Prior to the AFLW preliminary finals last weekend, Melbourne’s most popular newspaper, the Herald Sun, carried an image of Cavan and Collingwood star Aishling Sheridan on its front page in a testament to the game's rising profile within Australia. Since its inception in 2017, the AFLW has gradually grown both in terms of competitors and coverage.
Sheridan was not the only front-page story in the country. Another athlete and Irishwomen Orla O’Dwyer featured on the front of Queensland’s Courier-Mail ahead of the tie.
When the 2021 AFLW season kicked off in February, the competition hoped to capitalise on providing Victoria footy fans with the first live sport offering with crowds and that was evident in places, with Collingwood’s opening tie against Melbourne attracted just shy of 3,000; even more impressive given this was the first year there was an entry charge.
Yet grievances about pay, conditions and a lack of media coverage linger. Due to a muted interest in week-to-week speculation around injuries or selection, organisations have begun to dedicate more time to colour pieces and bigger picture discussions.
Various political controversies have led to a reckoning in the country and last month thousands marched and protested in every Australian state and territory, to "put an end to the issues of sexism, misogyny, patriarchy … and lack of equality in politics and the community at large".
The AFL has not escaped this spotlight. The grand final will be given clear air on Saturday with the men’s fixtures rearranged to avoid a clash. The AFLW will also once again broadcast the game live on their website.
As for what comes next, a clear roadmap exists. League boss Nicole Livingstone has confirmed they will “have a look” at the crossover with the men’s league and whether a separate season could help while there have been player-backed campaigns for supplementary exposure such as fantasy football and increased critical analysis.
A bright, and informed, future awaits.