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If your footy-loving backside doesn’t have that date circled five times in your calendar, you’ve deadset got rocks in your head.
Friday, February 3rd marks the start of the historic AFL Women’s season, the first time ever women will have a dedicated, semi-professional national league in our native ball sport of Australian Rules Football.
Women’s footy has been on a massive upswing in both popularity and participation in recent years, and the new national league is the culmination of a lot of extraordinarily-long-overdue hard work by the AFL to increase women’s representation in a game that has been, historically, the biggest boys club.
There are, however, some key differences between how the men’s AFL season and how the women’s season will work. Luckily for you, we’ve got people whose blood runs as bright red as the holy Sherrin, and thus we impart all the knowledge you could ever want about the AFLW season unto you.
THERE’S EIGHT TEAMS IN THE FIRST SEASON
To prevent the pool of elite talent from being diluted too far, the AFL only put up eight franchises for existing AFL clubs to bid on: Four from Victoria, and one each from South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.
Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, as pioneers of the women’s game on a national level, were virtual guarantees to be included. Fellow Melbourne-based powerhouse clubs Collingwood and Carlton also picked up teams. They’ll be joined by Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Fremantle in the inaugural season.
THE SEASON WILL RUN FOR EIGHT WEEKS
Beginning on February 3rd, the season will run for 7 rounds, with a Grand Final to follow. All teams will play each other once, and the teams that finish first and second on the ladder will play off in the GF to determine the first-ever AFLW Premier.
The Grand Final, scheduled for March 25th, coincides with Round One of the men’s AFL season.
THERE’S SOME SLIGHT RULE DIFFERENCES
This is bound to get your backs up a little bit, but there are some solid reasons to tinker with the way games are played slightly.
For starters, games will be played 16-a-side with a 6-person bench, rather than the 18-a-side with 4 interchange format the men’s league plays. This was trialled during the highly successful exhibition game between Melbourne and the Bulldogs last year (the one that drew in bonkers TV viewing numbers). That game also used a smaller-sized ball, which will also be used in the upcoming season.
Around 80% of players in that game approved of the rule modifications, and the AFL Commission received extensive positive feedback from the broader footy industry.
Those changes were made to reduce stoppages and increase flow-of-play; two vital factors in presenting the new national league as an enticing prospect for casual fans.
Games in the upcoming season will also consist of 4 15-minute quarters with time on, down from the men’s version of 20 minutes plus time on. That’s a change made purely because the competition is being run in February and March.
Y’know, when it’s really bloody hot.
All the other rules and umpiring and such will be exactly the same as the men’s game.
EACH TEAM WAS ABLE TO SIGN TWO MARQUEE PLAYERS
Prior to a draft in October, each side was able to sign two “marquee” players to their lists, representing the absolute best talent in women’s AFL.
Some, like Melbourne gun Daisy Pearce (who would otherwise have been draft pick #1 in a cakewalk and would frankly go first round in the men’s draft if she declared) are known figures already. Pearce has been the face of women’s footy for a solid few years and is a fixture on Channel Seven’s AFL coverage.
Others, like Moana Hope, have already seen their profile rise since signing. The newly-minted Collingwood forward was the first player to boot 100 goals in the Victorian Women’s Football League last year, and a string of high-profile endorsements is putting her front-and-centre in AFLW promo.
Hope spoke to PEDESTRIAN.TV at the recent Nike Metcon Mack launch, and told us what playing in the big league means to her.
“It’s a dream come true, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” she said.
“It’s been overwhelming. I actually just had a girl message me now, she lives here and she wants to come say hi… So the support, encouragement and the amount of girls who want to take my spot is exciting… but not yet.”
The list of marquee players looks like this:
Adelaide: Chelsea Randall (FWD), Kellie Gibson (FWD)
Brisbane Lions: Tayla Harris (FWD/RUCK), Sabrina Frederick-Traub (FWD/RUCK)
Carlton: Brianna Davey (DEF/MID), Darcy Vescio (FWD)
Collingwood: Moana Hope (FWD), Emma King (RUCK)
Fremantle: Kara Donnellan (MID), Kiara Bowers (MID)
GWS Giants: Renee Forth (MID), Emma Swanson (MID)
Melbourne: Daisy Pearce (MID), Mel Hickey (DEF)
Western Bulldogs: Katie Brennan (FWD), Ellie Blackburn (MID)
The rest of the teams were populated in a special draft, where GWS selected Nicola Barr first overall. You can check out the details for that over here.
THE AFL JUST MOVED THE FIRST GAME TO A BIGGER GROUND
Last week we covered how the AFLW’s first game between Carlton and Collingwood could have been a bit of a nightmare for fans given the scheduled venue of Olympic Park has a rough estimated capacity of 5,000 fans.
The good news in that department is that the AFL isn’t silly. After 2,000-odd fans turned up to a barely-advertised practice match between Carlton and Melbourne this past Saturday, the league officially shifted the game to Princes Park in Carlton, which has a capacity of around 22,000.
Needless to say, this is a huge move. Having to shift the venue of the prime-time game because too many people want to go is a massive win for the national competition. As AFL game development manager Simon Lethlean remarked over the weekend, “it’s a great problem to have.”
THE REST OF THE GAMES WILL BE PLAYED AT MORE TRADITIONAL SUBURBAN GROUNDS
Hell yeah suburban footy! Taking the game back to its tribal roots, the inaugural AFLW season will be contested largely in traditional suburban home ground settings, allowing clubs to foster strong parochial ties to their individual communities.
GWS will play in the heart of Sydney’s west at Blacktown, as well as in their second home of Canberra. Melbourne will continue to foster their growing relationship with the city’s outer south-east by playing home games at Casey Fields. And the Western Bulldogs will return to the heart of Footscray by playing at the mighty Whitten Oval.
Better still? All tickets are absolutely free of charge, meaning you can rock up to any game of the season without a stitch in your pocket. Hell yeah.
THE AD CAMPAIGN IS A THROWBACK TO A CLASSIC, AND IT TOTALLY RULES
Remember the AFL’s hugely successful ‘I’d Like To See That‘ ad campaign from the mid-90s?
The AFLW has brought it back to promote the inaugural season. And it is 100% sick. Expect to see this ad pinging about your TV screens for the next few weeks.
Women making a name for themselves in Aussie Rules Football? We’ll show you that! Cathy Freeman, Michelle Payne, Turia Pitt and other great Australians have joined forces with us to celebrate the historic first season of the NAB AFL Women’s competition. Check out our new launch campaign! #aflw #aflwomens #seewhatwecreate #journeyto2017 #womeninsport @michellejpayne_ @turiapitt @moanahope
If you’re not fired up for footy after copping that, we highly suggest checking your pulse.
THE WHOLE SHEBANG IS BEING BROADCAST BY CHANNEL SEVEN AND FOX FOOTY
Keen to wrap your eyes around some women’s footy? Channel Seven will broadcast the inaugural Friday night blockbuster, and one Saturday evening/night game per round live. They’ll also be carrying the Grand Final, which will be held on Saturday March 25th at a yet-to-be-determined time.
Every other game, literally every single one of them, will be broadcast live and in HD by Fox Footy.
You’ll be able to see literally every second of play fro the upcoming season.
What’s not to love about that?
The inaugural AFLW season kicks off at 7:40pm on Friday, February 3rd.
All the extra info on the league can be found over at the AFLW web portal.
FIRE UP FOR FOOTY!
Photo: Michael Wilson, AFL Media/Getty.
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