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Humans of the West: Kate O’Halloran

It’s hard to imagine a person who embodies the phrase ‘Bulldogs through and through’ more than Kate O’Halloran.

It’s hard to imagine a person who embodies the phrase ‘Bulldogs through and through’ more than Kate O’Halloran.

The O’Halloran family have been West Footscray locals and Footscray fans, sponsors and players for generations.

Kate’s forebears ran two shoe shops under the O’Halloran name in Barkly Street in the heart of Footscray. Her grandfather Brian was part of the business, and Brian’s mother, despite being a keen Doggies fan herself, was not overly supportive of Brian accepting an invitation from the club to train with the mighty Bulldogs. She wanted him to concentrate on the family business, but Brian had other ideas. He accepted the invitation and played in red, white and blue for the Footscray reserves for several years during the 1940s.

The O’Halloran shoe shops were adorned in red, white and blue during the Bulldogs’ successful 1954 premiership campaign and again seven years later when the Dogs won through to another Grand Final, only to go down to Hawthorn.

 

When the club was on the brink of collapse in 1989, O’Halloran’s Shoe stores were ‘Save the Bulldogs’ fundraising collection points, and the family themselves made a significant contribution towards keeping the club alive.

Kate was only a toddler at the time of that campaign, but her love of the club was cemented during that period and in the years that followed, when the Dogs came oh-so-close to a Grand Final berth in 1992, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The pain of the heartbreaking losses to Adelaide and St Kilda in 1997 and 2009 respectively still burns for Kate, as it does for most Dogs.

These days Kate is well-known for her expert sports coverage on the ABC. She has been a regular on ABC TV’s News Breakfast show, on ABC radio and is now sports reporter for the ABC’s digital arm.

The respect for Kate’s sports journalism has been earned not just through her fearless reporting of the issues facing women in particular in (and on) the field, but through her own experiences at sport’s highest level. Kate’s cricketing prowess took her all the way through to the Victorian State team, and it was there that she gained first-hand knowledge of some of those issues.

“As state representatives, we were given ‘hand-me-downs’ from the men’s team, and given a patch sporting the Victorian women’s logo. The advice we got was to ask our mothers to sew the patch onto our kit to cover the men’s Victorian Bushrangers logo,” she said.

On a football front Kate experienced what many females of her age and older went through, forced to give up the game in her early teens as there was no pathway to women’s footy.

Like so many others, Kate had to find other ways to channel her passion for the game. No one ever doubted that passion. She remembers going to a footy clinic at a very young age and losing a boot in the Whitten Oval mud. Being fiercely competitive, Kate didn’t miss a step, continuing her attack on the ball.

The single-booted young Kate was ‘rescued’ from the mud shortly after, carried to the boundary by none other than Bulldog legend Chris Grant, to the embarrassment of her mother Catherine.

Kate’s academic journey took her to Sydney in around 2011, where she completed a PhD in gender studies. While there, she learned that young Bulldog gun Callan Ward had taken up an opportunity to move in the same direction and play for GWS. She remembers the devastation she felt. “And then, a couple of years later, one of my other favourites, Ryan Griffen, went the same way!”

As we know, though, that story has a happy ending, and Kate, who by this stage had moved back to Melbourne, was back in western Sydney in 2016 to witness Tom Boyd and the Bulldogs hold off in perhaps the greatest preliminary final of all time. And she was at the MCG a week later, with grandfather Brian, grandmother Alma (Gert) and the extended O’Halloran clan to witness the premiership win they’d dreamed of for decades.

In the years leading up to that premiership win, Kate had combined her work providing family violence support with a budding journalism career, and began reporting on the AFL Women’s exhibition games between the Bulldogs and Melbourne from 2013.

At around the time AFL Women’s kicked off, she took on the role of deputy sport editor role at the Guardian, with a focus on women in sport and the AFLW in particular.

Having seen the AFLW and its players blossom in a very short space of time, Kate is both impressed and concerned with the state of the league.

“The expectations put on the players by themselves and by fans and commentators, are not being matched in terms of dollars, investment and resources. Many women have put their careers and lives on hold to play AFLW, but this simply isn’t sustainable anymore.”

Kate cites Sabreena Duffy as an example. Duffy was moved to Fremantle’s inactive list this year after she received a work promotion at the Department of Justice which precluded her from attending the pre-season training program.

Full-time AFLW salaries are the solution, she says. “I know we are told to ‘be patient’, but it’s hard not to be impatient knowing there’s a century’s worth of denied opportunity to make up for.”

On a brighter note, Kate sees many positives in the AFLW Bulldogs in 2022. “It’s been a really tough season, with COVID and the toll that playing seven games in 30 days takes. But how about Kirsty Lamb’s season! And Eleanor Brown, Issy Grant, Isabelle Pritchard and Celine Moody have taken huge strides.”

Another premiership is not far off, Kate believes, and she may get to relive one of her favourite moments as a Bulldogs fan and AFLW journalist.

“I was in the rooms at Princes Park after our 2018 Grand Final win, standing just behind the team as they sang, “Daughters of the West”. I was wearing my media accreditation pass and my Bulldogs jumper, and singing along! I was getting texts from friends telling me that I was clearly visible on TV, but I didn’t care!”

With a bit of luck, in her role as an AFLW and AFL men’s journalist, it won’t be long before Kate finds herself in that position again.

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