The Western Bulldogs have taken preseason honours in a practice match against Collingwood, with the Dogs winning the encounter by 7 points.
Kirsty Lamb was irrepressible as the Western Bulldogs kick-started their campaign for a second successive AFLW flag.
The tenacious Bulldog took it upon herself to brutalise Collingwood’s young and inexperienced midfield, descending upon fleeing Magpies like an unforecasted January lightning-storm. At many a stoppage, Lamb would career into an unfortunate opponent, bulldozing them into MARS Stadium’s turf, rising only to repeat the dose. The pro-Bulldog crowd roared delightedly at Lamb’s effort, as her side dominated Collingwood in a one-sided first half.
The Dogs’ skippers, Ellie Blackburn and Katie Brennan, punctuated the first half with typical vigour and class – Brennan leaping about like an enthusiastic kelpie, Blackburn darting between black-and-white to emerge from dense packs, football in hand. Quite simply, if Blackburn wanted the football, it was abundantly clear that it would be hers.
The pair contributed one goal apiece, before being handed media polos for the second half – Bulldogs Head Coach Paul Groves had seen enough – despite a second quarter injury to forward Brooke Lochland that ruled her out for the remainder of the game.
Brennan’s absence had nothing to do with the Bulldogs’ star’s problematic foot injury.
“Just precautionary…it felt great out there,” Brennan said.
She felt similarly about the performance of the team’s midfield, citing the performance as “one of our strengths. We’ve got great midfield depth.”
The Bulldogs had a paddock to work with inside their forward 50, Kirsten McLeod making good of the space to scramble a third major for the game. But as Brennan and her co-skipper became comfortable on the bench, Collingwood’s young core began to rise.
Kristy Stratton and Jaimee Lambert found the football in tight spots, while Irish import Sarah Rowe shone up forward. The first of Rowe’s two majors was highlighted by an enormous celebration, with ecstatic Magpies converging on the recruit – Collingwood have found themselves a capable target.
Celia McIntosh, after dragging down a fleeing Bulldog, converted with style. Stacey Livingstone at full-back rendered Celine Moody ineffective in a masterfully stingy display while Jordan Membrey and ex-Casey Demon Maddie Shelvin showed poise.
A goal separated the sides at the final break, but the Dogs immediately established a comfortable buffer when Bailey Hunt hoofed the football from 50 metres and change, snagging a 12 point lead and a frankly ridiculous goal.
Belinda Smith should have made it a 3-goal lead – but after an entertaining sprint inside 50, she lost her footing, the football and the chance. Collingwood capitalised swiftly, illustrating the correct method to Smith as they ran the wing, finding Nicole Hildebrand in the goalsquare for her first.
One must muse whether a better performance in the first half by Collingwood would have seen them best the Bulldogs as Rowe’s second – providing following a head-hunting tackle – reduced Collingwood’s deficit to a solitary point as concerned murmurs made their way through an increasingly anxious crowd.
A game that was once static and contested split open – space was found wide of the contest and utilized with abandon. Ellyse Gamble flew for a mark but was met mid-air by a flying Magpie, clattering spectacularly to the ground.
It was bruising football. Watching with my mother, standing 5’3”, I asked her if she’d ever consider play football as Gamble haltingly rose to her feet. I was answered with a gale of incredulous laughter.
But, against the odds (pardon the pun), Gamble found herself at full-forward moments later, underneath another problematic high football. Her juggled mark was met with a monumental roar, but her true drop punt garnered the loudest bellow of the game.
It was a nervous victory for the Bulldogs in a game that should have been concluded in the third stanza – and it might have been with the presence of Blackburn and Brennan. Collingwood’s second half, however, bodes well for the upcoming season, following a pair of 3-win seasons.
Despite the loss of Bree White, Jess Duffin, Jas Garner, Mo Hope and Emma King – experienced players all – the Pies’ youngsters look primed to provide their club with a successful season.
Yet for the Dogs, this game highlights their skill, their class, their strength. They cruised to an early lead, sat their superstars and took the victory. As I chat to Brennan post-game, amongst a midst of excited fans and relaxed players, I spy a pair of young girls in the forward pocket. One is wearing a white shirt, the back of which is adorned with a texta-d tapestry of signatures. They are tackling each other with Kirsty Lamb’s vigour, laughing raucously. Brennan is grinning.
“This is what it’s all about,” she says.