AFLW Round 1 – Western Bulldogs v Fremantle: Reigning premiers chalk up historic first win

Well, technically there can be no reigning premier in what is a comp in its first season, but did you really think I was going to pass up any opportunity to make a reference to the Dogs being reigning premiers?


Our status as reigning premiers (in the men’s) is one of the drivers stirring my interest in the inaugural season of the women’s league.  Allow me to explain.


I am born and bred Footscray.  I attended Footscray North Primary School and lived in the vicinity of the Footscray Ammunition Factory for all of my school years.  About 30 years ago, I moved North of the Murray, and I have lived there ever since, but I have maintained my Footscray membership the whole time even though I rarely get to games these days.


Due to events beyond my control, I was unable to be in Melbourne for the Grand Final last year, and had to watch from afar, experiencing ecstasy and utter disbelief in equal proportions.  Actually, disbelief may have won the day.


Having missed out on witnessing a Grand Final win in person, I vowed to experience as much of the club as I could while it retained the status of reigning premier this year, and that brings us to the inaugural season of the AFL Women’s, of which my club has played no small part in establishing.


There was no way I was going to miss the women’s opening game, and I’m glad I made the trip down the Hume to experience it.


It is now widely known that our former Vice President, Susan Alberti, played a major role in getting women’s footy off the ground and broadly accepted.  It’s another feather in the cap of our great club:  drought breaking premiership; pioneers in women’s footy; operating profits; maintaining our spiritual home at Whitten Oval – it all appears to be coming together in a rush.


On top of wanting to witness history, I imagine another reason why I, and 10,000 other Bulldog fans descended on Whitten Oval is that we love the place!  We want to return as often as we can, and now we have an excellent reason to return.


And didn’t we love it!  While the size of the crowd was noteworthy, it’s the celebratory nature of the gathering:  lots of young families, lots of kids, lots of women and girls, all having a fun time, all happy.  The AFL is definitely on a winner giving us women’s footy at this time of year.


About half an hour before the start of the game, I notice none other than Peter Gordon strolling languidly around the perimeter, eating a bucket of chips, wearing the biggest smile imaginable.  Someone near me recognises him, but for the most part, he is anonymous, and he is enjoying it.  Could there be a happier man in all of Australia?


Having witnessed the intensity of the previous night’s game between the Pies and the Blues, it’s no surprise that this game matches it, perhaps surpasses it.  The crowd is immediately in awe of these women putting their head over the footy, all wanting to run through anyone who stands in their way.


A difference in skill level is immediately noticeable.  Whereas the previous night it took at least a minute for the first player to notch up a disposal, within about 90 seconds, Freo strings together a series of handballs and short passes in front of the grand stands sweeping the ball away from defence to attack in a flash.


To my eyes, it would appear that we are looking at the two best sides in the comp.


Soon after, just for a moment, we catch a glimpse of the manic handballing system the Bulldogs men used with devastating effect last season.  We shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s too early in the season, too early in their professional careers, so for the moment we will have to be content with glimpses.


Twenty years after the club last played an AFL game at this ground, it’s good to see that the wind is still as tricky as ever, even in the height of summer.  For this reason, one had to be impressed early on at how well Freo moved the ball, and some of these girls were lightning quick off half-back.


We open our account through Kirsty McLeod when the ball finally got through Freo’s last line of defence.  Freo levelled it up soon after, working the ball with precision to Melissa Caulfield, seemingly against the breeze.  We could not have guessed at the time that this would be Freo’s only goal of the match.


Our captain, Katie Brennan, then did something special, holding off on the handball by a split second, and then releasing to set up the second goal.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the flurry of excited activity, and plenty of pressure on the ball carrier, Katie oozed class and composure most of the night.


When it appeared that Freo were getting back into the game in the 2nd quarter, it was Katie who popped up with a strong grab and goal.


We appear to have put together a very strong midfield, including our other marquee, Ellie Blackburn, and one of our top draft picks in Emma Kearney, who was the highest possession earner on the night, most of them contested.  Can you believe Emma also plays WBBL?


As it happens, I’m standing next to a boy who yells out “Go Miss!”


It turns out she’s a teacher and he’s in her class.  He ought to be proud of his teacher, she was terrific all night.


I was also impressed by Brooke Lochland, a former speed skater.  She covered some terrain, as if she was skating on top of it, she got to countless contests, and her ball handling was good.


For Freo, their marquee Kara Donnellan was in the action, winning plenty of the ball and covering the ground all night.


While she didn’t win a lot of the ball, I was impressed by Okely, she had pace to burn and ran straight at the ball at all times.


In fact, the courage shown by all the girls in this opening week of footy has been immense – anyone who thinks these girls don’t deserve all the accolades they are getting doesn’t know what they’re talking about.


A word of encouragement for Freo fans, I honestly believe your team played a lot better than the scoreboard suggests, certainly it was quite even up to half time.  The Dogs had a bit more penetration in the forward 50, and of course the presence of Katie Brennan.


I left the Whitten Oval, feeling immense pride for my club, and I’m proud of our new team.  Women’s footy will only get bigger and bigger.


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Footscray born and bred but have lived North of the Murray for nigh on 30 years now. Revelling in being the reigning premier, and loving the new women's comp.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Really enjoyed your write-up Joey D.
    Even better to see you are another graduate of that wonderful institution Footscray North Primary School. I was there in the 1950’s and lived in the street adjoining the ammunition factory and wrote about it in the Doggies Almanac. I returned to the neighbourhood the day after the premiership and took part in the celebrations at Whitten Oval.
    I saw my first women’s footy match in July 2014 and mentioned it in my write-up called Bontempelli’s Dream as listed above. I could see then it was going to be a winner by the crowd reaction. I watched most of the women’s matches on the weekend but really enjoyed seeing my side, the Bulldogs, in action. I think people really need a team to support to become fully involved, or maybe that’s just me.
    It sounds like you have to travel a fair way to see the Dog’s play. The future does look rosy for the Club at last. Their fortunes seem to rise just after the Bont arrived on the scene.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Joey, great piece. Fantastic responses to all the games, and your working in the Doggies 2016 premiership perfect. Spoken like a true fan of football.

  3. Thanks for the kind comments Neil and Yvette.

    Neil, I enjoyed the article you refer to from the Footy Almanac. I lived on Mitchell St, near the corner with Gordon St. You might recall there used to be an old dairy there, we lived next door to the dairy.

    I would wake up around 5pm every morning to the clip clop of the horse and the ding and rattle of the No. 82 tram making its first trip down Gordon St.

    I relived the footy experience of my youth by walking to the ground on Saturday night, and just loved every minute of it!

    And yes, that corner Milk bar is still there! :)

  4. Neil Anderson says

    Mitchell Street was the next street to mine which was Monash Street. I remember the dairy well. We used to buy coloured ice-blocks in a cone there when we were kids.
    My school-friend Stuart lived in Monash Street after he was married and his brother Craig lived in Mitchell Street for a while.
    If you heard the milko’s horses, maybe your not that much younger than me. Good to hear someone else mention the milk-bar as well.
    If you can manage it, the Almanac launch would be a good place to catch up at the end of the year.

  5. Hi Neil

    I did Grade 4 in 1971 – I have nothing but overwhelmingly fond memories of our old school – I’m thinking that George Bisset may have attended our old school around the time you were there. The horse and cart operated until about 1973, after which it was traded in for a milk truck, much to the chagrin of my father who used to collect the manure for his vegie patch.

    The dairy was knocked down about 25 years ago (mind you, you would have noted that across the other side of Gordon St, where the ammunition factory used to be, hundreds of new residences have been built, but you are right that on our side of Gordon St, change has not been as great – my old house looks identical.

    I’m trying to picture Monash St. So if Kellaway St is the one immediately behind us, was Monash the parallel street in the other direction? Because I had cousins in Rowe St, the same street where the milk bar still is, I was much more familiar with that bit of the neighbourhood. We’d all play footy games on Rowe St – there were barely any cars in those days.

    You might recall that in the next street after yours, there was a tyre factory on one side, and paper bark gum trees grew on that side the whole length of the street.

    Would love to meet you at a catch up.

  6. bring back the torp says

    Great report.

    “… why I, & 10,000 other bulldog fans descended on Whitten Oval is that we love the place. We want to return as often as we can…”.

    I have heard so many people make similar comments! It makes following a team more enjoyable if we can recapture some of the old sense of identity -each tribe had its own sense of ” place”.

    I attended this game, & Carlton v Coll. the night before. I think these old grounds are such a big part of the AFLW experience, at least in Melb. I am certain the AFLW will be a thriving success if they are retained.

    I would be amazed if Coll. FC don’t take their AFLW home games back to the mighty Vic. Park -how great would that be. It still has covered stands that might seat about 7,000 -& tired standing room for about 10,000? Apparently, this is what the greatt majority of their fans want for the AFLW games.

    Olympic Park holds about 4,000 ONLY ;virtualy no seating; no cover from the hot sun (essential in summer when temps. can get into the high 30’s; difficult to see the action on the outer because it is so flat, not properly tiered etc & very open -& windy (at least when I was there for the WB v Coll practice match).

    re Peter Gordon, I saw him refilling the pie warmers -very versatile President!

    I think there should be modest admission charges ($2 -$6, girls U 18 free) -with all funds going to the AFLW players. I don’t think this would affect crowds at all -your view?

  7. bring back the torp says

    Should also mention it was very disappointing that the cameras were set up to pan across to the outer-maybe 1,000 fans over there a passionate & vocal 9,000 on the grandstand (camera) side.

    They should have set up scaffolding, & pan back to the PACKED grandstand side (The VFA used to do this).
    This portrays a much better atmosphere for the huge audiences watching on TV. We are “underselling”the AFLW by having cameras pan across to the areas most sparsely occupied.

    This (& Casey ground telecast was similar) has been the only negative for Rd. 1 of the AFLW.

  8. Danae Gibson says

    Showing your true colours Joey – love it! I Three Teams, One Club.

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