TONIGHT’S season-opening AFL Women’s match between Carlton and Collingwood will again have a Bendigo connection and according to the region’s top football administrator a profound local impact.
As local clubs prepare for the first AFL Central Victoria senior women’s competition a pair of local products will be featuring in the first game of season two of AFLW.
Collingwood’s Emma Grant will again line up in the rivalry clash after featuring in last year’s historic game, while Carlton’s Kerryn Harrington will make her debut in navy blue after crossing from basketball.
The first game of the inaugural AFLW season generated unprecedented interest, and the competition has had a significant effect on local participation according to AFL Central Victoria’s Carol Cathcart.
Fellow Blue Sarah Last will not play in the season opener, while Tiahna Cochrane is not eligible to play as she remains on the club’s rookie list.
The former Bendigo Thunder pair are not the only two players with a Bendigo connection that may be named for their sides, be with Bella Ayre set to make her debut in Brisbane Lions colours and former Australian volleyballer Eliza Hynes a chance to line up for Collingwood.
The second iteration of AFLW comes as AFL Central Victoria pushes toward its first standalone senior women’s competition in 2018.
Five clubs have already committed to field teams in the competition, which will begin on April 29.
Bendigo Thunder, Kangaroo Flat, Kyneton, North Bendigo and Strathfieldsaye have signed expressions of interest to be a part of the league and have officially been adopted as the inaugural clubs.
Clubs will have to provide a preliminary player list by March 1 in order to confirm a spot in the league, prior to a fixture being drawn up.
Three of the five clubs competed in the Northern Country Women’s League, a cross-commission initiative run by AFL Central Victoria, AFL Goulburn Murray and AFL Central Murray last year.
The first local women’s premiership was won by the Bendigo Thunder and the competition initially aimed at a two-year tenure.
But given the rapid growth in the number of teams across the three regions, each decided to introduce their own leagues a year ahead of schedule.
“The introduction of the competition is a great outcome and further demonstrates the massive growth in opportunities for women to play football,” AFL Central Victoria region general manager Carol Cathcart said.
“There is no doubt the success of our junior female competitions over the past years, combined with the success of the AFLW, has greatly assisted the competition coming to life.”
The competition will begin with a round robin tournament held in Rochester on Sunday 15th April with teams from the central Victoria and Goulburn Murray regions before the season proper begins a fortnight later.