I watched a tremendous game this weekend, it was awful.
No, wait – I saw a horrible game this weekend, it was terrific.
Let me explain. If all you saw of the Giants versus Suns women’s season opener from Blacktown Saturday was the final score, you’d assume it was a terrible game. If your idea of a great game of footy has more scoring than your typical EJ Whitten exhibition, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this game.
I loved this game.
It was not of the highest quality, mind you. The Gold Coast is an expansion team this season, listed in our meta-preview last week as being voted most likely to bring another wooden spoon to Queensland this season to join the one the male squad earned last winter.
Meanwhile, Greater Western Sydney has won a total of six games over its three seasons of AFLW footy, and has never played finals or finished a season with a winning record.
It was also the first game of the season after an absurdly short pre-season made even shorter for the Suns by having one hit-out wiped out. On top of all that, the majority of the game was played in a ferocious downpour that would have made even my water-loving Labrador beg to come inside.
High-quality, elegant and rapid transitions with long, soaring goals were never expected, nor were they frequent in occurrence.
But what was present in abundance were footy players with heart, determination and a desire to win that hasn’t been surpassed in any Game 1’ve seen in a long time.
When the AFLW first started three years ago, many of the games looked a little bit like this – clusters of players surrounding every ball, very few long kicks from space and relatively low scoring games because of a still-growing level of skill and cohesive team play. That wasn’t the reason for the style of play today.
This game was one where one suspects every one of the players’ uniforms weighed an extra two or three kilos at three o’clock than they did before the opening throw, weight gained solely from the water coming from above and the increasing marshiness of the turf below.
It was a slogfest.
While it was still dry enough to run a little, Gold Coast got a goal in transition when Britt Perry took a pass while the Giants were re-setting following interchanges and placed a running kick between the posts. That lead held until the late third when Aimee Schmidt put a goal through the other sticks to give GWS a one-point lead.
If I told you the last period was scoreless, you might translate that as “nothing happened.”
You would be greatly mistaken. “Nothing happened” in the same way that nothing would happen between two evenly matched football teams who were tied at one goal apiece in the final 15 minutes of a game that determined not the champion of the league but, far more importantly, which team stayed and which team was forced into relegation downward.
They played as if their lives depended on the outcome of the game.
While the fans watched from their hiding positions in comparative luxury under protection from the worst of the rain, 32 women at a time threw themselves after a sloppy Sherrin over and over, forcing its movement in single metres rather than fifties in one direction or the other, over and over, making progress the way trench warfare armies made progress over similarly-long parcels of land and seemingly in equally miserable conditions at times (“seemingly” – warfare is far too terrible to take these metaphors too seriously, let alone literally).
Disposal efficiency for the two teams together was below fifty per cent.
230 total kicks produced only 46 marks, and only eight of those were contested.
On the other hand, there were 117 official tackles, and dozens more that didn’t make the stats because the ball slipped out of grasp back into play. Each team created over 50 turnovers in a 60-minute game.
There were three, count them, three bounces. Total.
And when the ball went up to start the fourth quarter, with the Giants up 9-8, the announcers – as well as the players and every one of us watching – suspected that GWS may be charged with the duty to defend that one-point lead for the entire 15-minute recreation of what seemed like Noah’s first full day on the job.
Meanwhile, it was the Suns who were tasked with not only defending their own goal, but somehow creating an offensive score – any score – in conditions more fit for Jason Momoa than Brie Larsen.
It turned out that they were exactly right. And what a glorious defence it was, in both directions. The traffic was slow-moving but exacting, usually spending time near or inside one arc (raising tensions for one fan-base) and then a few minutes later near or inside the opposing arc (bringing up blood pressures for the other team’s faithful).
Only when the last mark was caught and the horn sounded could anyone relax, such a tense battle exacting such a toll on everyone with skin in the game. I just loved watching two teams of professionals giving their complete all in miserable conditions, trying everything possible to play a game resembling the game they’d been trained in under difficult circumstances and one-point pressure that made traditional methods nearly useless.
Nevertheless, as they say, they persisted.
And when the screen flipped over to sunny weather in Melbourne, and Kangaroo Kaitlyn Ashmore casually kicked a goal-scoring banana in perfect conditions to give North half of the two-goal lead they’d finish quarter one with – a lead either club in Blacktown would have killed for – it made me appreciate the water polo match I’d just watched all the more.
It was the ugliest thing of beauty I’ve ever watched.