TIME FOR THE GIRLS TO SHINE AT THE CANNONS
By Tim Miller
It has been a groundbreaking year for women in the AFL and Calder Cannons continue to be at the forefront of the sport’s growth as interest skyrockets in female football.
With Under-15s and Under-18s squads already beginning their rigorous pre-season training, the Cannons have become a key training ground for the next wave of AFL women’s superstars.
According to youth girls academy manager Pauline Leslie, the club has only just scratched the surface of what could be capable.
“Everyone wants to come in,” Leslie said.
“We have over 100 girls currently in the (Under) 15s and 18s teams.
“Before Christmas, the Under 18s squad will be cut down to 35. After Christmas, those girls will come back, and they’ll play the season with us.”
The Cannons operated the first Youth Girls Academy out of Windy Hill in 2008.
The program has since expanded to include several other TAC Cup regions.
“It [a girl’s talent program run by Calder] started in 2008, but it wasn’t run by the Cannons,” Leslie said.
Despite the threat of basketball and netball - sports with a historical advantage over football in encouraging female participation – the number of women’s football teams in Victoria has swelled and many athletes are juggling two sports or quitting previous exploits to follow a football career.
“We’ve lifted a few American girls this year in the AFL women’s competition,” Cannons talent manager Ian Kyte said.
“It’s a massive attraction, because they’re so skilled with their hands that we think we can teach them to kick more so than with kids who aren’t fit and healthy and have that hand eye coordination.”
While many of the girls participating in the training program, which has been up and running since November 30, are new to the sport, plenty of participants have played at junior level before.
And where in years gone by, these young hopefuls would have been forced to conclude their football careers at junior level, the pathways now exist for them to usher in a new age of gender equality on the AFL’s big stage.
“Within a couple of years, I can see us [the Cannons] having an Under 16s squad as well, which is what the boys have,” Leslie said.
“Hopefully, within a couple of years, the girls will mirror what the boys are doing.”