NSW and ACT primed for women's rep clash
By Sam Canavan
For the second year in succession a stellar selection of the best senior female talent playing in the AFL Sydney and AFL Canberra competitions will go head-to-head, with much more than bragging rights up for grabs.
Though a healthy rivalry is bubbling between the sides, the result may prove secondary to any standout individual displays, with a handful of women in the mix to be drafted by either the Western Bulldogs or Melbourne Demons, the sides set to play exhibitions on May 24 at the MCG and August 16 at Etihad Stadium.
This weekend's game will kick off at 11.30am on Sunday 12th April at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval in Canberra, with the women's draft just a week later - April 20 at Etihad Stadium.
Needless to say, this is the time for players to stake their claims.
"With the draft the weekend after the AFL Canberra and AFL Sydney game there are a group of our locals who are well and truly in the mix for draft selection," said AFL NSW/ACT Female Programs Manager Libby Sadler.
"Western Bulldogs Head Coach Craig Starcevich will be in attendance, so there's extra impetus for the girls to put themselves up in lights.
"With both the Bulldogs and Demons retaining just six players each from last year's squads there are 38 spots up for grabs, and it would be fantastic to see NSW/ACT representation on the big stage."
Five NSW/ACT players joined in a star-studded AFL Victoria draft exhibition game a fortnight back, the group returning eye-catching performances.
Four of the five will feature in this weekend's clash - AFL Canberra's Heather Anderson and Karina Demant, and AFL Sydney's Stephanie Walker and Maddy Collier - with two-time Melbourne Demons draftee Courtney Gum a late withdrawal.
Anderson, a prolific ball-winner with good skills either side of her body, is arguably the draft front-runner of the crop, and her contribution - along with the scoring output of key key forward Demant -will be decisive factors in the contest.
Adding further fascination to the match-up, it wouldn't surprise to see Walker and Collier spend time directly opposed to Anderson, a tantalising prospect for what should be a healthy local crowd, in a market where female football participation has boosted 30% in recent years.
Walker, the reigning AFL Sydney Best and Fairest winner, will provide plenty of dash on a wing, while hard-nosed Collier will shore up the visitors' half-back line.
Youngster Jodie Hicks is another to watch in the AFL Sydney line-up, fresh from being named a Youth Girls All-Australian last year, while goalsneak Mai Nguyen will provide plenty of headaches for the ACT back line.
Aside from Anderson and Demant, Hicks' Youth Girls National Championships teammate Kate Reid will provide an X-factor for ACT, with the home ground advantage at typically windswept Gungahlin another aspect set to play a part.
New mentors will steer both outfits, Bec Goddard - the first female appointed to a NEAFL coaching role - will guide the local side, while Macquarie University's Stuart Newman takes the reins from Dean Connors for AFL Sydney.
Newman expects an entertaining contest.
"Both sides have quick and mobile squads, with a lot of young talent that won't be afraid to take the game on, especially with the prospect of being drafted on the cards," he said.
"I think we will see a very fast-paced game, and it will be exciting to showcase the depth and quality of female talent in the region."