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Your girl plays what? The rise and rise of the junior girls AFL in Canberra

Alison Senti

Yes, my 11-year-old daughter Allegra plays Australian Football. Yep, full tackle rules. So what?

The first time I told a (male) friend my then 10-year-old was going to play in the inaugural all-girls under 12 AFL leagues he said “ok, so I guess girls can be aggressive?” Massive eye roll!

Off the back of the introduction of the wildly-successful women’s AFL professional league this year, ACT/NSW AFL decided to stop a gaping hole in the pathway to women’s AFL senior competition by introducing under 10s, under 12s and under 15s competitions this year.

Of course, girls have always been able and welcome to play in the local junior league. Allegra played three seasons through to under 10s with her brother’s club, the Tuggeranong Lions, after hanging around Auskick with her brother since she was two years old. Nothing cuter than seeing a little girl with blond piggytales and a Dora the Explorer dress kicking a drop punt to her brother!

In those three years, Allegra went from being one of several girls in her team, to by her final season in under 10s, the only girl left in the entire competition. And the boys, being typical little primary school boys, weren’t keen to kick or pass her the ball despite her skills being as good as or better than her (male) team mates – ‘girl’s germs’ perhaps?

I saw Allegra lose her passion for footy – she would leave the game in tears because she couldn’t understand, even with the same jumper on as the rest of the team, why she didn’t belong. Harsh lessons for a nine-year-old. So, like many girls her age she left AFL, the sport she loved, to find a place in other sports where she could belong and play as an equal.

“I don’t think the boys in my team really believed in me, that I could get a goal or smother a kick or tackle a boy. That made me feel really discouraged…” she says.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016/17 and the introduction in Canberra of a trial summer competition for girls in three age groups to gauge interest at the primary and junior high school level. The result? An overwhelming success, with enough demand to warrant running full seasons in the autumn/winter of 2017 with 17 teams across the three age groups. Allegra re-joined the Tuggeranong Lions in the under 12s and never looked back.

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The best thing for me? Watching my daughter again play the game she has loved and played since she was two years old. For her to play in a supportive and encouraging environment with the full support of her club and league, and with an entire stable of senior professional women to look up to who were now household names after the massive investment the AFL has made in developing the Women’s AFL league.

And what did it mean to Allegra to play in a girl’s league?

“That I belonged with girls who wanted feel the same way as me – just to play footy and not worry that the boys didn’t think you were good enough,” she says.

The worst thing? Like any full contact sport there are injuries. Halfway through the season seeing my daughter lying still on the field after a tackle gone wrong had her land awkwardly on her neck and upper back was frightening, as was the ambulance ride and nine hours of CT scans and MRIs to clear her of serious spinal injuries. But this can happen in supposed non-contact sports too such as netball and soccer, so you have to be prepared that it could happen.

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The junior AFL season concluded last weekend and for the first time three all-girls AFL grand finals were contested. Seeing the parents at each game cheering their daughters as hard and as passionately as they would their sons must be a dream come true for the local AFL administration. They’ve tapped into the 50% of the population that was finding it hard to shine in a traditionally male dominated sport. And it’s working: at the junior best and fairest awards presentation night held recently, it was revealed there had been a 14% rise in player registrations in the junior leagues which was largely due to the introduction of the girls competition – the largest numbers since the 1980s.

That night was pretty special for our family too. In front of her family and club teammates, we watched our beautiful, talented, gusty 11-year-old take out joint best and fairest player for the entire under 12 league. Best of all was how proud Allegra was of her own achievement.

“I proved to everyone in that place that I could play better than the boys and I could be proud to deserve my achievement.”

Thank goodness there are only 233 days until the start of 2018 season…now what to do with all that energy until then?!

the essentials

What: ACT/NSW Junior AFL female competitions
When: 2018 season commences April next year
Where: Find your local club here

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Alison Senti

Alison Senti is a child-rearing, part-time working, globe-travelling, gourmet-gutsing, marathon-running, shoe 'collecting' second generation Canberran who likes to take life by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. Most of her stories on Her Canberra are selfishly of interest to her personally! More about the Author

  • Bec Moroney

    A great article Alison ! Congratulations to Allegra on her achievement 🙂
    My daughter also played in the same comp with the Belconnen Magpies. Our story is similar, Chelsea had said last year with the mixed under 11’s that it was the last year she wanted to play mixed. Chelsea was one of 2 girls in the team, and whilst the other girl continues to be happy to play in the mixed AND the girls, Chelsea was not – for pretty much the same reasons Allegra had mentioned, except ours was from comments from boys from other teams many who had no girls on their team.
    As a mum, it was SO HARD to hear her talk about comments she was hearing from boys on the field. Comments that ranged from arguments about who had to play on the girl, to more spiteful ” you shouldn’t be on the ground – girls can’t play footy” . I should say though, that many of the boys on our team were awesome and treated Chelsea like a footballer.
    I have loved seeing her blossom from a shy footy player, who could always mark and kick with the best of them, but would never do it if it involved competing with a boy, to a player who is brave and hard at the ball and a joy to watch. When you consider that the great majority of our girls had never played footy before this season, to see the JOY in them when they ran out on a Sunday morning, or even at training, was so lovely. I got such a kick out of watching them play. I told Chelsea that when I was at school in Perth ….girls just didn’t play footy. I’m so glad that these girls get the choice if they want to play or not, and I reckon next year there will be more than four teams…the interest is huge !!
    I wont lie…I’m a bit scared that my baby will be playing under 15’s next year….hopefully she will have a growth spurt by then 😉 But like you said ….every single girl on our team is looking forward to the next season already…and that is just plain awesome. Go Girls !!

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