Queensland teenager Kitara Farrar’s first sporting love is track and field, but she is finding the appeal of AFL hard to resist.
“I am actually a sprinter, so this [AFL] is just more of a fun sport… [but] I would like to play on TV,” she said.
“I would like to go to the Olympics first and then play football after.”
Farrar, 15, is part of the AFL’s push to recruit more indigenous girls to take up the game.
Last year she was picked in a national squad, the Woomeras, which has spent the past week in Melbourne for a development camp.
Not surprisingly, the camp has emphasised the new possibilities that have opened up for female footballers following the creation of the national AFLW league.
“[The program] is designed to give the girls a pathway to footy and the opportunities that are happening now with AFLW,” said former Geelong and Essendon player Matthew Stokes, who has been working with the AFL’s development team since retiring in 2015.
“It teaches them about culture, we can bring them together and teach them that, but also give them an introduction into being a professional athlete.”
There are currently 12 indigenous footballers in the AFL Women’s league, about 6 per cent of the total playing pool. Stokes said there was potential for that number to grow significantly.
“Especially in the communities – the boys play footy and the sisters and cousins get forced to play with them – so you’ll find that most of the community girls are really skilful because they’ve been playing with their brothers and cousins their whole lives,” he said.
New opportunities help women find inspiration to play
Adelaide utility Tayla Thorn is one of two Woomeras graduates currently playing in the AFLW (the other is Brisbane’s Shaleise Law).
“Meeting young indigenous girls the same age as me throughout the program was really an inspiration and I still call those girls sisters to this day,” Thorn said.
“I started off in Darwin just playing footy in a local competition and never thought I’d get anything out of it … now that I am here I am just thinking how can I bring other people into this lovely sport.”
This year, the Woomeras have been joined by a new development program, the Medleys, which targets girls from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The two squads played a match against each other for the first time at Essendon last Friday. The skills were raw, but the talent and enthusiasm were clearly evident.
“AFL is a game for all and if we can try to promote that and get as many boys and girls playing the game from any background, that’s exactly what we want,” said former St Kilda player Ahmed Saad, who is now managing the Medleys program.
“If they can see my story – I lived in Egypt for five years, came back to Australia, and played footy at the age of 16,” he said.
“A lot of these girls [who] have only just picked up a footy — it just shows them that it is possible, that if you are good enough, you will get drafted.”
One of those players hoping to find a career at the top level is 14-year-old Mary Daw, younger sister of North Melbourne ruckman Majak Daw.
“It is definitely one of my dreams … watching the first game was really motivating, makes you work harder at training to think you could become an AFL women’s player.”
Daw said her involvement in the Medleys program has taught her about more than just football.
“It shows us different ethnicities and where people are from and how they live life compared to how we live it and it really helps us to accept other people.”