THIS weekend sees Melbourne host the Western Bulldogs for yet another instalment of the Hampson-Hardeman Cup.
With the cup named after women’s footy pioneers Barb Hampson and Lisa Hardeman, something that is often forgotten amid the growth of AFL Women’s over the last six years is how the initial rivalry between these two clubs kicked it all off, almost 10 years ago.
In 2013, what would become a series of exhibition matches begun with a one-off match between two All Star sides of women’s footy, representing the two respective clubs. The teams were selected via a draft process, with either team taking turns to pick their 25-player squads.
The two very first picks were not only recognisable faces in the Victorian women’s footy community at the time, but have gone on to become AFLW captains. Melbourne selected its current captain Daisy Pearce, while the Bulldogs nabbed the now Collingwood skipper Steph Chiocci.
Looking at the two final squads, they were certainly star studded, featuring some of the modern day greats of what we now know to be the elite competition in women’s football.
Of the 50 players who turned out in that match, only seven did not go on to play in the AFLW. However, one of them – Natalie Wood – is now Essendon’s inaugural coach, and retired from playing some three years too early.
Alongside Pearce, the Melbourne side that night included the likes of Adelaide skipper Chelsea Randall, Fremantle stars Kara Antonio and Kiara Bowers, current Bulldogs assistant Melissa Hickey, and GWS captain Alicia Eva.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs squad ironically included much-loved Melbourne midfielder Karen Paxman, alongside North Melbourne skipper Emma Kearney, the now Port coach Lauren Arnell, Richmond skipper Katie Brennan, and the reigning W Medallist Emily Bates.
The two sides were coached by Michelle Cowan (Melbourne) and Peta Searle (Western Bulldogs), and although the Dees came away with the chocolates that night, the match was about so much more than the result.
It can really be pinpointed as the moment where the journey to AFLW truly started.
The following year there was a second exhibition match, this time hosted by the Bulldogs. As 2015 rolled around, the series was expanded to two matches.
The first of the fixtures was also a ratings success, with the game pulling in more viewers than the Adelaide-Essendon AFLM match on the same weekend.
When 2016 came along, the exhibition series grew even more and led to matches being played outside Victoria, with teams from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and the two Victorians playing matches against each other.
As in previous years, it all culminated in the All Star exhibition match between the trailblazing Dogs and Dees.
Moana Hope kicked six majors that night as the Bulldogs won their second on the trot, after defeating the Dees in the earlier match that year.
As the AFLW was established and grew, the rivalry and tradition also continued.
The two clubs have played each other every season since the beginning of the AFLW competition, with the ledger currently at 4-2 in favour of the Dees.
However, one of those Bulldogs wins was an epic final round clash back in 2018 which saw the Bulldogs pinch the win at the death to qualify for the Grand Final and eliminate Melbourne from the premiership race.
Now, as the Dees and Bulldogs prepare to write another page in their storied rivalry, the journey they share must never be forgotten, having meant so much more than perhaps any other rivalry in the competition both now and forever in history.