Preliminary Final 2016 – GWS v Western Bulldogs: Me, Three Men and Almost a Baby
Western Bulldogs vs Greater Western Sydney
5:15pm, Saturday, 24 September 2016
Spotless Stadium, Sydney
Seriously. What are the chances? My beloved Bulldogs have played an inspiring season of footy, and against the odds (and injury gods) have gone deep into the 2016 finals series. We’re playing a prelim final against our arch-nemesis team, the plastic orange Giants in Sydney next weekend; and I’m 33 weeks pregnant with our much-wanted baby number two.
I was born and bred as a Bulldog supporter – and growing up in picturesque Mornington, that was unusual. Dad’s a one-eyed Doggie, having met the famous EJ and his cohort in the 50s. He made Mum convert from her beloved Pies when he married her. Both my sisters were encouraged to share Dad’s love of footy, but quickly lost interest in their teens. I was hooked from the moment I saw Brad Hardie win his Brownlow (I proudly wore number 4 on my guernsey), and I distinctly remember attending the 85 prelim with Dad.
My love of the Bulldogs and all things footy grew over the years (Steve Kolyniuk was my pin-up boy). Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to meet my husband Ben, also a passionate Dogs supporter. Our fate was sealed when we realised we’d been sitting only four rows apart at Etihad for the previous few years!
Our journey to become parents was far from easy; we rejoiced when our son Thomas was born in 2012. We had almost given up on having another child when a last roll of the dice resulted in a miracle pregnancy in March 2016. I decided to finish work and start maternity leave at the end of August. The plan was a relaxing eight weeks before baby arrived… little did I suspect how this would pan out!
Watching the dogs dismantle the Eagles in the west and Hawks at the G was incredible; yet now we were faced with another huge challenge in Sydney. Could we do it? Ben arranged flights and accommodation for us, our mate Dave and his son Eli; we’d fly up on the Saturday morning and return early Sunday. Tickets were purchased and a babysitter was organised for Tom. Only one thing remained – medical clearance for me to travel! I’d been struggling with high blood pressure for a couple of weeks, and combined with the slightly fast heartbeat of the baby, I was undergoing checks and monitoring on a very regular basis. My obstetrician told me that I could only fly up if I got my blood pressure down; and this would need to be checked by a GP daily in the week leading up to the final. The day before the game, I got the thumbs up to travel – phew!
The day of the game was exciting and nerve-wracking. Our group of four made it to Sydney, running into some Sydney players at the airport who were returning from their victorious game against Geelong the night before. Ben heckled them from the window of our cab, resulting in some dirty looks from the players in question. I remember thinking – I hope we haven’t jinxed ourselves!
We dropped our bags at our motel and jumped on the train, changing lines twice to get to Homebush. I started to feel tired, each station had quite a few stairs to navigate, and the predicted large baby I was carrying was slowing me down. But the excitement was infectious; we exchanged grins and greetings with almost every fellow Bulldog we saw.
We spent a couple of hours at ‘The Brewery’ across from the ground – hard to believe we were the away team such was the presence of red, white and blue there! The theme song played on repeat; anticipation was building. If only I could have had a sneaky beer to calm my nerves…
We arrived early at the ground, feeling rapt with our seats and fighting off the nervous butterflies. I’d attended all our losing prelims in my lifetime, could we really get the result we wanted this time around?
The game itself was a roller coaster – the atmosphere was electric. At three-quarter time, we were silent with nerves. Which way would momentum swing? When GWS hit the front by 14 points in the last, that familiar feeling of disappointment started to emerge… not again!
But – someone forgot to tell these never-say-die Bulldogs. Several heroic acts from our players provided a glimmer of hope.
At the 25-minute mark of the final term, I was feeling physically ill. My phone was buzzing constantly; many friends and family members were concerned that the excitement would bring on early labour! Ben texted a mate to ask how long was left in the quarter; his mate replied that only two minutes remained. From that moment on, I started to exhale slowly, this victory was in our grasp! When Jack Macrae kicked his goal, the excitement built further, and when Jake Stringer centred his kick in the dying seconds, jubilation kicked in. We’d done it!
We hung around at the ground for a while, before heading to the beer garden outside the stadium. We couldn’t walk more than 2 metres without a hug or high-five from a stranger. It was a feeling I’ll never forget. It was a long trek back to the motel, followed by a sleepless night and early flight home. We arrived back just in time to purchase our grand final tickets (as AFL members we were guaranteed seats). And so began another memorable week, capped by our amazing win against the Swans.
Our son Jack was born on the 24th of October, a month to the day after that magnificent preliminary final; completing an extraordinary couple of months in our lives. Naturally, Jack was signed up as a member within days of his birth. As he grows up, I can’t wait to tell him about the turn of events leading up to his birth.
GWS 2.1 5.2 9.7 12.11 (83)
Western Bulldogs 2.3 6.5 9.6 13.11 (89)
Goals: Western Bulldogs: C.Smith, Dickson 4; Cordy 2; Daniel, Bontempelli, Macrae.
GWS: Patton 4; Greene, Lobb 3; D.Smith, Shaw.
Best: Western Bulldogs: C.Smith, Dalhaus, Dickson, Morris, Wood, Johannisen, Macrae, Picken.
GWS: Kelly, Scully, Patton, Coniglio, Wilson, Greene.
Umpires: Nicholls, Schmitt, Meredith. Crowd: 21,790