Leagues combine to run women’s games
A women’s football league in the region will go ahead regardless of how many teams enter.
Expressions of interest are being accepted until the end of this month for clubs looking to field a female side, with Shepparton Bears locked in.
AFL Goulburn Murray football development manager Trevor Mellington said there was no doubt those wanting to play would have a league.
‘‘We’re committed to running it. The competition will run,’’ he said.
‘‘We did the devil’s advocate thing and said what would happen with only four teams, and we’d run it with four teams and be confident it would work.’’
As the first women’s team in the region, Shepparton reached the preliminary final of the northwest division of the Victorian Women’s Football League last year.
But teams were forced to find new leagues after the league disbanded, unable to cope with the expansion of players in the league.
Without a competition, AFL GM teamed up with AFL Central Victoria to ensure there would be enough sides in a league.
‘‘We joined forces with Bendigo because we both thought we weren’t at a point to have our own,’’ he said.
The Bears and existing Bendigo side Kyneton will form the backbone of the competition, with Echuca also showing strong interest in forming a women’s side for its youth girls to feed in to.
Mellington said there were a few more teams likely to join the unnamed competition, increasing it to a pool of between six and eight clubs.
‘‘We’re very hopeful that there’ll be at least another three from Bendigo, they’ve expressed interest verbally without any firm commitment, and another couple at this end,’’ he said.
‘‘So we have a competition where we could have anywhere between four and eight teams.’’
Kerang has also put its name in contention as it looks to join its closest league.
But while AFL GM and AFL Central Victoria will join forces for the first year, there is no guarantee how long the partnership will last given the growth of female participation in the sport.
‘‘We both accepted that as a long-term goal somewhere down the track we’ll part, we don’t have a time frame,’’ Mellington said.
‘‘In an ideal world, clubs with youth girls teams will see a pathway into women’s (football) and that’s why Echuca jumped straight on board.’’
Teams that have an existing men’s side will use the same home ground, with the competition to be primarily played on Sundays.
But Mellington said the fixture would be flexible.
‘‘Where teams agree they can move games,’’ he said.
‘‘So Shepp and Echuca might play a game under lights following their men’s games. It’s a fantastic idea and a brilliant way to promote the game.’’
This month AFL GM received a $7500 grant from the Australian Sports Foundation to go towards the league, with Mellington saying it would go towards making the sport affordable for players to compete in.
— Lauren Bordin