Private girls schools in Sydney start new AFL comp

Image courtesy of James Croucher.

Originally published by The Australian.

In the northern suburbs of Sydney, a sporting shift is under way. Prestigious girls schools are seeing an AFL surge in an area traditionally dominated by their male counterparts playing rugby.

“I think the idea it’s traditionally a boys sport stops more girls playing, but there are more and more girls involved in it now,” Tahneisha Wieckmann, a Year 9 student at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College, said. “It’s as if it’s always been like this now.”

The number of women in traditionally male sports — rugby and AFL — has exploded following the runaway success of women’s AFL and the rugby sevens team at the Rio Olympics.

Last week, 15 teams from seven schools competed in the first tournament for NSW independent girls’ institutions.

The competition, which is ­expected to grow into a statewide event, involved Mont Sant’ Ang­elo, Queenwood, Ravenswood, Abbotsleigh, Pymble Ladies College, St Catherine’s School and Brigidine College St Ives.

“I’m a bit jealous, to be honest. I wish I had been given the opportunity,” said Nicola Barr of the Greater Western Sydney Giants. “We played in clubs in Year 11 and Year 12, but these girls are going to be able to play at a younger age.”

The tournament comes a year after the creation of the AFLW. Since the league’s inception, there has been a 59 per cent increase in female participation in club football. There were 3139 players in 2016, and 4980 this year. Organisers have struggled to find places for 30 new under-12 teams in the Sydney competition this year.

“It’s definitely increased since AFLW started,” said Barr, 21, who last year was the No 1 draft pick in the league’s first season. “It’s been a massive hype. Girls can play as well.”

Annie Jones, a 16-year-old Year 10 student at Queenwood, said: “I’ve been playing since Year 7. It’s aggressive, but I like that. I’m the first person in my family to play.”

Hannah Davis, football manager at AFL NSW/ACT, said there hadn’t been an event like the schools tournament. “To offer a female exclusive competition … we hope this will develop into a statewide independent schools competition,” she said.

“We’ll be looking to expand this.”