AFLW: An unauthorized season primer (Part 2)

Most AFLW players are part time, semiprofessionals. Most still need day jobs. Until recently, clubs had limited capacity to sign players beyond one season. As you might expect, the volatility of player movement between clubs has been high. The rapid addition of expansion clubs in the last two seasons have only accelerated that process. Many of the original clubs have found their lists considerably raided. To add to the mix, small playing lists and short seasons have meant many teams’ chances have hinged on luck with injury. Only one club has seemly ridden the waves of fortune to maintain a consistent level of success.


The AFLW Clubs



Back in 2017, a smaller South Australian women’s participation rate in football saw Adelaide incorporate players from the Northern Territory in their playing squad. Most pre-season meetings were conducted by Skype. They were considered rank outsiders prior to that first season. It was soon evident that in Chelsea Randall and Erin Phillips the Crows had two of the greatest players of their generation. That, as well as the small miracles worked by coach Bec Goddard, saw Adelaide become the first AFLW premiers.


In season 2, Phillips was injured or unfit for much of the season, and Adelaide narrowly missed the chance to defend their flag


For season 3, in what has become something of an AFLW pattern, Adelaide couldn’t see fit to come to terms with coach Goddard, so she left. She was replaced by a bloke. That bloke, ex-player Matthew Clarke, saw them lose their first game by a point. It was to be their only loss for the season. The Crows set new standards for team play as they romped to the flag in front of a home crowd of 53,034. Erin Phillips officially confirmed she is amazing, dominating a second Grand Final. She also confirmed a gift for the dramatic, as, with the game already secured in the 3rd term, she did her ACL and was stretchered off with barely a dry eye in the stadium.


Injuries loom large for the Crows ahead of Season 4. Chelsea Randall did her ACL pre-season, and will be missing. Phillips is still on the recovery path, though pending soon. Several others will miss significant chunks of the season already. It looks like a tough challenge, but only the brave would discount the Crows entirely. They have thus far been the standard bearer for AFLW.



Under the coaching of ex-Magpie Craig Starcevich, Brisbane had consistently proved to be the toughest defense to crack in the AFLW. They were also the unluckiest team, losing both of the first two seasons’ grand finals in cliffhangers.


Despite their success, the Lions home games have been consigned to a succession of venues even Google Maps can’t locate.


AFLW3 saw the personnel losses they suffered to expansion teams begin to bite, and their season tailed off significantly.


They begin AFLW4 with a swag of players from those grand final years now playing for other clubs. Then star goal kicker Jess Wuetschner  was struck by lightning a couple of weeks ago. They may be in for a tough season.



Followers of the Navy Blue have had a rollercoaster ride over the first three AFLW seasons. A couple of narrow losses in AFLW1 saw their Grand Final chances cruelled after they began strongly.


AFLW2 was a disaster from the moment star player and skipper Bri Davey ruptured her ACL. They ended up with the wooden spoon.


Under newly appointed coach Daniel Harford, the Blues bounced back to be clearly the best performed team in Conference B. This did, however, leave them only the fifth best performed team overall. Winning their prelim against an injury struck Fremantle, Carlton found the Crows too classy by far in the decider.


They begin AFLW4 without now ex-skipper Davey, who committed the heresy of transferring to Collingwood.



With their army of followers, Collingwood have been given a spot in all three AFLW season opening games to date. They have lost all three, setting up a pattern of slow starts that saw them out of contention for finals early in each season. In AFLW3, that slow start was consolidated by a slow finish.


In truth, the Magpies’ AFLW story so far has been more noticeable for the players who have left the club than anything the team has achieved.


With the arrival of Bri Davey from Carlton, the Magpies will be hoping that pattern is about to be broken.



Fremantle were coached by Michelle Cowan in their first two seasons. As the only team in a state with a strong tradition of women’s football, they were considered by many to have under-performed, despite a number of individual players performing notably.


Unable to attain full-time employment with Fremantle, Cowan also moved on for AFLW3 to head up the new AFLW coaching program.  Cowan rejoins the AFLW this year as a forward coach at West Coast.


The Dockers play their home games in front of the historic terraces of Fremantle Oval, just next to the old jail. Les Everett recommends the ground DJ.


The Dockers fared much better in AFLW3, finishing 2nd in the tough Conference A. Unfortunately, they were struck down by an injury plague at the wrong time, and a depleted team had a day to forget against Carlton in the prelim.


They enter AFLW4 having seen a dozen of their listed players move to new (old) rivals West Coast. The first Derby for women should be a cosy affair.



Debuting in AFLW3, the Cats both over and under performed in their first year. A knack for winning tight finishes saw them squeak through in 2nd place in the weaker Conference B. But they also suffered several hefty defeats, which saw them finish the regular season with the worst percentage of the ten competing teams. The less said about their semi against the Crows, the better.


In truth, the Cats had problems kicking goals in 2019. They’ll need to resolve this in 2020 to see much success.


Gold Coast

A debutant club in 2020, the Suns will have some familiar names on their playing list, having recruited Leah Kaslar and Sam Virgo from Brisbane’s formerly formidable defensive lineup. They also have former Bulldog Tiarna Ernst, as well as ex-Roo and Lion Jamie Stanton. To give you an idea of how quickly things have developed in AFLW, this will be Stanton’s third debutant club season.


The Suns will play two home games at Metricon Stadium, one at Southport, and one in Mackay. They will feel no burden of tradition from the men’s club.



Wooden spooners in AFLW1, the Giants rebounded well under coach Alan McConnell the following season, only narrowly missing a Grand Final spot. Having built expectations, they regressed again in AFLW3.


Inaugural captain Amanda Farrugia announced her retirement prior to AFLW4, but otherwise the Giants enter this season with a relatively full list thus far.


Cora Staunton, already an Irish football legend, has recovered from a badly broken leg and plays again, aged 38. In another life, Cora might have been Gary Ablett Snr.



The AFLW Demons have been a perennial AFLW hard luck story so far, missing the finals in each season despite often matching the best football any team has managed. Unfortunately, their best football has also been mixed with an ability to produce a shock loss in new and exquisitely painful ways. In the short, cut-throat AFLW seasons this has been sufficient to railroad their finals hopes each season so far.


As AFLW4 begins, they will be worried about the extensive injury list they have accumulated already. On the plus side, captain Daisy Pearce returns after a season off giving birth to twins.


The Demons home ground is the sumptuous Casey Fields, in outer, outer south-eastern Melbourne. The only weather phenomenon their supports haven’t been subjected to is a hail of frogs, though we may even need to confirm that.


North Melbourne

The Roos entered AFLW with a splash last year, undertaking a major all-star recruiting drive prior to the season, then winning their first four games. Decisive losses to Adelaide and Fremantle put an end to their finals dreams, but they still finished a creditable third in the toughest Conference.


North Melbourne enter 2020 as the popular pick for premier among AFLW captains. They will play one game at their old Arden St stomping ground.



Since the AFLW began in 2017, Richmond’s men’s team has claimed two AFL premierships, and the club has grown into a juggernaut with over 100,000 AFL members. The Tigers were volubly disappointed to wait until 2020 for an AFLW license. They are obviously champing at the bit, and haven’t been shy in making a few claims in the women’s sphere.


To back up the talk, they have recruited some big names for their debut. Former Bulldog skipper Katie Brennan now finds herself in the Tiger stripe, as does teammate and grand final winning BOG, Monique Conti. Sabrina Frederick has moved from Brisbane, making a formidable potential forward pairing with Brennan.


Keeping with the AFL’s preference for opening their season with ‘big’ Melbourne clubs, the Tiges host the Blues in the season opener. As Punt Road has been deemed unavailable at present, that ‘’hosting” will be occur at Princes Park. Welcome to AFLW fixturing.


St Kilda

The Saints enter their debut AFLW season with the only woman head coach left in the competition. Peta Searle has been a multi premiership coach  for the Darebin Falcons, before being a pioneer assistant coach in the men’s VFL. From there she obtained an unprecedented position as development coach with the St Kilda AFL team, before finding herself running the women’s football program for the Saints.


Seale has been coaching the Saints in the VFLW, and this team forms the basis of their AFLW debut squad. In addition, they have added notable recruits in Kat MCarthy and Nat Exon, both from the Lions.


The Saints have redeveloped their old Moorabbin ground as a home base for VFLW. There is no word yet about the disco, but a rumour persists that Joffa Cunnigham will be cracking a keg in the carpark.


West Coast

Having watched their Fremantle rivals have the AFLW stage to themselves, the Eagles have quickly adopted as much Docker IP as possible, recruiting a dozen former Fremantle listed players, as well as their former ex-coach.


They will host the first AFLW Derby at Optus Stadium in Round 3. That game can be expected to feature all the cheerful ambience of the AFL Derbies.


Western Bulldogs

After under-performing in AFLW1, the Bulldogs developed a fast breaking, short passing style that revolutionized AFLW game plans in AFLW2. It took them to a narrow victory in that season’s Grand Final. But so fast are the tactics developing in AFLW, as players are exposed to professional level training and tactical resources, that windows of tactical advantage have so far proved short lived (except for Adelaide).


The Bulldogs found the going tough in the difficult Conference A during AFLW3. After winning their opening two games, they went winless thereafter, finishing bottom of their conference. They enter AFLW4 without former skipper Katie Brennan, and have lost vital mid-fielders Emma Kearney and Monique Conti in successive seasons.


As in former years, visiting teams to the Whitten Oval still can’t read the wind in the pockets.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Gee JB, this is the form guide I’ve been waiting for. Objective, knowing, witty (even a couple of sly winks) and succinct. See if the Age, ABC, Sun or even the Guardian can match this. Fine work. Cheers

  2. Yes, just to reiterate what Trucker said: Great work, JB.

    The old *wipes a tear from his eye* stomping ground

  3. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

  4. John Butler says

    Kind of you, Rick & Smokie.

    PB, I have some sympathy for the AFL. Yes, quality will be affected over the next few years. But there were also strong reasons to expand the comp. Hopefully this balancing act becomes moot in 5 years time.

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