Over the weekend, code-switcher Jenna McCormick made a mature, assured debut for the Matildas in their victory over Chile.
McCormick looked nothing like a nervous debutante, and she instantly looked like she was where she belonged. This must be sending shockwaves through the AFL.
There is increasing competition between football codes in Australia to attract elite athletes, and that competition is probably most fierce between AFL and football, the two codes that require athletes with excellent ball skills by foot, great aerobic capacity and the vision and skill to see and make passes using all 360 degrees of a field.
McCormick’s switch from AFL to football, her excellent debut and other recent news about the Matildas will all be sending a strong message to elite female athletes that football rather than AFL is where they could have a shining future.
People will undoubtedly continue to attend AFLW matches in good numbers. Rusted-on club loyalties and low-cost tickets – when there is any charge at all – will ensure this. For an elite female athlete, though, the obvious question about AFLW is something like “is this all there is”?
AFL is making millionaires out of a limited number of its greatest male players. Most male AFL players, if they are regulars in their club’s squad, make a more than comfortable living. AFLW players, by comparison, are paid a pittance.
The announced pay deal this week that gives Matildas and Socceroos equal remuneration, and McCormick’s assured international debut and the news that Sam Kerr will likely play her next season of club football in Europe and become Australia’s first female footballing millionaire send a strong message.
Add in the lure of playing in the Olympics and at a World Cup, and it’s clear that AFLW’s offering can’t compare for its elite.
Indigenous female footballers must also be encouraged by the wonderful international careers of Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon and the appointment of Shay Evans from the gulf town of Booroloola as vice-captain of Australia’s Young Matildas.
The competition between codes to attract the best athletes will continue, and the AFL must be dreading the inevitable talent drain to football. Jenna McCormick will surely be the first of many.