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Girls in a league of their own

Assistant Coach Chris Carron (back left), Team Manager Aleisha Italiano (front left) and Coach Jason Royer (back right) with the 2020 Chittering Broncos Year 9 and 10 girls team

When the Australian Football League moved to introduce a women’s league, there were quiet, concerned mutterings about the move. Women’s sport has always taken a back seat, whether it’s the amount they get paid to play the same game, TV air time and ability to attract advertising or column inches dedicated to reviewing matches, it’s never reached – or had the opportunity to reach – the same level of success that men’s sport has.

The AFL was relieved and the general community seemed surprised when the AFLW league did take off – a poll in 2019 revealed that 69 per cent of general AFL fans were interested in the women’s competition. Sure, that still leaves 31% of people who only like to watch men play, but it’s a great start. I found the surprise perplexing – why wouldn’t people who make up fifty percent of the population want to see themselves reflected in a sport that is such a beloved and ingrained part of the national psyche?

The flow on effect into junior sport has also been pleasing. With more interest from girls due to both increased awareness of the game and now a possible career pathway into the AFLW, junior football clubs were able to form their own female teams. Previously, girls could only play in mixed-gender teams up to the age of 14.

Chittering Broncos have had resounding success with their Year 9 and 10 girls team having just finished their second season, making it all the way to the grand final for the second year in a row.

Team captain Sienna Eddy was playing for a different club in 2017 but relished the opportunity to play for the Broncos. Sienna says, “Having the opportunity to play at my club with a girls-only team helped my passion grow and also created a second family.

“I would say that football is a rough sport, but also highly-skilled. There is something there for everyone.

“The girls are all so supportive and encouraging. It feels that you have a family backing you up on the field.

“This season was awesome, with some wicked girl power and a lot of laughs.”

Team mate Jodie Schachner was new to the team this year and agrees a female-focused team has enhanced her experience of playing footy.

“I played AusKick as a mixed group when I was younger, but playing for an only girls’ team definitely did motivate and interest me to play.

“Highlights of this season were making new friends and experiencing sport in a different way than I have before – and being part of an amazing team and making the grand final!”

Both Sienna and Jodie highly recommend any girls contemplating strapping on the footy boots to give it a go next season.

Jodie says, “It doesn’t matter what you look like or how you play, it is about giving it your best shot and improving as you go along. I would encourage young girls to come and play because it is a great experience a lot of fun.”