AFLW 2017: a GIANT adventure for Tilly

It’s a Saturday night in Canberra. Skyfire – one of the nation’s capital’s biggest events – is on down the road, but a record six thousand people have arrived at UNSW Canberra Oval to see the GIANTS Women’s team play the Western Bulldogs.

The weather had been terrible for days, but as though the ‘Footy Gods’ were themselves sitting in the stands, a beautiful night for Round 7 of the AFLW was set.

Tilly Ellis and her dad, Scott have perched themselves on the GIANTS race – best seats in the house.

They had driven for five hours to get to Canberra from Rutherford, two hours north of Sydney.

Tilly and Scott had been to every GIANTS Women’s home match this year. It had only taken the Round 3 draw with Fremantle to get Tilly hooked.  By Round 5, Ella Ross of the GIANTS had cemented herself as Tilly’s favourite player. By Round 7 – the GIANTS’ final game – Tilly and Ella had become boundary line friends.

Watching Tilly throughout the game, she gets into every play. Scott is copping elbows to his arm as she jostles her way around her seat, as though she is up for a contested possession herself. She points at free space and to open players, all in attempted assistance to the one with the ball.

Since the beginning of the AFL Women’s competition, Tilly has started playing AFL for her local Hunter Coast club, the Maitland Saints. In her first week at the club, she was the only girl in her age bracket, younger than most of the boys she trains with, but that did not intimidate her in the slightest.

“It was good – I got to show the boys how it was done,” she proudly explains.

Since Tilly began training four weeks ago, another girl has joined – much to her excitement.

Female participation rates in New South Wales and the ACT have skyrocketed in the years leading into the AFL Women’s competition, up 23% from 2015 to 2016.

Ahead of the 2017 launch of AFL Women’s, 85,919 females participated in AFL in New South Wales and the ACT – five times the number of women who participated in 2010 – proving the future of female footy in New South Wales and the ACT is increasingly bright.

And despite all of the history making moments of AFLW 2017, it is this future, which the AFLW competition has launched, that will live on for many years to come.

While unprecedented crowds of thousands turned out to the AFLW, week in, week out, it was young girls like Tilly, sitting in the stands, decked out in their new team’s colours, for whom this future belongs.

With some attending their first ever AFL match – men’s or women’s – these girls could see themselves in their heroes, making their own boundary line breaks and kicking their own match-winning goals.

Tilly’s dad, Scott grew up in country Victoria with his two older brothers, all three of them playing Aussie Rules as their sport of choice. Scott’s brother, Craig even went on to play 122 games for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – a career choice that would have never been seen as impossible.

A few years ago, ‘impossible’ was for Scott’s three young daughters to follow the same dream. But now, Emma (14), Jessica (12), and Tilly (9), no longer have to be asleep to have this dream come true, a fact Scott names as, ‘Excellent.’

“Now for them to have the opportunity to choose AFL, if they want to, is fantastic,” says Scott.

“It was a good opportunity to show Tilly that she can do that sort of stuff as well, and now she has grabbed hold of it, and it’s turning bigger than Ben Hur.”

For Tilly, the impact of AFL Women’s is simple.

“It’s good because girls can have fun like the boys do!”

And what could be more important than that?