Black Diamond AFL: Women's sides breathing new life into competition | photos

Nelson Bay ruckman Pippa Smyth playing against Newcastle City last month. The two sides meet in the grand final rematch on Saturday evening. Picture: Ken Logan

Nelson Bay ruckman Pippa Smyth playing against Newcastle City last month. The two sides meet in the grand final rematch on Saturday evening. Picture: Ken Logan

Black Diamond AFL administrator Garry Burkinshaw says the rapid growth of the women’s game has reinvigorated men’s clubs and the entire competition.

Burkinshaw has looked on with disbelief as the BDAFL Women’s competition has grown from six teams in its first season three years ago to 12 this season.

Next year, Port Stephens, Terrigal-Avoca and The Entrance Bateau Bay will push that number to 15, compared with 27 men’s sides.

Burkinshaw, the BDAFL football operations coordinator, had doubted whether the women’s competition would reach its minimum of four teams in 2015, but it ended the year with 180 players, which grew to 329 in 2016 then 385 this year and is forecast to reach 470 in 2018.

He said the arrival of women en masse had helped some clubs in the second-tier men’s Plate push themselves to enter what will likely be an 11-team top grade next year.

The beauty of women’s football is what they’ve brought to the clubs and the league.

“The growth has just amazed me. I’m still astounded by it,” Burkinshaw said on the eve of Saturday’s women’s round, when all six games will be played back-to-back at No.1 Sportsground.  

“The beauty of women’s football is what they’ve brought to the clubs and the league. Women’s football has rejuvenated a number of stale football clubs. Just by some of these clubs having women’s teams has enabled them to make the step up to have Black Diamond Cup.

“The footy club may have been going through the motions, but the women have rejuvenated them.

“The senior players are making themselves available more, the reserve-graders are getting more committed to the club.”

Burkinshaw has seen the rapid expansion of women’s football up close. His daughters both play for Gosford in the Central Coast girls’ under-17 league. 

“I’ve got two girls who play now. They are 14 and 12. Three years ago I would never have thought or allowed them to go and play football. I thought footy’s for men, it’s too rough.

“It’s just turned that whole circle now. Women want to be able to the same thing that men do, have the same opportunities that men do. They want the opportunity to play the same sports, and a credit to them.

“I’m coaching my daughters’ side. I never would have thought that would ever happen.”

Burkinshaw said one quality women had brought to clubs was organisation. 

“Women in general are more organised. I spoke to one president, and he said, ‘If the men were like the women, running a football club would be so easy.’

“They register on time, they pay on time, they turn up to training, they are available for just about every game, they attend functions. Not only do they attend all functions, they normally bring friends to the functions.

“The men are so blase about everything.

“I have no doubt that in years to come there will be a number of football clubs that will be women’s clubs with men’s teams, not men’s clubs with women’s teams.”

Nelson Bay player-coach Lauren Cooper said it was clear that adding a women’s side had made the Marlins a more vibrant club.

“The feedback I’ve got from my girls who we’ve got from netball and soccer is that they love the family culture that’s around our footy club,” she said. “It’s more inclusive and everyone gets to know each other.

“It adds like a whole other team for social events. A lot of the girls are dating the guys anyway. It makes the environment a lot better.”

Burkinshaw said player numbers had grown without enormous input from the BDAFL.

“A lot of it is organic. We haven’t gone out with any great strategies around it. We hold come-and-try days. The women recruit themselves, effectively,” he said.

“Girls will bring their friends down. Those girls might be watching, but you can guarantee they’ll be playing next week, once they overcome the anxiety, just by seeing other girls play.

“The inquiries we keep getting is amazing.”

Defending premiers Nelson Bay will take on unbeaten leaders Newcastle City in the grand final rematch on Saturday.

The Marlins lost 15.6 (106) to 3.3 (21) to City four weeks ago, just the second time they have lost a regular-season game in the competition’s history.

City beat them in the 2015 grand final before Nelson Bay turned the tables in a three-point thriller last year.

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