Thank you for making the 2017 AFLW season incredible

The last two months have been a whirlwind.

In eight weeks and 29 games of football, we have watched the very landscape of Australian rules footy shift in front of our eyes.

Having had the pleasure of watching and reporting on every second of those 29 matches – that’s about 40 hours of footy including breaks and time-on for those playing at home – nothing has brought me more joy than experiencing this short yet substantial season of footy.

It’s not often that we go off script at Girls Play Footy, but considering the impact the AFLW competition has had, you may forgive us for taking time to share some thoughts, issue congratulations and give some well deserved thank yous.

Opinions have changed. Many skeptics who reluctantly tuned into the first game between Carlton and Collingwood have been made believers, further persuaded by the growing displays of skill as the season went on.

There are equally as many who watched that game and made a point to not tune in again. That’s okay, too. It’s not for everybody, which has to be accepted, but in time some may return as the competition grows out of its infancy and into a well-oiled machine.

Commitments have changed. Overlooked by the powers that be since regular women’s league play began in the 1980s, the bold decision to bring the national women’s competition forward by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has left the Commission no choice but to further commit funds and efforts towards female football, such has been its overwhelming success.

But most importantly, perspectives have changed. Local leagues and teams are being inundated with requests from young girls wanting to play the game, and plenty more senior-aged women, who never thought that footy was a viable option for them, are preparing to give the game a crack for themselves.

As the saying goes, “if you can see it, you can be it”, and thanks to broadcasters Foxtel and the Seven Network, seeing has become believing.

But beyond empowering girls young and old, the competition has had an equally important, yet much less highlighted, impact on males, too. Anyone, female or male, who wants to take notice can draw inspiration from what has been accomplished.

For years women were told “no, you can’t”, yet their perseverance in state competitions around the country created a noise that could no longer be ignored.

Over 200 women got to live their dream this season, one that was never expected to come true when they were young girls watching their male heroes.

If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.

As a 24-year-old male who has had the great pleasure of following women’s footy since 2012 – a relatively short time in the grand scheme – I can vouch for myself in saying that this tremendous sport has changed my life for the better.

I’m a football pessimist at heart. It probably stems from being a Carlton fan, supporting a successful club that has been rubbish for most of my teenage and adult life.

But when I watched my first women’s footy game, the 2012 VWFL Premier Division Grand Final between Darebin and Diamond Creek – a fairy tale win for the Creekers – I was filled with pure optimism.

That optimism spurred the creation of Girls Play Footy in 2013, and since then we have been able to be a part of – and hopefully played a contributing role in – the rapid growth of the game.

2017 has been different. For the first time, I’ve been able to have genuine conversations about teams and players with countless fans who have only recently discovered the sport – this is now a shared experience.

Not to mention, following a Carlton team that is actually exciting to watch has brought about a renewed love for football in general.

So many individuals deserve recognition for their contribution to the success of the AFLW, too many to ever fit into one article. But here is an attempt to thank the most prominent groups.

The obvious one is the players, who can’t be thanked and congratulated enough. The spotlight will always be on the top tier names, but the contributions of everyone, right down to the role players who gave up just as much time as the superstars, deserve equal appreciation.

The bulk of players were only paid for nine hours of training during the week. The majority, if not all, committed much more than that while juggling family commitments and outside jobs. That’s extraordinary. A million times, thank you.

To the thousands who braved the unpredictable Australian summer/autumn weather to create unforgettable atmospheres at games, and the many more who tuned in at home, this competition is on an upward trend because of you.

Without clear, undeniable support, the competition cannot prosper. It received just that in 2017, and the aforementioned women’s footy optimism suggests that it will continue to increase next season.

To the AFL Commission, you have set a sensational platform to build upon. We are often critical and bring to light the negatives, but the reality is that the AFL has done a remarkable job testing the waters in 2017, and now has a clear national competition reference point going forward.

A TV deal and charged admission for AFLW games are imminent, and with them will come more visibility and increased player payments. The first season wasn’t ideal for the latter, but it will improve quickly if 2017 is anything to go by.

To the incredible Girls Play Footy team, there aren’t enough words to fully express how thankful I am.

We made a point to expand our team for the 2017 AFLW season, giving opportunities for female writers to gain experience covering football and bolster their CVs for the future, an endeavour that we will continue for years to come.

Their opinions have been a breath of fresh air, and of course their contributions both on our website and with Twitter coverage has been invaluable.

Specifically, thank you to Peter Holden, Katie Lambeski, Kirby Fenwick, Sophie Taylor, Lisa Divissi, Morgan Harding, Marissa Lordanic, Emma Payne, Shelby Hohnberg and Sally Thompson. You are all fantastic.

And finally, but most importantly, our biggest thanks must go to the readers of Girls Play Footy.

It’s such a pleasure producing content for you to read, and having you like, share, comment and tweet us is an indescribable thrill.

We are a team of volunteers who, much like the AFLW players, have to juggle work, study and life commitments to do what we do, and it would be much harder if we didn’t have such a strong and supportive readership.

With major media outlets buying into the AFLW, we are certainly a krill in the ocean in terms of audience reach, but we have had a tremendous amount of support over the last two months and we hope our attempts to focus primarily on the football – a facet ironically overlooked by larger media – has been insightful.

The future holds only positive things for the women’s game. We have an incredible year of state league football to look forward to, and we can’t wait to cover the AFLW again when 2018 rolls around.

Thank you.

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