In a huge year of “firsts” for the Asian Champs, the first ever women’s Australian Rules match in Asia was played at the tournament, and what a game it was!
The plan for an all-women’s match has been brewing for around two years, with the Vietnam Swans regularly playing social mixed games with female players from the Saigon Gaels and Viet Celts Gaelic football clubs. The Saigon chapter of the Swans has hosted a 6 week mixed tournament for the past two years, with four teams and approximately 60 players getting involved. When the Swans’ bid to host the 2016 Asian Champs was approved, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to showcase the growth of women’s football in the region.
30 women participated in the game (15 a side, no subs) with players residing in Saigon, Hanoi, Cambodia and Malaysia taking part. Impressively, only 9 of the players were Australian, with only one having ever played at home. The remainder of players represented Ireland, England, America, Canada, France, Cambodia and China.
Ex-AFL players Andrew Embley and Brad Seymour were delighted to take the reigns as coaches for the inaugural women’s game, with Embley taking the Whites and Seymour managing the Reds. Unperturbed by the fact that several of the players were unfamiliar with the terms “ruck”, “mark” or “holding the ball”, the coaches put the women through some warm up drills and assigned players to their positions.
The intensity was switched on from the first ball-up, with not a single player holding back from physical contests or tackles. There were some basic skill errors from inexperienced players in the initial term, but these were soon rectified and the women settled in to a tough, fast game.
The Reds got on the scoreboard early with a goal from Maz Scanlon that was converted from a free kick right in front of goal. The Whites counteracted with a solid charge forward and were looking very likely to even the scores when the ball unluckily hit the post. Another forward push from the Reds was met with some tight defense, and just when the Whites were looking to clear the ball, a brilliant tackle from Reds’ Sarah Maguire resulted in a free kick 15m in front of goal. Sarah went back to kick a perfectly straight goal in her first ever AFL outing. The centre bounce went the way of the Reds, bringing the ball back in to their forward half, resulting in their first behind of the day. In hot and humid conditions, the players were relieved to hear the half time siren, and coaches Embley and Seymour gathered their troupes to talk second half tactics.
The Whites came in to the second half ready to go, winning the centre clearance and pushing the ball forward, resulting in a brilliant through-the-pack goal from Cambodia’s Hannah Slaughter within the first minute. Reds coach Seymour really fired up, demanding his players to push forward and control possession. The play stayed in the Reds’ forward half for quite some time, with a beautiful 40m crack at goal from Heather Turkle falling just short of the line to keep the game alive. The Whites cleared the ball but it wasn’t long before it returned to the Reds’ forward. The Whites defence managed to regain possession, but were met with a clinical tackle and subsequent holding-the-ball from Heather Turkle, who lined up to kick a beautiful goal. There were some final scrambles for a last-minute goal from the Whites, but they were beaten by the clock with the Reds taking the game 3.1.19 to Whites 1.1.7.
With that, history had been made and the bar had been set for the inclusion of women’s footy at AFL Asia tournaments. With most players scarcely having played before, it’s fair to say that the room for improvement in Asian women’s footy is enormous, with many players demonstrating huge potential. With the strong growth of women’s football in Australia, we hope to see more women from the Asian region pull on the boots and get involved in footy and we encourage all teams from AFL Asia to link up with Gaelic football, soccer and netball teams in their area and start developing female players. In the future we hope that women’s footy in Asia can progress from an exhibition match to a whole tournament of its own!
Goals: Maz Scanlon, Sarah Maguire, Heather Turkle
Best: Heather Turkle, Rebecca O’Keeffe, Naomi Reidy, Peou Sophoan
Goals: Hannah Slaughter
Best: Hannah Slaughter, Ciara McLoughlin, Yoko Youssouf, Grace Moynihan
Best on Ground: Hannah Slaughter
Story: Grant Keys
Photos: Darren Whitfield + AFL Asia