WE ARE entering a pivotal shift in gears for AFLW competition and Ballarat’s strong talent pathways are really starting to show.
The elite women’s football league is set to expand for the time, bringing in Geelong and North Melbourne for the season ahead and a further four clubs in 2020.
From AFLW’s outset there has been fearful commentary and concern such a rapid growth – moving to a 10, then 14-club competition – would dilute the talent pool of what has been a exciting plunge into a national women’s league before it ready.
The women’s game has surprised many with athleticism, skill and fast-flow in a trimmed-down format.
What many fan might not realise is the incredible specifically-trained talent surge building outside AFLW in places like Ballarat.
Greater Western Victoria Rebels have developed a girls’ academy the past decade. Initially informal, but always about helping girls to step up their game. Working with AFL Goldfields, the Rebels have moved to really align a formal pathway with the Rebels’ male program. This has included creating a full-time female development officer, overseeing both the Rebels and Goldfields’ talent.
Rebels girls called up for AFLW Combine trained with Rebels boys set for national and state screening in striving to fine-tune power, strength, agility and skill before entering the recruiting spotlight.
They train and prepare as equals.
In turn, this lifts the game at grassroots. Girls now play V/Line Cup representative football and this year took part in a formal leadership program with the boys.
The opening two seasons of AFLW competition has largely been built on talented women already in the game and prominent code-hoppers, like Women’s National Basketball Association player Erin Phillips.
As the league expands, such elite experience becomes crucial and recruiting even more strategic – this also means the AFLW draft on October 23 becomes acutely valuable.
Ballarat had a strong presence in the opening AFLW seasons and early indications in lists show we will continue to do so.
Hype is rising for the AFLW Draft in showcasing the game’s best young female talent. AFLW is even preparing for the first father-daughter signing now Carlton has confirmed it will draft Andy McKay’s daughter Abbie.
The Rebels featured four girls at AFL Combine in Marvel Stadium earlier this month: Sophie van de Heuvel (Ballarat), Georgia Clarke (Ararat Storm), Lauren Butler (Carisbrook) and Rene Caris (Horsham Saints).
Van de Heuvel, who has been playing VFLW with Williamstown, won the running vertical jump (off left foot), at 70 centimetres. This does not guarantee being drafted but does sets new standards in potential for girls from this region in the game.
Our young female talent is tuned for the elite game more than ever before. Our clubs and council have been working to fast-track parity in female facilities. As the AFL and fans become more serious about the women’s game, this gives our girls greater chance to help push this game to the next levels.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.