Round 1 – GWS v Western Bulldogs: A windy day in Canberra

A Windy Day in Canberra


Greater Western Sydney versus Western Bulldogs

1:10pm, Sunday 25 March 2018
Manuka Oval, Canberra
William Westerman


“Welcome to a windy day in Canberra, boys”, a punter behind me yelled as the ball sailed over the boundary line in the GWS left back pocket. It should have been a simple kick out of defence by Dylan Shiel, an expert user of the football, but, as often happens when footy comes to Manuka Oval, he seemed to forget that he was playing on a suburban ground rather than inside a stadium. This distinction becomes particularly notable when players try to finesse pinpoint passes along the boundary line on the eastern wing; it does not take much elevation to see the ball drifting inexorably off towards Queanbeyan.

The dig at Shiels was also a nice reminder that watching AFL at Manuka had a distinct Canberra flavour. The atmosphere is generally convivial; large number of neutrals like myself always show up and break the tension of what would otherwise be a polarised crowd. There’s also a sense of solidarity as AFL supporters in a town where, GWS aside, the local professional teams all play on rectangular pitches. I also find Manuka Oval more intimate as a spectator, both due to its small size and my habit of running into people I know.

The oval is also open to the elements, and while we were spared the usual chilling Canberra cold, we were treated to a strong wind. Today, sitting at the southern end for the first time, I realised that you can see the flag on top of Parliament House through the trees just above the western grandstand. Another spectator behind me noticed it too, and was informed that it was “as large as a double-decker bus”. The strong breeze helped to make it visible, and without the high stands to protect the ground, the wind off the Brindabellas ripped down across South Canberra straight into the ground.

The conditions were not appalling (unlike in Cairns the previous night) and did not ruin the contest, although they did create an additional element to frustrate both teams. The surface looked immaculate and the temperature wasn’t at all uncomfortable. Ominous dark clouds hung over the ground all game but the rain that had been threatening stayed away.

After moving to Canberra from Melbourne I primarily went to AFL games at Manuka because I wanted to watch any live footy that was being offered up. Now I go because I enjoy watching GWS. This day, round one of the 2018 AFL season, they were imperious against a lacklustre Western Bulldogs outfit. Manuka Oval has become a fortress for GWS, and today they took full advantage of it.

At the start of the first quarter the Giants signalled their intentions, putting on four goals before the Bulldogs got a couple back. By quarter time the scoreboard suggested the game was close, but GWS had completely outclassed the Dogs. This was made evident in the second quarter, when the home team dominated the midfield and put on seven goals to one. Patton and Cameron looked strong initially, but it was the latter that went on lead the goal kickers. In addition, Toby Greene seemed to be given an inordinate amount of time and space and he took full advantage of it.

The usual suspects in midfield were moving the ball around with accuracy and speed: Coniglio, Kelly and Shiel (I didn’t notice Tim Taranto during the game, but statistics informed me afterwards that he’d been busy). They all used precision disposals and quick running to break the Bulldog’s defence apart, particularly when surging through the centre. There were certainly some round one cobwebs to blow out as well as the aforementioned wind issues, but for the most part GWS clinically dominated their environment, they didn’t let the conditions (or their opponents for that matter) dominate them. Their defence was solid and rarely breached. Whitfield on the halfback line was commanding and instrumental in setting up movement through the corridor. The crunching tackle Finlayson laid on Macrae typified the nature of the contest; the Dogs could do little as GWS rolled over the top of them. By half time the Giants led by seven goals.

Third quarter started quietly, and the Western Bulldogs seemed to be making a game of it, but even when they were getting themselves back into the contest GWS proved too good. As the Giants eased past 100 points with the Bulldogs languishing on 36, I realised the game had become a rout. This should have been apparent long before, but it somehow didn’t hit me how much of a gap GWS was opening up on their opponents. Some of the talk before the game had been about the so-called rivalry between the two clubs. This seemed a little premature for me, but I was nevertheless expecting a tight contest. I was expecting the Bulldogs of 2016 to show up, but, like Elvis, they had left the building.

Apart from Jason Johannisen’s hair (which was unmissable), few things stood out about the Bulldogs’ game. I would have recognised Tom Boyd or Josh Schache had they been playing – odd omissions I thought. Despite being a premiership captain I couldn’t pick Easton Wood out of a line-up and he did little to stand out playing in an unfamiliar forward role. Tom Liberatore went down early, in what might be a season ending injury. Even the Bont blended into the background. Across the ground, the Bulldogs were undistinguished.

The Western Bulldogs did not necessarily seem bad (as someone who watches a lot of Brisbane I know what a bad performance looks like), they were just totally outclassed by a very polished performance from the Giants. Their defensive efforts lacked intensity and their disposal game rarely got into second-gear. They never controlled the match and seldom played it on their terms, they seemed only to react to events. It had only been 23 games since they had won a premiership. That seems a long time ago after that performance.

With the outcome effectively decided there was no sting in the final quarter – GWS had won, everyone knew it. Even the wind had died down a little, as if nature itself was not interested in the contest anymore. The only unresolved issue was the final margin. Up until the last quarter GWS had been very accurate, with only four behinds to add to their seventeen goals. In the final quarter, this slipped, and it is frightening to think of what the margin could have been had their forwards been more accurate (they were certainly not short of opportunities given the dominance and class of their midfield). At the final siren, the braggadocio of the Giants’ Cossack-inspired club song felt earned, they were unquestionably much greater than their opposition on the day.



Greater Western Sydney       4.2       11.4     17.4     20.12   (133)
Western Bulldogs                   3.3       4.4       5.6       7.9       (51)


Greater Western Sydney: Cameron 6, Greene 4, Patton 2, Kelly 2, Coniglio 2, Himmelberg, Shiel, Langdon, Tomlinson
Western Bulldogs: Suckling, Gowers, Roughhead, Dunkley, Johannisen, Dale, Honeychurch



Greater Western Sydney: Cameron, Coniglio, Greene, Kelly, Finlayson, Taranto, Whitfield, Shiel, Shaw
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Hunter, Dahlhaus


UMPIRES: Meredith, Harris, Mitchell                    CROWD: 10,454

OUR VOTES: Cameron (GWS) 3, Coniglio (GWS) 2, Greene (GWS) 1


About William Westerman

Canberra-based historian. Author of 'Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996' Available here:


  1. georgesmith says

    The big arena, Bruce Stadium was Kate Carnelled into a rectangular pitch many years ago to appease the Queanbeyan Leagues Club brigade and Samaranch and co…

    This left Aussie rules with the 2 boutique stadiums of Philip and Manuka, which were never quite big enough for the Essendons and Collingwoods (until recently) of this world.

    Memories of the past – Cowboy Neale and Alex Jesaulenko’s ACT of origin team destroying a VFL team containing Malcolm blight and Rene Kink, Phil Gibbs commentating on the ACT v Victorian Country, and not knowing any of the players names so he referred to them as “the big V”. Finally Collingwood’s only win in recent times at Manuka Oval against North Melbourne, a match too small for Sydney, too big for Canberra, transferred because the Olympic stadium in Sydney wasn’t ready.

Leave a Comment