AFTER a long summer, footy's finally back.
And not just any football – the very first game of the NAB AFL Women's competition. Traditional rivals, Carlton and Collingwood, at a ground steeped in history.
But a new competition needs new heroes, and a new cry rang out over the ground – "Darceeeeyyyy!"
Carlton marquee forward Darcy Vescio lived up to her lofty expectations, thrilling the crowd with her agility and skill, finishing with four goals.
Vescio said kicking her first goal settled her nerves in front of the big crowd.
More games may move
"The crowd was amazing. It was just such a special occasion, but all the girls were buzzing with excitement rather than nerves," Vescio said.
Under a hot, slowly-setting sun, the players ran out between guards of honour made up of their nearest and dearest and lined up for the national anthem.
The roar that followed rivalled the noise of a finals crowd.
The old Carlton timekeeper's bell rang out, indicating a significant moment in the club's history, and in a sign of the times Brisbane Lions legend Jonathan Brown's daughter ran out as the Blues' mascot.
A sell-out crowd of more than 22,000 crammed themselves into Ikon Park, and the gates were closed halfway through the first quarter. League CEO Gillon McLachlan left the game for a few minutes to personally apologise to those kept outside.
It was the perfect ending to a busy week of firsts for the NAB AFL Women's competition.
Wednesday saw the launch of the league, unveiling of the premiership cup and announcement of the league awards.
The captains were finalised with the appointment of Western Bulldog Katie Brennan, and the teams were named on Thursday night.
The pre-match function was noticeable for the amount of young girls accompanying their dads and mums, draped in scarves and jumpers several sizes too big for them.
Blue ribbon night for AFLW
There were plenty of girls in the crowd, too. Kaitlynn, 16, and Zoe, 15, who play footy themselves, said it was exciting to see history being made.
"The girls are really talented. Number three (Vescio), she's really good, she creates a lot of space. Hopefully one day it'll be us out there," Kaitlynn said.
Paolo said he'd been coming to Princes Park for over 40 years, and was impressed by the new Carlton "mosquito squad".
The Collingwood team celebrate after the first goal of the game. Picture: AFL Photos
"I watched the game between Footscray and Melbourne (the all-stars exhibition match in 2016) and I thought the standard was fantastic. I wanted to be part of the first game. Number two (Katie Loynes) seems to be exceptionally skilful and quick," he said.
There were Mexican waves in the crowd and people crammed in anywhere they could – on steps, cross-legged on the concrete, leaning against the wooden stands.
But this is also a new generation of fans. Selfies, Instagram photos and "the obligatory Snapchat" (according to one man) were being taken everywhere you look, people wanting to document their attendance at the historic occasion.
By the end of the match the Magpies were reduced to a two-player bench, a significant decrease as they started with six. Make no mistake, this is real footy.
And on the other side of the coin, the new dark navy Blues bellowed their song in the centre of the ground. A new tradition for a new competition.
Gillon McLachlan enjoys the evening among the capacity crowd. Picture: AFL Photos