Six weeks have been and gone since history was made in the inaugural AFL Women’s fixture between Carlton and Collingwood at Ikon Park.
Tomorrow will see the culmination of the 2017 AFLW season when the undefeated Brisbane Lions take on the Adelaide Crows with the winner going down in history as the first AFLW Premiers.
On the eve of this momentous occasion AFL Europe caught up with two of their own stars of the AFLW, the Western Bulldogs’ Lauren Spark, and Carlton’s Kate Shierlaw, to hear their experiences on season one and all things women’s footy.
The pair were team mates in the Wimbledon Hawks’ undefeated 2016 AFL London season before making the move back to Melbourne when drafted to their respective AFL clubs late last year.
While growing up, Spark would’ve loved to play AFL but felt she could never dream of forging a professional career because there were no pathways for young girls and women into the AFL. When she was finally given the opportunity to chase her lifelong passion at the end of 2016, Spark dropped her life in London to return to Melbourne and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.
“Walking into the Western Bulldogs home ground, I was thrown into all kinds of professionalism that I wasn’t expecting. The physios stretching all parts of my body, the doctors asking about my medical history and the strength and conditioning team testing me in order to create a personal program”, Spark recounted of her first weeks as an AFLW player.
She went onto say, “a group of girls with the same passion thrown together, some from the same amateur clubs, some normally rivalled opponents and some I’d not seen nor met before. But this was something we had to get used to, playing with and against our friends”.
A few months on, Spark made her AFLW debut as a ruck and key defender for the Western Bulldogs, and couldn’t be happier about the support she, her teammates, and her competition have received.
“AFLW has been bigger than I think anyone could’ve expected. The media attention, the attendance by spectators and the influx of young girls and women wanting to play shows that this is the long-lost missing piece of the AFL community puzzle.”
Kate Shierlaw, rookie forward for the Carlton Blues, agrees with her ex-teammate about the AFLW being inspirational for younger generations.
“Young girls are now growing up in a world where this is the norm and they can run around in the back yard pretending they are one of the AFLW stars. How cool is that?”
Shierlaw’s footy background is significantly different to Spark’s having only started playing with the oval footy last year in London. Despite not playing footy and growing up in Adelaide, Shierlaw was drafted to the club she grew up supporting, the Carlton Blues.
“The roller coaster since I signed as a rookie for Carlton has been incredible. To be selected to the club you have supported your whole life is something special and brings out a passion that’s very hard to find elsewhere”, Shierlaw said.
Wanting to try something new when moving to London from Adelaide in 2015, she joined the Wimbledon Hawks, and had immediate success with her athleticism and strong marking shining through.
Her AFLW Coach, Damien Keeping, credits Shierlaw’s success to her work ethic and her desire to perfect her football skills. It was these skills that helped her team come out on top when she found herself up against Spark and the Western Bulldogs in the two clubs round 5 encounter. The girls found themselves lining up on each other but didn’t let their friendship effect their performance on the field.
Shierlaw remembered the encounter that saw the Blues win by 6-points, saying, “It was a bizarre experience but once the game was underway, there is so much movement and concentration that it could have been anyone. We both respect each other as athletes and there was no smack talk out on the field. I was lucky enough to be on the winning side of a close, exciting match which was more important than any battle between two mates. It’s just one of so many great stories that has come out of this AFLW experience. Now we are both living out that dream that has never been a possibility.”
Both went on to have solid seasons for their respective clubs with Spark playing every game in a ruck/defensive role and Shierlaw playing up forward in all bar one match after being elevated off the rookie list.
Tomorrow morning’s season decider between the Brisbane Lions and Adelaide Crows draws the curtain on the history making inaugural AFL Women’s season. The rise has been bigger than anyone could imagine and no doubt consolidates the fact that the women’s game is here to stay and is only going to get bigger and better.
Good luck to the 44 women playing donning the Lions and Crows jumper tomorrow and congratulations to everyone involved in AFLW’s historic season.