AFTER multiple attempts to play out the final game of the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s season, the AFL has officially pulled the pin on the competition, meaning the 2021 season will join 2020 as years without an official premier. Collingwood and Geelong had both reached the grand final and were hopeful of playing off at some stage to determine a champion, but with the inconsistent community lockdowns, it had become too difficult.
Aside from the obvious restrictions of lockdowns preventing fans from celebrating a grand final, and the difficulty in finding a suitable venue that met requirements, the fact that neither team had played in over a month – Geelong July 31 and Collingwood July 10 – meant the sides would need suitable time to prepare for a match to determine a premiership. Collingwood being situated in metropolitan Melbourne was particularly impacted by the community lockdowns, with regional Victoria getting a couple of reprieves to train, though on a whole both sides have had limited opportunities.
In the end it was the clubs who confirmed to the AFL saying it would prove too difficult to field a VFL Women’s team given the lengthy break and preseason requirements for the AFL Women’s listed players, as well as those needing post-season treatment such as surgeries. It is heartbreaking for both sides, and particularly unfortunate for the Magpies who went through the season undefeated as minor premiers, and defeated Geelong three times – including in the first week of finals – to reach the decider. None of their head-to-heads were blowouts however, and the Cats were confident of a fourth time lucky had they been given a chance.
Collingwood VFL Women’s captain Caitlin Bunker said she was proud of the group that produced the Magpies’ third consecutive minor premiership season.
“Our whole group is absolutely devastated that we won’t be able to play the VFLW Grand Final this year and have the opportunity to play for the Premiership in front of our Collingwood fans, but we understand and are supportive of the decision,” she said. “The decision was best to ensure for the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and the broader community. “Having missed last year’s season and having to adapt with further lockdowns this year has been hard for our players, coaches, staff and fans who have all shown immense dedication and commitment to our program and the competition.
“For the third season in a row, Collingwood were crowned minor premiers and remained undefeated throughout the season and finals series. While our group is disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to play the Grand Final, I’m still extremely proud of what our group has been able to achieve in 2021.”
Geelong VFL Women’s captain Claudia Gunjaca said the Cats were heartbroken, also understood the bigger picture.
“As a group, we have remained hopeful and focused throughout the uncertainty and while it’s not the outcome we were hoping for, we understand and support the decision that’s been made,” Gunjaca said. “As disappointing as it is, it doesn’t take away from how proud we are of what we’ve been able to achieve this season.”
AFL Head of Talent Pathways and State League Competitions Tristan Salter expressed sadness at the decision after what had been a terrific and resilient year of football.
“The rebel VFLW Competition has been a foundation league in Victoria for many years and an exciting pathway for young girls. The 2021 season has been a challenge to everyone connected to football. The AFL is very proud of how all VFLW clubs, players, officials, supporters and corporate partners managed through a difficult year and kept their communities connected,” Salter said.
“To play 90 VFLW games during a COVID-interrupted season is a testament to the resilience and commitment of the whole industry – all clubs, players, coaches, umpires and officials. “Our clubs and the League have made a difficult decision and we sympathise with their players and coaches and their legion of fans and supporters. Everyone is aligned and united in this decision and we will come through this together.
“In 2021 we celebrate 40 years of women’s football in Victoria and we reflect on the contribution of all women to our great game. Participation for women and girls has exploded and the VFLW has added a vibrancy and excitement to our game that we have sorely needed in these challenging times. “We congratulate all clubs on a successful year of football and look forward to returning for the 2022 season.”
Planning will commence for the 2022 VFL Women’s season, with the next year anticipated to start earlier than usual to align with the pushed forward AFL Women’s competition.
Picture: AFL Photos