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OPINION: AFLW ban for 2020 AFL International Cup

  • Thursday, November 14 2019 @ 09:00 pm ACDT
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The following opinion piece by Peter Holden of Women's Australian Rules Football Radio should not be taken to represent the views of the site or any of our contributors or editors. 

Without knowing the exact dates, we should be just less than nine months away from the 2020 edition of the AFL International Cup.

Most of the focus to date has been on what city/region will host next year’s tournament and the potential that the number of countries participating could be capped to assist in fixturing.

However, there’s one elephant in the room that has yet to – at least publicly – be addressed; will AFLW players be allowed to participate, and if so, how many?

As of this article being published, there were 18 Irishwomen signed to AFLW contracts for the 2020 season, and one American.

 

There has already been at least one woman who was on an AFLW list while playing in the International Cup, being Laura Duryea (nee Corrigan). Duryea was on Melbourne’s list for the 2017 and 2018 AFLW seasons, while co-captaining the Irish Banshees in 2017. It’s also fair to point out that Duryea had represented Ireland in two International Cups prior to playing in the AFLW.

Just a month ago, we saw four AFLW contracted players represent Ireland in the AFL European Championships, where the Banshees not only went through the tournament 5-0, but also kept their opponents scoreless in a brutal display of strength.

Now it’s impossible to say that the AFLW contracted players were the absolute difference, as the Banshees side contained a number of players from their universities’ squad that crushed the British universities’ team by about 100 points earlier in the year. Also, there was some turnover in players for the GB Swans squad, and the Germany Eagles squad was making its 18-a-side debut.

Nonetheless, with speculation that AFLW players (up to eight per side is the rumoured number) will be permitted to play at IC2020, this is ringing alarm bells for most of the other countries – especially with the Irish AFLW players coming off a semi-professional season, with all its training and match-play benefits.

On the flip-side, those Irish women would love to represent their country, and those behind the scenes at AFL Ireland would love to see the strongest possible side on the park.

So, how do we keep all parties happyω Well there’s the two-pronged solution that should not only keep 99.5% of people happy, but also create some good PR for the AFL.

 

PHASE ONE – The banning of AFLW players from the AFL International Cup

At first this phase would not make the Irish happy but will explain our solution for them in Phase Two.

This rule not just affects the Irish, but would also rule out the USA Freedom’s Danielle Marshall, and depending on the finer points could also rule out the Canada Northern Lights’ Kendra Heil.

The main reason we need to ban current/recent AFLW players from the International Cup is to ensure the purity of the tournament – that it is purely amateur is status.

If we look at the countries that have participated in the Women’s division of the tournament, most rarely play 18-a-side football, bar for the GB Swans, and that being exclusively the London league.

Allowing semi-professionals to play (particularly stacked in one side) gives them an unfair advantage, having not only played in that format, but more critically, professionally coached in that format.

Considering the financial cost players from the Northern Hemisphere pay to attend the tournament (some have quit and even been fired from their jobs, just to play), asking them to come up against semi-professionals, may turn off some of their players from making the trip – after all, who wants to pay thousands of dollars and travel so far knowing you have no hope of winning the title?

Looking at it from another point of view, a banning of AFLW players may actually assist the Irish in the growth of the game. By making all 28 players on their squad amateur in status, it would provide more opportunities for the Irish to showcase their talent to AFLW recruiters, and potentially have more signed to the semi-professional league in 2021.

If you allowed say up to eight AFLW players to participate, although that’s great for the Banshees chances to retain the title, you rob eight players of showcasing their skills to recruiters.

 

PHASE TWO – International Matches for the Irish AFLW Players

With my proposed banning of AFLW players from the AFL International Cup, how do we satisfy the Irishwomen’s (who are most affected) want to represent their country?

The first solution that probably comes to mind for most is an International Rules Series against Australia.

There are some logical benefits to this. A women’s version of International Rules Football helps legitimise the men’s version more, and could be either played as a double-header with the men’s series, or in the opposite years.

There is however, in my mind, another solution which could also solve another problem that the AFL have.

I see the Irishwomen AFLW women (topped up with Irish state league players) playing a standalone international Aussie rules representative match. For argument’s sake we’ll call the semi-professional Irish team the Emeralds, as to differentiate from the amateur Banshees.

Now, a semi-professional All-Australian team would in theory still be too strong a match for the Irish Emeralds. However, an Indigenous AFLW team might be about the right strength to provide an even match-up with the Irishwomen.

So, when and where to play the matchω Considering the Crows have now ended their AFLW partnership with AFLNT, Darwin is now non-existent on the AFLW premiership season calendar.

This could be made up the week before the season kicks off, with Ireland v Indigenous AFLW match in Darwin – helping to promote the AFLW season is about to start, and an extra game of Aussie Rules for the Irishwomen who have played the format very little compared to the Australians.

Should it become a regular feature, and should the Irishwomen chalk up a number of wins, we may one day get to the stage where we argue for an Ireland v Australia semi-professional level match.

In conclusion, this two-phase solution should appease most.

It keeps the teams in IC2020 on a level as even as possible in terms of amateur status, exposure to 18-a-side football and regularity of games played at the local level; while also providing a representative opportunity and higher standard of football for Irish AFLW players.

Opinion piece by Peter Holden – Co-Founder of Women’s Australian Rules Football Radio.

Peter has called in the range of 400 matches of Australian football, including more than 200 women’s matches, including AFLW exhibition matches, interstate matches, VWFL/VFLW matches, International Cup matches and four USAFL National Championships.