AFLW Pre-season – Western Bulldogs v Carlton: Big crowd on a sultry night as the players put on a show

It was a sultry evening for football in Ballarat.


That’s a phrase I don’t expect to use often, but it’s the logical product of playing AFL practice matches in the middle of January. It might be suspected that not the least appealing aspect of a women’s league to the AFL is the opportunity to fill another calendar gap with AFL ‘product’. One more step toward the ultimate marketer’s dream of AFL 24/7, 365 days a year.


Despite it being very much cricket weather, Cricket Australia’s apparent determination to turn the back half of its season fixture into a strangely drifting melange of dubiously relevant and clashing commitments would seem to be playing very nicely into the AFL’s hands. So it was that, despite very little AFL promotion, a crowd upwards of 3500 flocked to Mars Stadium to watch the only full scale practice match opportunity afforded the Dogs and Blues, as they approach a season opening only two weeks away.


Such a turnout suggests the groundswell of interest in women’s football rolls on. The large contingent of young girls in the crowd serves to remind that 30 percent of all active Australian rules participants are now women. This is reward for all the hard yards put in by the many community based groups and individuals who have forged a place for women within the code. It is also evidence of the tremendous boost that work has been given by the commercial and marketing clout of the AFL juggernaut.



But Ballarat’s newly developed stadium is an appropriate place to open the AFLW’s sophomore season, as both the ground and the competition are still coming to grips with all the implications of envelopment in the AFL sphere. The AFL certainly provides, but it can also take away. Ballarat has a shiny new ground, but it no longer has a VFL team to use it, leaving a significant gap in the region’s football pathways  that has yet to be filled. This is an indirect consequence of the AFL decision to cede western Victoria to the Bulldogs as their effective zone of influence. The longer term implications of this for grassroots football in the region are unknown.


Similarly, whilst the women’s game basks in the anticipation of a new season, the odd wary eye might be cast in the direction of its new overlord. The women’s game has been reorganised very much to suit AFL purposes. The price of AFL money is AFL control. So far the rewards have been bountiful. But the future growth of the women’s game is now dependent on the level of AFL commitment.  The decision to launch the new AFLX format into the already tight time window available to AFLW serves to remind that HQ can be fickle in its attentions.


Future conjecture aside, the best thing AFLW has going for it is the players themselves, and the very evident connection they have to the fans. The women’s game is still much more accessible than the men’s. It has yet to shed its community feel and affiliations. Long may this be preserved.


The on field evidence of this particular evening held promise for both teams. The Bulldogs were without Katie Brennan and Emma Kearney, but were competitive until the last few minutes. Aasta O’Connor showed signs of returning to her best form, whilst number one draft pick Isabel Huntington impressed early.



The Blues’ big name recruit Tayla Harris opened her Carlton account with a majestic long range goal before sitting out the second half. After a long injury layoff, Darcy Vescio resumed as she finished last season, snagging 3 goal in three quarters. New skipper Bri Davey was again imposing in a variety of roles.



Both teams will be relieved to get through the game avoiding any significant injury concerns. With their playing lists still comparatively restricted, avoiding early season attrition will be a likely key to a realistic shot at the Grand Final.


The game concluded to the backdrop of a spectacular Ballarat sunset, setting the scene perfectly for the season’s opener at Princes Park on February 2nd.



See you there.


Western Bulldogs: 1.0, 4.0, 6.2, 6.3 (40)

Carlton: 1.0, 4.2, 6.6, 8.8 (56)



Western Bulldogs: Aasta O’Connor 2, Brooke Lochland, Ellie Blackburn, Isabel Huntington, Jenna Bruton

Carlton: Darcy Vescio 3, Brianna Davey, Katie Loynes, Tayla Harris, Kate Shierlaw, Sophie Li


About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. G’day John,

    Thanks for sharing the story of the game. I think having AFL and AFLW games in Ballarat would boost popularity and populations of players and merits both loca!s and AFL and AFLW.

    It’s sad to hear Katie Brennan and Emma Kearney didn’t play. Hope both girls are recovering soon for the AFLW season.

    I’m a Bulldogs supporter for AFLW this year but congratulate you on your Blues’ win.

    Today I emailed St Kilda Footy Club to purchase the international digital subscription membership so that I can watch all actions of AFLW and AFL. I look forward to watching women’s footy this season.

    All the best


  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Nice work John and great photos. I share your reservations about it all being in AFL big hands and hope they don’t crush the life out of Women’s and local games. It seems that the scoring is higher than last years? The stars continue to shine. Glad you are getting some Blues happiness.

  3. John Butler says

    Thanks Yoshi.

    Both Brennan and Kearney should be right for round one. Brennan just picked up a virus through the week. Kearney is still involved with her WBBL commitments.

    Yvette, I hope I’m unduly pessimistic. We’ll see.

    The footy was pretty open. Some of the usual pre-season rustiness you get anywhere, but with another pre-season under their belts you would expect the standard to rise.

    Catch you Feb 2. :)

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Some super impressive photos there JB.
    Have driven past ‘Mars Stadium’ a few times in the past 12 months, looks fantastic what they have done there. Are the cricket pitches still there or been removed? Was always a belting pitch the few times I played there.
    Was it the right venue to develop in your opinion? Or would a more central venue, eg. City Oval or Eastern Oval have been better?
    Reckon long term the AFLW will be better pushing further into winter than earlier into Summer. Maybe the Thursday night broadcast could be AFLW rather than the men’s when they are played concurrently?

  5. Kasey Symons says

    Great write up John, and wonderful pictures! Was great to see Aasta bag a couple and find her way back to form, hopefully the Bulldogs have a bit more bark in Season 2018 after a disappointing first season. I think Huntington is going to be a great addition. I’m very interested to see how the Blues will go under Davey’s stewardship this season too – I think she’s phenomenal.

  6. John Butler says

    Cheers Luke. No more pitches at the ground. Footy has bought sole possession.

    Was it the right ground to develop? From a transport perspective, Eastern Oval is walking distance from the train station, and is much more scenic, but there just wasn’t the room around it to accommodate the expansion required. And parking would have been a nightmare. Similar issues with City Oval.

    It’s a done deal now. The more pertinent issue arises with the VFL demise of North Ballarat Roosters. We now have a fancy ground that will possibly be used a lot less than old one.

    I like that Thursday night idea. Not sure if the AFL will, though.

  7. John Butler says

    Thanks Kasey.

    There wasn’t much in the game until late. The Bulldogs will be a threat if Katie Brennan can stay fit.

    A big generational change for Carlton with the move from Arnell to Davey, though Arnell has stayed on as a vice captain. Bri Davey is just so powerful and poised that she’d be intimidating to many of her opponents. I reckon the Blues will try and use her in a few different roles this season.

    Looking forward to round one.


  8. January is tennis for me. As you astutely observe Cricket Australia seem to have decided that too much BBL is never enough and Groundhog Day means more ODI Internationals. The new Perth Stadium will bring in a huge crowd for the Docker Dames on Feb 10. Will be interesting to see if that creates “sticky” interest in their final 3 games at Fremantle Oval. Hope so – the ground has a good playing surface and back-in-time old stands and terraced mounds that evoke the 1960’s.

  9. Great summady.
    I too am ensconced in Tennis and fighting off those that want to pinch the remote to check the scores in that other game on Tele.
    Great Ballarat crowd and super photos of the ground..

  10. John Butler says

    Cheers PB. I reckon the AFLW experience in Perth last year wasn’t helped by some pretty unfriendly scheduling. Hopefully this year works out better. Feb 10 is certainly shaping as a big occasion.

    Don’t start me on CA scheduling. It’s like they want the season to peter out into anti-climax.

    Excited about the new stadium?

  11. John Butler says

    Cheers Kate.

    I have to say I’ve been struggling to get enthused about the tennis. Though Chung last night was pretty enthralling. I suppose the drama ramps up as we get to the business end.

    The redeveloped Ballarat ground is actually quite a nice little venue. Now we just need the games to justify it.

  12. bring back the torp says

    Good write-up, & I also enjoyed your photos -especially the red sunset!

    ” A good contingent of young girls” present, & 14 goals kicked in total bode well for the future of the AFLW.

    There has been little mainstream media promotion, or AFL advertising, of the practice games in Melb. Was much done locally in Ballarat?

    Care to comment on this game’s standard cf:-
    .2017 Practice games?
    .2017 AFLW comp. games?

  13. John Butler says

    Cheers BBTT.

    Only real promotion in Ballarat was by the local paper. No AFL promos noticed. I’m told Melbourne was similar.

    In some respects this game had some of the characteristics of all practice games – some signs of rustiness, a few clangers, plenty of tactical experimentation making it hard to get a handle on proceedings at times.

    But there was an openness to the play similar to the latter stages of 2017 season. The standard of play last year actually ramped up just as TV’s attention span waned. I reckon we’ll notice a real difference this season. The gap between the stars and the strugglers will still be there, but that will change pretty quickly as depth improves. And the men have the same issue; they have just had the benefit of a lot more resources and time.

    Give this league 10 years and it will be radically different.

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    JB the demise of North Ballarat re vfl and seemingly less use of a redeveloped ground just bizarre.
    Women’s footy re participation numbers and growth absolutely brilliant I take the afl support with some sepitiscm in that the head honchos receive bonuses thru numbers growing and brilliant photos

  15. To all, to correct a few anomolies and misunderstandings.

    The Cricket Pitch. Mars Stadium oval was redeveloped in September 16 to April 17, and with the rebuild, provision and foundations were made for a ‘Drop in Pitch’ under the surface for future events that would allow the ground to potentially host one-off one-day games or BBL.

    VFL Franchise. The North Ballarat Roosters and VFL are not dead in the water yet. The North Ballarat Football Club are very well financed and are currently formulating their case for re-admission into the VFL for 2019. The Roosters are adamant that they can address the VFL’s requirements and re-enter the competition as a stronger and competative team and not just as one that is there to make of the numbers and keep the AFL supported VFL teams in the top eight.

    Outside that, the Ballarat Council who own the ground have further stated openly that if the Roosters don’t get the VFL licence, then they will be opening the ground for alternative teams representing the city of Ballarat that bid for a VFL licence to use Mars Stadium as their home base. This opens the door for AFL Goldfields to potentially field an elite pathway team being fed by the best players from across four regional leagues from Sunbury to Beaufort. This latter option seems to be more popularly supported by the Ballarat football community as a whole.

  16. John Butler says

    Thanks for the update, Clint.

    The Roosters’ situation at the end of last season was confusing. The problem clearly wasn’t money.

    It will be interesting to see if those pitch foundations are ever called upon.


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