CHERYL CRITCHLEY REPORTS FROM THE PREMIER DIV GRAND FINAL
VWFL Grand Final: Darebin up the creek without a Premiership
When I started working as a cadet journalist on the Knox-Sherbrooke News back in 1985, one of the first stories I wrote was about women’s footy. The VWFL was in its infancy and the Ferntree Gully Kangas were struggling to find their feet. The competition had a handful of teams and faced the odd barb from blokes who felt threatened by women strong enough to play “their” game.
Back then women’s footy simply wasn’t on the radar. Few but the most diehard footy fans even knew it existed and the league ran on the smell of an oily rag. The competition had started in 1981 with four teams in the one division, and was just finding its feet.
The then Kangas president, coach and manager, Ian Jones, said they got the occasional stirrer “but once they see the game they soon change their minds”.
Fast forward to 2012 and plenty of people have done just that. This year’s VWFL Premier League Grand Final was played today (Saturday August 25) at Box Hill City Oval, home of the Box Hill Hawks in the VFL, in front of a more than respectable crowd of several thousand.
The VWFL now has 32 teams across four divisions. Not to mention Youth Girls and new junior competitions. The game is thriving. It even has a VIP sit down Grand Final lunch for supporters and sponsors, who are growing in number and influence.
Perhaps the keenest is Bulldogs board member Susan Alberti, who sponsors the league and turns up whenever she can. Unlike some sporting sponsors who are there for commercial reasons, Alberti takes a real interest in what is happening and genuinely loves the game.
Another big supporter is Will Taylor, who runs Smash FM. It broadcasts the VWFL live, as well as WNBL games in summer and some men’s and women’s hockey. Taylor was there to cover the big game for those who couldn’t attend. (www.facebook.com/smashfm.melbourne).
The Coodabeens’ Greg Champion also entertained with his witty ditties and set the scene for a terrific great day of footy as it should be; local, fast and furious. Parents, friends and dozens of kids enjoyed both the game and the freedom of an old-style ground with old-style atmosphere.
In the Premier Reserves, VU St Albans beat the Eastern Devils 5.6.36 to 4.2.26 in a low-scoring slog. It was a hard-fought and well deserved win, which showcased the mental and physical toughness the women’s game has developed.
Then it was time for the Premier Division senior Grand Final between the Darebin Falcons and Diamond Creek Demons. Darebin had won its last two encounters but Diamond Creek was determined to cause an upset. Its form had been good leading in the big match, so no-one was writing the Creekers off.
The first quarter lived up to the hype. It was tough, fast and tight, with only three goals scored and plenty of bumps. At quarter time the Creekers were 1.2.8 to Darebin’s 2.1.13.
The second quarter was also tight and low scoring. Both teams meant business, going in hard and not shying away from contests. This cost Diamond Creek when Rebekah Sibenaler took a hard knock to the head and had to leave the ground. She later returned.
At half time it was Darebin 2.2.14 trailing Diamond Creek 3.7.25. During the main break it was good to see many of those who’d turned up have a kick on the ground, adults and kids alike. Toddlers wandered the terraces and everyone got into the spirit of the game. Hardly anyone bagged the umpires.
The third quarter started relatively slowly but Darebin would not lie down and hit the front briefly before Diamond Creek kicked two on the trot to wrest back the lead, going into the break with a nine point break, 5.7.37 to 4.4.28.
Darebin had one last roll of the dice, but the odds were stacked against it. They were nine points down and kicking into the wind as the final quarter started. But somehow the Falcons conjured the first goal within a minute. Could they do it?
In a word, no. The rest of the game was a defensive arm wrestle and no more goals were scored. The Demons hung on to win by five points, 5.10.40 to 5.5.35. It was Diamond Creek’s first senior flag and the first time they’d beaten Darebin. The team – and the crowd – went mad, running from all directions to join the pack – just like the old days.
Coach Grant Barden praised his team’s tenacity and the amazing achievement for a young club. Supporters crowded around as VWFL legend Lisa Hardeman presented the medal named after her to the best player, Diamond Creek’s Kirsty Lamb. Alberti presented the players with their first premiership medals and the captain, Dianna Haines, and coach with their first premiership club.
It was a day to remember and a real advertisement for a game that is making amazing inroads considering nearly all of its participants are still voluntary. Virtually no-one who was at this game, on or off the field, was paid to be there.
Despite the lack of financial support, Women’s footy has come a long way since it barely rated a mention in any media. The standard of play is terrific and legendary coach Peta Searle is now working as the first female assistant coach at VFL level with Port Melbourne.
But there is still a way to go. No female players are paid in an era where their male counterparts in other sports earn thousands and in some cases millions. These dedicated sportswomen playing at the highest level genuinely do it for the love.
AFL Victoria now employs a female development officer, who is helped by her male colleagues, and we now have a junior girls’ competition, which is fantastic. But none of these players can yet aspire to make a living from a game. Hopefully if the sport continues to attract more coverage and put on displays like the 2012 Grand Final, this won’t be far off.
Follow freelance writer Cheryl Critchley on Twitter www.twitter.com/cherylcritchley
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