Special Guest for women’s football

A MELBOURNE Demon with a difference was in town at the weekend to spruik a landmark moment in Australian Rules football.

Dees’ women’s player Ashleigh Guest visited Traralgon RSL to promote the recent announcement of a national women’s league to be staged from 2017.

The six-round inaugural competition will feature eight clubs with a top four finals series likely to come on the eve of the men’s AFL season start.

With room for expansion in 2018 to a larger competition, Guest said it was an exciting time for the female game.

“What excites me the most is there’ll be little girls, five or six years old, who can say their favourite player is not a boy,” Guest said.

“They don’t have to have a boy (footy idol), they know one day they can play AFL football.

“I’ll miss that point in 10 to 20 years time when it’s huge and girls get paid big dollars, but it’s exciting for those girls who are around now, they’ve got that opportunity (to be part of a professional league).”

Guest, whose mother Suzi lives in the area, is a regular presence in Gippsland and the growth of the women’s game locally has not gone unnoticed.

With a strong youth girls’ league, a Victorian Women’s Football League side – Gippsland Galaxy – and integration with TAC Cup side Gippsland Power, local female footy has grown exponentially in recent years.

Guest said Saturday’s meet and greet was a chance to help guide Gippsland girls toward their ambitions of playing professional football, with several youth girls clubs in attendance.

“Obviously youth girls footy in Traralgon and Gippsland has grown significantly and being out in country towns they get limited access to the higher level players,” Guest said.

“(I) just had a chat to them and answered some questions about pathways, gave some guidance on how to get to that elite level of women’s footy.”

A former elite junior softballer, Guest picked up football in high school and made it her primary sport after graduation.

Now into her ninth season she has seen the football landscape change drastically for women through her career, and the announcement of an eight-team women’s national competition was icing on the cake.

“In terms of pathways when I first started playing footy there wasn’t the same youth girls (competitions) and academies, I just played club footy all the way through,” Guest said.

“The opportunities I did get were when we had academies or rep games and I played in all of those.

“I just put my hand up as much as I could and tried to get my name out there.”

The development of an AFL Victoria Women’s Academy at the start of last year, which four local players – Sarah Jolly, Tayla Tatterson, Kim Cuncio and Lisa Whittaker – were invited to was another giant leap forward.

“At the start of last pre-season they put together an academy. Some recruiters went out and pulled together 120 girls from Victoria and we did a real solid pre-season, with proper strength and conditioning,” Guest said.

“They were fast-tracking talent for next year when the league goes professional.”

With a women’s draft set for late this year, Guest is unsure where she will be playing next season and there are plenty of unanswered questions for female footballers who contest the national league.

Despite the uncertainty, Guest is excited to be part of the groundswell.

The eight women’s teams granted licences to compete in 2017 are Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and Western Bulldogs.