Updated: Feb 3
The inaugural AFLW season in 2017 produced some of the most amateur level of football that I had ever seen - and I loved it. The first season attracted players from a range of sports and it was obvious who had grown up playing Aussie Rules Football and who had no idea. Netball players had great overhead marking ability but couldn’t kick the ball on the run. Rugby League players would destroy someone in a tackle, but couldn’t figure out how to do a handball. Cricket players had great reflexes but lacked the physicality required for AFL. Some of these players flourished and became icons of the AFLW, whereas others couldn’t keep up in the complex sport that is AFL, but it sure was fun to watch.
The evolution of women’s football from what it was then, to what it is today has been awesome to observe and the quality only continues to improve. No longer is it a game of aerial ping pong in which players kick it back and forth to one another in the hope of breaking the line. Scores are getting higher, kicks are getting longer and tackles are getting harder, which is what you would expect to see in a developing league. The players are getting fitter, sticking their tackles and taking strong overhead marks. Goals are being kicked from the boundary line and the celebrations that some of these girls come up with are even better than the men's. But it’s not just the skills that are improving - This year it’s clear that decision making has gone up a notch and players are implementing game plans set by their coaches.
The AFLW now has an abundance of players with their own highlights package. From Emily Bates calmly changing direction and switching the ball to allow her team to penetrate the forward line to Chloe Molloy taking screamers and kicking goals. Former Rugby Union player Courtney Hodder is regularly seen making third and fourth efforts, taking down players twice her size with her speed and tackling ability. Darcy Vescio breaking through packs, Sarah Perkins kicking goals from 50m out - the list goes on. Daisy Pearce’s commentary on the men’s games is a shining example of how women can think about the game as strategically as men and communicate it better than a lot of the current commentators too.
Last week's match of the round Adelaide vs Melbourne had all that was required for what was a very exciting, very watchable game of footy. Adelaide came out determined to put pressure on Melbourne at all costs which worked to their advantage. Adelaide were able to ensure that the game of footy was played in their forward 50 and starved Melbourne of their opportunities. A high-pressure game meant lots of big tackles that made me wince more than once. Erin Philips was a superstar as always for Adelaide, kicking their first three goals and showing us what an elite level AFLW player looks like.
Melbourne's backline and mids were brave and absorbed a lot of the pressure from what was a dominant all-around performance from Adelaide. Daisy Pearce’s footy IQ was on full display whenever she got near the ball and was rewarded with her second goal on the final siren. The intensity was high all throughout the game despite the hot summer sun bearing down on them which tested the fitness levels of both sides. Melbourne were able to turn it on in the last quarter and keep the game interesting, but Adelaide showed why they should be favourites for the flag this year and beat the Demons by 14 points.
The most confusing part about Women’s footy for me is how often it is criticised. If you have a quick scan of the Facebook comments section under an article about AFLW you will regularly find people (usually men) complaining about how low scoring the games are and how poor their skills are compared to the men. ‘They don’t bring in enough views’ and ‘This isn’t real football’ are classic critiques that keep showing up. To be fair, this narrative is changing as the support for Women’s sport continues to grow. There are some things that the AFL could do to speed up the development of this league that goes beyond the scope of this article, but I feel like we are heading in the right direction.
I want to be clear - of course, women’s football is not on the same level as men's football - how could it be? The majority of AFLW players have jobs and cannot commit to the level of training that a professional Men’s team can. The regular season also only goes for Nine weeks and it feels like the season is over right at the point that the players start playing their best football. The majority of the season is also played in the hot Australian Summer and those out there who have ever played a pre-season match in January will know how challenging it is to maintain a high level of skill throughout the game when it feels like you could pass out from heatstroke at any second. My love of the AFLW comes from viewing it as a developing league that gives an opportunity for women to participate in a game that they love so much. The flow-on effect from the implementation of the AFLW is the addition of more ametuer female leagues around the country. It was not too long ago that Women had no option to play AFL after they turned 14, as they were not allowed to play in Men’s leagues of 15 years or older. Having women involved in the sport of AFL improves our great game at every level.
GameDay Squad is an NFT fantasy sports platform that is being released for the 2022 AFL and NRL season. Subscribe below to keep up to date with all things GameDay Squad and NFTs in sport.