AFLW Round 7 – GWS v Western Bulldogs: Footy Fairness
My daughter, Audrey, has an over-developed sense of fairness. She’s five.
She hadn’t been that interested in footy until her brother, aged six — a Bulldogs nut (my crowning achievement as a father given we live in Sydney and their footy club is the Mosman Swans) — was flown down to Melbourne in late September 2016, for a four-day trip into footy dreamland.
From the 10,000 at Thursday training, to the 180,000 at the parade, to the 99,981 on Saturday who saw something they thought they never would, to the still stunned 20,000 which turned Whitten’s unfashionable turf into a concert arena – my boy kicked his footy the whole time, oblivious to the significance — he has only known winning, the brat.
Of course, this all transpired on social media, so Audrey saw him having an awesome time and wanted in on the action. If that meant supporting the Bulldogs, then no problem.
Fortunately (for me) the AFL had just announced the AFL Women’s and a convenient draw with the Dogs visiting the Giants. I thought that would mean a drive out to Spotless, some reminiscing of the greatest stickening-uppening in Dogs’ history, $20 for a small box of chips, another win, then home. All in one afternoon.
Closer inspection revealed a trip down the Federal Highway to Canberra was required. No problem. Wifely approval for a daddy-daughter-Dogs road trip was duly garnered — a NSW girl, she knows (now), that footy pilgrimages are part-and-parcel of an AFL household.
A hotel two drop punts from Manuka Oval was booked, I taught Audrey to say, “What goes on tour, stays on tour” (more for the treats she was going to get), and we were off.
The three hour drive to our nation’s capital was notable for two reasons, the frequent rain squalls and the lack of opposition supporters to sledge as we overtook them. Past “home” games (men’s) in Canberra versus the Swans lent plenty of such opportunity.
The latter theme continued after we arrived at our hotel, donned our Dogs gear and headed to the pub for pre-game steak and chips. Canberra is quite sympathetic to footy, with a strong local league, plus plenty of government and defence ex-pats from footy states. Unfortunately, many are knitted from the cloth of unique individual who must wear their team’s colours, even if said team is not competing in the attended game in question…
Audrey was a bit confused at seeing Swans, Hawks, and Pies shirts, but I told her those people were getting one week ahead of themselves and were to be offered a link to the draw in the same manner directions are offered to lost tourists.
At the ground, pre-game pleasantries were exchanged and we got up to speed with the women’s lyrics for the Bulldogs club song. Interestingly, both teams’ cheer squads were a bit light on for numbers and needed to recruit crowd members to help pull the banner ropes. That Bulldogs fan hanging on to one of the Giants’ banner ropes as the team ran through it was truly a good sport.
From the first bounce, it was notable that even though the wooden spoon and number one draft pick were on the line, all the players wanted to win. The men could learn something from this…
Tackle pressure was fierce from the get-go for both sides. The Dogs were winning the hard ball through the prolific Emma Kearney, and the Giants were implementing short passing tactics to get it forward. Jess Dal Pos saw a lot of it early. Given Lauren Spark was shoring up the backline for the Bulldogs, Tiana Ernst battled hard in the ruck against the tallest player in the competition, Erin McKinnon. The limited opportunities created by each team were wasted and arriving late, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking you’d turned up to a soccer game. At the end of the quarter, the score was 2 behinds to 1 in the Dogs’ favour: GWS 0.1 (1) – Bulldogs 0.2 (2)
Unlike her brother at the same age, Audrey needed little entertaining, happy to sit on my lap and watch the action unfold — mostly in the crowd or at the opposite end of the ground to the ball, but she was having a good time, so any fear of needing to exit early was allayed. It’s awesome to me that she will grow up without the thought that a professional women’s league is a foreign concept.
In the second quarter, GWS’ efficiency improved, particularly through clean possessions from Emma Swanson and Nicola Barr in the midfield. Jacinda Barclay, coming off a championship-winning stint in the US BFL (Bikini Football League), hauled in a contested mark from a Barr kick and cleared the line from 35 out for the game’s first goal. The mostly neutral crowd, murmured approvingly. Barclay then turned provider, creating a contest 20 metres out, gathering the crumbs and dishing off to Rebecca Beeson who snapped truly. The Bulldogs were looking shaky.
Enter Karen Lamb. Seeming to forget she was knocked out last week in Brisbane, Lamb sacrificed herself for the good of the team, making effort after effort, and being rewarded with the game’s next major. This is the moment Audrey had been waiting for, and jumped up to wave her Western Bulldogs flag. Very cute until beginner’s luck ran dry and nearby spectators were being poked with the wrong end of the flagstick.
Meantime, Lamb’s sizzling work sparked her team-mates, who redoubled their tackling pressure, until Angelica Gogos forced an incorrect disposal 15 metres out and dobbed her first AFLW goal. Cue more flag-waving and flag-poking. Then it was time for the long break, the Bulldogs ahead by 4 points: Giants 2.1 (13) — Bulldogs 2.5 (17)
At half time, I found the AFL’s memo on cheap food hadn’t made it’s way to Manuka, but having left half her food uneaten at the pub, Audrey indicated her footy experience wouldn’t be complete without chips and sauce. Fair enough.
On the game’s resumption, the Bulldogs took control through an even spread of contributions, but it was hard not to notice two in particular. Ellie Blackburn, who’d been quiet in the first half, started to dominate, racking up effective possessions like cans of soup on an Aldi shelf. She led the game for disposals, kicks and marks, and an early 3rd quarter foray in the middle led to a mark and goal for Jaimee Lambert.
At half forward, try as they might, the Giants’ midfield were finding Hannah Scott virtually impassable. As a team-mate, you would just trust her to do whatever was required. Crunching tackles. Bruising spoils. Piercing kicks. The lot. I was shouting, “Great, Scott!” on a regular basis, and think I might be in love.
Just before three quarter time, Lamb got a chop out in the forward pocket and dribbled through the Dogs’ fourth goal from a tight angle. At the change, the women from Melbourne had increased their lead to 16 points: GWS 2.2 (14) – Bulldogs 4.6 (30)
In the last quarter, the Giants’ backs were suffering from the wrong kind of leather poisoning and the Bulldogs continued on their way with an early crumbing goal to Kirsten McLeod. Swanson, Barr, Dal Pos and Beeson continued to battle hard for GWS, earning one last goal for the season to a textbook lead, mark and conversion from Phoebe McWilliams.
One thing Giants coach, Tim Schmidt, will need to focus on for next season is hard ball competitiveness. Their inside 50s dried up and the Dogs created a couple of highlights for Mad Monday with two awesome 50 metre goals in junk time from (Great) Scott and Blackburn.
The siren sounded, the Bulldogs took the four points and the Giants “won” the AFLW’s inaugural piece of woodware. However, the mood after the game wasn’t the usual sombre one — of missed finals and a dreaded summer pre-season — the players on both teams smiled and laughed with each other, sharing hugs with family members in the crowd. Proud of their achievements. Proud of their place in AFLW history.
Meantime, a five year old girl leant over the fence, hand outstretched for high fives and as one last bonus, was handed a club footy by Brooke Lochland.
“Daddy, I love the Bulldogs.”
W Bulldogs: 0.2 2.5 4.6 7.10 (52)
GWS Giants: 0.1 2.1 2.2 3.2 (20)
W Bulldogs: Lamb 2, Gogos, McLeod, Lambert, Scott, Blackburn.
GWS Giants: Barclay, Beeson, McWilliams.
W Bulldogs: Blackburn, Kearney, Scott, Lochland, Lamb.
GWS Giants: Swanson, Dal Pos, Barclay, Beeson, Barr.
UMPIRES: Nic McGinness, Vic Rawlings, Matt Geddes.
OUR VOTES: Scott (WB) 3, Blackburn (WB) 2, Swanson (GWS) 1.