Carlton v Collingwood
7.45 pm, February 3rd
Ikon Park, Carlton
When the gates opened at 5.30 pm the queues were already substantial. Well before game time, a full house was on the cards. That this was such a surprise to organisers was a surprise itself. How many times do you get to witness the Big Bang? And for free! The AFL isn’t a notably bashful organisation, but on this occasion they drastically underestimated their own product. The many layers of irony in this won’t be lost on most women.
We had positioned ourselves on the fence, next to the interchange area. The crowd that filled in around us was dominated by families, particularly women, of all ages. Groups of fit young females congregated, calling out players by nickname. They were clearly teammates in other leagues, or maybe opponents. Excitement was palpable. This was a big night for an entire community of sportspeople who have laboured for a long time with little recognition.
As the last rays of warm evening sun disappeared behind the stands, it was game time. In their warm-ups, both sides had been clean and sharp. Suddenly, in the heat of battle, there was no space to be found. It was as crowded on the ground as off. Neither team was willing to yield. Every ball was scrapped over. It took a free kick to finally break the opening deadlock. Collingwood made the early chances. Jasmine Garner earned her place in history with the first goal. Though they didn’t yet know it, the Pies had already peaked.
As the nerves settled, Carlton assumed control. Their set up looked superior. Continual harassment of Collingwood ball carriers forced hurried kicks, which were invariably met by a line of navy blue defence. When a clean passage was achieved, it usually started from a Carlton rebound off half back. Defensive skills dominated. Collectively, there were 146 tackles laid in the abbreviated game time. Well over 50% of possessions were contested. From the boundary line, you could feel the hits. As players interchanged, you could see the exhaustion. No one was holding anything back. They’d waited too long for this.
As they prevailed tactically, Carlton also had the dominant individuals. Brianna Davey was awesome. Anticipating most Magpie attacks, she was balanced and poised. She was clean when others fumbled. Even in the heaviest traffic, she disposed effectively. She marshalled Carlton’s defence. No single tackler could bring her to ground. If the great Bruce Doull was watching, he would have approved.
Like all good forwards, Darcy Vescio sees opportunity where others see confusion. Of Carlton’s four first-half goals, she scored three herself, and provided the clever knock-on that enabled Lauren Arnell to snap the fourth. Each Vescio goal was created differently. She’s not the biggest in stature, but she’s nimble, marks with strong hands, and can score off either foot. She was a threat every time the ball went near her.
There was plenty of navy blue support. When skipper Lauren Arnell wasn’t winning possession herself, she was encouraging teammates, urging them to greater efforts. A veteran of eight premierships with the Darebin Falcons football machine, she knows what it takes to win. Nat Exon caught the eye with her ferocity. Bianca Jakobsson’s height and athleticism dominated a tiring Collingwood defence in the final term.
Collingwood were well beaten, but never conceded. They tackled their hearts out until the end. But they couldn’t find flow to their game. Moana Hope played deep forward, attempting to draw the Carlton defence back with her. This tactic failed. Under the Carlton pressure, most Pie attacks barely made it inside 50. Hope was stranded in starvation alley for most of the night.
Some still seem determined to quibble about the standard of play, as if part-timers would be instantly transported into the pampered realms of the full time professional league. This discussion already feels as relevant as a debate about Betamax video. Now that these women have access to resources, any shortcomings of depth or skill will rapidly dissipate. Their dedication has already been proven. They only needed the opportunity.
The AFL has been smart to highlight the stories of individuals in their promos. Most have already lived lives beyond school and football. Many have achieved notable careers in other sports. They are single mothers and professionals, students and teachers. They have rich stories to tell.
As a Carlton person, I believe these women are great for my football club. Carlton has badly needed reinvention for too long. This team is an essential component of that process. A number of them are clearly high achievers. What organisation doesn’t need that?
Their impact was already evident tonight. Princes Park hasn’t witnessed this much excitement in over a decade. Thumping the Magpies will never grow old. But beyond that, from players to president, Carlton looked better prepared for this moment than Collingwood. I haven’t often been able to claim that often during the last fifteen years.
To watch these players celebrate and commiserate after the game, to watch them interact with the many young girls who lined the fence, to witness the communal celebration of play once the teams had left the oval, it was hard not to feel that a threshold has been crossed. Where exactly we go from here remains to be seen, but there’s no going back. Whatever ups and downs this new league may have in years to come, I just hope that they retain a sense of the overwhelming joy that made this such a special night.
CARLTON 3.0 4.1 6.1 7.4 (46)
COLLINGWOOD 1.2 1.4 1.5 1.5 (11)
Carlton: Vescio 4, Arnell, Davey, Jakobsson
Carlton: Davey, Vescio, Exon, Jakobsson, Arnell, Brazzale
Collingwood: D’Arcy, Chiocci, Barden, Bonnici
Votes: 3 – Davey (Car) 2 – Vescio (Car) 1 – Exon (Car)
Official crowd: 24,568 (not counting those who jumped fences or clambered through unused turnstiles)