WEST Coast has held on after a tense finish to break through for its inaugural win in the NAB AFL Women's Competition, defeating the Western Bulldogs by four points at Leederville Oval on Saturday.
The Eagles looked the better side for much of the game, on the back of an excellent outing from Emma Swanson, who collected 22 disposals.
EAGLES SOAR Full match coverage and stats
However, when Bulldogs tall defender Isabel Huntington was swung into the forward line late in the clash and converted a difficult shot from an acute angle with just over four minutes left, the gap closed to five points.
Not long after that, her teammate Kirsten McLeod marked about 30m out, almost directly in front.
McLeod's shot was wayward though and West Coast managed to hold on for a gripping win, 4.6 (30) to 3.8 (26).
After the Eagles were kept scoreless for the first three quarters by Greater Western Sydney last week, they made a fast start against the Bulldogs, dominating the play and getting some reward via a classy Ashlee Atkins snap.
Irish sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly provided plenty for their side, with the latter not always making the most of her chances but her pace proving instrumental in the last quarter when she sprinted away from Eleanor Brown to boot a goal and put her side ahead by 12 points.
Dana Hooker started the clash somewhat slowly for the Eagles but she made her presence felt with some tackling in a contest that was a grind at times.
In attack for the Bulldogs, Bonnie Toogood looked a promising target early in the clash but she suffered a knee injury that ruled her out for the rest of the clash. Her coach Nathan Burke was optimistic it wasn't a dreaded anterior cruciate ligament injury.
McLeod's speed meant she became her side's most likely option, particularly late in the clash, but she couldn’t take advantage of her opportunities and finished with 0.3.
Dogs captain Ellie Blackburn was unsurprisingly prolific in a 19-disposal outing but with her side slipping to 1-3, making the finals look unlikely.
A pulsating finish
It almost would have been unfair had the Eagles let this slip through their grasp. After an underwhelming start to the season, they showed plenty of grit to hold off a fast-finishing Western Bulldogs outfit. West Coast almost coughed it up late but managed to hold on, and the ecstasy among the players was obvious.
Luck not with the Irish
West Coast rookie Grace Kelly threatened to break the game open in a span of a couple of minutes during the second quarter but couldn't make the most of her chances. She first broke a tackle but her subsequent snap didn't quite make the distance. Then came an impressive mark, but as with her previous attempt, the kick lacked distance. Kelly had the chance to make amends seconds later when she found the ball again but her left foot snap sailed out on the full. A recent convert to the game after previously making herself comfortable playing Gaelic football, Kelly showed some seriously impressive traits in what was oh-so-close to being a purple patch.
Did she mean it?
West Coast was in control during the third term but wasn't rewarded, until Hayley Bullas backheeled it through to give her side an eight-point advantage. It seemed to be an accident, but the Eagles certainly didn't care as they celebrated what proved to be a vital goal.
Another couple of seconds…
Kirsten McLeod would have had a goal had the third term lasted just a little bit longer – her snap just after the siren ended up bouncing through. In a four-point game, that ended up being proving pivotal to the result.
"To maintain the culture within our four walls and everyone's effort and enjoyment I think over the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I guess it was that taste that we probably needed halfway through the season to keep pushing us forward." – West Coast captain Emma Swanson
"We've had a vital player go down in the first quarter every week. That's just something the coaches are going to have to get used to. Hopefully we've had our bad run and that's the end of it." – Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke
West Coast will need to improve once again when it travels across the country to face Melbourne at Casey Fields next Sunday at 3.10pm AEDT, while the Western Bulldogs will take on Collingwood in the 1.10pm AEDT slot that day at Morwell Recreation Reserve.
WEST COAST 1.3 1.4 3.6 4.6 (30)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.2 2.3 2.5 3.8 (26)
West Coast: Atkins, Swanson, Bullas, G Kelly
Western Bulldogs: Marshall, Rennie, Huntington
West Coast: Swanson, N Kelly, Hooker, G Kelly, Laurie
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Newton, McCarthy, McLeod, Huntington
West Coast: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Toogood (knee)
West Coast: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Crowd: 2,455 at Leederville Oval