AFL 11 months ago

The Beginning Of A New Era

  • The Beginning Of A New Era

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01: Katie Brennan of the Bulldogs poses for a photograph during the 2017 AFL Women's Competition Launch at Laurens Hall on February 1, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

About eight months ago, I wrote a little article here on Bulldogs Centre, writing about how the women's AFL was beginning to gain momentum.

The term 'What a difference a week makes' gets flung around a lot, particularly in footy.

But what about a difference eight months make?

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Since a brisk Sunday morning at the MCG when I went to watch Melbourne's esteemed ladies team take care of a struggling Brisbane women's team. I had begun to invest some serious interest in the women's game, and I had begun to take notes of some of the other ladies who didn't wear the colours of my beloved Western Bulldogs.

Eight months after that game was played, the very same teams will square off the very first round of the newly-created women's competition. Only this time they will square off at a venue far less prestigious than the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Regardless whether the two sides play off at the MCG or at Casey Fields, these two teams are making history. As a matter of fact, all eight teams will make history this weekend as the first-ever women's competition will take flight. Women from all backstories and previous sporting-codes will represent one of eight AFL clubs this weekend, and the build up to it all has been better than what many had been expecting.

Here we are eight months later, with the momentum going full-steam ahead towards Friday night's blockbuster season opener. A premiership cup for the ladies has been made, as well as awards for the leading goal-kicker, a league best and fairest, a best and fairest in the Grand Final, a Rising Star award for the best young female talent under 21 years of age and an All-Australian team.

Over the month of January, the AFL had scheduled practice matches that they DID NOT advertise, but through one method or another, the people in hundreds and thousands attended practice games around Australia, and had launched their campaign by remaking their 'I'd like to see that' ad from over 20 years ago.

Approximately 2000 people attended a practice game between Carlton and Melbourne at Ikon Park, which saw the Blues run away with a six-goal final quarter flurry to smash the Demons by 43 points. This prompted the AFL to move the season-opening game between old rivals Collingwood and Carlton from Olympic Park Oval to Carlton's training ground Ikon Park, which holds so much more seating and more opportunities for the general public to be a part of history.

This was truly a great move from the AFL - a Friday night game between two teams that have a fantastic history and rivalry, but I was a little surprised that it weren't the two clubs that got the ball that is the AFLW rolling - I am of course talking about the Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

The two clubs played the first-ever AFL women's exhibition game back in 2013 as a curtain-raiser to the men's game between the two same clubs that was to be played later that evening. A month prior to that, they held a mini-draft between the two clubs, that saw 50 of Australia's talented female footballers drafted to either Melbourne or the Bulldogs.

I recall the night of the Ladies' first game crystal clear, having arrived with family and witnessing the second half of that game on a frosty evening at the 'Home of Football', and whilst I'm not ashamed to admit I wasn't impressed with the overall game that night, I do look back on that night with serious regret.

If I was able to send a message to a 19-year old Alex today, I would've said something along the lines of 'Give the women a chance', simply because when I did start to pay attention to the women's game two years later, I finally understood, appreciated and got myself into Women's footy.

It was a cold August afternoon under the roof of Etihad Stadium, and with that, I was preparing to go to watch the male Bulldogs team do battle with the Demons, As my father drove my two younger brothers, my cousin and I down to Etihad Stadium, the radio was tuned on to the women's game, and I was all ears.

Despite Melbourne kicking the first five goals of the game, the Bulldogs' began to rally late, kicking two goals before half-time through a young girl by the name of Katie Brennan to give our ladies some hope. Brennan went on to kick four goals that day as the Dogs fell four-points short of completing a sensational comeback, this made it four losses in four games since the first exhibition game a few years back.

I was in attendance of the season launch of the Western Bulldogs' women's team on Monday night. It was a fantastic night, meeting new friends and seeing my old childhood hero in Chris Grant in the same room, he too was quietly confident of the women achieving success this year.

When they came to announce to leadership group for the ladies this season, it was really no surprise to see that same Katie Brennan named as captain for this unbelievably talented group of ladies. A group of ladies - I think anyway - can press huge claims towards a 2017 Women's Premiership. Joining Brennan in the leadership group this year will be Ellie Blackburn, Hannah Scott and Nicole Callinan - all three have unbelievable talent and leadership credentials.

I say I'm not surprised at Brennan's appointment as captain in the nicest possible way, because as well as being a freakin-talented footballer (2nd only to Moana Hope in goals in the VWFL last year), she's also a natural-born leader and is as professional as professional gets in the AFL.

What I found even more fascinating was an article on The Age late last year about her difficult personal issues when she was a teenager and how she fought to overcome them, just shows you how much heart she has as a person. Today, she owns a fitness clinic - KB.performance Centre in Coburg, she's is amongst one of the top female AFL players in the country and the first-ever captain for her club.

On Saturday night, Brennan will lead these group of ladies out onto the hallowed turf that is the Whitten Oval as my Western Bulldogs play a visiting Fremantle Dockers' Women's team and like the Dogs, Freo are expected to be up there at the top-end at the conclusion of the seven-week season.

I've made it my duty to attend this game on Saturday, and I have no doubt this game will fill-up the Whitten Oval dramatically and when it does, only then I will truly know for sure:  We've Only Begun A New Era Of Footy.

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