Right time for women’s league, says AFL official

Darcy Vescio was five years old when she debuted at Docklands stadium with Auskick.

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Fifteen years later she did it with the Western Bulldogs. 

“When I was little, people used to say, ‘you’re going to play AFL one day’. All of us have heard that statement when we were younger, but then we got to a point when we realised that wouldn’t be the reality of things.”

A reality because at 14, she could no longer play Aussie rules with the boys, and a girls league in her area didn’t exist.

But four years ago, she joined the Darebin Falcons in Melbourne’s north, the reigning premiers of the local league. Last year, she was drafted by the Western Bulldogs AFL women’s side.

“It was pretty surreal [because] firstly we’re not used to having such a big crowd. There were 7000 people cheering us on and just the stadium is huge and the grass is beautiful.”

The first-ever live telecast of a women’s AFL game exceeded all expectations – ratings were at half a million nationally.

The AFL’s Game Development manager Simon Lethlean said it validated the push for an AFL women’s league.

“Females are a huge part of our fan base and becoming a bigger part of our participation base, so it’s really encouraging.”

“It’s the right time because it’s starting to gain momentum,” he said. “Females are a huge part of our fan base and becoming a bigger part of our participation base, so it’s really encouraging.”

The AFL is hoping to establish a women’s Australian football competition of up to six teams or more in the next two years. Participation by women in the sport is up to 20 per cent of all participants, meaning there isn’t a lack of talent for the league.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic.

An article penned by former player and coach Graham Cornes questioned the viability of a women’s league.

Lethlean said he was not bothered.

“I’m not sure I’ve really got time for the detractors in this one, the momentum is coming so quickly the support is there so we’re more interested in embracing the momentum and looking to improve things and keep the levels increasing rather than worrying about detractors. We’ll always have detractors in AFL footy whether it be in men’s or women’s.”

Richard Dal Pos, coach of the Darebin Falcons – which contributed eight players to the AFL draft – said he had an easy answer to those who don’t put much stock in women’s football.

“Come down here on a Sunday and watch us play, it’s as simple as that. I’ve got a couple of friends saying, ‘What are you doing in women’s footy?’ I say, ‘Come and watch us play then ask me the question’. They come and watch us and I don’t have to answer the question anymore.”

And while it may be a long road ahead for recognition of women’s AFL, Darcy Vescio said a strategy was in play. 

“Everything we do now we might not be reaping the rewards but girls in future generations will be. So that gives you some motivation to put the hard yards into training and give it your all because you know, even if you’re not getting everything out of it now, the girls in the future will be.”