The Bulldogs will play either Brisbane or Adelaide in the AFLW grand final. (AAP: George Salpigtidis)
After a titanic struggle between two teams who are as close to “traditional rivals” as the AFLW can offer, the Western Bulldogs are into the grand final of the national women’s comp at the expense of Melbourne.
The Demons led with only a handful of minutes to play, but a snapped goal by the league’s leading goalkicker Brooke Lochland snatched the Dogs’ grand final ticket out of Melbourne’s red and blue hands.
It was a game that neither team deserved to lose, the sort of match decided by moments rather that extended periods of dominance. Even as a gale blew to one side of the ground, rendering the other almost a waste of grass, the match remained an arm wrestle.
Without any disrespect to Adelaide and Brisbane, it’s almost a shame we won’t get a rematch between these sides next weekend — a result that was possible had Melbourne won — as the class and star power on display at Whitten Oval was worthy of contesting the season’s final match.
All the recognizable names had stand out games. Emma Kearney’s first half was inspirational, Daisy Pearce’s polish ever-present and Katie Brennan a relentless target despite her injured ankle.
And the eye is almost constantly drawn to young Monique Conti, a player who with every possession looks a completely natural footballer, and one who could dominate this league when experience matches her blindingly obvious talent.
But there had to be a loser, and in these sorts of games analysts will tend to pinpoint either one moment of magic or one damaging mistake. The defining moment of this contest had a little of both.
It was late in the third quarter when speed Demon Aliesha Newman took off on a trademark run from half-forward, taking three bounces on her way to the goalsquare for a major that would have made for a handy Melbourne break.
Few thought Newman could be caught from that point, not least Newman herself, but the gut-busting effort of Bulldog Hannah Scott to reel in the deficit and put meaningful pressure on her opponent was the stuff premierships are made of.
The pivotal moment? Aliesha Newman’s miss from the goalsquare proved costly. (AAP: George Salpigtidis)
In truth, no matter how impressive Scott’s chase was, Newman should never have hit the post from less than 10 metres out. It was a bad error, a tired error, and in a match that always looked like being separated by less than a goal, a tremendously costly error.
Of course it is unfair to pin a loss on one split-second mistake, but that’s how games of this quality go. Lochland took her golden chance, Newman squandered hers.
Melbourne will likely look back at a surprise loss to Collingwood a few weeks ago as the greatest contributor to it missing out on a grand final spot, and will have the best part of a year to reflect on the narrowest of misses.
But the Bulldogs will go into a grand final surely as favourites, hosting an interstate club at Princes Park and with form now back on their side.
Be it against Brisbane or Adelaide, the Dogs will go into the decider knowing it can handle the hottest of contests against the best the AFLW has to offer. You would be brave to tip against them.
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