AFLW Grand Final – Western Bulldogs v Brisbane: Bulldogs singing in the rain

12.35pm
Saturday, 24th March
Ikon Park

 

The streets of Carlton were awash. Ancient waterways had risen from their sedimentary sarcophagi, turning gutters into torrents. The approaches to entry gates quickly came to resemble portions of the Somme. Once inside, diehards were confronted by spontaneously forming lagoons. The last time Princes Park hosted a grand final was 1945 – the infamous Bloodbath. Many of the facilities would still be recognisable to that era. And they were not coping with the amount of rain that was falling. I was more worried about drowning than any potential ghosts of Bob Chitty or Basher Williams.

 

Was this a demonstration of AFL omnipotence? In many ways, it has felt like the League has fought an impulse to rain on its own creation in this second season of being. Had it now summoned torrents after six weeks of Victorian drought? Was this the ultimate memo to bring the unruly women to heel?

 

The forward scouts of a sizeable Almanac contingent had wisely retreated from our customary wing to a position in the Pratt Stand, above the high water mark. The group was strongly pro-Bulldog. As an uncommitted observer, I was free-wheeling with house money, emotionally speaking. My attempts at satirical whimsy were somewhat stonily received. In fairness, that is a reaction not without precedent. It would be a tense afternoon for many.

 

It was tough going on the field. The Bulldogs wanted to run into space. Brisbane sought to deny them that space. The rain had eased, but the ball was greasy, the ground slippery. Grand finals are rarely occasions for pretty football, but that wasn’t even a possibility today.

 

On such days as these, the oldest football clichés apply, particularly the one about playing in front in the wet. Brisbane were better at this early, and held field position without getting a scoreboard result. Finally, Jess Wuetschner found Sophie Conway within range. Conway kicked truly. Wuetschner almost had another herself, before a desperate Gogos tackle saw the kick dribble behind.

 

The second term was a scoreless arm wrestle. Detractors of the women’s game would cite this as evidence for the prosecution. This ignores the fact some of the most compelling men’s grand finals of the modern era have been low scoring affairs (think 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010). Given the stakes and the circumstance, it was an enthralling struggle.

 

The Dogs looked to switch direction at every opportunity. Usually they found themselves without a clear option, so effectively were Brisbane marking them. This produced uncertainty in the Dog’s ball movement. Brisbane seemed to be establishing terms in their favour, but the Dogs defended unyieldingly. Fleeting moments of opportunity would appear, to be squelched by a run-down tackle, a crucial interception, one last desperate hand in the way. It was a clinic in one-percenters. Defenders of both teams were heroic under duress.

 

Many of the big names for both sides had been well covered to this point. Others stood up in their place. Kate Lutkins patrolled half-back for Brisbane as she’s done all season. Nat Exon had the better of Emma Kearney early. Jamie Stanton and Ally Anderson won plenty of possession. Emily Bates again bobbed up at crucial moments. For the Dogs, Ellie Blackburn continued to drive her team forward. Jenna Bruton and Kirsty Lamb were valuable. Ange Gogos stuck several critical tackles.

 

At half time the score remained 1.1 to 0.1. There was a feeling something would have to give.

 

Monique Conti was the catalyst to the game breaking open for the Bulldogs. She sprinted hard into dangerous positions in the third term. Even if she wasn’t always rewarded with possession, she drew the space her team had craved. The Dogs now found themselves running with possession into their forward 50. Deanna Berry kicked to the top of the goal square and watched it skid through for their long sought first. Quickly, Kirsten McLeod crumbed another. Almost inevitably, Conti  ran to 40 and bounced one through herself. Leading 3.2 to 1.1 at the final break, the Dogs looked to have made the critical move.

 

But over the course of two seasons, Brisbane have shown they aren’t easily beaten. Wuetschner seized half a chance to dribble through her first. The Lions surged. The Bulldogs defence teetered, but didn’t tip. They regained equilibrium, and worked the ball into their forward half. With time a factor, Kaitlyn Ashmore grabbed the ball from a stoppage and attempted a trademark run. Kearney nabbed her and held on for dear life. From the resulting free, she showed her class. A crucial margin had been restored.

 

Wuetschner will never die wondering. She played on from a free and kicked her second. McLeod should have been awarded the Dogs’ sealer, with the back of her calf in a goal line scramble, but video referrals aren’t afforded to the AFLW, even in a grand final. Brisbane strived to the end, but Naomi Ferris took a saving mark as the siren blew.

 

Brisbane will be shattered to lose a second flag by a kick or less. But it’s hard to deny the Bulldogs their triumph. They used their off-season to rejuvenate their playing list better than any other team. At their best they have taken the women’s game to new levels. Their spread-and-short-pass ball movement will be the template all teams will need to consider next season. They overcame the considerable distraction of their captain’s tribunal tribulations in the preceding week. They are worthy champions of the season.

 

In the way of Melbourne’s sometimes perverse weather, the sun was almost breaking through as the cups and medals were presented. The later afternoon was calm and sultry. Once the victory songs had been sung, and the after-match interviews delivered, beaming young girls strolled Princes Park, imagining their own future heroics, as so many generations of young boys have been able to. Whatever the tribulations of this emerging competition, that is the real legacy that we are seeing created, right in front of us.

 

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS   0.1   0.1   3.2   4.3 (27)

BRISBANE LIONS         1.1   1.1   1.1   3.3 (21)

 

GOALS
Western Bulldogs: Berry, McLeod, Conti, Kearney
Brisbane Lions: Wuetschner 2, Conway

 

BEST
Western Bulldogs: Conti, Blackburn, Kearney, Birch, Gogos, Bruton,
Brisbane Lions: Lutkins, Stanton, Wuetschner, Exon, Anderson, Bates

 

VOTES:  3 Conti (WB)  2 Lutkins (Bris)  1 Blackburn (WB)

Umpires: Mirable, Howorth, Adair

Crowd: 7,083 at Ikon Park

 

 

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Earl O'Neill says:

    Satirical whimsy stonily received – yes, I’ve been there.

  2. Kasey Symons says:

    Beautiful write up John.

  3. Jarrod_L says:

    In the pain of seeing my Lions fall agonisingly short once more, I’ve thought back to the first game of the season for the Bulldogs and their fantastic short kicking game was on display from the opening moments…it doesn’t make up for the disappointment entirely, but it goes a fair way to doing so.

    As for the Footscray-fancying Almanackers in attendance, did they ever find out if Katie Brennan played?

  4. John Butler says:

    Yes Earl, I’m sure you have. :)

    Thanks Kasey. Enjoyed your Guardian work too.

    Jarrod, I mentioned Katie once. It went down a bit like Basil and the Germans. Except I didn’t really get away with it.

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

  5. Great write up John. I’ve been on the end of your wit and whimsy and like your pro Bulldog colleagues at Saturday’s game I didn’t give it the credit it deserved! Being there in the old Hawthorn Stand basking in a hard fought grand final win made an otherwise diabolical weekend a real high.

    Hope you’re doing well health wise now.

    Mick

  6. John Butler says:

    G’day Mick.

    Others might think my wit gets absolutely the credit it deserves.

    Sailing along well health wise now.

    Great win by the Dogs. But what’s going on with the blokes?

    Cheers

  7. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thanks John always fun sitting in the Almanac wing and with the footy faithful. Great write up. Completely missed the satirical whimsy. Too cranky from being soaked through and the huge puddles in the ladies did nothing to restore my humour. Tense game. Happy for the Doggies win. Felt sad for Lions. Onwards to next year.

  8. John Butler says:

    Yvette, thanks to you and Kirby for getting us a dry spot in the stand. In the spirit of Allan Jeans, you paid the price.

    Re satirical whimsy, Denise will confirm you didn’t miss much.

    Wear the membership proudly. :)

  9. Poor old Basil, perhaps you’d both have been better served by a bit of Jimmy Cagney?

    Yvette, you were the real MVP on the day, the seats were great. Thank you again!

Leave a Comment

*