It has been over 48 hours since the AFL Women’s Exhibition Game at Etihad Stadium and I have to say, I’m still basking in the afterglow. It has been well documented that the game - the fourth of its kind - was broadcast live nationally on the Seven Network. The significance of this history-making broadcast shouldn’t be lost on anyone. For me, the significance was best summed up in Sam Lane’s post-match interview with Daisy Pearce. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now:
It’s not often that post-match football interviews move me to tears, but Daisy’s mention of the five year old girls that are now looking up to them as legitimate AFL footballers, tipped me over the edge. Daisy summed up the occasion perfectly, acutely aware that, while they were playing for the Hampson-Hardeman Cup, the game was also an advertisement for the future of women’s football.
It is worth mentioning, while I had no official involvement on the day, I have a fairly strong grasp on the coverage of live sporting events, particularly football. Given that the game was cut short by 90 seconds and the players were assembled waiting for the cup presentation, undoubtedly Sam Lane would have had the broadcast producers screaming in her ear to wind up the interview with Daisy. If this was the case, the fact that she held firm and pressed on, shows a keen awareness of the bigger picture. Let’s face it, this game was and is all about the bigger picture.
There is no doubt that this broadcast introduced a brand new audience to women’s football. Thousands of young girls and women across the country now know that participating in elite level football is open to them. Thanks to the tireless work of those working in female football development, there are clear football pathways for girls just like there are for boys.
With national viewing peaking at 345,000, there’s undeniable proof that there’s an audience for women’s football and that the style of play is magnificent to watch. Keen followers of women’s football have known this for years, but sometimes you need landmark occasions, like Sunday’s game, for the rest of the footy world to catch up.
Now the conditions are perfect for everyone to get behind Gillon McLachlan’s push for National Women’s League by 2017. The AFL’s new broadcast deal has been finalised, allowing Simon Lethlean to take up his new role as General Manager of Game Development. The planning and formation of the women’s league can now begin in earnest.
Instead of throwing stones, we should take a leaf out of the players book. Like any athlete knows, a team effort and a positive attitude are essential. We will all have a role to play if the women’s league is to be a success. When I think of women’s footy, I think of positivity, support, inclusiveness and community. These are the qualities that we all must bring to the national league and are the cornerstones of a successful and sustainable competition; for the current generation of players and all the generations that follow.
Last Saturday, I took my five year old niece to Melbourne’s all-girls Auskick clinic. She got to meet the entire Melbourne women’s team and participate in footy drills. As we were leaving the clinic, she turned to me and asked if I would play footy with her next time I come over… THAT is what it’s all about. #ChangeHerGame