, considered and thoughtful about the occasion ahead of her Bulldogs.

 

‘It’s incredibly exciting. I think after that win on last Saturday night against Melbourne, the vibes were amazing. You saw us all on the ground celebrating and it was so exciting not just for our little team but for the club as well to be into the Grand Final. We’re the first Footscray or Western Bulldogs team that have finished top of the ladder which is a pretty immense achievement. We know it will be a tough game as Brisbane have that experience of playing in a Grand Final before and they’re a really good side.’

 

Thinking about her role on the sideline, she knew she still had a lot to give her team on the day.

 

‘I think [I’ll bring] just a really positive energy and support role for all the players, it can get really hyped up and sometimes you just need that calming energy and composure from the non-playing girls to make sure they’re feeling ok – so I think the nine players that won’t be getting on the field today will be providing that, particularly KB on the sidelines.’

 

The rain continued to pour and rattle the tin shed we were essentially standing in, we both laughed at the noise and shook our heads as we could barely hear each other over the deluge.

 

‘I think it’s obviously pretty testing conditions out here with the rain but if we just stick to our game plan that we have played all year which has obviously been successful given that we’re in a Grand Final now and we’ve had some great wins so that’s been really important for us. Given these conditions that use of that contested footy and those inside players, we’ll need to go in really hard at the footy and win it on the inside – that will be really important.’

 

She wasn’t wrong. The game would be decided in contested footy.

 

I asked her what her highlight of being part of AFLW was, mindful that without her injury, it would have been taking the field.

 

‘There have been so many incredible moments but almost, just waking up today, I know I’m not out there on the field, but I woke up like it was Christmas morning today. And I’m so excited for the team and the club in general so I think that’s the highlight despite not playing which seems odd but I just have so much love for the group. We’re a really tight bunch the clubs so supportive and I’m so lucky to be in the red white and blue.’

 

I thanked Iz and ran back to the media centre, trying to drip dry in the corridor while also avoiding being in the way of Daisy Pearce and Sam Lane who were getting their hair and make-up done in a make-shift dressing room behind the press box. I wanted to beg their hair stylist to fix me up but though better of it.

 

The press box at Princes Park has not been touched since the stadium was built I believe, but I wasn’t complaining, yet. At least it was dry.

 

The press box at Princes Park.

But, as I soon realised, the primitive conditions did impact how I was able to write on the game. I was used to luxurious press rooms like at Etihad Stadium with screens and commentary to see replays and catch the things you miss while typing.

 

From where I sat I couldn’t see the scoreboard, it was underneath us. There were no screens. No radio commentary coming in. We all had to provide our own internet. The stats were not available on the AFL site and we only started to pick them up in the second half via the AFL Women’s app. We could barely see through the rain to correctly identify players. When Tahlia Randall went off injured in the third quarter, all the journos were debating if it was Kate Lukins or Nat Exon until she came close enough to the boundary on our side to finally reveal herself to us.

 

But I had a job to do. I couldn’t blame the lack of instant replays or stats to affect my capacity to work. I imagined the early sportswriters who would have reported at this ground, I could do this. I kept writing, trying to absorb as much of the game as possible and anxiously clicked ‘send’ on the siren. I don’t know whose relief was greater. Mine in filing my first live Grand Final report or the Western Bulldogs women.

 

Probably the players. I’ll give them that I guess.

 

After the presentations and that beautiful moment where Blackburn called on Brennan to raise the cup, I headed to the rooms with Kate O’Halloran to do some post-match interviews but we were mostly just excited that our media accreditation allowed us into the inner sanctum to share in this incredible moment.

Stand in captain Ellie Blackburn brings the cup into the Bulldogs rooms.

We sang the song with them, laughed as the players yelled and swore in celebration, and waited an appropriate amount of time while they hugged their loved ones to swoop in with our questions.

 

We spoke to first year player Bonnie Toogood who was a delight and absolutely over the moon.

 

‘It’s bizarre! It’s really cool! I don’t even know what to think right now! I’ve just got to stand here and soak it in. The amount of effort that has gone into this season is a lot and to get the reward at the end, it’s phenomenal. I’m speechless.’

 

I asked her after everything that the club had been through that week, it must have meant so much to get that win.

 

‘Yeah it does. It means so much for the group because it was just like another challenge for us, we’ve had so many injuries and then the media jumps on board and all that kind of stuff and we’ve managed to work through that and it’s a testament to the girls and the characters we have at this club and it’s unreal. We got it. We did it.’

 

Kate asked what Bonnie was feeling when Ellie called Katie on to the dais.

 

‘I was just about to cry. I’ve got her number on my boot. I put there when she got injured and again for this week. She deserves it just as much as us, she was playing with us in spirit, I know I was out there thinking of her while I was playing because she’s done so much for women’s footy and so much for this club and I can say wholeheartedly I played for her.’

Bonnie’s boot. #3

 

I wanted to hug her. What a beautiful person she is. Simply too good.

 

We chatted to Tiarna Ernst who was enjoying a well-earned beer and wasn’t sure what to make of that winning feeling.

 

‘It’s just a bit surreal at the moment. It’s just pure elation I think. It’s just amazing after such an up and down season with so many obstacles, so many injuries – it was just amazing to get the job done and the reward for the club is amazing.’

 

I asked what was going through her mind the second the final siren sounded.

 

‘I was crying, I don’t know about anyone else! It was just absolute relief. I think we knew that they would give it everything they could in that last quarter to come over the top of us and they gave it a pretty good crack as well and we knew we had to not lose belief in ourselves and just keep trusting our processes and just back each other because that contested footy was what won the day and our ability to keep the ball in our possession allowed us to get over the top of them eventually and they came back pretty hard in the last quarter so it was pretty amazing to finally get away and when that siren went, ahhhh! It was the longest quarter of footy I’ve ever played I think!’

 

We told Tiarna about our chat with Bonnie and her tribute to KB on her boot. She smiled.

 

‘She’s an incredible leader and it was so disappointing that she wasn’t able to be there and to get one of these medals around her neck, but she’ll be in the competition for many years to come and she’ll get her ankle right and we’ll see how these legal proceedings go and hopefully it means the competition is better for women moving forward.’

 

Kate and I saw the crew from the Outer Sanctum and we moved over to say hello. KB joined us and we gave her our congratulations. She’s just so classy. She went around the room and hugged and celebrated with everyone, there was no sense of her devastation for not being out there, she put herself forward completely to celebrate what her team did. She was all about her team.

 

I was in awe of her.

 

She even allowed Kate and I to indulge in a fan girl moment and pose for a photo. What a queen.

When Kasey met Katie. Fan girl moment.

 

We headed up to the press conference after that and I listened to Paul Groves speak about his admiration for Monique Conti, the AFLW Grand Final Player of the match, his wife Sarah who had given birth to his daughter Ella during the week and his thirty Bulldogs players who had given him and the club premiership glory.

 

His world was full of wonderful and inspiring women.

 

I walked home in the sunshine. Melbourne had done its typical weather 180 and I wished the game could have been played two hours later. But it was all over. AFLW done and dusted for another season, filling all of our worlds with wonderful and inspiring women.

 

 

The mighty women of the West. The 2018 AFLW Premiers, The Western Bulldogs.

 

 

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. Verity Sanders says:

    Fantastic work Kasey – you brought it alive ( despite the conditions ! ) You and Kate are part of the wonderful brigade of female sports journos and commentators now emerging – and writing honestly and knowledgeably about women’s ( and other) sport. I’m looking forward to watching your work grow and prosper, alongside the sports themselves, over the coming years. Thanks, and congratulations !

  2. Rick Kane says:

    Great piece Kasey, like Verity said you really brought the (sodden) day alive. And I love your interviews. Part fan, part journo. That the way I want a story reported/told. It’s easy to imagine in the blink of an eye the press room filled with journos in the next year or two. With suitable requirements to file stories and make us feel even closer to the game and its stars!

    Cheers

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Terrific report Kasey. You conveyed the dizzying extremes of the elements, fandom, the Doggies triumph inside out and the growing voices in female football journalism. It’s great to see. Kudos !

  4. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks for the kind words all, it means so much. I have loved developing my writing in the women’s footy space on the Almanac this season and following the journey of such talented and inspiring athletes. It’s been so much fun putting these articles together and I’m glad you have enjoyed them :)

    And Rick K, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to remove the ‘fan’ from my writing so I’m just embracing it now! Thanks so much for your comments.

  5. Making great memories Kasey. What a day!

  6. Anne Cahill Lambert says:

    It’s lovely for your community to be able to get behind the scenes through this report; thanks Kasey!

  7. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks ACL :)

  8. John Butler says:

    Kasey, I’ve really enjoyed your dressing room discussions through the season.

    Bravo!

  9. DBalassone says:

    Great work Kasey & great photos.

  10. Carole Fabian says:

    Thank you for a fantastic report, Kasey! You helped me relive such an amazing and wonderful match (and thanks for copping the rain while I stayed dry in front of my lounge room TV). Great writing, great passion, long live women’s football and women football writers – love you all!

  11. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks so much John, Damian and Carole – you’re all very kind :)

  12. Yvette Wroby says:

    Well done Kasey. We will have to attend some VFL Women’s game this year and keep an eye out for stories and players of the future! So happy to have you onboard this year as editor and friend.

  13. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks Yvette – being part of your girl gang this season has meant the world to me! Definitely on board for getting around the VFLW with you!

  14. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great stuff Kasey, both this write up and your Guardian piece. Congratulations!

    Really enjoyed the AFLW coverage on the Almanac. Well done to you and everyone involved.

  15. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks so much Luke :)

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