This story was first written for and published by The Roar.
And then there were 14 (well, not until 2020).
This week the AFL announced that the AFLW is about to get a whole lot bigger with a bold expansion plan which will see North Melbourne and Geelong join the eight existing clubs in the third season of the AFLW in 2019, with Richmond, West Coast, St Kilda and the Gold Coast set to follow in 2020.
What generated plenty of excitement though was that for the first time, Tasmania will have a team that it can adopt as its own through its joint bid with North Melbourne.
Only two clubs that have put in bids for licences will not have teams by 2020 – Hawthorn and Essendon, but the AFL has not ruled out these two teams being part of the competition by 2021.
I must admit, this expansion scares me a little bit. But one of my life motto’s is, ‘if it scares you, then it’s probably a good thing to try’.
This expansion strategy is bold. To almost double the number of teams within the first four seasons is brave and suggests a lot of confidence in the available talent and the quality of that talent.
But bold seems to be an appropriate word when talking about the AFL’s approach to women’s football. When the AFLW was announced a year ago, many questioned whether the games would be entertaining, whether anyone would watch and some were even silly enough to wonder if people really cared about women’s sport.
It’s fair to say that the first season of the AFLW exceeded everyone’s expectations, particularly when it came to attendance, viewership and certainly marketing.
I applaud the AFL for continuing to be brave and to continue to push women’s football. And for supporters whose teams were successful in getting a licence, I encourage you to really embrace the new teams when they arrive. Women’s sport and women’s football continues to need your support.
One final comment – I know plenty of Sydneysiders remain disappointed that the Sydney Swans have not put in a bid for a licence, but I know that the Swans want to make sure that they have adequate resources and facilities so that when they finally put in a bid for a licence, they are confident that they have the infrastructure in place to do it correctly.
It’s also incorrect to assume that just because the Swans have not put in a bid that they don’t care about women’s footy. Earlier this month, the Swans unveiled a new youth academy for young women with 240 girls between the ages of 11 and 12 trying to earn a place in the program.
Until the Swans have a team though, remember if you are a Sydneysider that your AFLW team is the GWS Giants.
Spotlight on Steph Catley
Following the Matildas recent success I also had the opportunity to speak with Steph Catley earlier this week.
At just 23 years of age, Step has already established herself as one of Australia’s most talented footballers. She made her Australian debut against New Zealand in June 2012 and has featured in Melbourne City’s back-to-back W-League championships. When not playing in the W-League, Steph also plays for the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League in a team that features women from the United States, Australia and Brazil.
What was most positive to hear after speaking to Steph was that she has noticed the level of support for the Matildas beginning to change, particularly after the Tournament of Nations. It’s something I’ve noticed in recent weeks too and it’s manifested itself in sold out crowds, Sam Kerr being on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and increased demand for opportunities to watch women play football.
What’s helped with this wave of support has been the success of the team. The Matildas have now defeated Brazil the last three times the two teams have met and we all know that the Australian public likes to get behind a winning team. A top four spot when the next lot of international rankings are out is not out of the question.
Similar to other female athletes, Steph has pursued a career in sport because she is genuinely passionate about what she does and according to Steph, this is a feeling that flows through the rest of the Matildas squad too. It is what makes the team such a joy to watch – that they are accessible, down to earth, grateful women who are absolutely love what they do.
And for those of you who still haven’t had the opportunity to watch the Matildas live this is what you are missing. Steph describes the team as ‘exciting, skilful and explosive in attack but also very organised and ruthless when defending’.
There will also be plenty more opportunities to watch Steph in the coming months as she features as part of the W-League. Depending on how well the Pride do in the playoffs, Steph should be in a position to join Melbourne City when she returns home.
She’s certainly one to watch both on a national and international level.
Big thanks to O COSMEDICS for your help with this interview. Steph is an ambassador for O COSMEDICS and is passionate about the importance on skin confidence because she had issues with her skin growing up. If you’re heading into the sun this weekend follow Steph’s example and try out the O COSMEDICS Mineral Pro SPF 30+ Tinted Moisturiser. Visit them here.
Trivia question – who was the first Papua New Guinea Orchid to score a try on the international stage?
Answer – Maima Wei who crossed the line for the Orchids in the 66th minute of their 42-2 loss to the Australian Jillaroos last Saturday.
While the team may have lost, the fact that they are participating in the Rugby League World Cup this year is a big step forward for gender equality and a big step forward for international rugby league.