PLAYING LIKE GIRLS: Shaleise Law in action for the Lions during an exhibition hit-out with the Suns at Metricon Stadium last year, and (inset) Craig Starcevich.
PLAYING LIKE GIRLS: Shaleise Law in action for the Lions during an exhibition hit-out with the Suns at Metricon Stadium last year, and (inset) Craig Starcevich.

Premiership star helping women make their mark

Collingwood premiership player Craig Starcevich will be watching on with pride when "his" girls run out on to the Gabba this Saturday night.

It has been billed as the "curtain-closer" to the main event, but others may cheekily see the AFL's QClash11 between the Lions and Suns as, in fact, the "curtain-raiser" to what follows.

Brisbane and Gold Coast will go head-to-head again, this time in the sixth of 10 women's exhibition matches being staged around the country as a precursor to the introduction of the national competition in 2017.

The local sides will be made up of the very best female talent from the AFL Queensland Talent Academy, headed up by Starcevich.

A member of the Magpies' 1990 flag-winning outfit before ending his career with the Brisbane Bears, the 48-year-old has been female high-performance manager since late 2014.

And after a post-playing career that included working as fitness adviser to the great Brisbane Lions teams of the early 2000s, he was immediately impressed with the commitment shown by the talent now under his guidance, if a little surprised.

"You don't expect girls running around with ponytails to be going as hard at the contest as they do," Starcevich told Australian Regional Media. "But, from a coaching point of view, generally as a group they are so easy to teach."

Starcevich won't be directing the players on Saturday night, but instead watching from the stands as a commentator for a live stream.

For now, he remains coach of the pioneering Western Bulldogs side that had been contesting two women's exhibition games annually against Melbourne and will be involved in three of the expanded series this year.

On the back of it becoming the fastest-growing female sport in Australia - participation has increased by 37% to 71,000 in Queensland alone over the past 12 months - women's footy reached new heights in popularity with the Dogs-Demons games last year, the second broadcast on commercial television and watched by more than 300,000 people nationally.

Weight of numbers has led to the demand for a complete league of their own.

 

Coach Craig Starcevich in the rooms with player Emma King before the women's AFL exhibition match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at Melbourne Cricket Ground last May. Photo:  Darrian Traynor/Getty Images.
Coach Craig Starcevich in the rooms with player Emma King before the women's AFL exhibition match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at Melbourne Cricket Ground last May. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images.

 

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said recently there had been a "revolution going on".

"February 2015 was when Gil came out and said 'forget 2020 for a national league, let's get it done earlier'," Starcevich said.

"Ever since then it's been moving at a rate of knots."

Eight teams are expected to take part - four from Victoria and one each from WA, SA, NSW and Queensland - with the Lions putting their hands up to be involved, among other AFL clubs.

Clubs must submit their license applications by the end of April, with the AFL expected to announce those successful sometime in May.

Starcevich would be the ideal man to be at the helm in Brisbane, but his academy work remains a priority.

"There is still plenty of work to be done here, in terms of building our talent pool, both at under-18 and also open-age level," he said.

"But there's definitely something appealing about coaching, getting back into the hurly-burly of winning or losing every week, and the excitement that comes with that."

Both football's W-League and cricket's Women's Big Bash have shown how successful female sporting competitions can be, and how skilful their players are.

"The interesting one for me is the day that Australia played India in the Twenty20 game was the same day that the W-League grand final was on, and Sydney FC missed out on Ellyse Perry because she was playing for Australia," Starcevich said.

"Now that we've joined the landscape you're probably going to have more multi-sportswomen trying to juggle a couple of different sports at once

"Hopefully we can all work together, so our seasons don't overlap too much, try and find a way to get the best out there in the different sports most of the time."

 

Jenna McCormick, in action for Canberra United in the W-League, will play for the Brisbane Lions women's team on Saturday night. Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
Jenna McCormick, in action for Canberra United in the W-League, will play for the Brisbane Lions women's team on Saturday night. Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

 

MULTI-SPORTS STARS

Brianna Davey (Western Bulldogs) Also footballer with Melbourne City

Jenna McCormick (Brisbane Lions) Also footballer with Canberra United (right)

Courtney Hill (Brisbane Lions) Also cricketer for Brisbane Heat

Casey Samuels (Sydney Swans) Also basketballer with Sydney Uni Flames

 

GAMES TO COME

Melbourne v Queensland10.40am Sunday May 22, MCG

Western Bulldogs v Western Australia12.40pm Sunday June 5, Etihad Stadium   South Australia v New South Wales1.10pm Sunday June 5, Adelaide Oval   Western Bulldogs v Melbourne7.20pm Saturday September 2, Venue TBC    


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