A clear and equal path paved for footballers

Adelaide Crows v GWS Giants, AFLW round one, Thebarton Oval, February 4. Photo: Dani Brown.
Adelaide Crows v GWS Giants, AFLW round one, Thebarton Oval, February 4. Photo: Dani Brown.

Who was surprised by the standard of footy played by the ladies in round one of the AFLW league on the weekend?

Be honest. I know I was.

There was a lot of hype building up before the first round of the AFL Women’s league. All-star matches held as curtain-raisers last year raised the expectations of some spectators, but others kept in mind that men have had over a century to develop their league compared the few years women have built theirs.

People went in droves to watch the historic matches. For the first ever AFLW match, 24,500 people packed into Ikon Park in Victoria and roughly 1000 people were turned away. At the Adelaide game, I was one of the 9200 supporters who got out in the rain at Thebarton Oval to watch the Crows take on GWS (and win – you beauty).

More than 50,000 people attended a game over the weekend. But can it hold up?

Did free entry to games help with numbers? Yes. Did the lure of being part of history draw bigger crowds? Of course. Will the same amount of people watch this weekend? Well, that's a game of 'wait and see'.

Adelaide Crows' Dayna Cox lays a tackle during the round one AFLW match against GWS on Saturday, February 4. Photo: Dani Brown.

Adelaide Crows' Dayna Cox lays a tackle during the round one AFLW match against GWS on Saturday, February 4. Photo: Dani Brown.

As the match day nerves fall away and the skill standard increases, the game will become more of a spectacle, and get one-time attendees wanting to see more.

Disposal efficiency was lacking, and dropped marks were an issue. But they are things to work on as the season progresses. 

The defensive pressure from some sides was intense, and there were some brilliant passages of play going forward. 

It was great to see the big-name cross-code players and Olympians make their mark on the game and not just be used to draw in fans. Hello, Erin Phillips.

As a female footballer myself, seeing AFLW actually happening right before my eyes gave me goosebumps. There is not much more I wanted as a kid than to be able to play footy like my heroes Matthew Lloyd and Nigel Smart, but it wasn't much of a possibility.

Now South Australia's little girls can follow a clear path to professional football. From Auskick, to academies, to local leagues like the Great Southern Women's Football League starting up, to the SANFL Women's competition, to the AFLW – they can be the next Taylor Walker or Chad Wingard.

How great it is, to see this dream become a reality. I'm sure there will be many more girls reaching for the stars - or, at least, the ball from on top of another girl’s shoulders.