How the Dees-Dogs rivalry fast-tracked the AFLW

THIS weekend's Toyota AFL Grand Finalists, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, have a history in women's football that extends beyond the NAB AFLW competition.

The two are the pioneer clubs who embraced women's footy in a time when there were only state competitions, with open-age national championships the pinnacle of the sport.

The first AFL-sanctioned exhibition game occurred in May 2013 at the MCG, as part of the then-annual women's round and as a curtain-raiser to the men's Demons-Dogs clash.

Melbourne players celebrate their win in the women's exhibition match at the MCG in 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

Recent Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee Debbie Lee was instrumental in getting the game up and running, as well as former AFL Commissioner Sam Mostyn among others.

A draft was held involving players from around the country (see full list below), with Peta Searle leading the Western Bulldogs and Michelle Cowan taking the reins at Melbourne for the Hampson-Hardeman Cup.

The trophy is named after Barb Hampson and Lisa Hardeman, who developed the women's national championships, and the two teams continue to play for the cup to this day.

As she still does, Daisy Pearce captained Melbourne in that very first game, with Aasta O'Connor skippering the Bulldogs. O'Connor went on to play in the 2018 flag with the Dogs, before finishing her career this year at Geelong.

One-fifth of the 50 players came from VWFL powerhouse Darebin Falcons alone, and there were plenty of familiar faces on the field.

Four of the top-five selections are currently AFLW captains, with Emma Kearney, Ellie Blackburn, Katie Brennan, Alicia Eva and Emma Swanson taking that number out to 10.

Former AFLW captains Katie Loynes, Melissa Hickey, Lauren Arnell and Leah Kaslar also participated in the game, while now-Eagle Kellie Gibson was the youngest to take to the field.

Melbourne and Western Bulldogs players in action during the women's exhibition match at the MCG in 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

The AFL announced plans to introduce a national women's competition (now AFLW) in 2020, but as the annual exhibition games began to pick up steam, those plans were fast-tracked to 2017.

In hindsight, it was a brilliant move, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the 2020 season short. The momentum loss of a cancelled inaugural season would have been difficult to regain.

Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs continued to play exhibition matches over the years in the lead-up to the 2017 season.

The exhibition series expanded in 2016 with intrastate matches. South Australia fielded two SANFL representative sides against each other, while local derbies were played between GWS and Sydney, Fremantle and West Coast, and Brisbane and Gold Coast.

The exhibition series culminated in the 2016 edition of the Hampson-Hardeman Cup, played in September during the AFL's bye week before the finals series.

Broadcast live on Channel Seven on a Saturday night, the audience peaked at 1.05 million and was the most-watched game in Melbourne across the entire home and away season.

Moana Hope kicked six goals for the Dogs with Ellie Blackburn feeding her plenty of the footy from the middle, while unsurprisingly, Pearce and Karen Paxman starred for the Dees.

Just five months later, the first AFLW game was played between Carlton and Collingwood at Ikon Park, in front of a crowd so large the gates were locked halfway through the first quarter.

Step back in time: The 2016 women's exhibition game

01:56 Sep 20. 2021. 2:05 PM

A look back at the exhibition game in 2016 between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs

THE 2013 DRAFT

Pick

Player

Drafted to

Local club

1

Daisy Pearce

Melbourne

Darebin Falcons

2

Steph Chiocci

Western Bulldogs

Diamond Creek

3

Chelsea Randall

Melbourne

Swan Districts

4

Aasta O'Connor

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

5

Kara Donnellan (now Antonio)

Melbourne

Swan Districts

6

Karen Paxman

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

7

Kirby Bentley

Melbourne

East Fremantle

8

Katie Loynes

Western Bulldogs

Diamond Creek

9

Lou Wotton

Melbourne

Eastern Devils

10

Emma Kearney

Western Bulldogs

Melbourne Uni

11

Melissa Hickey

Melbourne

Darebin Falcons

12

Lauren Arnell

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

13

Ellie Blackburn

Melbourne

Beaconsfield

14

Bec Privitelli

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

15

Melissa Caulfield

Melbourne

East Fremantle

16

Elise O'Dea

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

17

Jasmine Garner

Melbourne

St Kilda Sharks

18

Nicola Stevens

Western Bulldogs

Melbourne Uni

19

Kiara Bowers

Melbourne

Coastal Titans

20

Natalie Thomas

Western Bulldogs

Yeronga South Brisbane

21

Maddy Keryk

Melbourne

St Albans Spurs

22

Katie Brennan

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

23

Bree White

Melbourne

St Albans Spurs

24

Leah Mascall

Western Bulldogs

Coastal Titans

25

Courtney Gum

Melbourne

UNSW-ES

26

Louise Stephenson

Western Bulldogs

Melbourne Uni

27

Alicia Eva

Melbourne

Melbourne Uni

28

Kate Lutkins

Western Bulldogs

Yeronga South Brisbane

29

Emma Swanson

Melbourne

Peel Thunderbirds

30

Lauren Spark

Western Bulldogs

Melbourne Uni

31

Brooke Whyte

Melbourne

Coastal Titans

32

Kira Phillips

Western Bulldogs

Peel Thunderbirds

33

Bianca Jakobsson

Melbourne

Berwick

34

Sarah D'Arcy

Western Bulldogs

Eastern Devils

35

Jennifer Lew

Melbourne

Sydney Uni

36

Ally Anderson

Western Bulldogs

Zillmere

37

Leah Kaslar

Melbourne

Palm Beach-Currumbin

38

Courtney Cramey

Western Bulldogs

Morphettville Park

39

Kaitlyn Ashmore

Melbourne

Melbourne Uni

40

Jenna Bruton

Western Bulldogs

Golden Point

41

Renee Forth

Melbourne

Coastal Titans

42

Penny Cula-Reid

Western Bulldogs

St Kilda Sharks

43

Steph Walding

Melbourne

East Fremantle

44

Emily Bates

Western Bulldogs

Yeronga South Brisbane

45

Amy Catterall

Melbourne

St Kilda Sharks

46

Jess Dal Pos

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons

47

Alex Price

Melbourne

Port Adelaide

48

Kellie Gibson

Western Bulldogs

Swan Districts

49

Bronwyn Davey

Melbourne

Greenacres

50

Natalie Wood

Western Bulldogs

Darebin Falcons