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AFLW to expand by 2023, next season due to begin in December and finish in March

14 Irish players were on the books of AFLW sides in 2021.

Tipperary's Orla O'Dwyer with her Brisbane Lions team-mates.
Tipperary's Orla O'Dwyer with her Brisbane Lions team-mates.
Image: AAP/PA Images

FURTHER EXPANSION OF the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] is set to come by 2023.

All 18 AFL clubs will have a women’s team by then — with Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans set to join the competition — meaning a longer season.

This could impact the strong Irish contingent that have lined out in the league, which kicked off in 2017, over the past few seasons.

In 2021, there were 14 Irish players on the books of AFLW sides, with Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer helping her Brisbane Lions side to Premiership glory in April’s Grand Final.

Season six is due to begin in December 2021 with the Grand Final to be held in mid-March, before the men’s season begins. The competition will increase from nine rounds to 10, plus three weeks of finals.

Over the past few years, the AFLW campaign opened in late January and ran until mid-April, allowing for the Irish contingent — much of whom play inter-county ladies football — to return to these shores for the tail end of the Lidl Ladies National Leagues and for the entire TG4 All-Ireland championship.

Covid-hit 2020 aside, they normally travelled Down Under in October/November for pre-season, so it’s expected that will be earlier this coming autumn, throwing up the potential of code clashes.

“The AFL is calling for submissions from Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans to join the NAB AFL Women’s Competition after the AFL Commission this week gave the green light for further expansion of the competition,” a statement reads.

“The Commission has committed to all 18 AFL clubs having a NAB AFLW team by the beginning of Season Eight – 2023, with the ability for clubs, based on their submissions and readiness, to be admitted into the competition as early as Season Seven – 2022.

“The decision to expand the competition again, after the AFLW was expanded from eight teams to 10 teams in 2019 and then to 14 teams in 2020, comes as the number of girls and women playing football had grown to more than 600,000.

“The four clubs seeking an AFLW licence have been given until 9 July, 2021 to provide a submission on their readiness to enter the national competition, including detailing their team build strategy, corporate support and facilities.

“The AFL Commission expects to make a decision on the club submissions at its meeting in August this year.

aflw-saints-giants Cora Staunton in action for GWS Giants. Source: AAP/PA Images

“The AFL Commission has also endorsed a change in the timing of the NAB AFLW Competition to ensure the elite women’s season has its own window from Round One through to the Grand Final, removing any overlap with the Toyota AFL Premiership Season.

“This timing provides an ability to optimise the audience and coverage, particularly for the NAB AFLW Finals Series, as well as supporting other considerations such as maximising attendance and participation objectives.”

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AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said:

“The NAB AFLW Competition has built a new audience base for the code with some 4.5m AFLW fans, 155,908 attendees, 6.1m viewers and an incredible 20 per cent of supporters who are new or first new time AFL attendees.

But we don’t feel that the competition is whole without all 18 clubs and we know from the clubs that they don’t feel whole now without an AFLW team. AFLW is not just a competition that makes our game better but a culture that makes our whole industry better.

“We have seen the interest grow as we went from eight teams to 10 and then to 14 and we expect that growth to continue as we move to engage all 18 clubs and their supporters. Clubs and their supporters want to be part of the AFLW, and we want another two million supporters to get behind their AFLW teams.

“AFLW has significant momentum and we want to keep that momentum and bring the power and the supporter base behind all 18 clubs before the end of 2024. The standard of play has continued to lift as we have expanded the competition and we are seeing more free-flowing and attacking football as more talent comes through the pathways.”

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Emma Duffy

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