FREMANTLE broke through for its first success on the road with a come-from-behind win against Melbourne in searing heat in the opening round of the NAB AFLW on Sunday.
The determined Dockers booted the last three goals of the even contest to win by four points at Casey Fields in Cranbourne.
The 9.5 (59) to 8.7 (55) result was the second-highest aggregate score in AFLW history.
With last use of a second half cooling southerly breeze, Fremantle grabbed back the lead when Gemma Houghton marked and goalled from 20m to seal the victory.
Co-captain Shelley Scott sparked Melbourne's second-half challenge with a goal from a snap shot and the Demons were on the march back into the contest.
With the breeze at their back, the Demons dominated the third quarter, piling on five unanswered goals to take the 14-point lead into the final change.
The game started with the temperature at 38 degrees and the AFL's heat rule allowed both teams extended rests for players to retreat into the change rooms at the quarter-time and three-quarter time breaks.
It was a fluctuating battle from the opening bounce. Melbourne made a fast start when the pacy Aliesha Newman goalled on the run and Kate Hore converted after a strong mark.
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But Fremantle hit back hard with goals from top draft pick Sabreena Duffy, Stephanie Cain and Ashley Sharp to lead at the first change.
The Demons briefly hit the front again when Eden Zanker goalled after a mark from a long kick from Cat Phillips early in the second term.
Again, the Dockers' response was emphatic as best and fairest winner Ebony Antonio led up, gathered, turned and goalled on the run, the first of a three-goal burst that set up the 20-point lead at the main break, a substantial scoreboard buffer in such sapping heat.
Fremantle used Kiara Bowers' grand comeback as the spur for the last-quarter rally that overran Melbourne. In one of football's finest feel-good stories, Bowers made a significant contribution in her first AFLW game after overcoming three knee reconstructions. One of the Dockers' original marquee signings, the 27-year-old had 13 possessions, 12 tackles and slotted the first goal of the last quarter to kick-start the final term recovery. "We spoke about her at three-quarter time. 30 months of training, we wanted everyone to jump on board with her," coach Trent Cooper said. Forward Ebony Antonio said the Bowers tribute "made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Her nickname is 'Turbo', she's just a workhorse."
The hard-luck story
While Bowers was the toast of WA, spare a thought for Melbourne debutant Shae Sloane. She lasted less than a half in her ill-fated debut before twisting a knee in a contest and had to be assisted to the bench. The former Australian volleyball captain, sister of Adelaide ace Rory Sloane, will know her immediate playing future on Monday. "Obviously, it was disappointing to lose her during the game. It was a twist to the knee and she will get a scan tomorrow. We're hopeful it's only a minor injury," Melbourne coach Mick Stinear said. "Having five on the bench helps in that scenario. Katherine Smith went back for us and did a fine job."
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Lost in the Dockers' stirring triumph was another first-gamer success story - that of new coach Trent Cooper. Cooper produced a masterstroke by using Bowers to fire up his team when the heat rule allowed him to gather the players around him in the privacy of the dressing rooms. "It was handy being able to go into the rooms at three-quarter time and refocus," he said. "There was a lot happening during the game, but I loved it. I didn't feel the pressure too much and overall I was reasonably calm. We had seven debutants and it's all about belief. They all jumped in today and did their bit."
No points, but no excuses either
Demons co-captain Elise O'Dea refuted any suggestion that Fremantle had an edge by training at home in the cruel conditions with the temperature 38 degrees at the opening bounce. While disappointed with the narrow loss, O'Dea said the team performed creditably. And the team lost nothing without expectant Daisy Pearce as O'Dea and fellow midfielder Karen Paxman formed a dominant duo with hard-working ruck Lauren Pearce.
"We were still confident at three-quarter time that we could do what we needed to do, so it was great for the girls had the belief to do it."
- Fremantle coach Trent Cooper
"It's disappointing, obviously we came here to win, but credit to Freo to be able to play four quarters. We didn't play our best footy for long enough."
- Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
Melbourne will play Collingwood next Saturday afternoon in the first AFLW at Victoria Park, the Magpies' previous home. Fremantle hosts grand finalist Brisbane at Fremantle Oval next Sunday.
MELBOURNE 2.2 3.2 8.6 8.7 (55)
FREMANTLE 3.1 6.4 6.4 9.5 (59)
Melbourne: Zanker 2 Newman, Hore, Scott, Cunningham, Gay, Jakobsson
Fremantle: Sharp, Houghton 2, Duffy, Caulfield, Antonio, Cain, Bowers
Melbourne: Paxman, L Pearce, Mithen, O'Dea, Hore, Zanker
Fremantle: Hooker, Bowers, Bresland, Antonio, Donnellan, Sharp, Houghton
Melbourne: Sloane (knee)
Crowd: 1800 at Casey Fields, Cranbourne