AFLW Round 2 – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide: Ying, meet Yang
Either side of last Friday’s trip to the Whitten Oval, I had a beer. One each side of the game equals two for the evening – I’m certain of the maths, on this particular occasion. The first was hurriedly thrown in the fridge and I knew full well it wouldn’t get enough time to chill before I took it on a walk to the oval. I took it anyway. The result was a nice stroll, typical of a warm summer’s evening, but a not-so-nice beer. The warmth made it too yeasty, almost bread-like and so, true to my recently abandoned undergraduate lifestyle, I grimaced and struggled through the job at hand. As for the second beer – well, we’ll get to that one a little later.
There’s an awful lot riding on every game of this AFLW season – even more than usual, considering the short season and the stark reality that only the top two will play off in the big dance, with the other six gone at the end of the home and away season. Even amidst the emotion of last week’s matches, the hyper-competitive environment was obvious. I watched from next to their bench as the Dockers’ ship slowing sunk against the Dogs. The players on the bench were almost more intriguing than those who were still on the field as the game got away from the visiting side. Marshalled by two bench managers (whose names aren’t on the Freo website, or anywhere else, as far as I can tell) – a young bloke with a beard and a women with a stare so serious I reckon she’d give Kitty Chiller a run for her money – there’s a lot of barracking, a lot of screaming, the occasional swear word, but mostly, just the looks of desperation that appear, almost against the players’ will, when you know you’re just being done in by a better mob. Yes, history is being made, but losing still hurts. It’s only natural.
Things move quickly the minute the siren goes – they always do. The players are up and off to shake hands, almost in sync. The two bench managers are having a sombre, serious conversation just inside the boundary line. And then Freo leave, quiet, beaten, on to the next one, leaving just those victorious Dogs. Ellie Blackburn kicks her signed footy a very, very long way into the stands. All around there are fans hugging players, players hugging fans, selfies, family members in tears, and across all these faces, this big old ‘how good is this’ grin. The crescendo, of course, is a rousing rendition of ‘Team of the West.’ Yes, you can’t help but feel good in week one of the inaugural AFLW competition, but winning makes it even better, right? The siren, the team song, the feeling of hugging your teammates and jumping up and down like you’re a little kid – it’s footballing bliss.
Six days on, Katie Brennan stands on the boundary line looking out over the Whitten Oval and those same Dogs. She’s as motionless as you can be when you’re breathing as heavily as she is. Her hands are on her head. I can’t see her face, but I imagine it’s donning one of the looks I saw on those Freo players’ face. Forlorn. Beaten, but unbowed. What can I do here? Why won’t the clock stop ticking? Where has it all gone down the gurgler? It was the Crows’ night and Sarah Perkins’ night, a woman who lost 40 kilos. ‘That’s a small jockey’, Dad tells me down the phone later. She’s assured in front of goal and kicks two. The Dogs only have themselves to blame – after a string of early behinds, the Crows really punished them, proving to be the much better side for the rest of the night.
Now those Crows are squawking (not literally, although, their yelping isn’t too far away), jumping all over one another, wearing those broad grins, on top of the world, for an evening, at least. And those Dogs? The newly recorded ‘Daughters of the West’ is put on hold for another week. As they trudge off, there are still smiles, but worn hesitantly, as if now isn’t the right moment to be seen to be happy. You can’t help but give your mum, or a young fan, a smile when they wave at you over the fence, though.
The road from here is tough. They might lose their next outing against the Demon’s, effectively ending their chances of winning it all. That said, they might not lose again, all season. Either way, the wins they have won’t be nearly as spectacular, as glorious, without the feelings of yearning, the forlorn look across the field, which punctuated their loss to the Crows. Footy’s ying and yang – there can’t be one without the other. And as for that second beer – it had been sitting in the fridge for three hours by the time I finally got round to drinking it after the walk home from the oval. Needless to say, it tasted that much sweeter and colder, and I enjoyed it that much more, because of how average the first beer was…
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.5 1.6 2.9 2.11 (23)
ADELAIDE 1.2 3.5 6.5 7.6 (48)
Western Bulldogs: Brennan, McLeod
Adelaide: Perkins 2, Sedunary, Killian, McCormick, Gibson, Foley
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Kearney, McLeod
Adelaide: Marinoff, Phillips, Perkins
Umpires: Cheever, Burns, Mirabile
Official crowd: 7,669 at Whitten Oval
3. Marinoff 2. Phillips 1. Perkins