Women’s Footy – VFL: Meg Hutchins

Meet Meg Hutchins. She ­­­works in a position that didn’t exist until she took it.

The Eastern Devils’ stalwart made history in April when she became the first female football operations manager of an AFL club. And not just any AFL club – Collingwood, the biggest, most powerful and most famous.

In early March, Collingwood CEO Gary Pert sat at his computer, hell-bent on securing one of the four Victorian nominations for a side in the inaugural 2017 National Women’s competition. With two all but express posted to front-runners Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, Pert needed to find a winning edge to secure his club’s nomination.

Unexpectedly and happily, Pert received an email – detailed and drafted over several weeks – from Hutchins, offering her extensive experience as well as her inside knowledge of and passion for Women’s AFL.

“I identified the need for a large club like Collingwood to be part of the national women’s competition,” says Hutchins, who is in her 14th season at the highest level of Victorian women’s football. “I initially just wanted to help them with their submission.”

‘Initially’ indeed. Collingwood were so taken by the idea that over the next month, Hutchins liaised with a litany of Collingwood legends: Pert, General Manager of Next Generation Academies Graeme ‘Gubby’ Allen, Director of Stadia, Events and Community David Emerson, Director of Football Neil Balme and finally Nathan Buckley.

Hutchins has now gotten over the fast-forward rush that saw her skyrocket to a ground-breaking position.

“My life changed at the click of a send button,” she laughs. “I’m pretty thankful that I was a bit bullish and approached them.”

For just over two months, Hutchins’s role has been as advisor to the Collingwood board as well as supervising the recruitment and development of players, coach and staff should a licence fall the Magpies’ way.

“I’m seeing from a larger perspective what’s really important,” says Hutchins. Her community work has focused on increasing participation and retention of girls playing footy at a higher level – and it’s about strengthening standard and depth, not about Collingwood gobbling the talent.

“I don’t really care as to getting players to Collingwood, it’s more just getting them playing at a really high participation rate so that then the draft pool will become large and every club will benefit. We’re in it for the longevity of the competition, so you want it as even as possible.”

Hutchins has been the Devils’ key defender for the last eight seasons. The words ‘tough’ and ‘leader’ are seemingly a double-barrelled prerequisite when commentators describe her game (she has so mastered the role that she laughs at the recollection that she was the Devils’ leading goal kicker between 2005 and 2008).

Hutchins defines the most important aspect of being a good defender as “identifying when to attack and when to defend.” It’s a surprise to hear her say she doesn’t feel like an accomplished defender yet: “If you feel like you know everything, everyone’s going to go past you.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the AFL will have publicly granted licences to eight clubs who will make up next season’s competition. Hutchins has pulled on the Western Bulldogs’ jumper in their last four Women’s Exhibition matches, most recently on June 5 against Western Australia, but says it’s no secret that she will play for Collingwood if they receive a licence.

“I’ve absolutely loved every minute at the Bulldogs and the people I’ve met. I’m in this position now because of the football I’ve played and they’ve given me the opportunity to play that football. I don’t want to do the wrong thing by them but they understand that if I’m putting in all this work to put together a football program at Collingwood then it would be a bit of a conflict of interest.”

“The future’s really exciting, because we’re going to have a National Women’s comp and the pathway is going to be complete. We can get all these female footballers out to promote the game at AusKick centres and school clinics and that might translate to a higher transition from school football to club football.”

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