AFLW Round 7 – Melbourne v Fremantle: Turning Up The Heat
What an amazing performance Melbourne Women put on today for the final round, at their home ground at Casey Fields.
In 29-degree heat, Melbourne had a lot to prove. Sitting third on the ladder, they needed a huge score to improve their percentage to stand any chance of stealing second spot and a final berth against Brisbane.
They also need Adelaide to either draw or fall over badly tomorrow – so that’s to come.
Apparently Fremantle were there today too. I’m being incredibly unfair to them – they had some fierce play, with determined blocking and some dexterous turnovers. The trouble was, when they got the ball away from Melbourne, Melbourne were ready to take it straight back.
It only took a couple of minutes into the first quarter for Melbourne to strike, courtesy of Mifsud taking a strong mark, then booting it through.
The confidence, skill and fitness of the Melbourne team were on display. I caught up with Yvette Wroby in the Eastern side of the oval and we were both talking about how much stronger both teams looked out there, after only seven rounds. Match fitness, they call it.
It was a huge first quarter – five goals to Melbourne and two goals to Fremantle, courtesy of Houghton and Antonio. The accuracy under pressure (and searing heat) was brilliant.
Second quarter, Melbourne were only too keen to break Fremantle’s spirit. They were here to win and they had to win big. The Demons added another three straight goals while Fremantle struggled, with three scoring shots of their own – but only points.
At half time, Yvette and I moved to the shade of the beautiful grandstand and got chatting with some keen observers from the Eastern Ranges Football League. We bent the ear of the President of the Montrose Football Club, Adam Wilkinson; coach of the under 15’s and under 16’s girls football, Sam Welsh; and two players, Brittney and Olivia. They were loving the day and the fitness on display.
Montrose now has 60 girls and three teams this year, along with their regular coterie of 240 boys. Seeing a women’s league at the AFL level validates the sport for girls, Adam says, as girls see women playing and can believe it’s real.
One of the changes Adam has loved lately is seeing sometimes ‘body conscious’ teen girls showing off sore knees and minor injuries as a badge of pride. He says women’s football has really brought the community together, as boys and girls train together on the same turf. He’s glowing with how positive the new programs are (although he’s also seen boys miss a mark and get a ball in the face because they were distracted by the girls training close by). They have longstanding father-son rules (with regards to jumper numbers) and have now introduced father-daughter rules. At some point down the road they’ll have mother-daughter rules as well.
Coach Sam is impressed with the girls’ developing skills – courtesy of their involvement in many other sports. Basketball is a massive help with skills, netball is great for fitness and volleyball is brilliant for jumping.
The junior teams play on smaller grounds as they build their skills. There was a team the girls played early in their season where they lost by fifty points. But they built on their skills and kept at it. They next time they met, they lost by only a kick. ‘But really, they won that game.’ Sam says.
Most weeks, junior footballers Olivia and Brittney play three sports; football, netball and basketball – and they keep up with their school work too. Their football uniform is a convenient red and blue, and they are incredibly happy with the scoreboard which keeps ticking over in Melbourne’s favour. Olivia and Brittney are loving how physical the match is and the women’s fitness levels – when they come off the field they don’t even look red in the face. These young girls are the face of an incredible groundswell of support for women’s football. Brittney says, ‘If your skills get better, you can look up to this and get better.’
We talk through nearly the whole third quarter, where Fremantle scores one point, and Melbourne posts two more goals. Their score is ten clean goals, no points. It’s pure magic.
The final quarter and I sneak a picture of Shelley Scott, 12, taking a quick break on the bench with a wet towel over her shoulders. The doctors and physios for both sides are here in great numbers, making sure the players don’t overheat. Melbourne keep Fremantle scoreless for the final quarter, boot one more goal, and then their first points – four of them. They run out winners by 54 points.
Overcome with delirium, the game was over but the fans were going nowhere, happy to soak in the atmosphere. Coach Sam is rounding up his junior players and bringing them over to the fence line, so that after the Melbourne women sing their song and give away some prized footballs, they can meet the next generation of players.
MELBOURNE 5.0 8.0 10.0 11.4 (70)
FREMANTLE 2.0 2.3 2.4 2.4 (16)
Melbourne: Humpries, Paxman, Berry 2, Scott 2, Mifsud 2, Newman, Phillips 2,
Fremantle: Houghton, Antonio
What a fantastic change from the first round, where I squelched home from Casey Fields, soaking wet and lamenting a loss.
According to the statistically minded, this is the highest score in AFLW’s season so far, and the greatest winning margin. But will it be enough to boost Melbourne’s percentage so they can steal second spot on the ladder and meet Brisbane in the final?
More importantly, can I bring myself to barrack for Collingwood tomorrow so that Adelaide falls over?