It’s an important time for the AFL. In 2017, the inaugural women’s competition will be introduced – and honestly, it’s about time.
But while it is long overdue, today is just another a crucial step in the development of the league – the AFL will be announcing the teams to kick off the competition in February next year.
While the original plan was only for six sides, the wholehearted and passionate support from a plethora of current AFL clubs has changed things up. There will now be eight teams – and there was even talk of ten.
Some have been critical of this extension, lamenting the lack of depth in current women’s competitions. But the numbers show female participation in AFL is strong. And it’s likely that it will only continue to rise as the opportunities increase.
Over the past five years, women’s involvement in AFL has tripled. In 2016, around 19 per cent of total participants are female. And according to the AFL, in 2014 there was a 15 per cent growth in the number of females playing the sport.
The future of women’s footy is also strong. Around 27,300 female participants are aged between five and 12 years old.
But the future is also here and now. For the women who have been playing the sport their entire lives, this national competition will give them the opportunities they have been waiting for.
One of those women is Elise O’Dea.
The 22-year-old has been playing footy for as long as she can remember and proudly represents the Darebin Falcons.
O’Dea has also played for the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne in various women’s exhibition matches.
“I’m really excited to hopefully play for an AFL club,” O’Dea said. “To be aligned to a club and to have access to their facilities… To get to play at the top level is just really exciting. I’m sure everyone is champing at the bit to get a chance to play.”
So who will be chosen for these select eight teams? Surely Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs are certainties. After all the time and effort they’ve contributed to establish successful teams for the exhibition matches, it would only be fair.
It also looks like Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane will be given a women’s side, as the only clubs in their respective states to lodge an application.
But there will be plenty of sides who will miss out. Potentially only two of the remaining Victorian clubs – Richmond, Geelong, St Kilda, Collingwood, North Melbourne, and Carlton – and one Western Australian side will have their application accepted.
It’s hard to tell who the AFL will pick. It is likely one of the larger clubs, say Collingwood, will be selected to potentially guarantee funding and supporters for the new competition.
But any one of these teams will be a great addition to the league.
The effort and enthusiasm during the application process is evidence enough that this new comp is in great hands.
So with plenty of clubs and the AFL on board, it’s time for the fans to show their support.
“The key to this national comp is that everyone gets on board, follows it, and really supports it,” O’Dea said. “And we need a lot more girls coming down to play footy just to grow the game.”
So while this season is well and truly underway for the men, we need to remember that women’s footy is also here. It’s actually happening.
Bring on 2017.
(First published on The Roar on June 15th 2016)