Football has always been a big part of my life, and I have been lucky enough to play at the highest level for the past 12 years. The game is demanding, uncompromising and requires enormous amounts of both physical and mental strength. These are attributes that cannot be defined by gender.
As a boy growing up all I wanted to do was play AFL. I idolised players like Dunstall, Crawford and Chick. I wanted that to be just like my heroes and I would always ask myself, “maybe one day I could play league footy just like them?”
I always had that opportunity in front of me. There were never any guarantees but if I put the work in and capitalised on the talent I was given, there was always a chance.
Not so, for Ashley. She had her dreams of playing AFL football crushed before she reached high school.
Ashley was much like myself and the other boys at our local junior football club. She would train every Wednesday and Friday, turn up an hour before every game on the weekend, play her little heart out for four quarters and if we were lucky enough to win, she would sing the club song as loud as anyone.
I remember her being skillful, tough and hungry. If anything, Ashley was more determined to play just that little bit better than the boys. Maybe this was because she was “different” to all the other players? Maybe it was because she knew the clock was ticking on her very short career? Maybe it was because she is a girl?
That was until the AFLW competition arrived.
The talent and skill level these women have displayed throughout the inaugural season has been nothing short of phenomenal. And, most pleasingly these athletes have been embraced by the thousands of footy fans who’ve attended a match and watched from their lounge rooms over the past two months.
Part of my reason in wanting to join the Women’s Football Advisory Committee at The Players’ Association was to help these footballers understand the level of responsibility they were holding.
I wanted them to know that they have been given a tremendous opportunity to set up a strong and unified competition that will stand at the same level as the men’s game. There’s no doubt that this crop of pioneers have done this.
They were united in pushing for a fair pay deal before a ball was even kicked and incredibly committed with how they’ve approached their football. They have taken ownership of the competition and have done everything to ensure AFLW is the envy of female sport.
My sister, Jorga, is just like that young girl I used to play football with. The difference is that she now has genuine female football role models and an opportunity to play AFL football if she wants to.
Hopefully by the time Jorga is eligible to be drafted in another 6-7 years, every AFL club has an AFLW team and excitement around the competition is as palpable as it is now.
As an AFL footballer and AFLPA representative, I’m incredibly proud to be part of an industry that’s taking great strides towards achieving gender equality within society.
Daisy Pearce’s election onto the AFLPA Board to sit alongside Matthew Pavlich, Patrick Dangerfield, Scott Pendlebury and others was just another ground-breaking moment for AFL players.
AFL football is truly a game for all, no matter what your race, religion and now gender.
Congratulations to every one of the 200 plus girls who’ve taken the field in the inaugural AFLW season and best of luck to Brisbane and Adelaide in the grand final.