Sport

Ahead of this weekend’s exhibition match at the MCG, Demons captain Daisy Pearce talks about the growing appeal of women’s Aussie Rules. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: RICHARD COOKE

The trailblazer: Daisy Pearce, 27, Australian rules footballer

This is definitely a breakout year for women’s football. A lot of momentum is gathering behind the game. A lot of hard work has gone into it over a long period of time, but since the AFL held the first ever AFL women’s draft in 2013 and the first exhibition games, there’s been a palpable sense that the game is growing. There potentially could be professional competition for women one day. 

I grew up in the country and came from a family that were all pretty mad on their footy. I just love the game, like a lot of Australian kids – particularly Victorian kids – do. I had a brother either side of me who played footy. As I was growing up, Dad became the coach of our junior team in Bright. Naturally I just wanted to do anything that my older brother was doing. I started playing Auskick when I was about five or six and then went on to play junior footy with the boys. 

I often get asked why I play the game. I think the basic answer is just because it’s such a great sport, and I was lucky enough to have a family and community that weren’t shy of a girl doing something that wasn’t very traditional, at least at the time. After playing junior football, I eventually moved to Melbourne and played other sports, until I realised there was a women’s competition happening down here. Through the internet I found out about the Darebin Falcons, and that’s where I’ve played my past 10 seasons of footy. 

It has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. So are other codes of football. But I think in country towns, particularly, the sports club are a big part of the community and it really does bind communities. Perhaps in smaller towns people are a bit more encouraging of [women playing traditionally male sports].

Being the No. 1 pick in the first women’s AFL draft was my most memorable moment. It was such a milestone. And then being able to run out on the MCG and look down and be wearing real AFL colours – to captain the Melbourne side in the first AFL-sanctioned women’s match… It was just an absolute dream come true and, being female, something I didn’t think would happen. So it’s a huge personal achievement, but also bigger in the sense of the game, and what it means to be a woman in general.

In the women’s game, there’s probably a little less scrutiny on things like the in-the-back rule. So the physicality is still very healthy in our league. A lot of the time people will ask me how the girls go with that physicality, but we’re as competitive as the men. I think that’s part of the game that girls generally love, and I certainly love it. It’s all within the rules and the spirit of the game but it’s definitely a very physical sport.

[Geelong captain] Joel Selwood is someone I find inspirational. There are a lot of male footballers who I’ve watched over the years and have studied and drawn inspiration from. I love watching Joel play for his courage and leadership and just the way he plays the game unconditionally, regardless of where his team is at on the day or the season or even how his body is holding up. In my own club I’m surrounded by girls who are really incredible players. Katie Brennan comes to mind. She’s only 22 years old but she has just got an amazing work ethic and skills that I could only dream of.

Male professional players are becoming more aware and more comfortable with women’s football. Initially, the questions might have been a little bit more novel, but more recently, I think the professional male players are taking notice. The ones I’ve spoken to who have seen the game are really quite impressed and their questions and curiosity – around how we go about it and how our career has kind of unfolded – are really genuine.

Paul Roos came and spoke to us in 2014. He was very supportive and encouraging of us and passed on a little bit of his wisdom – about how the game is quite simple and that you can get stuck over-thinking it. Generally speaking, AFL footy games are not won by people starring and being the champions.

This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Hawthorn v Sydney Swans

Saturday, 7.20pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Rugby: NSW Waratahs v Crusaders 

Saturday, 7.40pm, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• AFL women’s match – Melbourne Demons v Western Bulldogs

Sunday, 12.20pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Sydney Swifts

Sunday, 2.18pm, Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

• Formula One: Monaco Grand Prix

Sunday, 10pm, Circuit de Monaco

• Rugby League: State of Origin Game 1 – NSW v Queensland

Wednesday, 8pm, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2015 as "The trailblazer". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

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