Girls are kicking goals on the North Shore
To understand AFL on the North Shore, you just have to look at the background story of North Shore local Erin McKinnon and the Mosman Swans. Up until 2012, the Swans only ever had male teams, but that all changed when Erin was watching her brothers play. She turned to her mum Michelle and said "I wish girls could play too!”
There was a Sydney youth competition Just taking off, so Ms McKinnon took on the role as girls coordinator. In 2012, the club formed an under 15s girls’ team - the first of its kind on the North Shore. The team has now stuck together for four years and are now looking to take out the Sydney Harbour region’s under 18s premiership.
On top of this, Erin and her teammate Blaise Miller Hill have participated in the AFL Youth Girls National Championships as representatives of the under 18s NSW/ACT squad for the third and second times respectively.
"We started off with two or three girls back in 2012 and now we have about 40 registered,” beams Ms McKinnon.
"This is mostly through word of mouth because once they’ve tried it, they love it and they tell their friends.”
This surge in participation provided enough impetus for the club to try for a second girls’ team and last year they took that step, fielding an under 14s side. As an added bonus for future recruitment, this new side also went on to win the whole competition in their inaugural year.
But they couldn’t have done that all on their own. Enter the Willoughby Wildcats - another strong, male-oriented football club in the heart of the North Shore.
Like the Swans, it was the females at the club (whether that be the sisters or girlfriends of the male players) that wanted to start playing.
The demand was strong enough to compel Sue Larkey to take on the director of girls’ football role.
The club then followed Mosman's lead by promoting the girls’ game with training sessions on Sunday mornings out at Gore Hill Oval. They are still yet to enter their own team in the youth competition, but many of the girls have started to play competitively by linking up with the Swans. Ms Larkey, who has two daughters playing, says the two clubs supporting each other is good for the game on the North Shore.
Ideally, she'd like to see her club enter their own girls' teams in competition, but she says it's the best option in the short term as they concentrate on building participation."At this stage, we're just focused on creating a pathway, so all these girls who get into the sport through Auskick then stay,"
She tells North Shore Living.
"But ultimately, we'd like to see every [North Shore] club have their own girls’ teams, because at the moment, with teams in Auburn and Blacktown, we have to do a lot of travelling to get to games.”
Ms Larkey does see that happening in the near future, and this optimism comes from the support clubs like hers are receiving from the AFL NSW/ACT.
"They really have been incredible - they are bending over backwards to get the girls’ game going,” she enthuses.
“We have Sydney Swans players come down to training - Gary Rohan ran the girls through some drills - and probably their biggest highlight so far was when they got to play another team at the half time of an AFL match."
The AFL NSW/ACT, based at the Moore Park sporting precinct, is excited to be providing youth competition to girls across the North Shore.
"To have a pathway for all female participants to get involved in AFL is fantastic for the lower North Shore,” states Libby Sadler, the AFL NSW/ACT State female program manager.
"Girls as young as five are now involved in local AFL Auskick programs that take place on Sunday mornings everywhere north of the bridge. For the girls who then want to play competitive football, there's now an option to do that at an under 14s, under 18s and open age level.
"With Pittwater, Mosman and Willoughby all having teams in a youth girls‘ competition, we are starting to see real growth and the girls simply love the opportunity to play a game, which until recently, hasn't been an option for them.”
As well as the aforementioned clubs, Ms Sadler also highlighted the involvement of Queenwood School for Girls.
"Across the country, the growth of youth girls' football is outstanding. In 2014, there were 196,000 female participants. Which means it is the fastest growing group for AFL participation across Australia.” she reveals.
"Queenwood have become an extremely supportive AF L school also playing in the youth girls’ competition,” she explains.
The next step for clubs on the North Shore is to develop senior teams. The Manly-Warringah Giants did just that on the Northern Beaches at the beginning of last year and are now entering their second season in division two.
The Mosman Swans are in a good position to press on. "Our original team is now approaching that open level. For many of them, this is their last year in under 188 so we’ll be looking into that," says Ms McKinnon.
"Obviously we want a clear pathway from under 14s to open just like the men have."
There's no doubt female Aussie rules on the North Shore is on the rise, and with the AFL and local clubs promoting the game, it’s only going to gain more and more momentum.