AFLW continues to make history

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Footy returned to our radios, televisions and suburban grounds right around the country last weekend as the fourth season of the AFLW kicked off. It was a weekend of history making moments, but it was also a weekend that highlighted some of the very real challenges facing the competition.

Sabrina Frederick of the Tigers kicks a goal during the round one AFLW match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at Ikon Park on February 07, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Four new teams — Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast — have joined the competition in 2020 bringing the total number of teams to 14. However, the AFL has resisted calls, most notably from the players, for a 13-week home and away season, instead persisting with their controversial conference setup and an 8-week home and away season followed by a three-week final series. Of course, this decision has ramifications.

Last Friday night, newcomers Richmond were beaten by last season’s grand finalists Carlton in front of 15,337 people at Princes Park. For many Richmond fans the result was far outweighed by the historic nature of the night. Tigers coach Tom Hunter said it best post-match when he described the night as being ‘just a little bit bigger than footy’.

‘For the Richmond Football Club to have a women’s side run out for the first time, in their inaugural season, in front of so many yellow and black supporters tonight… it meant a lot to a lot of people,’ Hunter said. And he was right. The same can be true of Gold Coast, St Kilda and West Coast, whose fans expressed similar sentiments across the weekend as their teams were beaten in their debuts. These were historic games, marked by many historic moments including the first goalkickers for the teams.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the newcomers were unable to record a win first up. Many of the teams had played only a handful of games together. West Coast coach Luke Dwyer made the point post-match that the Eagles had played only three games together.

Familiarity may breed contempt but it also builds better players and more cohesive teams. It was a point that Olympian Kim Brennan spoke about on the ABC’s Offsiders last Sunday morning. Brennan supported the AFL’s expansions, saying that she believed sports ‘have to be aggressive in expansion to increase opportunities and stimulate that supply and demand issue.’

 

'It feels almost cliché to keep placing the word ‘history’ alongside the AFLW. But, it’s also right.'

 

However, Brennan also raised questions about the AFL’s decision to only play eight rounds. ‘My question mark would be whether eight games is enough to actually improve the amount of match experience and the quality of the players to really drive up the standard of play in line with the accelerated expansion,’ she said.

The length of the season was not the only discussion point from the opening round. The first game, between the Tigers and the Blues had been touted as a lockout. Carlton members received messages from their club urging them to arrive early. And the AFL set up a big screen outside the venue for any overflow. It wasn’t a lockout. But plenty, including sports journalist Kate O’Halloran, pointed out that that was more about the AFL’s refusal to ticket games than fan’s support. ‘Speaking to fans on Friday night, I was also told that many who had wanted to attend had stayed at home to watch the match on TV, because they could not, or did not want to, line up from 6:00pm or earlier to be assured entry,’ Kate wrote for the ABC.

It seems unlikely that debate on these issues will go away anytime soon. And nor should it. The season structure was a significant part of the CBA negotiations that came to a head at the end of last year. And fans will no doubt continue to be frustrated by the lack of ticketing and the uncertainly that brings. But on the field, there’s plenty to celebrate.

Young and talented players like Maddy Prespakis, Gabby Newton, Georgia Patrikios and Roxy Roux are providing an exciting example of where the competition is heading. More and more, the newly drafted players will have enjoyed unbroken football pathways. They won’t have been turned away from the game at fourteen. Instead, they’ll have played juniors football and then progressed into academy programs exposing them to elite coaching and training — the same kinds of programs long enjoyed by their male counterparts. That is something to be celebrated.

It feels almost cliché to keep placing the word ‘history’ alongside the AFLW. But, it’s also right. Sabrina Frederick kicked Richmond’s first AFLW goal last night. Britt Perry did the same for the Sun’s against her old team, Dana Hooker wrote her name into the history books for the West Coast Eagles and it was another MacDonald, this time a Molly, who kicked the Saints first goal at Moorabbin. There’ll be more of those moments and that’s something to be celebrated too.

Eight games may be far from enough. The holdout on ticketing may be hampering and not helping as intended. There may continue to be debate around the conditions and the league and what the future looks like. And the detractors, though increasingly seeming to lose ground to the fans, will never be far away. But young girls, and young boys too, have more than 400 hundred new heroines to look up to, footballers they can admire and aspire to be like. And that is absolutely something to be celebrated.

 

Kirby FenwickKirby Fenwick is a fan first and a writer, editor and audio producer second. She is the creator of the award-winning audio documentary, The First Friday in February and produces the regular segment, 'Voices From the Stands' for Triple R’s Kick Like A Girl. She is a founding member of Siren: A Women in Sport Collective. You can find her on twitter @kirbykirbybee

Main image: Sabrina Frederick of the Tigers kicks a goal during the round one AFLW match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at Ikon Park on February 07, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Kirby Fenwick, Australian sport, AFLW

 

 

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Women's Australian Rules matches flourished over a century ago, during the Great War, at Ballarat City Oval and the MCG. The wonderful LUCAS GIRLS arranged this and fielded a team, to raise funds for the world's longest Avenue of Honour, born of their noble initiative. The Lucas Knitwear they made was renowned world-wide for quality. Another brainchild of these magnificent women workers is in Sturt Street Ballarat, near Gillies St, in front of Ballarat High School: the iconic ARCH OF VICTORY.
james marchment | 14 February 2020


So good that today's girls and women are given these chances that we would have all loved to have back in the 'old days' when it was all pretty well unthinkable Wonderful that finally the media in Australia are waking up to non tennis women's sport. About 10 days ago the ABC's sports news had 3 sports news in succession AFLW, women's soccer and women's cricket. Surely historic! All the ABC needs to do is to change their intro sports promo featuring all men. Thanks to Kirby Fenwick and commentator like herself
Michele Madigan | 14 February 2020


NT ACT and Tas are the only places not to have AFL Women's teams, however North Melbourne has a draft pick deal with Tasmania, so North can draft players from the apple isle and play home games there like Hawthorn. Yes an 8 match home and away is too short but just imagine if NT fielded an all indigenous womens team: Blues and Lions look out!
francis Armstrong | 15 February 2020


I seem to recall that both Joseph and Jesus played fullback for Jerusalem. I wonder if Mary had a team to play for or did she have far more feminine and important pastimes to occupy her precious time talent.
john frawley | 17 February 2020


Girls copying boys in behaviour, dress and language is a curious form of liberation and equality.
John RD | 27 February 2020


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