AFLW Round 1 – Western Bulldogs v Fremantle: Reigning premiers chalk up historic first win
Well, technically there can be no reigning premier in what is a comp in its first season, but did you really think I was going to pass up any opportunity to make a reference to the Dogs being reigning premiers?
Our status as reigning premiers (in the men’s) is one of the drivers stirring my interest in the inaugural season of the women’s league. Allow me to explain.
I am born and bred Footscray. I attended Footscray North Primary School and lived in the vicinity of the Footscray Ammunition Factory for all of my school years. About 30 years ago, I moved North of the Murray, and I have lived there ever since, but I have maintained my Footscray membership the whole time even though I rarely get to games these days.
Due to events beyond my control, I was unable to be in Melbourne for the Grand Final last year, and had to watch from afar, experiencing ecstasy and utter disbelief in equal proportions. Actually, disbelief may have won the day.
Having missed out on witnessing a Grand Final win in person, I vowed to experience as much of the club as I could while it retained the status of reigning premier this year, and that brings us to the inaugural season of the AFL Women’s, of which my club has played no small part in establishing.
There was no way I was going to miss the women’s opening game, and I’m glad I made the trip down the Hume to experience it.
It is now widely known that our former Vice President, Susan Alberti, played a major role in getting women’s footy off the ground and broadly accepted. It’s another feather in the cap of our great club: drought breaking premiership; pioneers in women’s footy; operating profits; maintaining our spiritual home at Whitten Oval – it all appears to be coming together in a rush.
On top of wanting to witness history, I imagine another reason why I, and 10,000 other Bulldog fans descended on Whitten Oval is that we love the place! We want to return as often as we can, and now we have an excellent reason to return.
And didn’t we love it! While the size of the crowd was noteworthy, it’s the celebratory nature of the gathering: lots of young families, lots of kids, lots of women and girls, all having a fun time, all happy. The AFL is definitely on a winner giving us women’s footy at this time of year.
About half an hour before the start of the game, I notice none other than Peter Gordon strolling languidly around the perimeter, eating a bucket of chips, wearing the biggest smile imaginable. Someone near me recognises him, but for the most part, he is anonymous, and he is enjoying it. Could there be a happier man in all of Australia?
Having witnessed the intensity of the previous night’s game between the Pies and the Blues, it’s no surprise that this game matches it, perhaps surpasses it. The crowd is immediately in awe of these women putting their head over the footy, all wanting to run through anyone who stands in their way.
A difference in skill level is immediately noticeable. Whereas the previous night it took at least a minute for the first player to notch up a disposal, within about 90 seconds, Freo strings together a series of handballs and short passes in front of the grand stands sweeping the ball away from defence to attack in a flash.
To my eyes, it would appear that we are looking at the two best sides in the comp.
Soon after, just for a moment, we catch a glimpse of the manic handballing system the Bulldogs men used with devastating effect last season. We shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s too early in the season, too early in their professional careers, so for the moment we will have to be content with glimpses.
Twenty years after the club last played an AFL game at this ground, it’s good to see that the wind is still as tricky as ever, even in the height of summer. For this reason, one had to be impressed early on at how well Freo moved the ball, and some of these girls were lightning quick off half-back.
We open our account through Kirsty McLeod when the ball finally got through Freo’s last line of defence. Freo levelled it up soon after, working the ball with precision to Melissa Caulfield, seemingly against the breeze. We could not have guessed at the time that this would be Freo’s only goal of the match.
Our captain, Katie Brennan, then did something special, holding off on the handball by a split second, and then releasing to set up the second goal. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the flurry of excited activity, and plenty of pressure on the ball carrier, Katie oozed class and composure most of the night.
When it appeared that Freo were getting back into the game in the 2nd quarter, it was Katie who popped up with a strong grab and goal.
We appear to have put together a very strong midfield, including our other marquee, Ellie Blackburn, and one of our top draft picks in Emma Kearney, who was the highest possession earner on the night, most of them contested. Can you believe Emma also plays WBBL?
As it happens, I’m standing next to a boy who yells out “Go Miss!”
It turns out she’s a teacher and he’s in her class. He ought to be proud of his teacher, she was terrific all night.
I was also impressed by Brooke Lochland, a former speed skater. She covered some terrain, as if she was skating on top of it, she got to countless contests, and her ball handling was good.
For Freo, their marquee Kara Donnellan was in the action, winning plenty of the ball and covering the ground all night.
While she didn’t win a lot of the ball, I was impressed by Okely, she had pace to burn and ran straight at the ball at all times.
In fact, the courage shown by all the girls in this opening week of footy has been immense – anyone who thinks these girls don’t deserve all the accolades they are getting doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
A word of encouragement for Freo fans, I honestly believe your team played a lot better than the scoreboard suggests, certainly it was quite even up to half time. The Dogs had a bit more penetration in the forward 50, and of course the presence of Katie Brennan.
I left the Whitten Oval, feeling immense pride for my club, and I’m proud of our new team. Women’s footy will only get bigger and bigger.