On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have access to the Western Bulldogs' rooms in the lead up to the AFL Women’s Exhibition match. However, to label this an ‘exhibition’ match is to do it a great disservice.
For an upcoming video feature, I was tasked with following Bulldogs forward Katie Brennan as she went through her pre-game routine. In my career to date, I have witnessed elite athletes like Chris Judd and Andrew Walker prepare themselves to play; Katie Brennan’s approach was no different. However, where their approaches may be the same, their realities are poles apart. The likes of Judd and Walker are financially rewarded for their dedication. For Brennan and thousands of other women playing football (and many other sports) across the country, the love of the game and the thrill of crossing the white line is currently the only reward for their countless hours of dedication.
Western Bulldogs players Aasta O'Connor and Katie Brennan prior to the women's match against Melbourne.
The Western Bulldogs women’s team narrowly lost a tight game on Sunday. However, thanks to the AFL’s foresight, there will be a return match in just over two months time. While the team was disappointed with the result, the focus post-match was firmly on game two. For the first time ever, pulling on the famous guernsey of an AFL team goes beyond the notion of ‘exhibition’. If this is a glimpse of what a national women’s competition looks like, we should all be excited - from the top of AFL house, to the female Auskickers in Western Sydney.
If you were lucky enough to witness Sunday’s game, you would have seen the commitment on display. We owe it to these incredibly dedicated women to fast-track a national league. Female participation is the fastest growing segment in football, with the right framework in place it will absolutely boom. It’s time to show these fantastic athletes that the game loves them as much as they love the game.