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Meet the fearless team leaders of the professional women’s AFL competition

With the launch of the first professional women’s AFL competition, Aussie rules is set to change forever

Photograph: Adam Trafford/AFL Media

Soccer might be the world game, but there is something special about a sport that is native to your own country. The Irish have Gaelic football, the Bangladeshis have Kabbadi, and Aussie Rules football is our proud contribution to the competitive team sport canon. It’s a beautiful game: two teams of 18 players sprinting the length and breadth of a cricket oval in pursuit of the ball while fans yell themselves hoarse and scarf down meat pies and a round of beers per quarter. It’s also an ancient code. Not Mesoamerican ballgame ancient, but AFL from its earliest beginnings has been kicking around since the 1850s. 

And now the game is facing a watershed moment that will change AFL for the better – the establishment of a professional, national, women’s competition. Just in case you didn’t know AFL was crazy popular, 6.5 million people watched the 2016 grand final between the Western Bulldogs and Sydney Swans. And if you think AFL is a watch-it-but-don’t-play-it sport like ski-jumping or the modern pentathlon, the 2015 annual report it stated that 1,247,575 people played AFL domestically, 25 per cent of whom are female. That’s a lot of people yelling “C’arn you bloody ripper” around the country every weekend.

The AFL tested the waters with fans, televising an all-star women’s exhibition game for the first time in 2015, following which they announced that they would be establishing a professional women’s league in 2017. Thirteen teams applied for the AFL Women’s, and licenses were granted to eight: Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Carlton, Collingwood, Brisbane Lions, GWS Giants, Adelaide Crows and Fremantle Dockers. 

Now those teams are eagerly awaiting the bounce on Friday February 3 with Collingwood v Carlton kicking off 28 matches across 7 rounds.Alterations for the Women’s league include 16 player sides, 15-minute quarters and play with a size 4 Sherrin ball.

“For so long, many women have dreamed of wearing AFL colours on the big stage, and now we have the opportunity to be part of history,” says Western Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan. And for Collingwood captain Stephanie Chiocci, what excites her is that “young girls now have a clear pathway from Auskick to the AFLW”. These incredible athletes know that they are part of a defining moment in professional women’s sport, and take their responsibilities as both players and role models very seriously. “Australia being able to see how much women love the game sends a strong message to young girls and their parents that football is a sport for everyone,” says GWS captain Amanda Farrugia. And she’s right. Football is now finally for everyone. Game on.

Meet the captains

Stephanie Chiocci: Collingwood
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Stephanie Chiocci: Collingwood

Position: Defender/Midfield

Nickname: Choch, Choo, Effie

Age: 28

How long have you been playing AFL? 12 years

What do you love best about 
the game?
 I love the fact it doesn’t matter what your physical attributes are, there is a role for everyone on the footy field.

Job off the field: Full-time secondary school teacher: Physical Education & Health as well as AFL coaching.

Secret party trick: I can tie a snake lolly into a knot using my tongue in under seven seconds!

 

Emma Zielke: Brisbane Lions
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Emma Zielke: Brisbane Lions

Position: Midfield

Nickname: Zilks

Age: 28

How long have you been playing AFL? Nine years

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date? I broke my left arm in 2013 and it nearly broke through the skin. It has left a nice big scar.

Professional AFL players need: Composure. It helps you make the best decision with and without the football, which then helps your teammates.

Job off the field: I work full time at the Brisbane Lions as the CEO’s assistant and administrative executive.

Chelsea Randall: Adelaide Crows
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Chelsea Randall: Adelaide Crows

Position: Forward/Midfield

Nickname: Randall or Rambo

Age: 25

How long have you been playing AFL? 14 years

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date? Playing in a Rugby 7s tournament I dove trying to ankle tap my opponent’s leg. It was a complete swing ’n’ miss and I snapped my collarbone instead.

Job off the field: I work for the Adelaide Crows as a Community Programs Officer where we encourage young boys and girls to participate in AFL.

Amanda Farrugia: GWS Giants
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Amanda Farrugia: GWS Giants

Position: Half back flank/Midfield

Nickname: Fridge

Age: 32

How long have you been playing AFL? Six years

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date?  The old ACL (knee ligament) rupture was pretty intense. Definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.

Professional AFL players need: Clean foot skills is a valuable asset. So is grit.

Job off the field: PDHPE teacher. 

Secret party trick: Being really good at times tables.

Lauren Arnell: Carlton
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Lauren Arnell: Carlton

Position: Midfield/Forward

Nickname: Loz

Age: 29

How long have you been playing AFL? 12 years

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date? Completely ruptured ligament in my ankle.

Professional AFL players need: The ability to embrace mistakes so that you can learn from them.

Job off the field: I was formerly a PE teacher. Now I work for AFL Victoria as Education and Training Manager.

What’s your secret party trick? Catching food in my mouth.

Kara Donnellan: Fremantle Dockers
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Kara Donnellan: Fremantle Dockers

Position: Midfield

Nickname:
 Juddy

Age: 24

How long have you been playing AFL? 14 years

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date? I’ve had a knee reconstruction and a shoulder reconstruction

Professional AFL players need: To be hard working and relentless.

Job off the field: I deliver and manage High Performance programs in Perth and in the Pilbara. I also coach and mentor an all-male Prison Football Team.

Katie Brennan: Western Bulldogs
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Katie Brennan: Western Bulldogs

Position: Centre half forward

Nickname: KB

Age: 24

How long have you been playing AFL: 20 years

What do you love best about the game? The flow state you get in when you’re out on the field.

How often do you train? Six days a week.

Job off the field: I own a gym that specialises in female athlete development.

What’s your secret party trick? Juggling.

Daisy Pearce: Melbourne
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Daisy Pearce: Melbourne

Position: Midfield

Nickname: Dais

Age: 28… and a bit

How long have you been playing AFL? 20 years

What is the hardest thing to do on the field? Having to take possession of the ball knowing you’re about to get smashed by a tackler.

What’s been your gnarliest injury to date? Concussion

Job off the field? I am a midwife and also work part time in the football media.

What’s your secret party trick? Hard to describe but it’s this hideous face I can pull.