In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Victorian Women’s Football League, The Inner Sanctum speaks to the people who made women’s football into what it is today.
Round eight of the VFLW competition was much like any other.
Playing on the morning of ANZAC Day, Meg Hutchins arrived at Box Hill City Oval, running through her typical game-day preparation.
Hawthorn coach Bec Goddard called the players in for their pre-game team meeting.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Hutchins was in for a surprise courtesy of her coach and beloved teammates.
“Bec normally tells us a fun story or a bit of a joke or something like that to give us a bit of a theme for the day,” she explained.
“She said she didn’t have one for us on the day because the day was all about me!”
Hutchins would be playing her 250th game across the VWFL and VFLW competitions on that day, against Williamstown.
“The club had kindly put together a nice little video with some messages from past teammates and good friends,” she said.
“It was a bit of a surprise, but a lovely one.”
Hutchins is entering her 19th season of footy, the majority of which she’s played at the highest level there is.
The VWFL was the elite level for Victorian women for 35 years, mostly run and managed by the women who so desperately wanted to play the game they loved.
When Hutchins first entered the competition in 2003 playing with the Eastern Devils, after being told she could no longer play post-junior footy, it was a very different landscape.
“Back then we probably weren’t even counting games to be honest,” she said.
“My first game, back then we were called the Deakin Devils.
“We played Hadfield, round two 2003, we played it out in Lalor.
“In that game was a 13-year-old Moana Hope, we played against her, so I remember that pretty fondly. I may have kicked a few!”
As her career progressed, Hutchins changed her game nearly entirely. She went from a star goalkicking forward to an ever reliable key defender.
It’s a role she still plays to this day, lining up at full-back most weeks for Hawthorn.
Her career in the VWFL is one of the most decorated of any player.
Hutchins was awarded the competition’s best first year player award in 2003, before winning the best and fairest in 2004.
She would further lead the Devils’ goalkicking multiple times, represent Victoria, and earn a bevy of All-Australian blazers.
Reflecting on how far the competition has come in her time in it, Hutchins points towards the way standards are driven at a significantly higher level.
“It’s vastly different now, we never have had ice baths!,” she laughed.
“It has changed and improved for the better in terms of professionalism and training standards and off field.
“Early on in my career, we’d all play a game of footy and then meet at the pub after and have a parma and a pot, talk about what happened in the game beforehand. Not to say we don’t do that occasionally now… that’s just the level of professionalism at VFLW level now.
“I know that still happens at community level, and so it should.
“That community connection is really important and a lot of those clubs rely on sponsorships from those pubs as well… it’s really important.”
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Close to the end of her playing career now, Hutchins notes how her priorities and values have changed from when she started.
A key focus of hers now lies in the development of other players, particularly playing in a competition like the VFLW.
Playing at Collingwood in the AFLW over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Hutchins would also act as the Women’s Football Operations Manager.
She would be responsible for the recruitment and managing of players, coaches and staff entering the club’s inaugural women’s program.
“It was very challenging to come into a well established club and to teach them what women’s football was about and to understand the requirements of our players,” Hutchins said.
“It was an incredible and amazing experience at the same time as well, and one I look back really fondly on.
“My ‘why’ is to make the people around me better.
“If me being out there and me being the best I can be helps other people be the best they can be, that’s all the reward I can ever take.
“That’s my main motivating factor now … and for them to actually find what they’re capable of.
“The fact that there was no pathway [when I started] astounds me now. Back then, I sort of accepted that that’s how it was and you sort of had to move on and find something to scratch that competitive itch.
“It’s about time the pathway is there for every single girl and boy across the country, that they can play from Auskick all the way up.
“To be at the Devils when the youth girls’ team was established was pretty special, and to play a small little hand in that was really, really nice.
“I think women are in a really nice spot from a growth point of view, from a sport point of view, but there’s always growth to be had.”
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