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Unrealistic AFLW knockers need to keep quiet

The Demons begin their AFLW season against the Giants. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
Roar Guru
1st March, 2017
31

Anybody who bashes the women’s AFL league on the basis of quality is ungracious.

Yes, the quality at this stage is mixed. Nobody expected (or should’ve expected) an elite league formed from a pool of part-time and makeshift players. I’m sure when Australian rules started originally, the quality wasn’t great.

It was – and remains to this day – a work in progress. Only in the last three decades has the game become professional, with full-time players, feeder leagues established to generate the best the country has to offer, drafts, etc.

And, you know what? Some of the players we see are still questionable – at least for the top level. We have players who are one-sided, players who can’t hit a target, players who fumble, players who double and triple grab marks (if they take them at all), players who can’t read the play, players without composure, etc.

Many players don’t last in the system – even gun prospects. It’s a constant cycle, always seeking better talent to sustain excellence.

Another criticism of the AFLW is the low scores. But – and this applies to the AFL, too – why does high-scoring equate with quality? What you want – what I want when I watch any sport involving scoring – is a tough, honest contest.

That’s it. Give me that, and I’ll be engaged, regardless how low the scores might be, or how scrappy the contest. Give me one team scoring twenty goals to an opponent’s fifteen, the ball slingshotting back and forth with the abandon of basketball (and that’s fine for basketball, but Australian Rules?) and I grow bored.

That’s not what our game is about. It’s not what our game has ever been about. Why do certain people keep using that as the standard? Why is there a constant drive to design the game so scoring increases?

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I enjoy the women’s league for the competitiveness of it and for the tribalism, although I do wonder if it mightn’t have been worth abandoning established clubs and creating new ones from scratch. Understandably, you create – for example – a Collingwood team so Collingwood fans will have a natural allegiance, and thus the club has an immediate base. But what about Richmond fans? And St Kilda fans? Etc.?

Who do they support? Can they develop an affinity for clubs they’ve disliked (if not hated) for all their supporting lives? The existing talent pool is struggling to sustain eight clubs, so it’s unlikely in the foreseeable future we’ll have eighteen clubs to cater to every fan.

Arguably, there’s not enough talent to sustain eighteen AFL teams.

It might’ve been worthwhile creating the AFLW in the image of the Big Bash League, which abandoned the state teams (Victoria, NSW, etc.), and created new franchises that fans could gravitate to without prejudice. Many scoffed at the formation of the Big Bash, but it’s now a thriving entity in its own right.

Before the Big Bash League, the A League largely did the same thing – another thriving competition. Yes, teams were state-based, but without any sort of club lineage, exclusivity, or affiliation.

I also query the AFLW’s placement. They’re often playing in hot, oppressive conditions – I wouldn’t want my AFL team playing in such heat (hello, AFL, and your scheduling of mid-afternoon games in WA), and would worry about how it affects them not only during the game, but in the immediate short term (the next few weeks), and the long term (the season).

How do they recover? Also, once the JLT Community Challenge began, the AFLW seemed to become secondary. You have a three-week-old amateur competition up against the return of the established professional competition.

It could be a better option to have them work in partnership with one another, e.g. playing the AFLW concurrent to the men’s competition, starting it in August (using the current format), and playing the games before AFL senior games, just as the reserves used to play.

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Imagine what a thrill it would be for the AFLW players to play in front of big crowds at the MCG. It would be a great experience, fantastic developmentally, and give them much greater exposure – all things that would help continue to grow the competition and help it evolve. You could even fixture double headers, e.g. an AFLW game as a twilight game, an AFL game in the evening.

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As the AFLW competition developed its own identity and fan-base, the games could start being scheduled separately, but interspersed throughout the AFL fixture.

Good luck to the AFLW and those involved in it – I don’t know what I expected when I watched that first game. I recognise and acknowledge it’s rough (at the moment), and not always the most scintillating spectacle in regards to a showcase of skills and precision (although, still, there’s been some amazing highlights that would sit comfortably among their AFL peers), but it will get better and better over time as the game is grown across the country.

I also recognise, acknowledge and admire the endeavour of the footballers. They’re for real.

And that’s something you can’t fault.

If you do, you’re probably just a miserable old bastard.