AFL Women’s league changing outlooks at grassroots level

Ladies, get in formation, the AFLW is here.

Women’s footy: the seemingly unknown until the televised exhibition match in 2015 and heightened by the second TV game at Whitten Oval last year.

GWS captain Amanda Farrugia accepts the responsibility of being a role model. Image: GWS Giants

Moana Hope booted six goals, Daisy Pearce was a menace in the midfield and the All-Stars delivered a booming television showdown, gaining an incredible television rating with an average of 746,000 viewers and peaking at 1.05 million viewers, higher than any home-and-away AFL game throughout last season.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan was excited about the ratings and the possibilities ahead for women’s footy.

“These are massive TV numbers, and beyond our expectations,” McLachlan said.

“It is thrilling for the AFL and our women players.

“The TV viewers watched a fast, skillful and ferocious brand of football, and the women provided a great taste of what’s to come when the national league begins in 2017.”

Games like these prove why its quintessential to have women represented at the very highest level of sport, under the lights in front of all to see.

It’s so important for women playing at grass root levels to obtain heroes in this way.

Unfortunately for many girls, they have grown up without this representation and encouragement. The story is all too common.

Eliza Williamson, who plays in the VFL Women’s competition for Geelong, had to take three years off the sport because there was nothing in existence to support her.

“I didn’t get to play Auskick as a junior because I felt I wasn’t allowed,” Williamson said.

“I would love to [play in the AFLW] but I found playing in the VFL very tough to come off three years of not playing, and in youth girls which is very basic compared to what I was playing.”

Niamh Quinane saw a similar problem in her club, the Newtown and Chilwell Football and Netball club.

She plays in the under-18s youth girls league and celebrated a well-deserved flag win in the 2016 season.

“Many of the girls playing footy are starting new and have not played footy since a young age,” Quinane said.

“There are many footy clubs who are only just starting a youth women’s team.”

Footy representation has been extremely low in the past, but with the newfound AFLW league, these women are actually witnessing the growth and are extremely excited about it.

Even at grassroots level, Quinane can see the impact it’s making.

“Footy is a great sport and it’s really great to see the women’s league growing so rapidly.

“There are several clubs that have started their first women’s team in the last few years and it’s great to see how much the community is supporting the league.

“Having representation means that the league can grow quicker and build up a good reputation.”

Williamson sees the need for the small growth to ensure sustainability in the women’s leagues.

“It’s important [for the AFL] to take time and by looking over everything and crossing every T off, they’re going to get it right and women will be properly represented.”

Eliza Williamson of Geelong believes it is vital for those in the AFLW to continue to support the game at grassroots level. Image: Arj Giese Photography

The growth of Aussie rules is outstanding for women. Participation has increased 56 per cent in female community clubs and has boosted the total female participation by 19% to a total of 380,041 females.

That is mammoth.

Young girls can finally see themselves being represented and look towards the future packed with inspiration and determination.

With opportunity at all levels of football, the game has potential to grow even further.

“[To play AFLW], I would definitely need to work on my fitness and skills but given the right environment and training I think I could do that,” Williamson said.

Quinane says this thought pattern is shared amongst many of her teammates as well.

“There are many girls on my team who I know would love to go into the AFLW and could definitely achieve this now.

“Some girls already play for the Victorian team and are seriously thinking about this as their future.

“It’s great that this is now becoming an option for the girls who have the potential and the aspiration to do it.”

The women playing AFL now have a unique opportunity to inspire and teach young women wanting to come into football.

Williamson definitely recognises the importance of these women in not only inspirational realms, but for sustainability as well.

“It’s vital that inspirational women playing AFL come back down to grassroots level and really support it, develop it and inspire young girls and women to play this game.”

Greater Western Sydney recruit and captain Amanda Farrugia definitely does not take this responsibility lightly.

“I think it would be naive of any girl that has been given the opportunity to play in the AFL Women’s league to think that they weren’t a role model,” Farrugia told ABC.

“There are so many young girls in Auskick who are looking up to us now, to aspire to be like us and play the way we do and have the same opportunities.

“Every single one of the girls who has been drafted in any of the teams across Australia are now role models for young boys and girls and it’s an absolute privilege to be given that role.”

Underestimate the women’s comp at your own risk; this league is making waves through the ranks and will be incredible for many young women who desperately want to play our beloved game.

The inaugural AFL Women’s season starts on February 3 with Collingwood taking on Carlton.

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