The Canadian women’s Ice Hockey team won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. They were heroes, celebrated by the nation – and rightly so. There’s a simmering debate about women’s hockey as an Olympic sport: the argument is that it doesn’t have huge numbers worldwide. Canada has the highest amount of registered women players in 2011 with 85,000, Finland who scored bronze has less than 5,000. Whatever the outcome of the Olympics debate one thing is undeniable; these women are elite athletes and deserve every minute of their glory. It’s also a good starting point for some perspective.
Ask most Australians about Women’s Aussie Rules and they will be surprised that a women’s league even exists. It does. And as I sat at Etihad stadium during AFL Women’s round the announcement on the scoreboard threw out some very interesting numbers. There are now 70,000 women/girls playing Aussie Rules football in Australia. It’s one of the country’s fastest growing sports among females. Amongst this army of forgotten footballers lies what is considered by most the premier Women’s league in the world, the Victorian Women’s Football League (VWFL).
For season 2011 that is where Canadian and former Montréal Angel Aimee Legault decided to play, setting herself the ultimate challenge – to play amongst the best.
The East Burwood football club warmly welcomed Aimee into their fold, and the former Angel became a Devil.
Aimee’s goals were simple to start with – just make the team. As worry and anxiety crossed her mind about whether or not she could make the cut, or even just gain a place in the reserves squad, all she wanted was the chance to let her newly adopted club – The East Burwood Devils – see her play. They did, and the results are nothing short of superb.
Aimee has become an integral part of the Devils line-up as they hold onto the last remaining finals spot, all the while jostling for position in what seems to be a certain post-season run. Frequently named in the best players she has played all nine games in the seniors (premier team) and currently sits third in the club goal kicking with 11. A little under two years ago the former semi-professional soccer star did not even know the game of Aussie Rules existed.
Watching the Devils dismantle the Melbourne Uni Muggars at Eley park in Round 9 I got a feel for exactly what the VWFL stands for. Aimee, affectionately branded “Leggo” by her teammates got in on the action early - swooping in to add to her goal kicking tally by snapping a goal from deep in the pocket early in the first term. The Devils full-forward Meg “Hutchy” Hutchison was a powerhouse up front, leading well and marking strongly overhead. Her lethal accuracy from 30-40 metres out enough to put many an AFL player to shame, 6 goals the result of her day out up forward. Perhaps the true reflection of the league was best summed up by Jess “Nugget” Foster. The tiny on-baller who has been kicking a footy for as long as she can remember was relentless in her attack on the ball. Courage, football smarts and class came to mind as the petite number 40 carved up her opponents – it was obvious that the best talent on the field was the equal to that of any women’s Ice Hockey team’s stars, the only thing lacking is the due respect.
The AFL are planning to launch a Women’s national league – sadly it has been put on the back burner due to the introduction of the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants. The new 2020 expected launch date will no doubt ensure that a majority of the leagues current talent never get their rightful opportunity to sparkle on the big stage.
In August the International Cup 2011 of Aussie Rules football will play out in Blacktown NSW and Melbourne. For the first time a women’s division will stand alongside the expected 25 countries that will field men’s teams. Aimee will join her sister Margo pulling on a jersey for Canada, and for two weeks women’s footy, albeit international versions, will hopefully get the respect they so richly deserve.