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City of Casey: The female footy pathway

Carly McClen  March 13, 2018 10:27 AM

IN March, a new revolution in female football is hitting the City of Casey.

Young footballers will get the opportunity to realise their football dreams through Melbourne Football Club's new female pathway.

The Melbourne Football Club (MFC) Academy will run in partnership with the South East Juniors Football League. It will be a development squad comprised of 60 players, all under the age of 15. 

Josh Mahoney, General Manager of Football Operations at Melbourne Football Club is excited to introduce and pioneer an elite pathway for both girls and boys in the region. “We think it's really important for girls in the South East of Victoria to have a clear pathway in playing elite football. Via this MFC Academy, 14 and 15 year-olds will then move into VFL (Women's) and AFLW. This is going to replicate the boys' Next Generation Academy," he said. 

The Melbourne Football Club does not see a difference between coaching young girls from coaching boys.  “For juniors it’s about teaching the fundamentals of the game and that doesn't change from girls to boys," Mahoney said. "For boys and girls to come and be able to watch the AFLW girls play is crucial, and there are young boys whose favourite Melbourne player is Daisy Pearce.”

The increased participation creates more opportunities for women to become coaches. At a recent AFL-run level two coaching course, there were more than 60 women involved, and a lot of them were AFLW players. This year, Melbourne has recruited Jane Lange as an AFLW assistant coach, after her successful reign as coach of the Darebin Falcons. Mahoney believed that the opportunity of recruiting her to the club was one not to be missed.

“She’s (Lange) had a successful start to her career as a Darebin Falcons Premiership coach a couple of times, so we certainly saw the opportunity of getting her involved in coaching with us," he said.

Over the past 12 months nation-wide, there has been phenomenal improvement in the amount of encouragement for women to develop a career in coaching.

“Here at the Melbourne Football Club, we are expanding in women joining our coaching panel," Mahoney said. "Michelle Cowan was a development coach for us a couple of years ago before she took up a Fremantle Dockers role.  "We’ve been very active in that area trying to mentor women and get them into coaching and as more opportunities arise, we’re going to see more and more women get into coaching and I think that's a great thing."

Melbourne AFLW players, Katherine Smith and Bianca Jakobsson will help facilitate the MFC Academy, and act as role models to the young footballers. Josh Mahoney believes role models in junior coaching is vital.  “Having elite players with coaching experience such as Kat (Katherine) Smith and Bianca Jakobsson involved in delivering the program is key,” he said. 

Katherine Smith started coaching as a 15 year-old at Blackburn and is the co-founder of Girls Footy Australia, where she runs school holiday programs, and programs for girls who want to take their football to the next level.

“I definitely see myself after my playing career as a coach somewhere in the AFL or in AFL Victoria," Smith said. “I think what Melbourne FC is going to create something special and something that is really showing the rest of Victoria and all the other clubs that you can put these processes in place to give girls more opportunities and to get better in the future.”

Bianca Jakobsson started playing football at the age of 12 in the Youth Girls league, and at Casey in her senior years. For Jakobsson, a major in-road to elite football were the exhibition matches between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, coupled with the Victorian Academy.

“I’m keen to assist to develop clear pathways for young female players so they can experience what I have and beyond," Jakobsson said. "I’m really passionate about the Casey area, having grown up playing my footy here. It’s home and I really want to give back to the community as they did for me."

The Melbourne defender believes that the only way for the junior pathway is up, thanks to the Demons' new initiative.

“The Melbourne Football Club Academy is replicating the boys’ pathways in the Next Generation Academy," Jakobsson said. "It's a blank canvas, and we can create whatever we want from it. The opportunities are getting better and better, and the Melbourne Football Club is a huge part of paving these elite pathways. Combine this with the TAC Cup and we can look forward to elite pathways for women.”

City of Casey Mayor and ex-AFL player, Councillor Geoff Ablett said Casey is on the front foot when it comes to sports participation.

“We provide the programs to get young players involved in sport, and through our alliance with the Melbourne Football Club, we have built elite pathways into football for everyone," Cr Ablett said. "When I was at  Hawthorn, 62% of people going to watch matches were female, and you wondered why there were challenges to women playing the game everybody loves.”

The City of Casey Mayor is extremely proud of the growth of female participation in Aussie Rules football. Female participation across the Melbourne South Region, which includes Casey, grew by 103 per cent in 2017, with 5,768 females playing football. This was a 2,927 player increase from 2016.

Along with these impressive numbers, Cr Ablett believes that the skill levels in AFLW are on the up, and will continue to rise thanks to the MFC Academy.

“This (MFC Academy) will promote the young players’ ability to hone skills early," he said. "You watch the AFLW games now and you see the skill level improvement, with these programs for younger female players, this (skill level) will only keep improving."

The City of Casey is committed and proud of the growth of female participation in football.

“It pleases me greatly that the families in Casey have their sons and daughters knowing that there is an opportunity through different pathways in their home town and they can be the best they can be with access to the elite coaches and development programs," Cr Ablett said. "This is great for young players not just on the field but off the field as well. It helps to harness values they’ll carry not only throughout sport but throughout their lives. It is about more than footy- its about real community involvement, and Melbourne Football Club’s community programs are second to none.”

At the completion of the AFLW season, both Katherine Smith and Bianca Jakobsson will play for the Casey Demons in the VFL Women's season, which further strengthens the club’s commitment to the talent pathway for both males and females in the City of Casey region.

In 2019, the Melbourne Football Club and South East Juniors Football League hope to expand the program to include younger age groups (Under 13s and 14s).

Melbourne will have Academy Open Days running at Casey Fields in the April and July school holidays.

The MFC Academy will train from March to the Queen’s Birthday weekend, where they will compete in the AFL South East Interleague Carnival.

You can email academy@melbournefc.com.au for more information and enquiries.