It is the clash of traditional rivals that has never happened before.
Carlton and Collingwood, two clubs representing neighbouring inner-Melbourne suburbs who have a storied and, at times, bitter rivalry in the VFL/AFL will fittingly kick off the inaugural Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) competition on Friday evening.
A big crowd is expected at Ikon Park for the season opener and, with another six sides in the eight-week competition, it means around 200 young women are pinching themselves.
The opportunity to play the sport they love at an elite level has, finally, come to fruition.
“From a young age I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be in this position right now. I’m feeling pretty lucky,” Carlton marquee player Darcy Vescio told The New Daily.
“All of the girls I know just wanted to play for any AFL team – I feel pretty privileged to end up at Carlton and all the girls in my team are pretty thrilled about it.”
For some time, strong advocates of women’s football have urged the AFL to create a professional league for female players, a push that has gained impetus over the past three or four years, not least through games between teams representing Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
Bulldogs defender Lauren Morecroft, six years older than Vescio, is grateful the league has come together relatively quickly.
“For those of us who are a little bit older that have been at footy for a while, we probably thought that we might miss the boat so it’s really good to see that we’re all going to fulfil our dream,” the 29-year-old told The New Daily.
“It was always projected long term that there would be a women’s AFL but I think it’s come around really quickly.”
Morecroft says that the AFL community has fully embraced bringing female players into the fold.
“The Bulldogs have been really good,” she said.
“We’ve had some training with the men’s team and every time we see the guys they’re really interested in how we’re going, so it’s definitely treated as one club, not a separate entity.”
The hard-running defender, one of several players recruited from the Diamond Creek club in the Victorian Women’s Football League (VWFL), believes that the advent of the AFLW will inspire a lot of young girls to stick with footy.
“Now that there’s an actual pathway that they can see females playing footy live on TV and at local venues, that will entice girls to come along and then stick with footy rather than playing some footy and then having to branch into another sport like we did,” she added.
“It just shows that there’s more opportunities for females in sport – with cricket, soccer, netball and now AFL televised live – it shows that younger girls have an opportunity to play sport just like boys do.”
Vescio, an athletic forward who was best on ground for the Darebin Falcons in last year’s VWFL grand final, said that the players have a strong sense of how much it means to so many people that women playing AFL will be on TV.
“It’s really nice reading about the way it’s touching different people and people we’ve never met before are really thrilled for us,” the 23-year-old said.
“Apart from footy this is changing the Australian culture and sporting landscape and knowing that it’s impacting different people’s lives is a massive motivation and really special.”
Morecroft said we should look forward to some exciting, physical and fast-paced footy.
She is hopeful the Bulldogs women’s team can emulate the men from Whitten Oval and lift the premiership cup at the end of the inaugural season.
“I think we’ve got a really good group so we think we can do some pretty special things,” Morecroft said.
Time will tell. And an excited nation will be watching.
Round 1 fixtures
Friday February 3
Carlton v Collingwood, Ikon Park
Saturday February 4
Adelaide v GWS Giants, Thebarton Oval
Western Bulldogs v Fremantle, Whitten Oval
Sunday February 5
Melbourne v Brisbane, Casey Fields