Throughout Richmond's inaugural AFLW season, the players will be taking Tiger fans on the journey with them as they share their experiences. Today, midfielder Alana Woodward details the Tigers' season opener...
Just like that, our inaugural AFLW season is underway!
There was so much anticipation in the week leading up to the season opener. When Tommy Hunter called to tell me I’d be playing, I felt a mix of relief and pure excitement. While it was a weight lifted off my shoulders, straight away I was thinking about the job ahead. We had a team mentality that Round 1 wouldn’t define us, and it won’t, but deep down everyone wanted to play in our first ever game.
In what was pretty crazy timing, on the exact day I found out I’d be making my AFLW debut, a friend texted me a 'Facebook memory' from 12 months prior, where I was watching the 2019 AFLW Round 1 match in the Ikon Park grandstand with a group of Richmond VFLW players. I remember we had a conversation about how amazing it would be to play at that level.
Back then, I thought it was a goal that was almost unattainable for me, having moved down from the country and having only played VFLW for a season.
So, it really reflected how special the opportunity was. To fast-forward one year to Friday night and be starting in the middle of the ground at the first centre bounce, with stars like Monique Conti and Katie Brennan that I had looked up to in the years before, was incredible.
Being a night match, the lead up to the game was a bit different to what I was used to. I had the day off work and I woke up with butterflies…it took me a couple of minutes to realise why I was nervous!
As soon as I arrived at the Club and was around the other girls, I felt fairly relaxed and was able to enjoy it and take it all in, which is what I wanted to be able to do for my first game.
The girls were really up and about and everyone was really looking forward to the night ahead. On the bus to Ikon Park we got caught in a bit of traffic and it was really interesting to see everyone’s different preparations. Some of the girls were really jovial and joking while others were in the zone with their headphones on.
Having not played a lot of footy together as a group, we’re still learning about each other’s intricacies. It’s moments like this that teach us more about each other. We’re so lucky that the group has just come together so seamlessly, we just seem to click.
When we got to Ikon Park, there were already so many supporters waiting at the gate, which was really surreal. We obviously felt the masses of support leading up to Round 1, but to see everyone dressed up in the Yellow and Black was incredible.
We walked into the rooms at Ikon Park and it was also decked out in Yellow and Black, complete with our message board from the season launch, which was really inspiring. Reading those messages from family and friends again really gave us some perspective and the girls took a lot out of it.
We didn’t know that Kevin Bartlett and Jack Riewoldt would be presenting our inaugural guernsey and speaking about something that was so significant to Richmond’s history. They were so sincere in what they were saying and it gave me goose bumps to see them pass the jumper onto Katie.
One of my favourite memories from the night was the noise of the crowd. We couldn’t believe the roar of the Tiger Army, even when we came out onto the ground for the warm up.
There were a few key moments when the roar really erupted; when we ran through the banner, the first bounce and our inaugural goal.
The first goal was incredible. I wasn’t near Sabs when it happened but it didn’t matter because the whole team celebrated, no matter where they were. The bench went off, the backline got together, the midfielders and forwards all ran to Sabs and jumped over the top of her.
The moment held such special significance to us, and it represented all the work that had gone into the program, not only by the players but the whole team and Club, to get us there.
For me, another highlight of the night was seeing Court Wakefield perform like she did. The sacrifices that her and her family have made just to be there and to see her perform on the big stage was incredible.
I was so impressed by the way our group handled the occasion. Their were so many making their debut at the level and even the girls that have games under their belt, haven’t played a lot of footy together. The way our young girls stood up in important moments was great to see, like Sarah Sansonetti’s second and third efforts, Laura McClelland’s ferocity and the contest and Gabby Seymour taking marks deep in defence. Hannah Burchell hadn’t played a game at AFLW level for a while and came back from an ankle injury to give us such a lift.
While we were outperformed on the scoreboard, there were so many players and moments to celebrate and that’s what we’ll build on this week and the rest of the year.
Carlton are a really quality side. As the Grand Finalists from last year and with four years in the system, they have a lot of experience playing together, so we knew they were going to be strong.
There’s no denying there was some disappointment after the game. But as Tommy said, the night certainly was bigger than footy, and we were so proud to be a part of it.
We know what aspects of our game we need to work on and we are so hungry for another opportunity this weekend. There are only eight home and away games and it’s going to be over before we know it, so we don’t want to let another game go by without playing our way.
We’ve got a really strong belief in our processes, our structures and our teammates, so we know that if we can do those little things properly, we’re going to be a lot more competitive.
We can’t wait for our first official AFLW interstate trip. The game is there for the taking and we aren’t about to let this opportunity pass us by.