A Voice from the Stands: A bittersweet journey

‘Where you lead, I will follow’, so sang Carole King in 1971.

She wasn’t talking about the AFLW, at least I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean I can’t co-opt her lyrics to describe my season.

Image: Kirby Fenwick

For the first five rounds of the AFLW competition, I willingly and happily followed my Bulldogs to Whitten Oval and to Princes Park.

And I wasn’t about to let a minor detail like a game played two states away get in the way of my perfect attendance record.

So, on Friday night, I boarded a flight to Brisbane. I followed my Doggies up the east coast of the country, a 3300km round trip that comfortably takes the mantle as the furthest I’ve ever travelled for a game of footy.

Ahead lay a match against the Brisbane Lions, an impressive team that sat on the top of the ladder with five straight wins.

I’d packed my red, white and blue, and slipped my creased and tattered record into my bag.
Like every good Bulldog, I’ll packed plenty of optimism, too.

While I was on a plane somewhere over the sunshine state, Fremantle secured its first win for the season.

Fan favourite, Darcy Vescio, kicked three goals but it wasn’t enough; Freo skipper Kara Donnellan leading her team to victory with 24 disposals and two goals.

Later, as I watched the Dockers celebrate their win, I was reminded, yet again, of the enthusiasm and excitement that permeates this competition.

Freo’s uninhibited joy was another moment in a collection that demonstrated the genuineness with which these teams play. That enthusiasm and unaffected candour is a pleasure to watch.

There wasn’t much joy for the heavily outnumbered Doggies faithful on Saturday morning as the temperature soared in Brisbane, though we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

Emma Kearney’s 30 disposals, Jaimee Lambert’s two goals and the hard work of Lauren Spark and Hannah Scott were bright spots, as was the pressure the Dogs applied that kept the Lions to two goals, eleven points.

There were 4200 in attendance at South Pine, an impressive crowd in a rugby stronghold state and a reflection of the popularity of the Lions.

There are more than 70,000 women and girls playing footy in Queensland. And with the dominant Lions having booked their place in the inaugural AFLW Grand Final, even conservative pundits would predict a sharp increase in that number.

The Grand Final was the talk on Saturday night in Darwin, too, as the Crows took on the Demons. A win would have guaranteed the Crows a spot alongside the Lions.

But Melbourne wasn’t about to give up on its Grand Final dream and snatched a two-point victory in a nail-biting finish.

The Pies continued their winning ways, securing their third straight win over GWS at Olympic Park on Sunday and keeping their slim grand final hopes alive.

They also racked up the highest score of the competition so far, edging out Carlton’s previous record of 54 by one point.

The word historic is justifiably attached to the AFLW competition. There’s no hyperbole or exaggeration in the use of the word, it’s simply the truth.

In a sport with a history that spans 150 years, the first national women’s competition is a significant milestone.

It is a moment in time that will be remembered and remarked upon for many years to come.

It marks a turning point for our game and, hopefully, one for our broader communities, too.

I felt this especially last Wednesday, on International Women’s Day, when images and words marking the day and celebrating the women of the AFLW, both on-field and off, filled my social media feeds.

In light of International Women’s Day, it felt right to reflect on the history that is being written, to reflect on the people that got us here and the women that have taken to the field each round and delivered over and above anything we could have asked of them.

That said, it’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that the end of the season is so close.

With only five games standing between us and the finish line, it also feels right to take a moment and just enjoy the footy.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll be taking to the road again this weekend and following my Doggies to Canberra.

I’ll be draping myself in my red, white and blue, taking to the stands one last time and cheering loudly for my Bulldogs.

We might be approaching the end of the chapter, but this AFLW story has only just begun.

 

Kirby Fenwick is a passionate Western Bulldogs supporter who will be watching her side from the outer during the 2017 season, sharing weekly thoughts and experiences from a fan’s-eye view.