A planned road trip that had great mates and a ripper footy match involved. Nikki Clare’s take on AFLW in the country and the day the Cats stepped up to be counted.
On Saturday, I jumped in the Nikster mobile and headed out on an adventure that I had pencilled in since before Christmas.
Before we knew of the AFLW fixture for 2020, a coworker of mine and I made a promise that we would get to watch one game of AFLW together live in 2020. Why only one you ask? That’s because Andrew is based in Bendigo and I’m based in the ‘big smoke’.
Andrew and I have a great friendship and he is an amazing person who has coached girls footy and understands my passion for AFLW. He still asks me when I’ll be coach of the Dees AFLM team, even this weekend just gone haha.
When we saw there was a game being held in Bendigo we booked it in! The bonus for me was that one of the teams Geelong – who I’ve admitted to Mel Hickey are my second favourite team in the AFLW (mainly because of Mel and her awesomeness).
Sorry, I digress, this write up is about the Tigers versus Cats. A clash between two teams desperately searching for their first win of the 2020 campaign to kick start their season.
The Tigers were on the prowl to notch up their first ever win since entering the competition whilst the Cats were precariously balanced on not becoming the team who had the longest losing streak in the competition’s existence. What a perfect recipe for a cracking game.
That was my thought process on the 90 minute trip to Bendigo. This game had the potential to become the match of the year.
I caught up with Andrew and his partner for a bite to eat in town before the game, needless to say our gossiping about work related things and footy topics meant we were running late to the game. Luckily the ground was within walking distance so I left my car in the multilevel carpark and we made our way to the ground.
In doing so, I managed to leave my sunscreen and footy in the car… Hopeless. I’m hopeless.
We got into the ground and headed toward the grandstand, only to be asked if we were members or family members of the players to be eligible to get into the grandstand. I hope that anyone who needed the shade were allowed to access the stand, We understood that this is the ruling to protect family and friends of the players.
The undercover areas were already full around the ground, Andrew and I discussed that he and his partner would go see if they could find any space in the shade, if not we could just stand where we stopped. Which happened to be right beside the Cats bench. Not gonna lie, coach Nik mode came on and I thought, this could be a great way to see how they work the bench with rotations, player management, messages, assessing injuries, barracking in the AFLW.
I decided that I would stay where I was as the shaded area looked full. I looked around and noticed a lot of yellow and black as expected. The PA system wasn’t in the mood to cooperate and the poor PR people had a terrible time trying to chat with the kids on the field. It kinda sounded like the old school mobile phone coverage when you only got every third of fourth word of the sentence and had to try and make sense of the conversation.
I definitely made the right call to stay where I was. I got to hear people in the crowd around me discuss the game. There was none of this preconception about the style of the game, the skill of the players, the endeavour of the players from both sides. They enjoyed the match on its merits and were right into the ebb and flow of the game.
I managed to absorb a little bit being so close to the bench, but between discussing the match with Andrew and getting engrossed in the game, I missed half the rotations happening and hearing the instructions, despite being smack bang in the middle of it going on!
Andrew is a big stirrer and if anyone was near us they would have heard him pay out on me saying my biggest haul last season in the masters was 8 behinds! Shithead. I said I wish I had the ball that often and could be cleaner like Rocky Cranston when she has her shots on goal. I hope we weren’t too loud.
The match was played at a pace that seemed to be next level for both sides. Having watched the Cats play live all season apart from round 1, I could see the improve in confidence and ability to back themselves in crucial moments in this match.
They were unlucky against the Crows the week before and I think they were very determined to get that first win.
The scoring from both sides was the best I’ve seen all season. Running shots on goal, snaps around the body, set shots that sailed over the goal umpire’s head. It was great to watch. Rocky Cranston, what a superstar she is. That goal from the boundary was a highlight for sure. Rocky doesn’t get the credit she deserves. She really is an amazing footballer. A natural.
I was fascinated with how the Tigers utilised Sabrina. I personally would have played her from the goal square and have her strong marking capabilities and super boot a challenge for the Cats. Sabrina was powerful up the ground, but the Cats having Meg Mac in defence, you just know she is going to read the play beautifully and if she isn’t taking an intercept mark, she’s punching the ball away from the forward who gets near her.
I watched Meg and how she positioned herself around the ground. What a brilliant mind she has. I pointed out to Andrew where Meg was and how she headed from the wing down to the goal square and sure enough, within 30 seconds she was taking an uncontested defensive mark saving a certain goal for the Tigers.
Mon Conti had the ball on a string for the Tigers, she had to have sprinted a marathon the entire match. She was everywhere! Phoebe Monahan was also playing extremely well for the Tigers.
Speaking of Phoebe’s, one day Phoebe McWilliams is going to take a massive mark and potentially mark of the year, she has given it a crack nearly each match I’ve watched her play.
After a disappointing result last week, it was great to see the Cats pile on the goals in the second quarter. The lead got out to about 7 goals at one point and the Cats looked like they were about to inflict the biggest defeat the Tigers had endured so far.
The third quarter saw the Tigers mount a comeback and I sensed the Cats were just a little bit nervous. As was I. The match rose to another level again as the pressure was growing around the ground. Just before three quarter time Jordan Ivey placed a huge bump on Katie Brennan on the ground when both were going for a contested ball.
Arguments from the Tigers faithful and AFL will say that Jordan was reckless and it was excessive. I can see that. I can also see that she went hard at the contest, bypassed the ball and landed the bump on Katie who didn’t expect such contact and didn’t embrace for impact. Regardless of the arguments for or against the incident, I hope Katie is ok and I hope that the players won’t shy away from going hard at the ball.
Being so close to the bench and the ground, I could hear some of the instructions from the coaching staff and the players. I always take an interest in how Mel is going, seeing that she’s my favourite, she really gets the girls up and about with her encouragement and advice. She is such a natural leader and you can see just how she is respected by her peers. Talking to the young players from the bench, calling out directions on the field.
Her game in itself was good, I still don’t understand the umpire’s interpretation of holding the ball and prior opportunity. Mel was pinged and Andrew and I wondered exactly how many Mississippi’s they count before they call it. Sometimes I don’t think the word is finished at all.
The Cats held on to claim their first win of the season and you could see that it meant a lot to the group. I’m sure there was a big sense of relief and excitement amongst them. The song was definitely sung with gusto and the smiles on the faces of the players as they went around the ground engaging with kids, fans, friends and family was a great moment to witness.
The Tigers really gave it their all and they should be proud of how far they’ve come as a team in the last month of football. The wins will come and when they do the Tiger Army will be in full voice.
But on this day as the cheers of the country crowd started to grow silent as everyone began their journey home, the day belonged to the Geelong Cats and this was their line in the sand moment. They made a statement and I think that statement read: No More Meows. It’s Time To Roar.