Listening to Chyloe Kurdas laud accolades on AFLW superstar Isabel Huntington in Round two of the competition was compelling. Not only did she speak glowingly of the young players’ height, hands and speed, she labelled her the best female AFL player that she has ever seen.
High praise from someone who has probably watched as much women’s football as anyone over the last twenty years.
Her words had me watching the young tyro very closely and sure enough, as she held two good marks and converted both from point blank range, the assessment of her abilities appeared to be right on the money.
Minutes later, in a graphically captured incident, Huntington’s right knee buckled, her face took on the most gut-wrenching grimace and just like that, the season was over.
For the player, it was heart-breaking and with a previous knee injury, Huntington looked well aware of her fate. Sadly, she will now undergo a long rehabilitation process and ready herself for AFLW season three.
However, the moment, as tragic as it was for the player and the Western Bulldog’s championship aspirations, had other implications for me.
The reality is, that the AFLW has had me utterly conflicted since its conception. Through a somewhat emotive and brisk first season, it was hard to get a grip on the rule variations, strategy and the personalities of the new players.
As a result, despite enjoying the contest and seeing women make their mark on the AFL landscape, it would be fair to say that an emotional and passionate connection with the game was absent.
Watching each game of the first two rounds this season and starting to see strategic patterns, more adaptation from coaches and then the sad injury to Huntington has made me realise a cold hard fact.
That being, for the first time, I can truly say I care about the AFLW.
Somewhat strange that the connection was initiated by such a distressing injury to a player, however, as we learn more and more about the women playing in the competition and their incredibly disparate journeys to arrive at this point, we will all start to care more.
There is no doubt the women are fitter, faster and more physical than in season one. Hence, the football has been better more often than not. However it is still plagued with some of the things bound to cause cynicism from those used to the ingrained and slick product the AFL men’s competition produces year after year.
The standard of kicking in the AFLW is still well short of expert and some of the efforts are clearly those of players still coming to grips with the physical realities of the football itself and the technique of transferring it by foot.
As willing as the players are, their poise on the ball and decision making is lacking at times. Moreover the clumsy pack contests where the ball appears locked in and never to exit is unattractive to say the least.
However, none of this is actually the point. What is far more pertinent is the fact that the future is there for us to see.
Whether it be the little champion Daisy Pearce, Melbourne speedster Aliesha Newman’s freakish use of the outside of the foot to produce the best goal I have seen in the AFLW this season or the poise and balance of Kaitlyn Ashmore who is a personal favourite of mine, the skill level will continue to rise.
From my initial conflict has grown belief. I was always proud of these women, now I know them a little better, I want to watch them more.
The conflict was never more evident than during the week when a male friend of mine said, ‘there’s some good sorts out there.’
Perhaps he is right, just as the men’s game has some likely looking customers in it. Yet neither needs stating.
The comment I found more compelling was from my ten year-old daughter, as we watched the Fremantle and Collingwood match.
She said, ‘they try as hard as the men Dad, don’t they?’
They sure do Sarah, they sure do. Maybe even harder, potentially playing with a point to prove.
I am pleased my conflict has been resolved. I can enjoy the rest of the season without worrying about its value and credibility.
The one thing I find inspirational about women’s sport in general is the looks on their faces when given opportunities such as the AFLW the W-League and the WBBL. It always looks to me like they have been screaming for years, ‘just let me play!’
Let them play we have and how well they are doing it.