Essendon's VFLW team. (Photo: Essendon VFLW/Facebook)

As the four remaining AFL clubs launch their bids for a top-level women's side, our own Alex Catalano puts to paper what an Essendon AFLW team would mean to him.

Essendon is one of the four remaining teams launching a bid for an AFLW license this week.

For this diehard Bombers fan, the top level women’s team couldn’t come any faster.

I’ve been an avid follower of the Essendon VFLW team for over two years now. 2018 was pretty lean on-field, and I was, of my own admission, still behind the eight-ball on women’s footy.

It was clear to me from the start though, that every woman who pulled on the red and black was doing so with pride.

Fast forward to this weekend, and the Bombers could be just 80 minutes of footy away from qualifying for their first ever women’s grand final.

I’ve been extremely lucky this year to have experienced the majority of their run towards finals. I’ve attended three games in person (the fourth today), and have watched as many as have been streamed to the VFL’s YouTube channels.

Trekking out to Bill Lawry Oval in Northcote, Box Hill City Oval on a rainy, muddy morning, and out to the hallowed home turf of Windy Hill, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

VFLW Bombers dominant at Windy Hill
The Bombers in their return to Windy Hill this year. (Photo: Essendon FC)

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I, like many others, found it hard to initially jump on board the AFLW without my team in it.

The inaugural game, the famous lock-out at Ikon Park, was my first and only game for the 2017 season.

It’s a sentiment that I believe is shared by fans of the four remaining teams: Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney. While I have developed a strong affinity for Collingwood and St Kilda in the AFLW, it could never be the same as barracking for my Bombers.

Getting to the VFLW and seeing the women – Essendon women – donning the sash, the passion is there.

I cheer for Alana Barba in the guts the same way I would for Darcy Parish, jump out of my seat for every contested Mia-Rae Clifford grab and goal like I would for Cale Hooker.

When I wear my 21-emblazoned guernsey to Windy Hill, it’s no longer Dyson Heppell’s number, it’s Alex Morcom’s.

Federica Frew bombing a long goal from 45 metres out gives me the same rush as watching Harry Jones take a set shot. Every time Eloise Ashley-Cooper lays a hard tackle or a desperate smother, it’s as bone-crunching and exhilarating as the same from Will Snelling.

I dream up the best 21 we could field upon entry to the top level. ‘Could we target Georgia Patrikios and Krstel Petrevski?’, I ask myself. ‘Will Maddy Collier, Hayley Bullas and Lauren Ahrens come back?’

The final five minutes of last weekend’s final against Casey is now one of my favourite moments watching Essendon.

What I’ve learned

I’ve learned a lot through my time attending games and interviewing the players.

It breaks my heart that so many women were denied the chance to play footy when they were young. Being stripped of those opportunities just because of their gender has severely limited what women’s footy could have already become.

I spoke to Federica Frew just the other day, who’s only 18 months older than me. She joined Essendon from a soccer background, which she said she only took up playing because she wasn’t allowed to play footy.

Speaking to retired players about just this sort of makes sense in my brain, in a way. I know it wasn’t an accepted thing in the 80s and 90s, just as unjustly so.

To hear it from a woman of my generation makes it all the more distressing. These are times that I have extremely vivid memories of.

When I was 12, when Federica would have been told she wasn’t allowed to play with the boys anymore, I was playing in my primary school’s footy team.

I could still run around and pretend I was James Hird or Matthew Lloyd. I had these incredible male role models to look up to, and I could dream about running out in the red and black.

For Federica, her dream nearly would have ended there.

An Essendon AFLW team would mean that young Bombers supporting girls can now pretend to be her when they run inside 50.

They can pretend to be Nat Macdonald, gathering on their right and kicking a snap from an impossible angle to seal the game.

They can be Courtney Ugle working tirelessly in the middle, Cecilia McIntosh dashing off half-back or Ruby Svarc laying a chase-down tackle.

Essendon women now have the stars in their reach. Let’s help them grasp them.

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