Women’s footy fills in the bye round gap

A bye round between the AFL home-and-away season and the finals series is just plain wrong.

It goes against what we’re used to. It simply zaps out the season’s momentum for the clubs and fans alike, leaving an awkward, hollow feeling in its wake.

So it’s not a surprise that there is already discussion around the bye round’s failings.

“My suspicion is this will be a one and only,” Geelong coach Chris Scott said. “We’d prefer it wasn’t there. The AFL’s position was that they didn’t want players rested en masse before the finals. I never saw the problem in that – the integrity issue.”

“I know some of the key decision makers at the AFL love continuity in the season. This seems to be a lack of continuity at the most important time.”

A source of anger for many has been the lack of footy this weekend. But in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, the absence of the men’s game has opened up prospects for the women.

On Saturday night, the final women’s exhibition match for 2016 will be held under lights at the Whitten Oval.

It will be broadcast live on the Seven Network during prime time and will showcase the best female talent in an ‘all-star’ event between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

With the inaugural women’s league starting in February 2017, this final exhibition match is the perfect precursor to grow support, and hype, around the new competition.

One of the marquee signings, Bulldogs midfielder Ellie Blackburn, believes this match will be a great way for supporters to learn more about the female players.

“This game will be really beneficial for everyone,” Blackburn said. “It will be a high-standard match, with the marquee players and girls who will be part of the top end of the draft.”

Fellow marquee player, Melbourne centre half-back Melissa Hickey, echoed these thoughts.

“It’s the best of the best from across the country,” Hickey said. “It might well be the only time the best are showcased in one game, so it’s really exciting.”

Exciting is certainly a word to describe what’s happening in this space. Over the past five years, women’s involvement in AFL has tripled. Opportunities for women in the AFL are certainly expanding through this new venture.

This match is just another step towards that final goal of a national women’s comp.

So while fans might feel duped at the exclusion of finals footy this weekend, the subsequent exposure awarded to this women’s game should be applauded.

After all, the women’s game, and these female athletes, deserve attention.

So tune in or make your way down to the women’s exhibition game. Because after all, while the finals might be absent from this weekend, footy is still certainly not taking a week off.

(First published on The Roar on August 31st 2016)

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