West Coast’s AFLW team kicked off its inaugural pre-season campaign with a strong showing against crosstown rivals Fremantle at Cockburn’s Victor George Kailis Oval on Saturday.
The practice match gave both teams a chance to hone their skills ahead of the start of the 2020 women’s competition, which begins on February 7.
It was a particularly momentous occasion for the Eagles, who played their first match together since commencing training as a group in early December.
West Coast dominated the early exchanges, winning the ball from the centre bounce and launching it inside the attacking 50 at will with the assistance of a significant prevailing breeze.
Ruckwoman Danika Pisconeri kicked the team’s first unofficial goal in the fifth minute of the encounter after manhandling her opponent, plucking the ball cleanly from a throw in and snapping truly on her right boot from 30 metres out.
Despite controlling the game for much of the quarter, West Coast squandered several opportunities in front of goal and only held a minor advantage at the first break.
Fremantle kicked into gear in the second term, using its trademark physicality to surge the ball forward and convert on the scoreboard.
It might have been a tough period for the AFLW newcomers, but it did offer an opportunity for the team’s defensive outfit to show its resilience.
Former Brisbane Lion McKenzie Dowrick stood up when the going got tough, quelling countless Dockers’ attacking entries with several timely spoils.
She was ably supported by the smooth-moving Emily McGuire and Rugby Union convert Mhicca Carter, who laid several big hits and did not look out of place in the team’s defensive 50.
West Coast got the game back on its terms after withstanding the aforementioned purple storm and took it up to last year’s AFLW preliminary finalists in the penultimate term.
Gasps were heard around the ground when star recruit Dana Hooker went to ground following a heavy collision early in the third quarter, but the two-time AFLW best and fairest runner-up got to her feet quickly and remained a force to be reckoned with in the contest.
The third term produced another memorable moment when skipper Emma Swanson booted a classy running goal from 30m out.
West Coast’s first pick in the 2019 AFLW Draft, Imahra Cameron, would have had two long-range goals to her name early in the fourth quarter if not for some desperate saves on the line from the Dockers’ defence.
But Fremantle’s defensive brigade could not contain Eagles livewire Tarnee Tester, who snuck out the back of a contest, scooped up a loose Sherrin and split the big sticks from 20m out.
The team finished off the game strongly, restricting the wind-assisted Dockers to just two last in the final quarter.
West Coast midfielder Courtney Guard said the team was pleased to bank its first game as a unit.
“Given it was the first time the group had played together there were a few nerves buzzing around, but I think the excitement overtook that and as soon as we stepped onto the ground the vibe was electric,” she said.
“I think right from the get-go you wouldn’t have known that was the first game that we’ve ever played together as a group. I thought the pressure that we applied instantly was great and I think we settled into the game.
“We were really good with our structures and we can take a lot away from it. There’s a few things to work on, but as a whole it was a good first run.”
Guard said she was particularly impressed with the club’s three Aussie rules debutants – Gaelic football converts Niamh and Grace Kelly and former international rugby star Carter.
“I think they’re the three best debutants I’ve ever seen,” Guard offered.
“Niamh Kelly, just the runs and speed she offered – we call her ‘Wheels’ for a reason, she was outstanding. ‘Mhics’ has never played footy but she was really strong out back. And Grace was so exciting. She nearly kicked her first goal, but there was a lot to like about her game. I can’t wait to see what they all bring this year.”
The Eagles now turn their attention to the club’s first official pre-season fixture, an away clash with fellow AFLW newcomer Richmond at Punt Road on January 26.