AFLW Round 7 – Western Bulldogs v Melbourne: Post-match with Aasta O’Connor

 

From five minutes into the final quarter of the Western Bulldogs v Melbourne preliminary-final-style-last-game-of-season, the crowd held its collective breath.

 

The ball spent most of the time in congestion and as the clock counted down, it looked like the Daughters of the West would need nothing short of a miracle to claw their way back into the game. There was ninety seconds to go. The Dogs were four-points behind. Only a goal could save them.

 

A goal and this season’s cult-hero Brooke Lochland.

 

Aasta O’Connor recalls those final seconds vividly.

 

“Yeah it’s funny, I said to Kearney, ‘We’ve just got to have control, we’ve just got to stay calm.’

 

The game was won and lost at the contest and in the stoppages and Melbourne’s midfield are fantastic and we knew that. We knew we had to match their contested footy and in those last few minutes, especially with that boundary throw in, in my mind I thought, ‘This is Whitten Oval. We know this ground.’ and I knew where the ball was going to go with the breeze.

 

I heard Jenna Bruton on the fly and I knew I had to get it to her. But I felt like everyone played their role all night which led us to that final moment.”

 

In a seven-week season with no finals series, Round 7 shaped up to be one anyway with the top of the table Bulldogs and Dees fighting for a spot in the Grand Final. With so much outside noise pegging this game as a ‘Preliminary Final’, O’Connor said her team were focused on maintaining calm and their usual approach but of course, knew that this was more than a regular season game.

 

“It was business as usual [this week] but in saying that we reviewed the game against GWS and we were really disappointed with what we put out on the park last week. That was an opportunity missed and we knew that. Just our contested footy and how hard we wanted it in close at the source and we knew if we’d won that, things might be different, as our skills on the outside are as good as anyone’s. But yeah it was a bit business as usual in the lead up – Grovesy [head coach Paul Groves] keeps it really simple and consistent in the messaging for us.”

 

O’Connor also knew that the X factor for her Dogs was having Captain Katie Brennan back in the side after sustaining an ankle injury in Round 3 which buoyed the team, and her own personal performance.

 

“To have KB come back in was a real spark for the team, to see your captain smiling and back out there with the jumper on, it was good for me, I mean I didn’t have to sit next to Blackie in the locker room, I had a ‘3’ between the ‘2’ and ‘4’ so that was really good!”

 

O’Connor’s AFLW journey was a frustrating one as she joined Brennan on the sidelines for most of the first season due to injury so year two meant a lot for her to take on the opportunity to make up for lost time and earn her place back.

 

“Grovesy and the coaching group challenged me at the start of the year to take back that number one ruck spot and it was something that I really had to work hard for – you’re not gifted anything in this team. You’ve got to work for it and that’s our culture and we know that.

 

Grovesy and Andrew Shakespeare also spoke to me about my kicking and my short kicking in particular and I feel like that’s something I’ve been able to put my time into and I’m really confident in that now.”

 

As a stalwart of the game, O’Connor has relished the opportunity to work with the new recruits and share her wealth of footy knowledge.

 

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most [this season], being at my age is mentoring our younger players that have come to our club, I just love them and they give you energy and you can learn so much from them and that’s probably the thing that I hold dearest to my heart.”

 

Post-game while waiting to chat to Aasta, I ran into Bulldogs legend and now Director of Football, Chris Grant. He’s an all-round legend of the game and a dead-set legend of a bloke as we chatted in the race. His team had just made the AFLW Grand Final and he still made the time to catch up with me and ask about my studies. I congratulated him on the game and the Doggies’ season and he was so proud. He hugged each and every player as they came down to the rooms.

 

He told me how happy he was to see matches played for points being held at the Western Oval again, that it was something that had been lost; which was a real shame, as footy back in the day brought Footscray together. Now AFLW had brought that spirit back to the ground he loves so much and it meant the world to him. The community had come out in a 7,593-strong crowd that sounded like 10,000+ that night and had brought life back to the ground.

 

I mentioned this conversation to Aasta and she understands what football and the Bulldogs mean to the West.

 

“We love playing here. You can feel it when you go out there and you want to play harder for our people, for the people of the West.

 

You talk to some of the male Bulldogs players and they’re pretty jealous, they don’t get to play out here so it’s something we really love and I think It’s really special and that is part of AFLW isn’t it? Bringing it back to the communities so it has real authenticity.”

 

O’Connor is no stranger to that Grand Final feeling coming from VFLW powerhouse Darebin, but playing in an AFLW Grand Final is on another level. Getting through this week will be a mixture of containing the excitement and hard work as the Bulldogs prepare for battle.

 

“I guess going through my head right now is, ‘Enjoy it.’, you know footy is a pretty funny game, it can be pretty cruel sometimes.

 

But there’s something about the Western Bulldogs, that ‘backs to the wall’ spirit and we know we’ve earnt the right to be there.

 

We worked really hard in the preseason to get here and that’s the sweat equity that Grovesy talks about – but it’s just another week though as well.

 

For me personally, in winning and losing games of footy – I’ve learned that in time it doesn’t define who you are but I’m stoked to have the opportunity to play in an AFLW Grand Final, it’s still sinking in.”

 

 

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. Jarrod_L says:

    Two sides with really strong, united cultures into the GF. If they were playing anyone else, I’d back the Bulldogs right in. Aasta’s a mature head with good hands; hope she has a good (not great) game on Saturday.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Great interview. Hard to call Saturday’s game

  3. DanielleSpicer says:

    Great interview!

  4. Hi Kasey,

    Your writing pieces with AFLW players are always inspiring and what I enjoy. Another good interview.

    I am always impressed with Aasta’s on field performances this season. I hadn’t known she was challenged by coaching staff.

    Her efforts and improvements encourage me on my on field performances with Osaka Dingoes. As a 45-yo new player who has been playing footy only for a month, sadly my kicking is short. Only practising and patience can improve. As mentioned in my latest AFLW match report, my kicking is improving and Matt (my coach) is impressed.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

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