Expect debate to rage around the strengths and weaknesses of AFLW by a supporter base essentially split into two camps.
There are those with an expectation based on their AFL experience and those with a more liberal view tempered by the challenges and obstacles faced by the AFLW in its first couple of years. Comparing the views of both camps can best be described as expectation versus reality.
I’ve watched a considerable number of AFLW games in couch-potato mode, and while I admire and applaud the spirit and tenacity of the participants, it hasn’t been able to captivate me from go to whoa. It just isn’t that good yet. I am willing to cop a whack for not attending a live game – I appreciate that you can’t replicate the atmosphere in your lounge room, but I’ll wear that.
The AFLW continues to have an air of incompleteness. This is seemingly borne of haste even though its gestation period commenced in 2010 on the back of an AFL-commissioned report that culminated in the creation of the competition in 2017. The AFL’s efforts supporting and promoting the competition have been commendable, but the planning around the establishment of the competition remains a bit of a head-scratcher.
The AFL has knowingly created a compromised competition that won’t be settled until at least 2021. This graduated approach has arguably rendered the first two seasons and possibly the third season as somewhat of a series of non-events.
Did the AFL really need to create an AFLW that is or will be a mirror image of the AFL? I don’t think it did, but I can understand the logic behind its decision. The competition lacks an identity of its own, and try as I might, I can’t see AFLW being viewed as anything more than a subordinate competition of the AFL for some time.
The skills, composure and fitness of the players in the first two seasons were obvious deficiencies. As a national competition it’s clearly got a fair way to go. The task of sourcing enough skilled players to feed into an 18-team tournament was always going to be problematic and is proving to be the kicker as the AFLW progresses to being a full competition. The surging participation rates for AFLW will hopefully be the panacea for these deficiencies, but time will tell.
While I’m on a roll I’ll give a clip to the so-called ‘experts’ who are paid to commentate and write about AFL. These experts are deer in the headlights when it comes to AFLW. Most of them are afraid to provide fearless commentary about the competition for fear of reprisal. These experts are happy to lambast any AFL team, player or coach if they aren’t up to scratch, but their silence around the deficiencies of AFLW is deafening.
AFLW should be supported and encouraged, but it shouldn’t be immune to honest criticism given the amount of money the AFL is investing in the competition.
Like it or not, as the AFLW evolves it will be compared to and measured against the AFL, and while this is going to be a ball and chain in its formative years, it should serve as a catalyst for improvement in the long term.
So expect to see more of what you experienced in 2017 and 2018, hope for measured improvement in 2019 and accept that AFLW is still very much a work in progress.