AFLW4: An unauthorized season primer (Part 1)

For those who may not have been following developments in women’s football very closely, this article is an attempt to bring you up to speed for Round 1 of Season 4, which commences on Friday night. Yes, I know, it’s still the height of summer, but in the AFL’s desire to find “clean air” for their women’s “product”, they have decided they have to play most AFLW games in very hot air.


The Teams


In addition to the eight teams that kicked off the inaugural AFLW season, we had North Melbourne and Geelong added to the mix last year. This year sees the debut of four new sides – St Kilda, Gold Coast, West Coast and Richmond. This means we now have a women’s equivalent to the WA Derby, as well as a new version of the Q Clash. Somewhere, a marketer is very excited.


Hawthorn, Sydney, Port Adelaide and Essendon were obviously slow to jump aboard the bandwagon after the successful first AFLW season, as the AFL found it very difficult to say no to anyone who wanted in on the action at that time.


Of course, this means that six new teams have been added to the AFLW competition in two seasons. Considering the men’s competition is still trying to fully digest the addition of two new teams after more than a decade, the AFL would seem heavily invested in the old clichés about women being the superior multitaskers and adapters. But you know, equality.


The Season


The home and away (sic) portion of the season will be conducted over eight rounds. The mathematically astute will instantly see a problem – 14 teams into 8 rounds?


To get around this problem the AFL came up with a cunning plan. Being lovers of all aspects of American sport, they adopted the concept of conferences. Of course, in America, conferences are a mechanism to rationalize a season for competitions containing many teams over a diverse geographic area. We have the geographic diversity, just nowhere as many teams. Or weeks available. So 14 have to find a way to fit into 8, and the current CBA covering the women only allows for 9 games in 2021, with 10 in 2022. So we all need to get used to conferences for the foreseeable future.


Conferences explained (sort of)


No one really liked the conferences last season, when they were first implemented. Most thought them unfair and they served to distract from the season. But they remain the only way the AFL can balance the limitations of their current AFLW commercial plan with their desire to expand the competition.


The arbitrary nature of selecting teams for each conference was highlighted last season, when the four best performed sides all proved to be in the same conference, with only two able to progress to the finals. At least this provided another unique way for Melbourne to narrowly miss a finals berth.


Admittedly, there was a certain degree of bad luck in how this played out last year. Perceptions of conference inequality may be much less acute this season. Or they may not. Anyhow, the idea is that you play every team in your conference once, and take pot luck with the two you get to play from the other conference. Observers of the fixture for the men’s competition will get the idea.


This year’s conferences are:


Conference A Conference B
Adelaide Carlton
North Melbourne Collingwood
Geelong St Kilda
GWS Fremantle
Brisbane West Coast
Gold Coast Western Bulldogs
Richmond Melbourne



The Finals series


The revamped AFLW finals series can best be understood as an attempt to ameliorate any unfairness that might be produced by the conference system. The top three of each conference will go through to finals. Top team in each conference gets a first week bye. Second team in Conference A plays third in Conference B. Second in Conference B plays third in Conference A. The winners play preliminary finals against the top two teams. The winners of the two Prelims play off in the Grand Final.



Keywords in AFLW


ACL – as in ruptured. The predilection of women to suffer ACL injuries has been much commented upon, though mainly by men. Most of the players seem determined to accept it as just another price of playing the game. The AFL is funding research into potential remedies. This would have to be one of their major priorities, as too many stars have missed too much football already.


Code-Hopper – In the initial seasons of AFLW, many players came from other sports to try their hand. Some had always been Aussie Rules followers, just unable to play the game because there was no professional pathway. Others were recent converts. In either case, this collection of basketballers, netballers, soccer players, rugby players, even speed skaters, have provided some of the most colourful stories in AFLW. As more players emerge from under-age pathways, the impact of code hoppers is expected to diminish.


Semi-Professional – as in part time players. Most AFLW players still need a day job. With contracts only running a matter of months, and remuneration for most very modest, some have already had to choose work over football.


Venues – as in return to the suburbs. Football nostalgia buffs have relished the return to several of their former venues. Carlton fans have certainly appreciated seeing the Navy Blue in action at Princes Park.  This season, Saints fans will return to Moorabbin to watch games, while Magpie fans will finally return to Victoria Park. The Bulldogs have been very happy back at Whitten Oval. Some Crows fans have been thrilled about a return to Norwood Oval. This hasn’t worked for all, however. Melbourne fans have seemed a little less exultant about Casey Fields. Brisbane fans have struggled to even find some of their venues.


Injuries – as in any at all cost you a major portion of the short playing season. A regulation hammy? Could see you miss half a season. Many teams’ fates have been determined by their injury luck.


Cut throat – another by-product of the short season. A couple of narrow early-season losses has been enough to kybosh several team’s Grand Final prospects. Just ask Melbourne supporters. The expansion to six finals teams this season will dilute this effect slightly.


LGBTQI – as in agenda. From its very beginning, the AFLW community has been comfortable discussing issues around homosexuality, same sex relationships, gender identity and support for diversity. By way of curious contrast, the men’s AFL competition still seems essentially terrified at the idea of anyone coming out.


Trolls – as in social media. An unfortunate sideline to the splendid efforts of the AFLW players has been the consistent need for a small sub-section of men to denigrate women’s football by any means that occur to their stunted imaginations. As women’s attempts to play the game had already suffered a good century’s worth of ridicule and abuse, this shouldn’t really have come as any great surprise. But we like to kid ourselves we live in more enlightened times. The output of these sad losers serves to remind the general football follower that it takes no courage, insight or talent to be an anonymous keyboard warrior. As the Tayla Harris kerfuffle last season hopefully demonstrated, the whole women’s football movement is rapidly gaining the confidence and resilience to turn this rubbish to its own advantage.



Part 2 of the AFLW primer will look at each club.



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. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for this JB. I’ll probably find myself at a couple of Saints home games, given that they will be played in an adjacent post code (and Adelaide’s only venture to this state is at Geelong on a Sunday evening).

  2. Les Everett says

    Fremantle Oval has worked well for AFLW games… if only we could pull the plug on the DJ.

    I imagine the other WA team will play at Lathlain Park.

  3. John Butler says

    Swish, when you head to Moorabbin, make sure your disco hips are in working order.

    Les, I’m expecting West Coast to adopt the same understated way they have always maintained in the men’s game.

  4. Yvette Wroby says

    Brilliant stuff John. Looking forward to the next elisode and seeing you at the opening game. You really covered it all… as we did for the two first seasons in The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017 and 2018. Look forward to lots of game reports.

  5. JB you absolutely nailed it

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic JB.

    I really don’t like like it being played in summer, and given my cricket commitments, I’m still to attend a game, and probably unlikely to this season either. Would love to see a match at Vic Park, thrilled there’s games there, Go Pies!

  7. Thanks JB.

  8. Daryl Schramm says

    Great stuff JB. I too look forward to the next reading on the clubs. Dare I say it ; The Crows will be the team to beat!

  9. Fantastic overview JB, considering you could have gone a lot harder on a couple of points. Your restraint is noted and admirable. Because, as clearly is reflected in your piece, the game is the thing.

    As for venues, Casey Fields is absurd. And Les, re Lathlain that was my old workplace. As a teenager I sold the Footy Budget there and at Bassendean.

  10. A decent summary, old mate

  11. Well said, thank you!

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Who said white, slightly over-middle-aged-male-Calron-fans can’t evolve?

    Nice one JB.

  13. John Butler says

    Phil, I’d settle for middle aged any day. Even slightly over. :)

    Thanks all for the comments.

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