Three rounds down and already there are question marks hovering over both of last year’s grand finalists, Richmond and the GWS Giants, who have both failed to win a game between them since the AFL’s resumption.
Inaugural North Melbourne AFLW coach Scott Gowans lost his head-coaching position on Thursday, to the shock of AFL media, fans and even himself.
Quoted in Daniel Cherny’s article in The Age about the decision as having “no inkling whatsoever”, one of the best performing coaches in the women’s competition has made way in what is seemingly a purely financial decision, as posited by the club themselves.
General manager of football Brady Rawlings described it as a “very difficult and hard decision”, with the article on the North Melbourne website subheaded by an affirmation that the decision was made in line with a “thorough review of the club’s structure under a new AFL economy and resourcing decisions”.
This comes after the end of the March, when the AFL commission chairman assured the public that “myself and Gillon McLachlan will protect our game at all levels”.
The sacking of one of the most successful senior coaches in either the women’s or men’s competition over the past two seasons doesn’t exemplify this philosophy of protection.
Gowans’ win percentage (including finals) of 78 per cent over the past two seasons is second only to Trent Cooper’s Dockers, with an outstanding 86 per cent win rate, and better than Daniel Harford’s Blues (68 per cent) and Mick Stinear’s Demons (64 per cent). Gowans also sits higher in win percentage than some of the best in the men’s competition too, with Damien Hardwick (77 per cent), Adam Simpson (71 per cent), Nathan Buckley (66 per cent) and Chris Scott (61 per cent) all winning less often.
The message that Gowans’ sacking sends is not a positive one to the rest of the AFLW. Journalist Sarah Black shared her thoughts on Twitter, describing the former coach as “extremely unlucky”, and reacting with an almost disbelief at the “new footy landscape”.
With stars like Ash Riddell, Emma Kearney, Jenna Bruton, Emma King and Jasmine Garner all still in their prime and others still looking to improve even more, this decision certainly has the capability to backfire immensely.
There’s no doubt that internally Darren Crocker is a highly valued individual to assume the role of Gowans’ successor. After a 165-game career with the club, he has served as both a caretaker and assistant coach since 2009, as well as director of coaching since 2015 and a recruitment and talent scout since 2019.
This lengthy resume paints Crocker as a very established North Melbourne individual, but that huge level of responsibility could come at a price in terms of on-field performance for the women’s side.
The sacrificing of the AFLW department for financial stability could come to sit wrong in the minds of many fans of the sport. After so many years of fighting tooth and nail for the women’s competition to be recognised as equal to the men’s in many different ways, including the collective bargaining agreement dispute before the 2020 season, this could prove to be a huge cultural divide in the footy-supporting landscape.
Fans not quite sold on the sport now may suddenly view it as lesser, as the clubs are clearly not dedicating as many resources towards it amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite doing everything in their power to keep the men’s competition alive.
Could this see a change in how clubs perceive and manage their AFLW departments?