“Play for the Little Girl” – Why the Women’s AFL League is a Big Deal

Women's VFL side Melbourne Uni in action PHOTO: Cameron Grimes Photography

Women’s VFL side Melbourne Uni in action PHOTO: Cameron Grimes Photography

“Anyone who is going to be involved in the new league next year should see themselves as a role model – Alicia Eva

 

As the AFL edges its way into history by creating a professional pathway for women’s football, the implications for over 200 Australian women who’ll be drafted is going to be massive. Let me paint an accurate picture why this is such a big deal for so many women.

Meet Alicia Eva, who, like many yet to be drafted, grew up ‘playing footy with the boys’ now have an opportunity to play at the top level – a concept any footy kid can only dream about.

Alicia’s passion for the game, her talent and credentials speak for themselves. She is one of only a handful of women in the country to have completed the entire pathway from Auskick through to AFL level, not to mention her current role today as a development coach for the U18 boys Calder Cannons in Victoria.

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Alicia Eva playing on the MCG

 

Starting out when she was in Prep, Alicia navigated her way through junior footy, youth girls, senior women’s football to where she is today representing Melbourne in the Exhibition Series. A pathway that was once capped at state level will now open doors to play nationally come February next year.

So who will Alicia play for in 2017? At this stage, she feels, it doesn’t really matter. Just the opportunity to play every week on international sporting fields like the MCG or the Adelaide Oval gives this athlete cause to smile from cheek to cheek.

If you’ve ever watched a game of female footy, it’s clear that huge amounts of stamina, strength and agility are needed to get through four quarters of fiercely competitive football.

“Growing up and training with the boys I always thought my skill level was on par with them so I didn’t see there was ever a difference”. 

Growing up and training with the boys I always thought my skill level was on par with them so I didn’t see there was ever a difference.

When you watch Alicia play for her VFL team Melbourne Uni it’s obvious that there is no difference. Her pace, competitiveness and courage are evident every time she kicks and marks the ball.

Playing footy from a young age in an all-male team, one has to wonder if Alicia ever faced any kind of sledging from her opponents. In short – yes. Comments like “I’m playing on the girl today” from her opponents gave Alicia ammunition to play harder. She says there were moments when those comments fuelled her anxiety but she was determined not to let them hijack her playing ability. That’s when being a woman became her selling point. And it worked. She proved to her teammates, coaches, opposition and ultimately herself that she was no different to the male players.

Alicia recalls a fond memory on the day of her school formal when the moment of validation arrived. There she was, a teenager all dressed up, a far cry from the muddy footy boots and grass stained shorts worn in a game and up walks a “6 foot something guy” with an uncertain expression on his face. He looked her in the eye.

“You’re Alicia Eva right?”

“I used to play on you. You’re a jet!” 

She recalls that this unexpected compliment on her game from a past footy opponent caused her cheeks to turn bright red with a mixture of embarrassment and joy. This was a moment of pride and recognition to Alicia that she was just as good as any footy player out there.

I asked Alicia about mentors throughout her footy journey and she recited a quote from Michelle Cowan, her former coach at Melbourne that resonated with her as a senior player.

“Play for the club, play for the jumper but more importantly, play for that little girl”. 

A personal reminder for Alicia that playing AFL is all about playing with pride because one day a little girl will look up to her with eyes full of hope and a footy in her hand waiting for her day to have a kick on the MCG and Adelaide Oval.

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