AFLW Round 1- Western Bulldogs v Fremantle: Waiting Time Is Over
I had been waiting weeks for this evening to arrive, and so much longer for a game of footy that people like you and I could go to and watch and enjoy.
Since that glorious October day that saw my Western Bulldogs claim that Premiership cup that had been eluding them for so long, I had been subjecting myself to replays from last year, including over 200 Grand Final replays by my last count, and sure, every time was as good as the last time, but I must admit, it’s time for a change.
Enter the Western Bulldogs women’s team and the inaugural AFLW season. Their opening round encounter with the Fremantle Dockers has been highly regarded as the game of the round, with both sides boasting extraordinary talent, but Freo have what many have been saying is – a state team – pretty much every player on that Fremantle roster is from Western Australia, and some of them are amongst the best female footy players in the country.
I was keen as anybody to go to this game and witness a little bit of history in Footscray, but when I asked my two younger brothers and my cousin if they were interested in coming along for this game, they were just as eager to go and witness it as I was. I also asked my partner Zoe, who plays local women’s footy if she was interested in tagging along with us, and she didn’t hesitate to say yes, but was hesitant in who to go for, as her uncle was a die-hard Fremantle supporter, but stuck with a generation of Bulldog supporters.
Saturday afternoon rolled by, and having read that there was a massive crowd in for the AFLW season opener between Carlton and Collingwood – so massive that there were about 2000 people who couldn’t get a look in at Ikon Park, I knew I had to leave a little bit earlier than I thought I would, believing there could be a huge amount of people turning up to the home of the reigning premiers.
Zoe arrived at Highett Station from Portsea just after 4pm so I drove up the road to pick her up and had ourselves a very late lunch, and then drove back home to pick my brothers up and then run up to my cousins house to pick her up. By then it was just after 5pm, and we were on the road to Whitten Oval.
It usually takes about 40-45 minutes to get from Sandringham to Footscray, so the drive up was alright, it was a hot afternoon in Melbourne, so the aircon in my car made the ride a lot better. I would’ve thought leaving early to get a good park in the streets was a good idea, but it turned out that we didn’t leave early enough as we turned up to Barkly Street just before 6pm, and there wasn’t a single park in the side streets for a good kilometre and everybody in the car was made aware that I wasn’t overly happy with this.
We eventually found a spot a little bit up the road, but the walk wasn’t as long as I thought it was. We walked into Whitten Oval with about over an hour until first bounce and having positioned ourselves on top of the hill on the far wing, I could see that the crowd is already building, the stands on the opposite wing had nearly filled up to the brim. I was quick to tell the group that it was expected to go over 10,000 tonight, which is unreal considering that the AFL women’s ‘All-Star’ game held here last September drew only 6,500 people.
With the sun going down, the umpire bounced the ball to initiate the start of the campaigns of both the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle’s women’s teams. As I’d expected, it was aggressive, fierce and tough going at the start with both sides wrestling control of the game from one another. The Dogs get their first goal in the new competition through Kirsten McLeod who runs into an easy goal. The Dockers respond moments later through Melissa Caulfield, who ties up the scoreboard at a goal apiece.
It continues to be a back and forth battle until we’re deep in the first quarter when Bulldogs’ captain Katie Brennan has the composure to find team mate Jaimee Lambert and then snaps truly on the right to give the Dogs’ their second just a couple of minutes before quarter time to give the Bulldog girls a one-goal lead at the first break.
Fremantle came out swinging after quarter time to try and assert dominance on the contest and whilst they had control for most of the term, they were only swinging fresh air, as they missed a few easy shots on goal. When the Bulldogs did eventually get it to the other end, it was their leader in Katie Brennan, who had been wearing a heavy tag from Ebony Antonio so far, took a strong grab inside 50 and converted truly for the only goal of the quarter, not to say it was a dull quarter. It had its moments, like any AFL game. There were a couple of excellent run-down tackles and bone-crunching hits, but the Dogs were still ahead at half-time.
I bought some soft drinks for the gang and opened up some snacks that I bought along with us ahead of the second half, and whilst we were sipping our cokes and eating sour worms and mars bars, the Dogs were lighting up Whitten Oval with some crisp play. Aasta O’Connor gets the home team’s fourth goal of the evening, less than a minute in after she was on the end of a brilliant pass from ruckwoman Tiarna Ernst, who has been getting heavily involved in the game.
But just as Fremantle did in the second, the Dogs took full control of this game in the third quarter, but like the Dockers, they butchered a number of shots on goal to put this game beyond reach. McLeod misses a couple of opportunities to add to her one goal for the evening, Captain Brennan misses a shot close to goal on a 45 degree angle and Bec Neaves misses a sitter, but they eventually get their fifth goal through Bulldogs’ marquee player Ellie Blackburn who fortuitously got the ball to bounce in her favour before collecting and snapping from a tight angle, giving the Dogs a handy 25-point lead heading into the last.
The Dogs continued to control most of the play, but Fremantle had a few moments to try and get themselves back in the contest, but the immense pressure from the Dogs proved too much, even their captain Kara Donnellan, who had been everywhere tonight, struggled to get the Dockers up and about when they needed to be. Neither side scored a goal until late in the game, when Brennan was on the end of a good pass from Jess Gardner and just cleared the line for her second goal of the evening – the Dogs sixth.
She, along with Emma Kearney, had been the amongst the best on ground this evening. Brennan shook off her tag of Ebony Antonio to play a big role, and Kearney had the ball on a string all night, and her ability to run and break lines was on full display this evening. Just seconds later the siren sounds. The boys, my cousin and I sing ‘Sons of the West’ for the first time since October, although we probably should’ve said ‘Daughters of the West’. We all hung around a bit after the game until the security guards ushered us out and we headed towards the car, on our way back towards the South-East suburbs of Victoria, very happy with ourselves.
Western Bulldogs 2.0 3.0 5.6 6.8.44
Fremantle 1.0 1.5 1.5 1.6.12
Western Bulldogs: Brennan 2, McLeod, Lambert, O’Connor, Blackburn
Western Bulldogs: Kearney, Brennan, Blackburn, Ernst, Lochland, McLeod, Lambert
Fremantle: Donnellan, Smith, Houghton, Hooker, Antonio
Crowd: 10,100 at Whitten Oval
Umpires: Cheever, Jankovskis, Toovey
Votes – 3: E.Kearney (Western Bulldogs), 2: K.Brennan (Western Bulldogs) 1: K.Donnellan (Fremantle)