Amongst the overwhelming support for the first ever season of the AFL Women’s, there were some pretty disappointing (and yet utterly predictable) opinions doing the rounds.
The players were tough-as-nails, but some less-charitable armchair experts chose to focus on the skill errors and low scores as evidence that the concept is doomed.
So this is an invitation to those people.
Let’s go on a journey together, to an alternate reality.
In this Alternate Australia, a boy called Johnno plays footy, and a girl named Sarah plays netball.
So far, pretty standard.
But now let’s imagine that at 14, Johnno gets told: “Sorry mate, I know you love the game, but we don’t run U-16 competitions in AFL. You’re going to have to go to tennis or swimming if you want to keep playing top-level sport.” He fights the system, but it’s no use. There are no AFL programs for older teenagers.
Meanwhile Sarah signs up to U16 Netball. No problem. She’s pretty good, too. Her local club has a network of coaching staff who are able to nurture her talent.
Johnno plays footy in his spare time at the park, but it’s not really the same. He keeps looking for an organised league that will let him play, but doesn’t have any luck. He asks around for other blokes willing to have a kick, but most have given the game away. They’re focusing on studies or family or career or a different sport altogether. But Johnno loves footy, he’s determined to find a way to play.
Meanwhile, Sarah struggles to juggle the requirements of TOO MUCH organised netball. She balances School Netty and Saturday morning Club Netty. It’s 6 sessions a week, but thankfully it’s not costing her parents too much because the Club Netty has a major sponsor on board to cover travel costs and equipment. They even have a former Australian Diamond as their coach, which helps Sarah refine her skills.
Johnno reaches 17 or so, having not played a game of organised AFL in a couple of years. He’s always wanted to play, but with no organised league he’s had to just try and play with mates at the park. He hasn’t had any coaching or skills training since he was 13. His school isn’t much help, they’re too focused on the upcoming Netball finals, which has the entire community buzzing.
Get around it. Jo Robin has all the details on the glorious first final for the AFLW. Post continues after audio.
Meanwhile, Sarah is a good enough netballer to be chosen for State-Level Netty, which is great, but it’s even more workload… Thankfully her school and the Old Girls Netball Club are just rapt that she’s ANZ Championship prospect, so they allow her a lot of leeway in terms of training times and schedules. She misses School Netty a bit, but her play at State Level is turning heads. Her sister sends her a link showing that she’s considered a possible Top Ten Draft pick.
Johnno hits 18, obviously not having had the chance to play AFL properly between the ages of 14 and 18. A local competition starts up, so he gets a chance to once again, after four years off, pick up a Sherrin and play an organised game. He does well enough that the Collingwood Magpies give him a call.
(They can’t offer him any salary, of course, but they want to know if he can make it to a training session or two as a trial. They’ve miraculously managed to book some time on Gosch’s Paddock during the Netball Offseason.)