It was a freezing cold June night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but despite the chilly weather, the AFL community witnessed history in the making. It was the first ever Women's Football match, sanctioned by the AFL. It was scheduled as a curtain raiser for the Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs game later that evening and a lot of people were interested in seeing this spectacle. I travelled to catch a bit of the action that night, but at the time I didn't really show any appreciation for it – In hindsight I wish I had.
About a month before the game, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs held a draft where 50 aspiring female footballers were assigned either as a Demon or as a Bulldog for this game and beyond. Daisy Pearce and Steph Chiocci both made history by being their respective club's first number one selection in the first ever women's draft. Pearce in particular became a pioneer for AFL for women. The Darebin Falcons product was selected as the first overall selection and fast became a household name, starring in the midfield for the Demons as they recorded their maiden Women's AFL win over the Dogs that frosty night.
It was the start of something special. Thousands were in attendance by the time the final siren sounded that night, and from there, the first ever rivalry in Women's Football was born. Every time the Melbourne Football Club and the Western Bulldogs got together during the AFL premiership season, the two teams always held a women's game a few hours before the main attraction. I went and witnessed a few of these games, just purely by chance as these games didn't interest me at the time, but with every game I went to, the interest slowly but surely went up.
But when the Dogs hosted Melbourne late last year, I went and took my seat for the second half and decided to give it a good look and despite the Dogs down by five goals early, they mounted a serious charge by the end of the game but still lost by four points, the Dees denying the Bulldogs their first win in Women's AFL. From what I saw, what they lacked in skills, they definitely more than made up for in determination and toughness. It was at this game, that my appreciation for women's football was evident. I got up and applauded both sides for displaying a hard-fought contest.
The Bulldogs finally got their first win over their arch-nemesis months later, led by Moana Hope's three goals and Bianka Jakobsson's two goals, the Dogs beat the Demons by 20 points in an exhibition match in Craigieburn, strangely enough, this game was played straight after the pre-season contest between the two male teams.
This year has seen the Women's AFL grow and expand into multiple states. New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have all managed to fill their respective AFL teams with women to display exhibition matches - curtain raisers for The Derby in Western Australia, the QClash in Queensland and the Battle of the Bridge in New South Wales. Western Australia and New South Wales will also field representative sides later on in the year, with Western Australia set to take on the Western Bulldogs as a curtain-raiser for the Dogs-Eagles game next Sunday, whilst New South Wales will take on a team of South Australian representatives at the Adelaide Oval on the same day.
With an AFL-sanctioned league for the talented females put in place for next year, Women's football has gathered plenty of steam in the lead-up. Originally designed to be an eight-team competition, there's been an extremely massive demand from several clubs for a spot in the league, that it may go up from eight to 10. We know Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will be there next year, and will probably be the front-runners for the inaugural premiership.
I went to the MCG this past Sunday to watch the curtain-raiser for the Melbourne vs Brisbane clash, Sitting in the front-row of the members reserve, I positioned myself right in front of the Fox Footy media crew on the boundary, and got a good view of the action. I'd expected Melbourne's girls to get the job done in their exhibition game against the Lionesses.
I wasn't wrong.
A six goal-to nothing opening term from Melbourne saw them up by 40 points at quarter time, and never seriously threatened, eventually going on to win by 71 points. Despite the massive margin, I could see that Brisbane gave it everything they got, but they were just on a much lower level skill-wise when you compare them to Melbourne.
Jess Cameron is a fascinating story. She was once a top-order batsman for Australia, but on Sunday she was hitting sixes in a different way, a six-goal haul was enough to give her best on ground honours, even more astonishing was the fact that she was intending to juggle her cricket commitments with her footy. I was also very impressed with Maddie Boyd who managed a solid bag of three goals, after closely watching Daisy Pearce's game, It's not hard to see why she's the number one female footballer in the country, she's highly skilled and display's class no matter what position you play her. I really liked how Ellie Blackburn went about her footy in the midfield, and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite female footballers today, as I was super impressed with the work of Melissa Hickey and Elise O'Dea.
I was also very impressed with how O'Dea conducted herself in an interview with boundary rider Neroli Meadows, as I was with Brisbane's Kate McCarthy interview on the boundary, she kicked two of Brisbane's three goals and was awarded as the Lionesses' best on ground post-game, as well as solid efforts from Sam Virgo and Tayla Harris, with the latter of those two actually playing for Melbourne the previous year. and after closely watching Daisy Pearce's game for the first time, It's not hard to see why she's the number one female footballer in the country right now, she's highly skilled and display's fantastic class.
It's only been three years, but we've seen AFL for women grow and gain momentum so fast, they didn't even play full twenty minute quarters in the first ever AFL-sanctioned game, with 15 minute quarters played on that night, and now the AFL are going to get a league for women's football in place for next year, I seriously hope they do a ten-team competition as it would further develop what's already there for the ladies of AFL, but one thing's for certain, the future of women's AFL is in very good hands and I encourage the everyone to get on board.