If Katie Brennan was a man, she wouldn’t be sidelined from the biggest game of her life.

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In July 2016, a then 24-year-old Katie Brennan signed with the Western Bulldogs as one of their two marquee players ahead of the AFL Women’s inaugural season.

It was the beginning of a defining time for women in sport.

In a realm dominated by men, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan opened the door and shuffled in bunches of women who have dreamt of playing the game professionally from the moment a tiny, leather, oval-shaped ball first landed on their foot.

This coming Saturday, Katie Brennan should be strapping on her boots and running onto the ground as captain of the Western Bulldogs in their first ever grand final. This week, Katie Brennan should be filled with nerves and excitement and anticipation. This week should be one of the most defining of her career.

But you see, Katie Brennan isn’t a man. And because Katie Brennan isn’t a male AFL player, Katie Brennan will be throwing on jeans instead of footy shorts, flats instead of boots, sitting in the stands rather than running on the field.

Professional AFL player Daisy Pearce talks through her career transition from midwifery to Aussie Rules. Post continues after audio.

This week, Brennan lost her appeal against a one-match ban for rough conduct after a sling tackle on Melbourne’s Harriet Cordner. Cordner was shaken by the tackle, but played out the game. This means 25-year-old Brennan won’t be playing in Saturday’s grand final.

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But here’s the thing: Because AFLW players are paid a semi-professional wage, the AFL decided against a penalty system of fines when the competition first launched. It’s unreasonable, of course, to expect the women to pay the same fines as the men when they’re on a fraction of the salary.

So, instead of a fine being a deterrent for rough conduct in the AFLW, the women receive a reprimand. One reprimand serves as a warning and the second results in a ban. Essentially, the men are penalised by money, the women by game-time.

As journalist Gerard Whateley put it on AFL 360 on Tuesday:

“In the men’s competition, if you’re found guilty of rough conduct, careless, low impact and to the head, you’re fined $3,000 at the first instance and at the second instance for the same classification, and that’s what Katie was facing, it’s a $5,000 fine.

“In the women’s competition, because the financial burden is unfair on women who are earning so little money … they made the first (fine) a reprimand and the second a suspension.

“So the cold hard truth is, if Katie Brennan was male, she’d be clear to play in the grand final.”

Inequality, at first glance at least, just gave birth to a little more inequality. But herein lies the complexity of organising a game that still has teething issues: Mamamia understands the AFL didn’t want to simply fine the women a proportion of their wages. They didn’t want to fine them at all.

A spokesperson for the AFL told Mamamia everything gets reviewed at the end of the season and so, there’s every chance the penalty system might be the subject of conversations. However, there’s nothing in the works to change it just yet.

But for the moment, back to Brennan. The captain said she was “gutted” by the decision on Tuesday; a decision that robbed her of the chance of her grand final dream.

“I’m gutted with the decision but I’ll support the club in whatever they choose to do going forward,” she said.

“We’ve proved that the girls don’t need myself out on the field to win games and I’ll back them 100 per cent and also be able to play a really important role on game day.”

Today, the Western Bulldogs will attempt one last time to appeal the verdict, but should they fail, Brennan is a no-go for Saturday’s game.

“Her role in the establishment of this league should not be underestimated,” Brennan’s advocate Sam Norton said in her defence on Tuesday.

“It’s submitted, in effect, that she is a trailblazer.”

A trailblazer might she be, but unfortunately, one who might just fall victim to system that’s still working itself out. A system that in meaning well, robbed her of the biggest game of her life.

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