It has been a whirlwind eight weeks of game-changing action on and off the field in the AFL Women's League. The introduction of the league has been nothing short of a huge success.
This weekend the competition's eight teams will play the final round of the home and away season. Brisbane Lions have booked their spot in the first-ever AFL Women's Grand Final, while the Adelaide Crows, Melbourne Demons, and Carlton Blues will all be fighting hard for the remaining place.
If, like me, you've spent the last two months enraptured by the women's games, the players, and their fierceness on and off the field, you'll be sad to see the end of the competition so soon.
The eight rounds have flown by, but the impact it's had on me has been monumental. And from what I've seen, heard, read and chatted about with friends and family, it's had an huge impact on a lot of people.
I can not imagine how it would of made me feel at age eight, 14, or 18. I think of the young girls playing now, who'll never be told, "you can't play anymore, from here it's only boys who can play," as I was.
To see women athletes in prime time, on the front and back pages of three separate newspapers, as I did the morning after the historic first round Carlton v Collingwood clash, you could of thought you had landed in an alternative universe. But it was very much happening, and it made me feel like all the years of being told 'no' were worth it.
I wasn't even one of the girls playing at Ikon Park the night of February 3, when 24,568 people packed out the stadium, but I was in the crowd and, as I still tell people, it was the best night of my life.
In what may be a slightly embarrassing admission, on a quiet Wednesday afternoon at home last week, I re-watched the highlights of that first game between Carlton and Collingwood and shed a few tears of joy.
I've played sport my entire life, still do, but for some reason I could never quite bring myself to enjoy more than a quarter of an AFL game, or even just a half of a soccer game on TV. That has all changed with the AFLW.
I've sat on the hill at Whitten Oval, headed out to Casey fields, sat myself among the Carlton faithful at Ikon Park, and stood among the throng at Olympic Park Oval. I couldn't bring myself to miss even one game because, finally, there were athletes out there that I could identify with.
Strong, tough, brave, and courageous women, who aren't afraid of being caught in a bone-crunching tackle and who celebrate every goal with so much passion.
At 23 I could finally look out and think, "that could be me."
When the final siren rings At Ikon Park on Sunday afternoon, I'll applaud and cheer not only for the girls coming off the field, but for every single woman who fought to make this a reality,
The past eight weeks have been such a powerful experience, and I can not imagine how it would of made me feel at age eight, 14, or 18. I think of the young girls playing now, who'll never be told, "you can't play anymore, from here it's only boys who can play," as I was.
These girls have a pathway to become the best footballers they can be. To become the next Emma Zielke, Sarah Perkins, or Daisy Pearce.
Of course, the league is in its infancy, and is not perfect yet. Much has been said about the standard, the low scoring games, and congested style of play.
That will change as the talent pool grows, and as the girls get accustomed to the ins and outs of life as professional footballers, the standard of play will improve exponentially.
Looking towards the 2018 season, the AFL has already said that the standard will improve, and have also made the right call to not expand the league until 2019.
Fans have lamented the scheduling of the AFLW season once the JLT Community Series kicked off, and the lack of finals series (the top two teams go straight to the grand final). These are just minor growing pains of what will be a successful competition for many decades to come.
The girls playing in the AFLW proved that sportswomen can be front and centre, and damn well hold their own.
Even though this weekend marks the end of the home and away AFLW season, in many ways it signals the beginning of so much more. From here there is no excuse for the media to denounce and ignore women athletes. The girls playing in the AFLW proved that sportswomen can be front and centre, and damn well hold their own.
It signals the beginning of an era where no girl will be left without a sporting role model that they can truly identify with. Sure, as a young girl I wore number 18 on the back of my Essendon jumper because I loved Matthew Lloyd. But if that same little girl was around now I know for sure that she'd be sporting a number 3 Carlton jumper, with the hope of growing up to conjure the same kind of magic Darcy Vescio produces in the forward line.
When the final siren rings At Ikon Park on Sunday afternoon, I'll applaud and cheer not only for the girls coming off the field, but for every single woman who fought to make this a reality, who fought for this incredibly bright future where 'no' will now be the exception and no longer the rule when it comes to recognition, attention, and opportunities for women in sport.
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