For Debbie Lee, a woman who some would say is a hero of modern women’s football, a trailblazer who has championed the game for decades, the prospect of coaching the legendary Big V was a still a humbling experience.
"It was a bit overwhelming if I’m honest, but I took the challenge on so I could develop myself and learn and I thought what a privilege to be coach of these amazing women and I’m really grateful I had the opportunity."
Lee’s Victorian team did her proud on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium as they defeated the Allies by a resounding 97-points. Her girls stood up with multiple goal scorers, eight players with upwards of 20 disposals (Daisy Pearce with a record breaking 37) as well as eight players laying upwards of 4 tackles, an aggressive and even performance, however she was concerned at the beginning of the match.
"When we started off, in the first fifteen minutes I thought the Allies came out really well. I and I felt like they had control of the game. Then in the last five minutes of the first quarter we sort of got into our groove and you could see that the girls just settled down and they rolled into the game plan we wanted to play."
The team then continued on to impress and inspire their coach.
"They’re an exceptional group of players, what I liked about our team is that we’re really well balanced, we had 22 contributors, it was outstanding leadership. We had six captains who played in our side and they’ve all shone in their own unique ways and it was a great example of Victorian football.
I asked the girls to create a brand of football, of Victorian football that they would be proud of and I think they did that tonight."
The Big V looked cool and cohesive on the pitch and their strong teamwork could perhaps be attributed to an inspiring night before the game when during the jumper presentation, Lee arranged for some stalwarts of the game to come in to speak to the team about what the Big V meant to them.
Pioneers of Women’s football in Lisa Hardeman, Kerryn Stephens, Rohena Young, Peta Searle, Kristen Douglas, Natalie Wood, Lou Wotton all spoke to the group. Lee saw that night as key in galvanising the group.
"It was a pivotal moment to be honest, I think they understand my story and the way I’ve been involved (in the game), but I thought it was really important for them to understand The Big V and what it meant to others in a really genuine and organic way.
I think after that night (the team) really reflected and thought, ‘You know what, these girls did it tough!'
One of the early games we played, we had to ask permission from the AFL to actually wear the Big V jumper and the girls couldn’t believe it.
It helps when you’ve got stalwarts of the game who’ve been there, you know – I’ve played state footy with Daisy Pearce, I’ve played state footy with Juddy (Kara Donellan), so they’ve been on the journey with me, but it was a crucial moment to have those women tell their story too, it was a tipping point really"
That night seemed to have the impact Lee intended as several players took to social media to share their experience in hearing stories from their heroes and learning how important donning the navy blue guernsey was.
"I think they understood that the Big V jumper meant so much to people that have gone before them and it will mean so much to the people that come along after them."
It’s for this reason that Lee would like to see AFLW Origin continue on.
"I’d love for the concept to continue, we don’t need to conform to the men’s game just because they don’t have it. We need to keep this legacy alive and the girls love playing with peers. They love playing against people they admire and they love playing with people they admire so let’s give them that opportunity."
(PHOTO: Michael Wilson/AFL Photos)