Exciting, impressive and skilful: they’re all adjectives some of the AFL’s best players are using to described elite women’s football.
The AFL will launch a national women’s league next season, with eight clubs this week granted licences to field teams in the 2017 competition.
Women’s football pioneers Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs were both given the nod, along with traditional Victorian rivals Carlton and Collingwood. Greater Western Sydney, Fremantle, Brisbane and Adelaide will also be represented.
It is expected that each team will be allowed to recruit two marquee players, with a national draft to take place in October. The league is set to start in February, with the format and rules still to be decided. The end of the first season of the new league could coincide with round one of the AFL season.
In the meantime the game’s leading women footballers are playing in a series of exhibition matches this season, with the next major game scheduled for September 3 when the Western Bulldogs play Melbourne in the Hampson-Hardeman Cup.
AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick described the advent of the new league as a “defining moment in the history of Australian football” and said the number of female footballers playing the game had doubled over the past five years.
“Our game will never be the same.”
– AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick
“Our game will never be the same,” Fitzpatrick said.
Melbourne skipper Nathan Jones said he had made a habit of making his way to the top of the players’ race to cast an eye over the action whenever the women played in the AFL curtain-raiser.
“I’ve seen live at least a quarter or a half of each one of the exhibition matches, the ones that were played before our games, and it’s pretty exciting to watch,’’ Jones said. “Some of the stuff the women do is just as impressive as the guys – the high-flying marks, and geez they hit hard.’’
It is a sentiment echoed by several other AFL captains.
Geelong skipper Joel Selwood described the standard of the women’s matches as “impressive’’.
“These women are not just average competitors; they tackle hard, they jump at the footy and kick it well,’’ Selwood said. “Everything that you want to see is in those games and you can’t help but be impressed by it.’’
Injured Bulldogs champion Bob Murphy is a huge fan.
“One of the things we talk about around the club is ‘one club, three teams’ (AFL, VFL and women) and I’m a real believer in that,” Murphy said.
“The guys were elbowing each other in the ribs saying ‘have a look at these girls play’.” – Bob Murphy
“From the first game between the Bulldogs and Melbourne a few years ago, through to where it got to last season, we were blown away by the improvement.
“We were in the race before our game, curious to have a bit of a look, and guys were elbowing each other in the ribs saying ‘have a look at these girls play’ and commenting about how much they’d improved in such a short time. And the crowd was so into it, it was undeniable.’’
North Melbourne’s Andrew Swallow said the Roos players were excited by the prospect of a professional women’s league.
“It’s exciting,’’ Swallow said. “There’s been a really big push over the past few years to promote women in sport and for female footballers to have their own league is not only exciting for them, it’s great for the game.
“Australian football already feels unique in that it engages such a high percentage of the female population as supporters, so the logical extension of that seems to be the involvement in playing.
“I’ll be really interested to see how they go. To see which players can really stand out with their skill level.’’
Selwood said a women’s AFL competition was ”a great concept’’, while Murphy suggested “it can only be good for the game’’.
Thirteen AFL clubs applied for a licence and the league said that those who missed out – Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast – had been given provisional licences and as well as direction about being prepared should additional licences become available in 2018.