AFLW Round 1 – Western Bulldogs v Fremantle: Happy times in Footscray
Western Bulldogs v Fremantle.
Saturday 4 February 2017.
Whitten Oval, Melbourne.
The last time I lined up outside the gates for two hours before a game was due was way back in 1979. It was the WANFL Grand Final between South Fremantle and my team, the Old Easts. Now that was a Derby! The attendance at Subiaco Oval that day was reportedly 52,892. It was hot and crowded, East Fremantle won its 25th Premiership and I was there.
It was glorious.
Today I lined up for an age before the Whitten Oval gates were opened to usher in the crowd for the Western Bulldogs first game in the AFLW. It was hot and crowded, and while the glory belonged to the home team, I’m thrilled that I was there.
The crowd was let in at least 45 minutes before the scheduled time. It felt hotter than the forecast 34 degrees and I reckon the AFL might have figured it was a good idea to get the bums on seats ASAP. By 6.45 there didn’t appear to be any seats left for the any other bums. The E.J Whitten Stand was full as we sat behind the rows reserved for the Auskickers and the Doug Hawkins Wing looked pretty, well, just pretty. It’s a beaut footy club and having survived the capacity (plus) crowd at Princes Park last night, I’ve enjoyed the suburban oval nostalgia as much as the next person.
The first quarter was tight; great tackling from both sides with the game’s first goal to the Bulldogs as Kirsten McLeod collected with run and flair, the second to Fremantle’s Melissa Caulfield from the quick hands of captain Kara Donnellan. Western Bulldogs skipper, Katie Brennan, showed the benefit of her experience as Jamie Lambert kicked another for the Dogs and in between Freo blew opportunities. There was stoppage after stoppage after stoppage – as we expected. The midfields of both sides fought hard in every contest and the score was close.
The second quarter continued with high intensity. Brennan showed no sign of the recent scratch match ankle injury curtailing her dash and continued to contest – not always winning – the Dockers had momentum but the hard work from Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn who kept getting plenty of ball, kept it a close match. The Dockers stopped repeated entries into their defensive fifty. At the other end, Fremantle could not nail opportunities including repeated set shots from within range. On the Hawkins Wing, Akec Makur Chuot went down and never returned to the field. Did that give the Dogs an advantage in height? I couldn’t always tell from where I was (note to self: think about acquiring binoculars) but it appeared Tiana Ernst won most ruck contests. I was disappointed there was no radio coverage for the game that I could find to help out in moments like that. Brennan got a crucial goal late in the quarter and the defensive efforts of Freo were to no avail. Freo missed an opportunity for a late goal and at half time it was 3 straight for the dogs and 1.5 for the Dockers. Fremantle had wasted opportunities – 0.5 for the term – but was still within a goal of the home team.
The third quarter was all the Dogs, although they too failed to maximise their chances, kicking 1.5 by half way through the term. The Dockers fell away in the second half. In the first two quarters it was three on one and plenty of pressure but as the game wore on the Dockers efforts appeared to provide little reward; spilt uncontested marks, second and third grabs at loose balls while the Doggies seemed to collect and dish off more assuredly.
At three quarter time I left the hard seats of the EJ Whitten Stand (note to self: remember the cushion you promised yourself last time) and took a walk around the oval. As in the All Stars game last September, the Hawkins Wing was filled with happy family groups, suburban footballers, kids of all ages and women, women, women. It was a sea of red, white and blue and if there was room for more people, I couldn’t see it. Most people seemed focused on the game and enjoyed the clash. Through the night I heard snippets of conversation raging from “why has the game stopped?” (answer: that’s a free kick to a player for nearly having her head removed in a high tackle) to “Yeah, one of the players is my child’s chess team mate’s teacher”. Somehow everyone seemed connected. Although Freo is my team (see 1979) I don’t know any of the AFLW players or coaching staff. I’ve lived in Melbourne for seven footy seasons and often felt like the only Docker waving the flag. Today I swear I was the only Docker waving the flag in EJ’s stand. I know there was a small enthusiastic posse of purple there today because as I attempted to record some vox pops before the gates opened, I made my way to a gathering of Dockers and unexpectedly met Hayley Miller’s parents. And, of course, they know my cousins back in the West. I asked Hayley’s mum what her daughter was expecting today and she told me a few things about the players and their experiences. “But mostly they’re just having fun.”
To all the women who made the AFLW possible – thanks. After the excitement of being at this week’s AFLW launch, the remarkable opening game and my beloved team’s first contest, I may have run out of adrenaline. I could do with a cuppa and a rest.
When’s the next game? I’ll be there.
Western Bulldogs: 2.0 3.0 5.6 6.8 (44)
Fremantle 1.0 1.5 1.5 1.6 (12)
Western Bulldogs: Brennan 2, McLeod, Lambert, O’Connor, Blackburn
Fremantle: Melissa Caulfield
Western Bulldogs: Kearney, Blackburn, Brennan, Ernst.
Fremantle : Donnellan, Hooker, Smith
UMPIRES Cheever, Jankovskis, Toovey
OUR VOTES: Kearney (Western Bulldogs) 3, Brennan (Western Bulldogs) 2, Donnellan (Fremantle) 1.