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Women's Footy Match a Raging Success

Bendigo Advertiser
Published in Bendigo Advertiser on 14/08/2009

IMPRESSIVE: Bendigo’s Bree Martin gets her kick away ahead of Monica Robbins.

BENDIGO’S goal to field an open-age women’s football team from 2010 gained pace in last night’s Aussie Rules clash with USA Freedom. A Bendigo line-up that included a mix of basketball, soccer, netball and Aussie Rules players was victorious at Fulton Hogan Oval at Kangaroo Flat’s Dower Park by 32 points.

Coached by Kangaroo Flat’s senior coach, Darryl Wilson, Bendigo won 8.4 (52) to 3.2 (20) before a crowd of more than 1500 as the Freedom marked the third match of its first tour to Australia. Although it had just a couple of training runs before the historic clash, Bendigo’s squad dominated the first half. Led by the play of captain Andrea Walsh, Bree Martin, Ellie McGrath and Faith Bentley, the home team led 4.2 (26) to nil at quarter-time.

The Southern Shorthaul Railroad-backed challenge match kicked off with Simone George kicking the first goal. A great mark by Emma Wolters on the 50m arc set up another attack from which Faith Bentley soccered the ball from the goalsquare for another six points. Walsh marked at half-forward, kicked to the pocket and then ran to goal to be on the end of a handpass to goal. The teamwork of the Bendigo players earned high praise from Wilson. George’s tackle led to another free and goal.

The USA Freedom lifted its pressure in the second quarter. Freedom’s persistence was rewarded with a goal by Sheree Stiles when she received a handpass from a pack. In a match that included many great marks, tackles and bumps, Michaela Perceval’s torpedo goal brought smiles to the face of long-time footy fans. Walsh and Martin capped off more attacks as Bendigo built a 44-point lead by half-time.

The Wayne Kraska-coached USA Freedom fought back strongly in the second half. Although USA did not goal, neither did Bendigo. Cheered on by the hundreds of fans, Freedom won the final quarter. Judith Stein broke clear of the pack and goaled from the angle in the scoreboard pocket. Pressure at half-forward forced a turnover and Stein was on the end of a chain of handpasses to kick her second goal.

At match end, Kraska said he was absolutely stoked about the match. “This is by far the biggest crowd we have played in front of, the biggest ground, and in a city that’s really passionate about its sport. In the first half we looked tentative and overawed, and the Bendigo girls played some great football. As the match went on we began to get more numbers to the contest and won more of the ball.”

Freedom’s team drew players from as afield as Arizona, Milwaukee, New York, Minnesota, Atlanta, Denver, and St Louis.

AFL Victoria’s female footy development manager, Chyloe Kurdas said the reponse to the match was remarkable. “The turnout is fantastic,” Kurdas said. “By teaming up with the YMCA we are aiming to have an open age women’s team representing Bendigo next season. The community has shown its support for women’s football, the players have been really enthusiastic, and we believe it can happen.”

Kurdas said the Bendigo players, whether they had been playing in the Youth Girls’ league, or from other sports, had a lot of skill. “To have USA Freedom playing here is fantastic. They are looking for as many opportunities to play and improve their skills, and this match was a terrific contest.”

Kurdas said the popularity of women’s football continues to grow. “We are in our third season of the Youth Girls’ competition in Bendigo. There is still a lot to be done to get an open team up and running in Bendigo, but tonight’s response has shown what can be achieved.”

The Victorian Women’s Football League includes a premier and premier reserves competition, as well a second-tier. Next year a Kangaroo Flat-based Bendigo team could be in action.

Best player awards in last night’s match went to Andrea Walsh and the Freedom’s Suzy Thomas.

The coaches award was presented to Ellie McGrath.

USA Freedom’s tour will include being at the MCG for tonight’s AFL clash between Hawthorn and Adelaide. The final match of the tour `down under’ will be played tomorrow at Coburg. Freedom will be aiming to tour Australia again in 2011.

Article courtesy of the Bendigo Advertiser.