AFLW’s stars look at the biggest issues facing the game
With the AFLW season about to be in full swing, we put the tough questions to the game's biggest stars.
Melbourne's DAISY PEARCE, North Melbourne skipper EMMA KEARNEY, Brisbane leader EMMA ZIELKE, Gold Coast co-captain SAM VIRGO, Adelaide's skipper CHELSEA RANDALL and Giants captain ALICIA EVA answer nine burning questions on the game.
Are you concerned about concussion in AFLW?
PEARCE: Naturally when you hear of more CTE cases popping up within our industry, you think about it and it crosses your mind. But I know there's been more time, money and research being tipped into this space and I know our club's medical staff take it very seriously. It doesn't make me worry about taking the field. There are so many benefits from playing the game that until I know more, I'll continue because I know how much it's added to my life and made me a healthier, happier person at the moment.
RANDALL: I think it is such a physical game and that is where these injuries occur and the best thing we can do is listen to our coaches as players and get the best technique possible for our tackle technique and our ground ball technique and making sure that we are protecting our head and that we have a duty of care for our players.
ZIELKE: We just saw the story about Shane Tuck, which isn't great. There was definitely not as much protocol as there is now. The AFL is constantly evolving that. It's taken very seriously and they've got good procedures in place at the moment.
EVA: We don't want to see those incidents in the game but unfortunately they do happen and we have to make sure our players are equipped to protect themselves and with the duty of care piece not just protecting yourself and your head over the ball but a duty of care with tackling and head high contact. I've done a lot of work in the coaching space and we understand the fundamentals of football aren't just kicking and handballing it is around protecting yourself as well. We get frustrated about the decisions that are made, we think they are being a bit too conservative sometimes but they are looking out for us as people.
How did you feel when last season was cut short and no premier awarded?
PEARCE: Obviously disappointment for a season in which you put so much work into and to not get a result, and particularly because we were still alive in finals. But I think at the time we were very aware that the whole pandemic had obviously gotten much bigger than footy, so we were pretty understanding as well. And I was very comfortable with the decision to not crown a premier given we couldn't fairly finish the season.
KEARNEY: It's hard to describe, but just flat. You sacrifice so much and then it just got taken away from us so quickly.
ZIELKE: It was pretty disappointing but in the scheme of things, at that stage COVID was bigger than footy. The world doesn't revolve around our league. This year they've guaranteed us there's going to be a premier so we're looking forward to that.
VIRGO: It was an empty, hollow feeling. We (the Suns) were lucky to have an end, a full stop to our season. I really feel for those four teams who were left. It was disappointing to end the season without a premier.
EVA: It was a bit of a whirlwind process, there was a series of meetings and we didn't know if the season was to stop then and there or if there was to be a finals series. There was a lot of discussions with the PA. Of course we would have loved to see a premiership awarded but we were dealing with a big unknown.
Are you happy with a nine-game season and what do you think it should be?
KEARNEY: Nine games is definitely a good little progression from where it has been previously. Obviously we'd love to be able to play every team at least once, so having a 13 game season plus three weeks of finals would be ideal. But we'll keep working towards that eventually.
ZIELKE: It's nine because that's what we've agreed to so far. It's a progression from the first couple of years. Ideally we would like to play each other once at least, and hopefully after this CBA agreement ends we can negotiate that with the AFL. Ideally we'd like to play during the winter because it's so hot here and we're still playing quite early in the afternoon.
When do you think the league should be expanded from 14 to 18 teams?
VIRGO: I want the competition to be here when my daughter plays, so when then competition can somewhat fund itself and we can maintain a good level of growth and participation. We don't want to dilute the competition by saying every club's in. When the CBA finishes at the end of next year, it's probably time to expand again.
PEARCE: I'd love to see all 18 teams be represented in the competition, because that means more girls with the opportunity that I have and we have. I'm a big believer that in terms of the talent argument, if you give the opportunity that will help to grow the talent. But I know there are more things at play than just coming up with enough players, so I think as soon as it is sustainable to bring them in, get them involved.
KEARNEY: I'd like to hold off for at least five years until we can get a little bit more talent at junior level, not just in our cities but at country level.
What about 16-a-side, do you like it and could it work in AFL?
PEARCE: I'd love to see 18 players and I've said that the whole way along. We play on full size fields in the middle of summer. I've heard the rationale as to why, but I sort of feel like it doesn't really reduce the density of people around the ball. It sort of just takes a pair off the very outer edge so it doesn't affect the ball movement. I think it might help with things like fatigue, but I haven't put the time into researching it and that's just my gut feel.
VIRGO: It could work for the men's game, I know they struggle with congestion. We struggle with congestion for different reasons. It really works for the women's game currently, and as the skill level progresses, there should be a conversation about whether we stay with 16 or if we can go to 18. It should be open to the situation of the competition at the time.
Should we be playing at smaller grounds wherever possible?
KEARNEY: I would love to play at smaller grounds. We play some of our games in Tassie at North Hobart Oval, which is a beautiful boutique ground that's nice to play on and we've had some great tussles there. The smaller the better as it presents more scoring opportunities.
ZIELKE: No. Keep it to the traditional size because if you make it smaller it's going to end up being more congested. Keeping it as is, it helps the runners, and it helps the girls that have the speed. That's the stuff people want to see.
What's the work/footy/life balance look like for you this season?
PEARCE: I'm a midwife but a lot of my work now is in with the media throughout the men's competition, so I'm pretty lucky with how our season is in summer. I kind of get a playing season and a work season, so this time of the year I've gotten good at stripping back as much work as I can so I can focus on my footy, but then being a mum means the competing demand is at home. We've got girls in our team that still work full-time and it's a big juggle for them and then throwing in the uncertain nature of it just proves how much they love the game.
ZIELKE: Most of our Lions players are still working. It is a challenge. You really struggle some days to get to work not in a zombie state from being so tired all the time. You really have to nail your balancing act and you also have to have a supportive working place. The more hours we're expected to do, the harder that's going to get. There are still plenty of hours that we come here voluntarily, but hopefully the next CBA they can increase the hours and increase the pay, so the girls can cut back on their hours at work if that's what they want to do.
RANDALL: I actually applied for a job over the Christmas break. It is brilliant I actually really enjoy working part time because it allows me to stay grounded. You can get really caught up in the footy world … so it keeps you grounded in terms of having that work-life balance which can be really challenging.
What's the most exciting thing about the start of the new season?
RANDALL: Just to play, someone worked it out for me it will be 671 days since my last AFLW game. I think Hannah Button, it has been 371 days for her, Erin Phillips only played a handful as did Rhi Metcalfe. So I'm really excited to see these players take to the field again.
PEARCE:Just getting back out there and playing footy. I think that's the beauty of not being allowed to play for so long and having it taken away from you makes you really appreciate everything about being back at the club.
VIRGO: Our new players. The new girls that we've drafted. There's some seriously good talent that's come on to our list. I can't wait to see what they can do at AFLW level.
Who will be the standout star of the competition this season?
KEARNEY:Probably Jaimee Lambert (Collingwood), she can do just about anything. She'd be my tip.
PEARCE:It's hard to go past (teammate) Karen Paxman. I'm sure there are plenty, but I've had the last few months up close with her and she's been a really consistent performer over the first four seasons. But I feel like she's getting better and better and she's fit and healthy and enjoying her footy.
ZIELKE: In my team, Nat Grider. Seeing her development over the past two years, she's a star and her workrate is unquestionable. I'm looking forward to seeing how she goes.
VIRGO: Sarah Perkins. I can't wait to see her play at AFLW level again. She belongs there and she's been really impactful for our group in terms of her leadership and her footy IQ.
RANDALL: I think our usual girls that have really started to shine, Anne Hatchard, Ebony Marinoff, Erin does Erin Phillips things.
Originally published as Burning questions: Do you fear concussion in AFLW?