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Women Meeting The Men Head-On

  • Sunday, December 20 2015 @ 05:29 pm ACDT
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Australia
The AFL is currently gathering the momentum to place women’s footy on the national stage with the upcoming granting of licences to clubs to hold an AFL women’s national league. Whilst this is a wonderful step forward for women’s footy, and certainly validates and celebrates the incredible work done in Australia and overseas to grow the women’s game, the AFL is oddly behind many smaller national and international leagues in the development of women’s footy.

Even though the AFL’s endorsement of women’s footy opened the gates for people to develop the game, it is those leagues that have in reality sown and tended the crops to the point where the AFL must pursue highest level competition to complete the talent pathways already laid down.

An example of how the women’s game has been taken to places not dreamed of even just five years ago is the Pyramid Power club near Cairns in Far North Queensland. The year 2015 saw them enter an all-girls Under 13 team in a boy’s competition – girls taking on the boys head on in a scheduled competition. This may not be the first such team, though it is hard to find documentation of many others. But it is a huge step forward for women’s footy as younger girls are being exposed to the competitive aspects of team footy in an environment long dominated by boys.

Former Power coach and president, Brett Kennerley, hatched the idea with new president, Jim Floyd and has an interesting story of how the idea came about, became a reality and explains where the idea might fit in the grander scheme of women’s footy.

Brett starts by stating that “the idea came about because we had to work out how to fairly split our Under 13's numbers, as we had too many for one team. As I looked through the players, I realised that we had a very large amount of females in that age group, although not enough for a stand-alone female side at that stage. But it dawned on me that this was a chance to do something radical and different.”

“So I pitched the idea to Jim, that we split the side on gender, and then sign up more young girls. I knew it would be an easy sell to the League [AFL Cairns], because they were screaming out for higher female participation, so the timing was just right. When we got the thumbs up from the league, we immediately knew we wanted this team to have its own identity.”

“I asked Jim to speak to our local indigenous leaders, and get the local language name for female. There were a couple of different ones, mostly dependant on age, but we chose Waragnu. Even though it actually means older girls, it just fit better. Although the girls didn't have a lot of on-field success, they improved significantly, over the course of the season, and were certainly feared by the boys teams for their tackling prowess. As people they seemed to harness the positivity that this season provided them, and I believe they revelled in their opportunity to show the footy world that girls could mix it with the boys.”

“It was an important step because, at least locally, people still haven't invested in the theories of women in footy. This Waragnu team, although only a small step, had a profound effect on many people, and for every single thought process that gets changed, we are closer to going full circle or full journey on this.”

“This concept basically will need to be developed and maybe wound back in future years, when we can have strong enough numbers to fill numerous divisions of female football including, but not limited to, all grades from Under 11 age groups through to senior women’s teams - essentially a replicated pathway to that which already exists for boys and men.”

“These girls are the first generation of footballers who can dream to aspire to become professional athletes, knowing all too well that they are in the age window to be successful in that pursuit. All other women and girls before them were surely hopeful, but with no real knowledge that it would ever happen. When an athlete knows that it's actually possible, they can work harder toward that goal, with a one track mind.”

“I, too, see a national competition, where the expectation is for every senior men’s team, there will be a team competing in the women’s league as well. It may never truly have the same pulling power as far as spectators or sponsors or television deals go, but who knows? The BBL has the ladies on prime time television now and the ANZ Championships gets primetime now, so maybe AFL can garner that same kind of attention.”

“I was lucky enough to get to umpire the WA v Vic game at the Women’s Nationals in 2013, and I honestly believed that to be one of the highest quality matches of any gender football that I have witnessed, so I have no doubt about women’s footy’s ability to collect the consciousness of the masses.”

“I have been lucky enough to work with the Youth Girls program, and helped to get the league off the ground in AFL Cairns as either a coach, umpire, administrator, or all on the same night at times. I have had numerous girls play amongst my boy’s underage teams. Later on I went on to develop and nurture the idea of Pyramid’s senior women’s side, culminating in that team gaining acceptance, and then coaching the side for its first two seasons. It has its challenges, mostly still with being relatively unknown, and under-appreciated, but i can see it as the obvious next evolutionary step for AFL in growing our brand, and continuing to get the youngest kids coming into the game, by keeping the minds of their mothers considering AFL as a natural choice.”

The Pyramid Power initiative is a positive step and a pathway that more clubs might now seek to explore. As stated, other clubs may have already travelled down this road. But by highlighting this novel approach the pathway for girls and women to play the game may be expanded and holes that once threatened the pathway can be filled.

As the AFL embraces women’s footy on the broader national stage, looking towards the 2017 season, a huge shout out and vote of enormous thanks must go to the women and men that have already put in the hard work, and at times risks, to see that a women’s game on the national stage is supported by a strong and committed foundation.

Top Picture: Waragnu Girls 2015 (courtesy: Pyramid Power)