What if? Dockers skipper on club's 'rollercoaster' ride

FREMANTLE captain Kara Antonio thought what should have been the AFLW Grand Final was last weekend. 

It's been that sort of crazy period in these coronavirus times. 

In reality, it was scheduled for today, although the fast-tracked one – after the threat of the global pandemic firstly caused a reshuffle – would have been a fortnight ago. 

Antonio's Dockers were in sight of becoming the competition's first undefeated team, when AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced the season was over. 

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They had won their way through to a home preliminary final against Melbourne, while the Kangaroos and Blues were set to duke it out for the other Grand Final berth. 

Making matters worse, Fremantle as a club, including both the men's and women's teams, is yet to win a premiership since its 1995 origins. 

Instead of getting to bed early in preparation for a Grand Final, the Dockers came together on Friday night for a quiz night on social platform Zoom.

A "gutted" Antonio has come to terms with the abrupt ending, and understands how much bigger the coronavirus problem is than purely football. 

However, she was Fremantle's inaugural AFLW captain, and knows the "rollercoaster" the club's been on, from the one-win debut season after so much hype. 

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There was also the disappointment of a strong 2019 campaign ending in a convincing preliminary final loss to Carlton. 

"In year one (in 2017), we had really high expectations on us internally but also outside the four walls – being the only team in WA and keeping a lot of the good talent here," Antonio told womens.afl

"As we matured as players and as the football club matured and really developed the female program, it allowed us, as players, to do what we do best. 

"But it hasn't happened overnight – it's taken four years. 

"We've got the next 10 or so months to play this over in our heads, or we can just move forward and really press and control what we can control and get ready for season 2021." 

Still, they are left with a number of 'what ifs', such as whether Fremantle's purple army could have surpassed last year's record-obliterating AFLW Grand Final crowd of 53,034 at Adelaide Oval.

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A whopping 41,975 fans turned out for the Dockers' first AFLW match at Optus Stadium in early February. 

"It would have been really interesting," Antonio said. 

"They're all the things you think, 'Oh, what could have been' but regardless of the crowd, I know we would have got every single one of the faithful down to whatever oval we were playing at, cheering us on and trying to get us across the line." 

It's been one heck of a journey for Antonio, too, since she was a teenage prodigy living in Berwick, in Melbourne's south-east, playing for Narre Warren and still with the surname Donnellan. 

"I was just a young kid, picking up a footy every weekend and playing with my mates … and playing at the highest level I could as a young kid," she said.

"As the opportunities came forward, I grabbed them with both hands – but don't get me wrong. 

"There were injury setbacks I had to go through and all those hurdles I had to jump over made me appreciate it more and made me the person and player and leader I am today. 

"But thinking back to then, I never thought I'd be over in Perth and captaining Fremantle in a finals campaign in 2020, that's for sure, but I've loved every second of it and I can't wait to see what's ahead of me." 

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As for where the AFLW goes from here, Antonio was grateful she wasn't responsible for making those decisions. 

The pandemic's financial impact will make things tough for a while but she hoped all 18 AFL clubs would have a female affiliate within a decade – and potentially with games played as double-headers. 

Antonio said getting the balance right would also be crucial for AFLW footballers, who are still part-time athletes with full-time jobs or study on the side. 

At 28, she plans to push on for at least another three seasons herself. 

"I want to leave the game on my own terms, and know I've done my part and left the game in a better position than when I entered it," she said. 

"We'll see how we go but I'm really enjoying my role at the footy club and pulling on the purple jumper as much as I can, so the more games I play the better."