VWFL Division 1 Semi Finals: There’s a Bear in There

We were standing on the terraces of the Coburg footy ground in inner-north Melbourne. One of the more prominent banners around the boundary line is the CFMEU. Talk about preaching to the converted. This is old time struggle town, which is now combating modern day gentrification. Even the tradie’s utes are new and clean. The battle between Whitehorse and Darebin in the Elimination Final for Division One in the VWFL (Victorian Women’s Football League) was reaching a crescendo.

Darebin had been in front all day, so the supporters around me said, and found themselves 16 points in the clear with only 5 minutes to go. They looked home as only 7 goals had been kicked in total for the afternoon. Suddenly number 43 (I think) for Whitehorse finds herself in a Pagan’s Paddock; 60 metres from goal, no one between her and the big sticks, and a defender breathing down her neck. She takes the game on. One bounce, forty out, two bounces thirty out, her legs start to bow ala Gabelich. Three bounces, eighteen out. Kick. It tumbles and bounces and pops on its point, and goes through. Whitehorse is still a chance.

They win the centre clearance. The ball ping pongs between half forward and half back for a minute then we have a repeat of the last goal. Whitehorse player out the back and in the clear. Kick over the defender’s heads. She runs in (number 43 again?) and kicks it! Four points in it. One minute left. Darebin has frozen. Whitehorse sense a miracle.

The ball is tossed up in the middle. How I love the uncertainty of this odd shaped ball. No clear break. It looks over. Darebin is holding the ball in the packs. A scrubbing kick. A Whitehorse player bangs it on the boot. It clears the defenders. A Whitehorse player grabs it (I’m sure its number 43 – hereinafter referred to as Teddy Hopkins), she darts sideways and finds space, she bangs the ball on her boot and screws it over her left shoulder, and the ball spins through the air towards the goals. The Whitehorse bench erupts. It a goal! But it’s impossible to tell from this angle. No, wait a minute. The goal umpire has gone a long way to his right. He taps his chest and holds up one finger. Point. Siren! Darebin holds on. Cheers turn to tears for Whitehorse. Teddy Hopkins is inconsolable in the forward pocket. She hunches over and shakes as the water works begin. From hero to has-been. So close. So far.

But we’re here to watch the semi-final between the Kew Bears and Pascoe Vale Panthers. They run out onto the ground as the Elimination finalists exit. Clare, my oldest, is playing with the Bears. They’ve had a grand season; undefeated in the home and away. She’s had a wonderful season too. It’s her first full year of playing footy. There’s no doubt a love for the game is building. But this is finals. This is different. I can sense their nervousness. Even though they’d beaten Pascoe Vale quite comfortably just seven days before, the girls sense the occasion. A place in the grand final is up for grabs. Last week when they won nothing was up for grabs.

The Panthers start with plenty of energy and go forward early. But they have no one to mark the ball close to goals. They’re relying on small elusive forwards to crumb the loose ball. It’s not long before the Bears exert their superiority. And most of that is due to cleaner ball handling. They also have Gabby Mahoney at full forward. Gabby is Mo Hope-esque; robust, strong and with oodles of footy nous. She kicks plenty herself but also brings others into the game. Her clean hands and ability to take a pack mark are obvious. Close to half time and the Bears have cleared out; 45 to 3. Herd and Henderson are winning in the ruck, Clare is getting her hands dirty at the bottom of packs and winning her share of the ball, Metres is a revelation off half back. She has gone from being a good player in a good team, to a crucial player in a very good team. And it’s mostly on the back of her appetite to learn the game. I love watching players like this improve. The Harding sisters are prominent; Isabelle and Michaela. Michaela is providing run off half back whilst Isi seems to be playing a ruck roving type role. The Mark Blicavs of the Bears. O’Regan and Charlotte Mahoney are locking the ball inside forward fifty. The Bears are just too good.

But, just as Whitehorse got behind the Darebin defenders in the previous game, so the Panthers did in this one. They isolated their small forward, kicked it long and found a mis-match with the Kew defenders. They kicked the last two of the second quarter to give themselves a sniff.

The third quarter started the same way. The Panthers were working harder and getting rewards. Siobham Carlton for the Panthers is a star. She moves a bit like a young Pendlebury. When she gets the footy time stands still. Again the Bear’s defenders wander too far up the ground and get caught out on the Carlton rebound. Again the ball goes into the Panther’s paddock and they kick their third in a row. The scores are now 20 to 45. Game on.

The Bears need something to shake them from their slumber. They’ve lost direction and energy. Some call it momentum. They have the ball at half forward. A slick combination of handballs gets the footy deep into full forward. Gabby Mahoney grabs it, runs in a wide arc away from the goals and deep into a pocket (Rex Hunt used to call this “the woof woof bird”). But she knows exactly what she’s doing. She finds some room, and being on the wrong side for a right footer, she calmly snaps goal of the day. Maybe goal of the year. It’s a superb effort. She is a footballer’s footballer; the type of player who has the ability to keep things simple but deadly effective. Remember her name, you might see her playing in the big league soon.

The Panthers were done. They hung in there but the Bears had too many weapons. The final result was a seven goal win to the girls from Kew. They’re into the grand final. Their opponent will be either Darebin or Pascoe Vale again. Either one will be a worthy opposition, but I trust and hope that the burning pain from losing last year’s grand final still resides within the Bear’s group. They’ll need to draw on everything they have to win the big dance in two weeks time. My only problem will be watching another team with Hawthorn colours win a premiership cup. But if it means that Clare gets to experience the joy of a flag, so be it.



3 – G Mahoney

2 – J Metres

1 – M Harding

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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Wow, amazing season for Clare and co.!!!

    Keep up the good work during the finals

  2. Great effort from the Kew Bears. Entertaining footy. Gabby was excellent. i reckon she kicked three or four points in a row, all snaps across her body, before she kicked a couple of rippers, including the classic curler from the pocket which would have done G. Ablett, J. Akermanis and S.Johnson proud.

    Good to see a [insert collective noun*] of Almanackers there supporting Kew – and Clare O’D and Ash (No. 41).

    Well worth a trip to Coburg for the Grand Final on Sep 18.

    *What is the collective noun?

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Grand stuff Clare and the Bears. Will do my best to get down to Coburg for the GF. Love watching Girls/Women’s footy blossom. Was skeptical of the week off, but it helped bring the womens’ game to the centre of attention and that will be a good thing in the long run. Nicely written, Pop!

  4. A “barfull” of Almanackers? I was thinking of what’s loud and boisterous in a group? Magpies? Geese?
    A “flock” of Almanackers? A “herd”? Nah sounds like a “hird” – nothing more unknackerly.
    A ‘parliament” of Knackers?

  5. Great stuff, Dips.
    I will try to get there on the 18th.

  6. A “flotilla” of Almanackers? (drifting aimlessly through life).

  7. Joelle Metres says

    Fantastic work Damien! Absolutely loved the article. So great hearing things from an outsiders perspective… Although if my memory serves me, I saw you loitering around the huddle with a tinny so maybe take everything with a grain of salt?

  8. “Loitering with little Intent” a perfect description of any self respecting Almanacker. I’m proposing a “shower” of Almanackers. Has a delightfully wide range of implications.

  9. G’day Jo. The few ice cold cans of Carlton Draught that I was enjoying only served top sharpen my wit and make my observations keener.

    See you at the grand final.

  10. Gabby Mahoney was a few years younger than me at school, and a bit of a footy legend. My dad loves to tell the story of coaching his school’s team against ours (both girls’ schools), and this tiny, red-headed yr 7 going head to head with the yr 12s, and easily holding her own. Until her 12-year-old head was met by a very solid 18-year-old’s shoulder, and she was knocked out. As a yr 7 she wasn’t meant to be playing in the seniors, even for an inter-school match, and Dad says he’s never seen the face of a man go whiter more quickly than our coach’s face did.

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