North Melbourne and Geelong will join the AFL Women’s competition in 2019, with four more teams to follow in 2020, as announced by the AFL on Wednesday morning.
Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast are the four clubs chosen for the future expansion, selected over Essendon and Hawthorn.
Geelong’s selection was expected, but North Melbourne has been adjudged to be best placed for a 2019 inclusion ahead of the the other clubs that received provisional licences in 2016.
It is anticipated that the staggered approach will be unpopular with the unsuccessful clubs, particularly St Kilda and Richmond who feel they are immediately prepared for an introduction.
However, the league is clearly looking to achieve stability in its expansion efforts, which has been deemed as the sensible course of action.
Geelong has been a heavy favourite for a licence since last year when the club introduced a VFL Women’s team, having been denied an inaugural AFLW team.
Since receiving their provisional licence, the Cats have managed their women’s team with the utmost professionalism, posting a winning record in their first VFLW season – which was documented in detail via the club’s media channels – as well as being hands on with youth development in the region.
North Melbourne’s hands-on partnership with Melbourne University in the VFLW has been viewed as a big tipping point for the club, which may look at using the Victorian state league team as a feeder in the future.
But the big selling point is obviously North’s partnership with Tasmania, which will extend to its women’s team and become more of a talent pathway as the team establishes itself.
Though there are some talented footballers playing out of the Apple Isle, Victorians are expected to make up a large portion of the team’s initial playing list.
The announcement follows a month’s delay after the AFL Commission met in late August to discuss expansion.
Commission chairman Richard Goyder asked the AFL to go away and come back on AFLM Grand Final week with a more detailed expansion plan, which was believed to have been approved at this year’s annual Brownlow Monday Commission meeting.
Eyes will quickly turn to list management, as both the 2019 expansion clubs will look to be immediately competitive.
That isn’t a stretch for the Cats, who are well poised to have a relatively strong team come 2019 if they can secure current Geelong VFLW talent.
Developing gun Lily Mithen would make a great midfield cornerstone, and her Melbourne teammates Richelle Cranston and Erin Hoare would be prime targets.
New Giant Maddie Boyd may eye up a return to Victoria, and players with AFLW experience in former Blues Hayley Trevean and Kate Darby, and former Demon Elise Strachan would all be expected to play major roles in the side.
Former Carlton midfielder Jordan Ivey, who has been recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the VFLW’s second round, will also be a key inclusion, having been in sparkling form since joining the Blues as an injury replacement.
Then there’s Renee Garing, Jaime Woollett and a host of other AFLW calibre players that played for the Cats’ VFLW side. Add to that the plethora of developing players in the Geelong region, both youth and senior aged, and the Cats could almost field a team of home-grown players.
Though it’s speculative to suggest they will all want to play for Geelong, the current one-year contract system in the AFLW bodes well for Geelong’s hopes of luring their VFLW stars back.
For the Tasmania-North Melbourne team, however, an initial team is much harder to picture.
Four Tasmanians are currently listed to AFLW clubs: Jessica Wuetschner (Brisbane), Brittany Gibson (Brisbane), Emma Humphries (Melbourne) and Ellyse Gamble (Western Bulldogs).
The quartet are talented footballers, but not the kinds of players you can build a team around. Wuetschner is a mid-sized forward, Gibson a half-back, and Humphries and Gamble still require development.
Most worrying for the Kangaroos is that only three players are in with a shot at being drafted this year: Courtney Webb, Daria Bannister and Georgia Hill.
Perhaps the lack of immediate future stars will prompt the AFL to award North Melbourne with the first pick in the 2018 AFLW Draft, which if it were to be used today would secure Victorian Madison Prespakis, the clear prospective number one pick for next year.
The club’s link with Melbourne Uni may be key to the Roos attracting some top class talent to build the side around.
Additionally, perhaps someone like Bulldog and AFL employee Aasta O’Connor, a veteran returning to form after knee surgery in 2015 and rehab complications in 2016, would be a great fit for the team.
Paul Hood, who coached the Geelong VFL Women’s side to an 8-6 record in 2017, is as good as guaranteed to get the head coaching job for the Cats, while Melbourne Uni coach Andrew Jago is a hot favourite for North Melbourne.
It is believed the expansion clubs will not be involved in the October 18 AFLW Draft.
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