CARLTON has withstood a late comeback from the Western Bulldogs, warming up for its finals campaign with a three-point win in the NAB AFL Women's Pride Game at Whitten Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Rugby sevens convert Brooke Walker booted three goals in the first half as her side emerged victorious 6.5 (41) to 5.8 (38).
The game was effectively a dead rubber, with the Blues needing to be thumped if they were to be dislodged from top spot in Conference B.
After a slow start, the Dogs awoke from their slumber in the second quarter to dominate general play but rued missed shots at goal.
They wouldn't kick one until a couple of minutes into the final term, via a Katie Brennan set shot, but then made it a real contest after Aisling McCarthy and Libby Birch converted accurately.
Brennan fluffed her fair share of chances in the second term, missing everything with an admittedly very tough set shot and also juggling a mark and going over the goal line.
She and Sarah Hosking had a nasty head clash in the third quarter but both returned to the field.
Walker roosts it home
After Brooke Walker marked about 55m out from goal in the first term, she decided to go long. Launching from inside the centre square, she was hoping a teammate could take a pack mark. Walker must have connected with the footy better than she expected though, because the ball soared over a group of players and bounced through for a monster goal.
Rough ending for the reigning premiers
It's been an inglorious campaign for the Western Bulldogs after their magnificent premiership last season. Losing Emma Kearney and Jenna Bruton to North Melbourne was always going to make things tough, and having gun forward Isabel Huntington's return from a knee reconstruction delayed after a setback made the job even more difficult.
Finals on the agenda
Carlton has progressed past the home and away season for the first time after finishing on top of Conference B. Daniel Harford's side has won three matches on the trot and his forward line looks dangerous. Tayla Harris was taking marks and testing her hamstrings with some huge kicks, while former rugby sevens duo Walker and Dalton will be a handful for any side. Harford was impressed with his team's form: "Since the Giants game, we've lost a game by a couple of points to the Cats down there in a game we should have won, so our form's been rock solid since that Giants game, since we learnt to win… so I'm very confident our upward trajectory's very dangerous at the moment. I wouldn't want to play us."
Ernst gets Lucas-Rodd, twice
Early in the second quarter, Carlton's Tilly Lucas-Rodd had the footy and the Blues looked set to kick a goal. That was until Dogs defender Tiarna Ernst laid a tackle and won a free kick for holding the ball. Later that term, Lucas-Rodd was running down the wing, until she was mowed down by Ernst, who refused to give in despite her side trailing by 25 points. The effort was phenomenal.
When asked about the conference imbalance: "Internally in the footy club, we just worry about the next game in front of us. To be honest, I couldn't give a fat rat's about what's happened outside of it." - Carlton coach Daniel Harford
"Going from the season we had last year, there's probably a little bit of relief there, but we've believed in ourselves from the first round." - Carlton captain Brianna Davey
"I spoke to the girls just before and highlighted a few areas that as a collective group – the staff, program and the players – that we just need to tinker with a little bit, to enable our player to play to their potential." - Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves
"It's St Patrick's day at home, so Ash Utri, who has a bit of Irish blood, her mum's from Ireland, so we were just having a bit of a mess (around). One of the first days I was here, we had a bit of a bonding barbeque at Libby (Birch's) house. They got me up and told me to do a dance, so me and Ash did a bit of an Irish jig." - Western Bulldogs forward Aisling McCarthy
Carlton will host Fremantle in a preliminary final next week, with details to be announced by the AFL on Monday. For the Dogs, it's a long wait before round one rolls around next year.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.2 0.7 0.7 5.8 (38)
CARLTON 3.2 5.2 5.5 6.5 (41)
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Brennan, Birch, McCarthy, Huntington
Carlton: Walker 3, Dalton 2, Harris
Western Bulldogs: Conti, Blackburn, McCarthy, Lamb, Brennan
Carlton: Walker, Davey, Dalton, Prespakis, Harris, Stevens
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Umpires: Broadbent, Annand, Edwards
Official crowd: 9609 at Whitten Oval