Where to begin to tell the story of the inaugural AFLW season? How far back should we go?
Perhaps to the first recorded game of women’s football in 1915 in Western Australia, or to the games in Melbourne in the 1940s and 1950s, or maybe to the beginnings of state leagues across the country from the early 1980s.
What about the first exhibition match in 2013 or that day in July last year when the AFL announced the eight clubs which would field teams in 2017?
Perhaps it begins in those few quiet moments before the first bounce in that first game way back at the beginning of February, when the 24,500 fans packed into Princes Park held their breath.
For some of us it begins with watching our first game of footy, or the first time we picked up a Sherrin and dropped it on our boot.
Or the first time we were told footy wasn’t for girls.
When the AFLW was announced last year, I knew that it was significant. I knew that it was a colossal moment for Australian sport, an important moment, one a long time in the making.
I knew that whatever happened in the inaugural season, this great game of ours would never be the same again.
I knew all that.
But I never could have imagined what it would feel like to sit in the stands each week, to follow not just my Doggies, but every other team, too.
I never could have imagined the joy this competition would bring me.
The way I would fall in love with every player; the way their stories would capture my imagination.
The way I would sit in the stands each week full of respect and admiration for their courage, strength and skill.
I never could have imagined that I would be so inspired by their focus and determination, by the way they have smashed barriers both on and off the field.
I never could have imagined how invested I would feel in this competition, how much every single game would mean to me.
And yet here we are, at the end of the final round, and everything I never could have imagined happening, has happened.
I’ve long been a footy romantic. It’s the stories that I love the most. The stories of the players, the coaches, the legends that are forged in the backline and up forward; the stories of the fans—the diehards, the shiny new converts, the ones who wear their colours with pride through thick and thin and speak of their club like they would a best mate.
Perhaps that’s borne from being a Bulldog. Threads of many colours are stitched together to tell our story.
It’s not always an easy story, it’s marked by plenty of heartache and despair, but it’s held together by an infallible pride. A pride in our club, in our colours, in the people that pull on our guernseys every week and take to the field.
On Saturday night in Canberra, I’ve never been prouder to be a Bulldog.
I watched my beloved Doggies in their last game for the inaugural AFLW season and I won’t pretend there weren’t a few tears as the strains of Daughters of the West filled the stands of Manuka Oval after we defeated the gallant Giants.
While our season hasn’t gone the way we would have liked, twenty-seven Bulldogs have written their names into the history of the red, white and blue. Their threads are now a part of our story. Nothing can take that away from them, from us, from me.
It’s a similar story at Adelaide and Carlton, at Brisbane and Melbourne and Fremantle, at Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney. Their histories are richer for the presence of the women who wore their colours these past seven weeks. Their stories are forever changed.
This final round delivered in spades the intensity, the fierceness and the emotion that we have come to expect from the AFLW.
Melbourne’s record high score against Fremantle on Saturday afternoon set them up nicely for a Grand Final slot, but the Crows were not to be underestimated.
A seven-goal haul from the formidable duo of Erin Phillips and Sarah Perkins helped the South Australian’s to a matching 70 points and earned them a spot alongside the Lions in the big dance.
Back where it all began, at Princes Park on Sunday afternoon for the final game of the season, the Blues and Lions drew in a slow starting game that seemed a fitting end to the season.
A nod to the unpredictability, the surprises and curveballs this competition has delivered.
There is much to be remembered in this inaugural season. On the field the highlights are endless, from the toughest of tackles to the most remarkable of goals and those moments of sublime footy that reminded us all how truly beautiful this game is.
Off the field, the last-minute changes of venue, fans locked out of packed grounds, record TV ratings and sold-out merchandise tell some of the story.
But so, too, do the girls and women who packed the stands each week, who watched this season unfold and wondered ‘what if’.
I wrote last week that the AFLW story had only just begun. But this story began a hundred years ago.
It’s a true epic, spanning decades and generations; packed with heroines and legends, with battles for survival and respect, with tales of courage on field and off.
It’s a story that now exists in vivid colour.
It’s a story that continues this weekend; one more battle remains.
On Saturday, the Lions and Crows will take to the field for the inaugural AFLW Grand Final.
To the victor go the spoils, their names writ large in history.
But the ripple effects of this competition will be felt long after the final siren on Saturday afternoon.
The epic will continue. More legends will be made, more stories will be written, on grounds big and small across the country.
But the women of this inaugural season will forever be remembered for what they created, and we will forever love them for it.
Kirby Fenwick is a passionate Western Bulldogs supporter who has been watching her side from the outer during the 2017 season, sharing weekly thoughts and experiences from a fan’s-eye view.