By Mikayla van Loon
At the end of 2019, women from Mooroolbark decided to form a women’s veterans football team to play in the 2020 AFL Superules League.
But thanks to Covid-19, the 2020 season didn’t go ahead.
Player and assistant coach for the Mooroolbark Women’s Veterans team Alison Fitzgerald said prior to Covid-19 there was real interest in women’s footy.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of players during Covid, a lot of girls didn’t recommit to playing in the 2021 season, so we found ourselves a little bit on the back foot and having to really recruit hard again from the start,” Ms Ftizgerald said.
Because the Superules League plays right across the state and can be quite a commitment, team members from Blackburn and Mooroolbark decided to approach the Eastern Football Netball League about forming a women’s veterans league.
With Chirnside Park jumping over from Superules to the new EFNL league, a competition was starting to form.
“East Ringwood were really interested in developing a team as well, they had a really successful seniors women’s team and wanted to extend that further into the vets,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“We got to the point of nearing the start of the season that the EFNL had and both East Ringwood and ourselves pretty much had half a side each, we just couldn’t get the numbers to fill separate teams.”
So instead of pulling out altogether, Mooroolbark and East Ringwood decided to join forces, forming under the Mooroolbark Football Club.
“So the way it merged was pretty much the girls from East Ringwood said ‘look we are just happy to play, we just want to play, so we are more than happy to come over and join Mooroolbark and let’s just be Mooroolbark’,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“We have created such an amazing group of women, we don’t even look at ourselves as Mooroolbark slash East Ringwood.”
Ms Fitzgerald said only three women from the Mooroolbark team have played football before and no prior skills are needed.
“We have women who have never touched a ball in their life, let alone a football and to watch them progress week in, week out and even at this age it’s really lovely to see the pride in them, how much they’ve improved, so you never stop learning,” she said.
“But their passion and their love for it and that spirit we’ve created as a team, what we’ve gone through to create a team, it’s actually a really special bond that we share, we’re a really close team,” she said.
For many women aged 35 and over, they weren’t able to play football past the age of 12, so getting the chance to play now is really special.
“To actually get an opportunity even though we’re in our mid forties, to actually get on a football field and play, it’s so exciting,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“For those of us who have grown up and loved the game of football it’s definitely about ‘our turn’, it’s about our chance to play the game that we love.”
Three weeks ago, Blackburn, Mooroolbark and Chirnside Park came together for a round robin fundraiser for breast cancer awareness after a teammate from Chirnside Park was diagnosed.
Ms Fitzgerald said as much as it was about raising money, it also showed many of the women who came along to the day they don’t just have to work the canteen or assist at the club.
“What it actually did was it showed a whole lot of women on the sidelines that they can actually do this.”
“Even though we go in hard, we all like a little bit of competition, it’s all about really supporting each other, picking each other up, ‘is everyone good? Is everyone ok?’ there’s that real community camaraderie and just that real love of football that we all really enjoy.”
Since that day alone, eight new women have attended a training session.
The social aspect of training twice a week and being a part of something is definitely a draw card for women Ms Fitzgerald said.
“That being said, you get a group of women who are in their forties together, no one’s holding back. Everybody really likes the physicality of the game. We’ve all played non-contact sports our whole life and getting physical and actually having this means of being able to release whether you’ve had a stressful week or whether you just really want to get out there and go hard.
“So I think first and foremost it’s the social aspect and getting together with like minded women, who all amazingly support each other in everything and anything they do. Second of all it is definitely the love of the game itself.”
The Mooroolbark Women’s Veterans team trains on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6.15pm onwards at Kiloran Reserve in Kilsyth.
On Thursday nights after training they join the senior men’s teams for dinner at the Mooroolbark Football Club club rooms.
“We’ve been very much held and supported and welcomed by the senior men’s teams and the entire committee at Mooroolbark has just been phenomenal,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Although most veteran competitions play every second week, the women’s veterans league plays an eight game season.
Ms Fitzgerald has the vision of more teams joining and eventually East Ringwood and Mooroolbark will form teams of their own.
So to the women out there thinking about joining an over 35s football team, Ms Fitzgerald said “come on down” and try it out.
“This is really about fun and if you can do it in a way that brings us together socially and gives us a bit of fitness, we’re all for that.”