The NSW state team fine tuned their preparations for the 2011 AFL Women's National Championships by training with the Swans' Ryan O'Keefe.
The 2011 AFL Women’s National Championships being held in Adelaide from June 7 to 11 will be the start of a new era for female football.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou addressed the National Press Club in Canberra last week and told how he wants to see one million participants and one million AFL members in five years time.
It is hoped a proportion of this number will be made up of females as well as opportunities for women to hold high positions as club CEO’s, umpires, coaches and administrators.
The stepping stones are being put in place for this vision to come to fruition with state talent academies and Youth Girls leagues being established Australia-wide.
To have a national event, which for the first time ever includes every state and territory with Tasmania now taking part, also provides players with a clear pathway of what they can achieve by playing AFL.
AFL Manager – Female Football Development Jan Cooper said the long-term goal for female football is to have a national competition which is watched by thousands at home on television.
"That’s the national vision … we believe it is achievable by 2020 to have a national televised competition just like netball and basketball," Cooper said.
In order for this dream to come true the standard of female players and the number of participants needs to improve.
This year’s Women’s Nationals will be the first time the best eight footballers from each state will be invited to attend a week-long AIS-AFL Academy camp with the top boys.
With access to first-class coaches, facilities and training these women will be given every chance to improve their football which will have a flow-on effect at club level.
Sydney Swans midfielder Ryan O’Keefe also took the time to catch up with the NSW team on Tuesday prior to the side departing for Adelaide.
After running two training sessions with the team, O’Keefe jokingly hinted there may be a position available in the Swans’ forward line if they continue to improve at their current rate.
"I think they’ll do really well at the championships … you can see that they’re really enthusiastic and they love their footy which is great," O’Keefe said.
"We don’t discriminate against anyone so there’s always a spot open there [in the forward line] and if we keep missing goals like we did on the weekend we might need to find someone else."
Former player of the tournament and NSW representative Steph Foster, who has played in Sydney since 2001, said she can see the foundations in place to make AFL a truly national and viable sport for women.
"To get the message out there that females can play representative football, they’ll stick with it and they won’t go to another sport after they finish school," Foster said.
"If they can aspire to something national then that’s the same as soccer or netball.
"More women are interested in the sport now. A couple of years ago anybody who wanted to go to nationals could just turn up.
"Now, there’s a Talented Player Program which selects the team and all of the players in the league are aspiring to play in the state team which is a massive difference from five years ago."