The Western Bulldogs ignored the controversy of captain Katie Brennan’s suspension to claim the AFLW premiership with a tight one-goal victory over Brisbane in the grand final at Princes Park in Melbourne.
The Bulldogs, who topped the ladder with a 5-2 record at the conclusion of the minor premiership, tamed the wet conditions to beat the Lions 4.3 (27) to 3.3 (21).
The Lions also went down in the inaugural AFLW grand final last year.
The Bulldogs acting skipper Ellie Blackburn, who stood in for Brennan as skipper, said the grand final triumph meant so much to the club following the events of the build-up to the season decider.
“We got knocked down, we’ve had an interesting week but the girls, we’re a family we bloody love each other and this means the world to us,” Blackburn told Channel Seven.
The Bulldogs’ preparation was disrupted when their Brennan was banned following her sling tackle in the final week of the minor premiership, a decision which has seen her file proceedings with the Australian Human Rights Commission.
But the main concern of the Bulldogs on grand final day was the wet weather, as the constant rain did not allow for free-flowing play in the opening term.
It was little surprise only one goal was scored via the boot of the Lions’ Sophie Conway.
Conway’s goal helped give the Lions a 1.1 (7) to 0.1 (1) lead at the first break before both teams were kept scoreless in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs levelled scores soon after half-time however, when Deanna Berry launched a long-range effort from just outside the 50, with the ball trickling through the goals for a major.
The minor premiers moved in front via a behind before a second goal came minutes later when Kirsten McLeod, who was named in place of the suspended Brennan, pounced on loose ball and quickly stabbed it through to give her side a seven-point lead.
With less than 20 seconds until three-quarter, the Bulldogs extended their advantage, with Monique Conti snapping off her right foot to set up a 3.2 (20) to 1.1 (7) scoreline at the final change.
— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) March 24, 2018
The Lions cut the Bulldogs’ lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter when Jessica Wuetschner was on target and a behind meant they trailed by just a goal, but the Bulldogs gave themselves breathing space with Emma Kearney slotting a major from a set shot.
Wuetschner kicked a second goal for the Lions but it proved to be too late, as the Bulldogs held on for victory.
Conti polled nine votes to win the best player award, beating Brisbane defender Kate Lutkins by one vote.
For Conti, it was a sweet victory, coming after she lost a WNBL grand final with Melbourne Boomers before joining up with the Bulldogs.
“Who wouldn’t want to win a premiership, right … to come off a losing final series in the WNBL and to come out and win and have a premiership next to my name with this team is something special,” Conti told ABC.
“[It’s] definitely overwhelming, it doesn’t feel real at the moment, but I’m sure it will kick in later on.
“It’s just an amazing feeling, just smiles and tears, lots of happy tears for everyone [on the Bulldogs].
“We can’t ask for anything more.”
The premiership win under coach Paul Groves came after a disappointing 2017 campaign, in which the Bulldogs were preseason favourites.
But they struggled throughout the season and won just two of their seven matches to place sixth out of eight teams on the ladder.
The triumph was welcomed by many of the Bulldogs’ past and present stars from its men’s squad, including retired captain Bob Murphy, who tweeted his delight about the win.
Daughters of the West! 🇱🇺
— Bob Murphy (@BobMurphy02) March 24, 2018
The grand final victory comes two years after the Bulldogs won their first VFL/AFL premiership in 62 years.