The Daughters of the West make a long anticipated return to familiar territory in Round 2 of the AFLW. With tickets sold out for the second week running, their historically most damaging and dynamic small forward/midfielder Brooke Lochland couldn’t be happier.

“I’m really excited to get back to Whitten Oval, it’s been a while.

“[Sell outs] definitely raise a smile. Our supporters at the Bulldogs have been brilliant for five seasons now; there’s nothing like the atmosphere here.”

The atmosphere is set to be enhanced further this week when the two sides face off in the traditional Pride Game, celebrating the contributions of the greater LGBTQIA+ community to the game and the league. The occasion is set to be bigger than ever, with an entire Pride Round dedicated to the cause for the first time in league history. The prime time clash remains the fixture’s marquee game and Lochland feels immensely fortunate to be a part of it.

“Pride Game is something that we really look forward to each year.

“Now the whole league is involved, that’s even better for our AFLW community. We’re really happy that we have this space where people can feel included, feel like they belong, feel comfortable.

“I’m really proud of our club and the way that we do things. Not being biased, but I think we do it the best!”

The most visible signifier of the Pride Game are the dedicated jumpers worn by both sides (this year joined by Geelong Cats and the Brisbane Lions). Designs are typically laden with rich vibrancy and symbolism and this year is no exception.

“Over three or four years now we’ve had different designs – I’m definitely most proud of this one.

“We’ve been lucky enough as a leadership group to work alongside Natalie Gill, who has designed our jumpers. Nat’s done an incredible job in designing it, full credit goes to her. She came up with a few designs and I’m really glad that the club reached out to us for our input [too].

“As you can see there’s so many different integrated flags on [the jumper] and they all mean a lot. I hope that our supporters love it as much as we do and I personally can’t wait to wear it.”

Lochland’s storied career reached an individual peak with her day out against this week’s opponent in 2018 at the Whitten Oval, where she kicked a league record seven goals en route to an obliteration of the women in navy blue. The days where Carlton was a side on the end of such thrashings are long gone however, and she knows that the 2019 runners up will provide a big test for the rejuvenated Dogs.

“We definitely love playing against Carlton at home... They’ve been really strong for a number of years now and we know that we need to bring our best footy and be switched on.

“We understand that they’re up there to potentially play in a grand final again. They’ve got their star players, but we respect all of them and know that they can all make an impact.”

Even if Lochland replicates her heroics of three years ago, footy is ultimately a team game and she was sure to highlight a couple of her younger teammates for special praise – especially after the fallout of Victoria’s pandemic experience.

“It’s been a long wait for our season to start, normally we have VFLW season where we play a heap of games, especially as a young group [where] we’ve got 14 girls under the age of 20. Even though they haven’t had that, they’ve had an amazing preseason and grown so much.

“I’m so confident in this year’s draftees. Jess Fitzgerald, as an 18 year old, she’s come in and acting like she’s been around the club for 10 years. I’m really excited to be a part of their development. Izzy [Huntington] especially; she’s going to be leading this group for a really long time.”

For now though, the focus remains firmly on the game ahead; a time to reflect on what it means to be truly Proud of your identity, a time to be tested by a heavyweight opposition and a time to play for the adoring Fans of the mighty West.