The Roar
The Roar


How long until we see the first female AFL coach?

Katrina Pressley, 27, the first female umpire to be appointed to the senior AFL (Australian Rules Football) goal umpiring list. (AAP Photo/ Wayne Chapman)
Roar Guru
17th April, 2013
1110 Reads

It took twelve years as a highly successful assistant for Brendan McCartney to be seriously considered for the position of senior AFL coach. What hope then does a woman have?

McCartney had been heavily involved with premiership victories but he had two problems.

Firstly, he hadn’t played at the elite level, and secondly, he admitted to being a “developer of people” and felt a need “to get to know them”, an attitude deemed too maternal and tender for the ultimate leadership role.

It’s fair to say a woman will never play at the elite men’s level. Also, a dearth of female coaches in the expanding women’s football leagues will mean few will ever be directly involved in orchestrating a premiership.

Then there is the attitude to women involved in the game.

When Sam Mostyn became the first female AFL commissioner in 2005 she received reams of hate mail. One of the more polite and articulate read: “this game doesn’t need women, it doesn’t need you, this is the domain of men”.

The chances, then, of a woman becoming an AFL coach in the foreseeable future?


All is not lost, however. Women make up half of AFL supporters. Most have followed the game their entire lives and understand the game intimately. Some of them, like Mostyn, hold eminent positions in business, the professions, politics and sporting organisations and would be quite capable of coaching at the top-level.


Women have been in and around the men’s change rooms for a long time now, and not just for a perv. They have been prominent as club doctors, physios, and water “boys”.

The game is the largest growing sport for female participation.

The Victorian Women’s Football League which began in 1981 with four teams now boasts twenty-seven clubs and the AFL has targeted 2020 for the launch of a televised national competition, the Women’s Australian Football League.

This will draw high quality female personnel into the coaching and playing ranks and one or two may eventually find their way into a senior AFL coaching position.

Watching Nathan Buckley smash his phone to bits in the coaches box and then seeing his counterpart Brad Scott produce steam from out of his ears at the post match interview made one question whether testosterone and leadership are such great bedfellows.

Only a handful of the 630 candidates voted into the British Parliament at the 1959 election were women.

One of them – looking like Dame Edna Everage’s frumpish sister – was a young Margaret Thatcher who would later become the longest continuous serving British Prime Minister of the twentieth century. After Thatcher, women and strong leadership didn’t seem such a strange pairing.

Some argue Thatcher wasn’t a woman at all. Well, not a normal one anyway.


There’s no doubt she was a freak, so to speak.

Called the Iron Lady (by the Soviets, mind you) and endowed with ovaries of steel she shrugged off the sort of descriptions (“the daughter of a grocer”, “the mother of twins”) that usually destroy the ambitions of a woman in the male dominated world of politics, to become a powerful leader.

Most coaches are alpha male authoritarian types but I think a more feminine approach to leadership, even in the brutal sport of AFL, can be just as effective.

I had the privilege of having several excellent coaches who operated at different ends of the personality spectrum. There was Paul Callery (‘feminine’), Leigh Matthews (masculine), Bryan Quirk (‘feminine’) and the late Terry Smith (masculine).

I hope it won’t be too long before we see a woman – preferably one in a Margaret Thatcher skirt suit with matching Asprey handbag, but a  club polo shirt would be fine also – giving an AFL team a good dressing down.