We’ve ticked over the half way point of the inaugural AFL Women’s competition season and like anything started from scratch, there’ve been massive successes and other areas that need refinement. Women’s footy was particularly prone to this because so much of what went into this first season was pulled together on the fly, which really adds to how impressive it has been so far.
Here are the biggest hits and misses to date.
Hit: The footy
It’s just good footy – simple as that. Low scoring doesn’t detract from the spectacle and considering these players have only been in a professional environment for a few months, the standard of play is excellent and will only get better. The competition keeps bringing people through the gates and television ratings back that up too. This was the most important element and they have knocked it out of the park. As the talent pool grows deeper and the grassroots level is improved, the quality will only go up from where we are now.
Let’s be honest, Collingwood were given a women’s footy team because they’re Collingwood. They are yet to play a game at their home ground of Olympic Park – which is not up to scratch for an elite competition – and they’ve won one game so far. Considering they had access to the same crop of talent that Melbourne, Carlton and the Bulldogs picked from, they’ve put together a list that is well behind the other Victorian teams. On top of that, their poster girl Moana Hope hasn’t made the transition from lesser leagues to the big time with any success thus far. Give her time, but so far Collingwood get a cross in most categories.
Hit: Code hoppers
Some of the best players in the competition have jumped from other sports which is a massive win for women’s footy. Adelaide captain Erin Phillips and Carlton midfielder Brianna Davey are two of the best players in the competition and they’ve made the move from international basketball and soccer respectively. Roughly 40 players have come from other sports and their success will only draw more athletes next season.
Hit: Queensland footy
Footy up north needed a spark and the AFLW Lions are providing it. Gold Coast and Brisbane haven’t offered much in recent years in terms of success and the undefeated women’s team are giving Queenslanders something to get behind, which is good for footy in general. They’ve reached full capacity in both of their home games so far and considering their home ground is in the middle of nowhere, next to a river and has extremely limited parking – that’s super impressive.
Hit: Ikon Park upgrades
Thanks to the success of AFLW, Carlton’s home ground is getting a makeover. The AFL is set to inject much needed millions into the venues infrastructure. Last season, the surface of Ikon Park was overused to the point where VFL games were forced to be relocated. The ground has needed these upgrades for many years and with AFLW coming to prominence, the chance of men’s footy returning to Princes Park seems to have increased significantly. The local footy style atmosphere of every AFLW game to date has also been a breath of fresh air.
Miss: Fox Footy’s coverage
Fox Footy has had to juggle the majority of AFLW games and the entire JLT Series, that’s understandably difficult, but their commentary across most women’s matches has been subpar. They’ve used ‘expert’ commentators who are either watching women’s footy for the first time and don’t know anything about the players, or they’ve used current players representing one of the playing teams. Obviously, you can’t expect a current player to put his biases aside and it’s led to headache inducing commentary. On paper, Kelli Underwood commentating the majority of games seemed like a good idea, but she hasn’t delivered either and just isn’t suited to television AFL commentary.
Hit: Channel Seven’s coverage
Channel Seven have knocked it out of the park and that’s partially amplified the failings of Fox Footy. Jason Bennett might be the best play-by-play commentator out there right now and his chemistry with Nigel Carmody makes for seamless commentary. Their pre-game show with Sam Lane, Andy Maher and Tegan Higginbotham has been flawless too. All three have a genuine passion for the game and Higginbotham brings a comedic edge that a lot of footy coverage has unsuccessfully tried in the past. Their use of top AFLW players from other clubs as expert commentators has also exceeded all expectations. Lauren Arnell, Daisy Pearce, Katie Brennan and others have all provided unmatched insight into the game. If Channel Seven put this group up for Friday night commentary during the men’s season, you wouldn’t hear many complaints.
Miss: Long term injuries
Those in the know were very worried about AFLW being hampered by a large number of leg injuries coming into the season and those fears have been confirmed. Six players have suffered ACL tears so far and a number of others have gone down with other serious injuries, stretching the 27-player squads to their limits. The move to an elite competition was always going to put more strain on their bodies and women are more prone to knee injuries in general on top of that. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan mentioned during the week that it was something the AFL was concerned about, but hopes that as the years go on, they’ll become less frequent. Considering these players aren’t full-time athletes and have to go back to day jobs during the winter, you’d hope we’re dealing with the worst of it right now.
Hit: League establishment
Remember, AFLW was not supposed to become a thing until 2020 initially. The AFL rolled the dice and went early on the 2017 start and its success in all facets from ratings, to crowds, to quality of the sport all mean one thing; AFLW isn’t going anywhere any time soon and will continue to grow. While supporters from clubs without a represented team are probably itching to get involved, the talent pool isn’t there yet for expansion, but it’ll be interesting to see where the league is come 2020.