Women’s influence extends beyond the boundary

The start of the AFLW season has put the extraordinary feats of women in footy back in the national spotlight. At the local level, two women are smashing the glass ceiling in what used to be male dominated key roles within footy clubs.

The competition’s history stretches back to 1982. Laura Cahill (Lismore Swans) becomes the first female President of a Senior club within AFL North Coast, whilst Katika Adams (Coffs Harbour Breakers) is the first woman to take the coaching reins for a senior men’s team.

The introduction of female footy into AFL North Coast in 2017 has been one of the sport’s most exciting developments at the local level. In the space of just four seasons, girls and women now comprise 33% of the League’s over 1,000 participants, and that number is expected to grow again in 2021.

Whilst it’s easy to see the giant steps being taken on the field, the off field achievements of people like Laura and Katika are every bit as significant. The overarching theme from both is that they’ve felt comfortable to blaze a trail as a result of the support received from their clubs.

Laura, who had previously played Soccer for many years, first got involved at the Lismore Swans in 2016 as the Women’s team was starting up. “I was involved in the Operations role for the Women’s team when it first started, and then moved into the Club Secretary role. After two years as Secretary the President approached me about taking on the club leadership as he needed to step back. I wouldn’t have said yes if I didn’t have the support of the key figures in the club and have been welcomed into the role based on my skills and expertise.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect anything less from our club. Ever since the Women’s team started our men and women have trained together and we’ve never experienced any push back from the guys.

Katika first got involved in AFL whilst living in Western Australia and reconnected with the sport when she moved back to the North Coast. “I injured my knee in last year’s Grand Final and have had to have a reconstruction so can’t play in 2021. When the club approached me about coaching I was chuffed. I absolutely love the club and all the people associated with it, so wanted to stay involved.

“In 2019 I helped the Senior coach which was a chance to dip my toe in the water with an historically male dominated role. Coaching is harder than it looks but I was ready for a challenge and to develop a new skill set. I was worried about how I would be perceived as a female co-coaching a senior men’s team however the guys have been very supportive and positive. I look forward to a great year ahead with them.

“The club has been great, very supportive of women’s footy. The girls are such a big part of the club, it’s like a big family.”

“The club has been great, very supportive of women’s footy. The girls are such a big part of the club, it’s like a big family.”

Laura and Katika continue what is becoming a rich tradition of women blazing a trail in local AFL. Jill Woodlock and Shirley Linnett are both Life Members of AFL North Coast, Amanda Guthrie became the first woman in the state to umpire a Senior men’s Grand Final when she officiated the 2016 North Coast decider, and six Junior clubs have had female Presidents (Sawtell Toormina, Port Macquarie, Coffs Breakers, Bellingen, Nambucca Valley, and Manning Valley).

Nationally there are over 600,000 female players in what is one of the fastest growing sports for women and girls.

The last word on women in AFL goes to one of the local trail blazers in Laura Cahill. “I already had good networks in the community before I got involved in the club, but since I became President my network has been significantly strengthened.

“If you’re thinking of getting involved in any capacity, rest assured that your local club will absolutely welcome and support you to be the best you can.”