We have officially reached the end of a third AFLW season and, true to form, it has been filled with as much controversy as the last.
Conferences, free-to-air TV, poaching players, finals times and locations, expansion, standard of the game, have enough goals been kicked – and, true to form, lots of people complaining that the AFLW actually exists.
Sadly for those against the competition, their complaints couldn’t be heard over the crowd of 53,000 at the AFLW grand final.
AFLW is here to stay.
Don’t like it? Don’t read about it and don’t watch it. It’s not that hard to do.
I think it’s easy to forget that AFLW is still in its establishment stage because it’s aligned with the AFL and is the women’s official competition of Aussie Rules. But, as with every new league, it will take some time to grow, and the sooner we can accept that the easier it will be to appreciate the league’s growth from season to season.
Because, ultimately, the AFLW isn’t really about us. It’s about our girls of the future.
The key to this competition’s success is patience.
While the effects of AFLW may not be immediate on the competition itself, it is having incredible effects on its future stars. Sarah Black from AFL.com.au highlighted the “broader effect” AFLW is having on females across the country:
Within three years, the VAFA Women’s has 10 divisions’ worth of senior women’s sides. Even if each div has a minimum of 6 teams each, that’s at least 1800 players.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the broader effect of AFLW during the day-to-day coverage. https://t.co/RjIZn9cD01
— Sarah Black (@_sjblack) March 13, 2019
You can see what the AFL is trying to achieve, and it is working.
Exposing girls as young as ten and 12 to a professional competition will encourage them to start participating now, and by the time they’re 18 their skills will be developed. These same girls are attending the games week in, week out, watching their heroes in action and hoping to replicate their efforts some day.
Many of the women currently representing the ten AFLW sides have been playing the sport for only a few years, and all of them have jobs outside playing footy.
It doesn’t seem like much now, but these women are developing the league each season, so by the time the competition is well established, the next generation of women’s footballers will be done with junior footy and ready for the big time.
If we want a women’s league – and a successful one at that – we have to start somewhere. We can’t just establish a league and expect the standard will match the men in an instant. Great things take time. Just ask anyone who watched the first VFL games back in the 1890s – I’m sure they’d say the same thing.
This is simply the starting point, and we have to start now in order to establish a successful league for the future. There are plenty of believers – over 53,000 of them were at Adelaide Oval for the grand final. Coincidently both Carlton sides played in Adelaide over the weekend, which would’ve been some incentive to travel over, but it was a sensational turnout nonetheless.
While the result was predictable, it was the unfortunate and unpredictable that united fans around the ground.
Star Crow Erin Phillips suffered a serious knee injury in the third term that resulted in her being stretchered off and taking no further part in the game. She left the ground to a standing ovation by every single person in the audience. It was a special reaction to a heartbreaking moment in the game.
Even without their star player on the field for the full duration of the game, the Crows won convincingly like many assumed they would. The team to beat all season was up against a Carlton side that made finals on the back of a questionable conference system.
Credit to the Blues – they played a sensational game against Fremantle in the semi-final, but they failed to fire against the Crows.
What I can’t understand is the need for a conference system in the first place. I understand the system works in other sports, but I also understand it hasn’t worked for us this season. This is a competition with ten sides in its third season. It is not the NBA with over 70 years of history, 30 teams and the ability to successfully run a season with two conferences. Sorry but that’s the reality of it.
I’m happy to give it a shot, but I’m also happy for officials to put their hands up and say they made a mistake and scrap the system halfway through the season.
On the flip side, is the AFL clinging onto the conference system in the hope that, along with the league’s development, it will all even out eventually? Probably.
As passionate as we are about wanting it to work right now, all aspects of the competition may be down to patience and waiting. And while we’re waiting, who says we can’t enjoy ourselves? We are blessed with some incredibly talented players who are superb on the field and outstanding leaders off it as well. It’s those amazing women that our girls are watching on and aspiring to be like, week in and week out.
The league has come so far in its first three seasons. Think about how far it can go. A little patience now will pay off in the future.
And the future is looking bright for our girls.