AFLW Winter Series – Footy’s Back!

 

Northern Giants v Gold Coast

 

It was a damp and drear day as I arrived at Tom Wills Oval that June Saturday morning, but the decidedly orange tint to the crowd, with a pleasing hint of red and gold dotted about, reflected the spark of excitement that flared at yet another first for women’s footy: the AFLW Winter Series. Six games across three weekends, featuring the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns, Northern Giants (players in the AFL Sydney and Black Diamond leagues) and Southern Giants (players in Canberra and southern NSW leagues).

 

 

The Northern Giants, half of whom play in the GWS AFLW team, and the Suns, boasting four AFLW-listed players, were out on the ground as I parked my golf umbrella and folding chair by the door to eagerly snap up a spot on one of the under cover picnic tables on the edge of the ground. There were familiar faces in the crowd – the GWS regulars, of course, but it was also good to see those who weren’t playing helping out and/or cheering their teammates on, like captain ‘Fridge’ Ferrugia, Tanya Hetherington, Jacinda Barclay and Jess Dal Pos. AFLM Suns forward Tom Lynch also came along to watch, spotted chatting to Alex Saundry.

 

 

It was hard to know what to expect from the game; the Giants had the bulk of the top-level experience, but only fielding two AFLW players hasn’t stopped the Macquarie University Warriors from sitting unbeaten on top of the AFL Sydney ladder this season… and a slippery ball always keeps things interesting.

 

 

Regardless, we would never miss an opportunity to see our women strut their stuff in Giants orange!

 

 

Though, watching the game had me wondering whether my coffee had been switched for decaf, as it took me a while to realise that the Giants players were all wearing the wrong numbers! It was a bit like those tests where the word ‘green’ is coloured blue, and you have to say the word without getting distracted by the colour. How can I recognise Alicia Eva if she’s not wearing number 2? Phoebe Monahan in anything other than 28? Incorrect!

 

 

But with the loan of some binoculars (thanks, Richard!) to offset my dodgy distance vision, and the encyclopaedic GWS knowledge of #1 fan Christine, I regained my equilibrium, tweeting and cheering on the Giants to victory over a Gold Coast outfit who, though spirited, never looked like threatening their more experienced opposition.

 

 

In soggy conditions that only started to clear in the second half, 7.8.50 to 2.3.15 was a more than respectable scoreline – even a bit flattering to the Suns.

 

 

It was that happy medium between elite footy and local footy, where you get the thrill of seeing the GWS women in their guernseys putting their top-notch skills and athleticism to good use, yet can still wander onto the field to have a kick at half time. Or nonchalantly eavesdrop on the huddles while attempting to look inconspicuous, and fangirl at coach Al, as the case may be…

 

 

Footy’s back.

 

Brisbane Lions v Southern Giants

 

 

Arriving for the second game the next morning, the Southern Giants v Brisbane Lions, I thought I’d made a mistake. Giants HQ was closed. Not a soul around. Had the venue been changed? The start time shifted? I grabbed my phone for a frantic google.

 

 

Finally, someone came out of the Giants shop to ask if we were OK, directing us through a side gate towards the oval. A much smaller group perched on the tables, although Aimee Schmidt and Alex Saundry were back again. The rain was gone, but so was most of the sea of orange, the buzz of excitement muted. The cafe was shut, and the sense of occasion absent. I couldn’t help feeling for those players, like everyone thought their game didn’t matter. It mattered to us! But we were just a handful.

 

 

It was not a great day for Giants players or fans; while I love seeing Sabs and Woosha take big marks and slot goals, I was reduced to begging the Giants for a score, any score! 18-8-116 to a double donut was no reward for effort.

 

 

I’d brought my own binoculars, but the score wasn’t posted up the entire game, and trying to keep track of all those 116 points so I could keep interstate supporters updated on Twitter was challenging, to say the least. Those Lions – they could waited until I finished tweeting about one goal before kicking the next! Honestly.

 

 

At the end of the day, the Southern squad was outmatched all over the ground, and while there were some bright spots, particularly in defence, I was left thinking that next year’s winter series needs to look a little different.

 

 

It’s great for AFLW teammates to have the opportunity to play together again in the off-season, but the point of this competition was supposed to be to give the north-eastern states players a more elite competition to boost their development, in the way that the VFLW does.

 

 

As Phoebe Monahan told us of her decision to play with Richmond in the VFLW this year, it doesn’t benefit them to play in a team that regularly thrashes the opposition 100 points to nothing every week. Spreading out the AFLW-listed players more evenly – especially between the two Giants teams – would be a start. Perhaps even having three QLD-based teams would help, and it makes sense given that they will be fielding two AFLW teams in 2020, and have a much deeper talent pool to draw on than NSW.

 

 

Having one game per state per weekend, and including a few more AFLW names in the Southern squad, would entice more of the Giants faithful to get out and see them. Making every game an event, not just the one that could be joined to an AFLM ‘pre-game function’, would also show all players that their achievements are to be celebrated.

 

 

For Brisbane’s sake as much as everyone else’s, the games next year need to be challenging for all concerned. The Southern Giants will have learnt much more from their encounter than the Lions.

 

 

The Lions beating the Northern Giants in round two, two weeks later, was hardly a surprise, but the Southern Giants’ victory over the Suns gave me a bit of hope that they can be more competitive than a 116-point drubbing suggests.

 

 

The outcomes of the final two games on July 14 seem disappointingly predictable, although as I type, I can see the Suns and Southern Giants recording massive upsets just to spite me. You never know. But I wouldn’t miss seeing my Giants together for the last time until AFLW 2019.

 

 

 

Southern Giants v Gold Coast

 

 

I say ‘footy’s back’ with tongue firmly in cheek, as I’m well aware that state-based comps are in full swing around the country. But when your players are running around in your team colours… well, that’s just something else. Footy’s back. Yeah.

With thanks to Christine Hughes

 

 

 

About Deb Waterhouse-Watson

Deb Waterhouse-Watson is a postdoctoral research fellow at Macquarie University, Sydney. The author of _Athletes, Sexual Assault and 'Trials by Media': Narrative Immunity (Routledge 2013), she is currently working on a second book on the process of court reporting on criminal sexual assault trials involving Australian footballers. A massive fan of women's sport, particularly AFLW, particularly GWS, and the Bulldogs, and Brisbane, and soon to be Geelong...

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    Great read Deb. Know the feeling about feeling the lack of space for supporters and players at women’s games. It’s good to get a run for the players, and I hope the leagues make it easier to support in the long run.

    Donuts are hard to take when it comes to a game. Brisbane Lions would be looking to make the third AFLW GF and come away with the chocolates.

  2. Georgina says:

    Thanks for this Deb. It was disappointing to turn up on the Sunday to a very muted event. I too felt for the players, after seeing the crowd on Saturday. Still, I appreciated the chance to watch some Giants in action, and I always enjoy seeing Brisbane play, despite being on the wrong side of some beatings from them.

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